“Darkness, yeaah”

… that was (ex-)Detective Rustin “Rust” Cohle, from the final episode of True Detective (in case you didn’t recognize it). At the brink of the end, a near-mortally wounded Cohle underwent a descent through the loss of his “definition”, and beyond the darkness touched upon “another, deeper darkness, like a substance” where lost love is restored in de-differentiation. The reference to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde was unmistakable. It was TV-format Schopenhauer.


As philosophy, Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective is deeper than Wagner, because it holds tighter to the integral obscurity that is the ultimate object of horror. Where Tristan und Isolde finally reaches musical resolution and release into eroticized extinction, True Detective ends inconclusively, with a puzzle. Cohle and his old cop partner Martin “Marty” Hart, who has earthily absorbed Cohle’s acid nihilism throughout the previous seven episodes, switch stances momentarily in the closing scene. Recalling a previous conversation about the stars, Marty observes that in the night sky “darkness has a lot more territory”. Cohle corrects him — “Once there was only darkness. It looks to me as if the light is winning.” Following a long, soul-excruciating season in the shadows, the show’s nihilist fan-base were only dragged back from the brink of insurrection-level rioting at this point by a single, residual suspicion. In a cosmos where consciousness is the realization of hell, can the triumph of the light be interpreted as anything except torment strengthening its grip?

Has there ever been a TV series with a density of high-culture references comparable to this? Outside in is extremely biased on the question, since it largely shares the same reading list, and some of the links are closer still. Cohle is the closest thing ever heard on popular media to the voice of our civilization’s night. (That the name “Matthew McConaughey” would have meant nothing to me a year ago is by now a scarcely comprehensible fact.)

Could it have pushed deeper into the darkness? Certainly. Noir conventions are compromised by a stratum of unquestioned moral securities, which the show’s literary philosophical heroes, Ligotti, and even Brassier, still share. The crimes Cohle and Marty encounter are — in the end — inane, finally destituted of metaphysical challenge, and attributed to perpetrators worthy of a meat-shock slasher flick. The philosophical and religious gulfs of the dialogical overlay are unable to find an object that stretches — or even sustains — them. The next step into abstract horror demands a non-subjective abyss.

July 1, 2014admin 30 Comments »


30 Responses to this entry

  • pjebleak Says:

    I have an article on TD coming out soon that tries to cover the Ligotti/Brassier angle. Until then this may be of interest: http://www.vulture.com/2014/02/philosopher-assesses-true-detective-characters-rust-cohle-marty-hart.html


    admin Reply:

    Been there, done that.


    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 3:29 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nicola Masciandaro Says:

    Re: ‘non-subjective abyss’ cf. http://blacksunlit.com/2014/05/i-am-not-supposed-to-be-here-birth-and-mystical-detection-by-nicola-masciandaro/


    admin Reply:

    So you start at the end, too …

    [Thrown into the gulf]


    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 3:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • pjebleak Says:

    @admin: I’ll send you my article to the ccru address if interested.


    admin Reply:



    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 3:55 pm Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    Anyway of knowing, is it the “infernal plain” or the “infernal plane” that is the object of monstrous aspiration?


    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 4:01 pm Reply | Quote
  • nydwracu Says:

    Dammit, right when I start planning out something about the collapse of American fiction.


    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 4:10 pm Reply | Quote
  • Rasputin Says:

    @admin, with regard to the Eternal Recurrence, is your understanding that FN posited as a thought experiment designed to get us to reevaluate how we live out our one, finite, life. Or as a metaphysical system underpinning existence as such.

    The vulture piece states:

    “The more subtle existential angle he is touching on is the “eternal recurrence of the same” that Nietzsche introduced. There, the idea, and it is found in older traditions, too, is that the greatest horror for us is not to die, but to live the same lives on repeat for all eternity. In Nietzsche, this notion is designed to shake us up out of our passive lives. The challenge being, to paraphrase, whether you would be willing to carry on as you do if you knew it would all happen again (eternally). It’s a thought experiment, but some people read it metaphysically.”

    What do you think? Also, didn’t someone else put forward a similar theory around the same time, which was even more extreme?


    admin Reply:

    It’s always an evasion not to read something metaphysically. (The relatively straightforward metaphysical readings of Nietzschean Eternal Recurrence are, however, rather dull.)

    Your final sentence is a puzzle to me.


