Thursday, April 30, 2015

Idea map 7: True Detective, visual tropes.

I went into visual tropes a bit in the write-up on detective fiction tropes. Here's a little more detail.

First, though, I acknowledge that it may seem overly simplistic to group these tropes as binary forms. A bit of study will show that these binary relationships are the entry point to much more nuanced ways of looking at detective fiction, some of which I hope to elucidate here.

The inner ring:

Clarity/obscurity is probably the dominant trope in detective fiction. From it come numerous other tropes: vision/blindness, darkness/light, revelation/concealment. It's part of the language of the detective (and his sidekick, if he has one, Nora Charles being one of the delightful ones). It's part of the language of those observing the detective as well. Note that I would also accept arguments that revelation/concealment is the dominant trope, with clarity/obscurity as second. These tropes are important to each other and to the general narrative of detective fiction, and the ways that authors play with the tropes shaped that general narrative. 

In True Detective, this trope is turned on its head (as it has been during most of the 20th century). Hart appears to be the "clear" one, yet in fact he's obscured because of his need to conceal his infidelities. The interesting thing about this deception is that it's insignificant, at least on this police force in this part of south Louisiana. Given what we see and learn about his colleagues (except for Cohle) on the force, Hart could confess all, and indeed does to Gilbough and Patania, and no one cares. There's no question about his having compromised ethics in his professional life as a consequence of his compromised ethics in his personal life. His infidelities do not matter. Hart is the one who more readily relates to the other investigators and policemen, the one who speaks the language of the police chief when political troubles arise from the Tuttle family and their task-force-for-hire. 

Cohle's contrast with Hart could not be more stark. Cohle seems to be the obscure one, with complicated philosophical explanations of ontology, teleology, and epistemology that few understand. Cohle is treated as if he is obscured by his colleagues, including Hart; in terms of professional relationships, it probably does not matter much because Cohle was never going to fit in with his colleagues for much longer. In terms of personal relationships, we see one relationship deteriorate because of Cohle's difficulties in relating to others without becoming bored. Conversely, Hart is treated as if clear by his colleagues, when in fact he has much to hide--especially once he decides to beat up the two college boys with whom his daughter was caught having consensual sex.

Vision/blindness: Another highly important and frequently employed trope. Metaphors about sight and vision abound in detective fiction, and because they also abound in our day-to-day language, they seem even more natural. One thing to point out in True Detective is the scene in episode 4, "Who Goes There?", when Hart tells Gilbough and Patania:