    Rasputin Reply:

    A bit of a Googling got me there:

    (I think) I was thinking of Auguste Blanqui’s Eternity Through the Stars, which was written in 1872, although perhaps it’s not more extreme…


    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 6:17 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alex Says:

    Habet acht! Habet acht! Schon weicht dem Tag die Nacht.


    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 6:41 pm Reply | Quote
  • “Darkness, yeaah” | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 7:22 pm Reply | Quote
  • Ex-pat in Oz Says:

    My FN is rusty (no pun intended) so my immediate points of references were noir. Also Fitzgerald’s aphorism about the sign of a first rate intelligence being able to hold two opposing ideas at the same time came to mind. (Some) critics wrote off the series because of the ending, which I thought was the whole point– the banality of it.

    Other aspects that made it a masterpiece for me included the Americaness of it– the sense of place was spot on. Also the masculine drive to survive and triumph grabbed you and never let you go.

    But the heart of the success was the embrace of darkness.


    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 7:45 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alex Says:

    In a cosmos where consciousness is the realization of hell, can the triumph of the light be interpreted as anything except torment strengthening its grip?

    “Nay, I will venture to say more than this;—it is fearful, but it is right to say it;—that if we wished to imagine a punishment for an unholy, reprobate soul, we perhaps could not fancy a greater than to summon it to heaven. Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man. … He would find no one like himself; he would see in every direction the marks of God’s holiness, and these would make him shudder. He would feel himself always in His presence. He could no longer turn his thoughts another way, as he does now, when conscience reproaches him. He would know that the Eternal Eye was ever upon him; and that Eye of holiness, which is joy and life to holy creatures, would seem to him an Eye of wrath and punishment. God cannot change His nature. Holy He must ever be. But while He is holy, no unholy soul can be happy in heaven. Fire does not inflame iron, but it inflames straw. It would cease to be fire if it did not. And so heaven itself would be fire to those, who would fain escape across the great gulf from the torments of hell. The finger of Lazarus would but increase their thirst.”

    Eternal damnation as the supreme act of divine mercy …


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Lewis says something like that in Pilgrim’s Regress. He argues that a merciful God would affix never-ending punishment to the damned because left to themselves they will embrace ever worse things without end.

    Mormon scripture also says something like that, that damnation exists of being self-exclusion from the goodness and joy and light of the divine presence because God is Truth, and for many of us the truth is more painful than misery.

    All serious religions have a serious dark streak.


    Alex Reply:

    All serious religions have a serious dark streak.

    To be sure. The question is, is one expected to stand or kneel before the darkness?


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Or Tolkien,
    “If in God’s mercy progress ever ends.”

    Even, climbing way down the cultural ladder, I found an interesting concept in Niven and Pournelle’s inferno. They imply that damnation is almost a pleasure for the damned, because there is a sense of order and common-sense rationality in getting what one so obviously deserves, which is a pleasant contrast to our world.


    Chris B Reply:

    “They imply that damnation is almost a pleasure for the damned, because there is a sense of order and common-sense rationality in getting what one so obviously deserves, which is a pleasant contrast to our world.”

    – I like that, damnation, hell and I would add – war, become relief against the irrational order of society and civilization.


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Here’s the verse I was thinking of:
    Mormon 9:4 Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.

    Reading it again in light of this discussion is illuminating. I see connections falling into place. I’m going to riff on a blend of Mormon concepts and a meta-reading of NRx, doing justice to neither, likely.

    There is a Mormon scripture that Mormons use so often it’s become a cliché. “Wickedness never was happiness.” By definition, it is implied. Damnation consists of refusing to be happy because you want happiness to come some other way than how it does. Here’s another verse that amplifies the concept.

    Mormon 2:13 their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.

    The wicked are the set of those who refuse to recognize reality for what it is, or who see it and then rage against it. Their misery can never end, because they have decided to be enraged by fundamentals, and fundamentals are fundamental—they don’t change.

    But recognizing reality isn’t enough. There is the sorrowing of the damned, but also the sorrowing of the penitent.

    Mormon Christianity recognizes two stages of not being damned. The first stage is salvation and it consists simply of not being damned. It means recognizing what it and submitting to it. Submission to Gnon is salvation.

    Exaltation is the next stage. You recognize that reality includes your agency and you act well. More than just submitting to reality, you now participate in it, wisely, effectively, and well. The saved puppet obeys the strings. The exalted puppet interacts with them and therefore with the puppeteer. That’s why the verse refers to sorrowing “unto repentance,” which means sorrow that induces change, which means action.

    NRx is nowhere close to being ‘exalted.’ We may know where we are, but we don’t know what to do.

    We are literally in limbo.


    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    Mormonism is not Christianity.

    It is Mormonism.


    Aeroguy Reply:

    @Lesser Bull

    I just had a pleasant time discussing some things with a group of Mormon women, towards the end I briefly explained conquest’s second law (using gays as an example) which they seemed to agree with and then asked them about their opinion on the 19th amendment which they all cheerily endorsed. The Mormon church is just as fucked as the Catholic church. Just thought I’d rub that in.


    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 8:34 pm Reply | Quote
  • Thales Says:

    Haven’t watch this show, but surprised no link to this so far, which I also don’t fully understand. I’m just connecting these things Chinese Room style…


    admin Reply:

    OK, I linked it in (but was actually less than overwhelmingly impressed by it).


    Posted on July 1st, 2014 at 11:55 pm Reply | Quote
  • Hypothetical Says:

    “Following a long, soul-excruciating season in the shadows, the show’s nihilist fan-base were only dragged back from the brink of insurrection-level rioting at this point by a single, residual suspicion.”

    I feel that this is the crux of the whole show – the entanglement and struggle between meaning (idealized, metaphysical, purposeful) and matter (empty, meaningless, purposeless); between pure meaningful concept and base meaningless matter. My question is: how can we navigate this dichotomy without resorting to dialectics? If consciousness is the realization of hell, isn’t it also the persistence of the residual lure of transcendence?


    Posted on July 3rd, 2014 at 2:11 am Reply | Quote
  • vxxc2014 Says:

    Light is winning.


    Posted on July 3rd, 2014 at 10:56 am Reply | Quote
  • vxxc2014 Says:

    Find Carcossa dammit and the enemy is destroyed.


    Posted on July 3rd, 2014 at 12:25 pm Reply | Quote
  • fotrkd Says:

    Admin – do you have anything to do with this? Your hydrogen tendrils are all over it…


    Posted on July 11th, 2014 at 12:29 am Reply | Quote
  • Mark Warburton Says:

    Nick, a friend of mine just responded regarding this post – he’s just finished up watching the series, think it’s a brilliantly distilled the key themes:

    “The last conversation of the series talked of darkness like Eastern philosophy and the Existentialists (through to Lacan) addressed Nothingness, generative and welcome. So Land’s right to dismiss a glib reading of Cohle’s last statement; our protagonist remained ambivalently Schopenhauerian. Although I’m unsure I would credit Nic Pizzolatto with surpassing Wagner’s depths.

    Marty and Cohle play that archetypal role of Job wonderfully and the allusions and concerns evoke the Mesopotamian wisdom literature on comprehending evils. Indeed, even the banality of their antagonist feeds into this reading. Illness, pettiness and the iniquities of neighbourly gossip have always been the background noise for aporetic theodicies. That it unashamedly plays to a pop genre is, I suspect, because Pizzolatto is more democratic about his audience than most of his influences, not to mention Cohle or Land.

    Besides, it’s so stylistically apt. Take the parallels between the Southern Gothic aesthetic and the Japanese Wabi Sabi: impermanence, suffering and a conception of self not too estranged from Stirner’s creative nothing—along your interpretation of Stirner. This is perhaps what appealed to me most about the series and why I continue to think Hannibal holds up under the erudite competition. Clever references are great—I like to know a TV writer has read some Cioran. But a style that carries it forward is more impressive.

    From Cormac McCarthy’s oeuvre to Park Chan-wook’s Stoker, it’s good the U.S. is rediscovering its best tradition of storytelling.”


    Posted on July 13th, 2014 at 8:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • Chris B Says:

    Finally got around to watching it, and I don’t know if I have created a fan theory by accident, but the title ‘true detective’ made me imagine the character of Rust as being cognitively aware of being in a TV show, adding a bizarre level to his existentialist crisis. The catalyst for this idea being the choice ‘true detecitve’ for the name of the true crime book that Marty concocts as an excuse to get hold of the files in one of the last episodes. Cohle then becomes a self aware entity constantly being made to suffer every time the DVD is put in and the series is re run.


    Posted on August 4th, 2014 at 5:39 am Reply | Quote

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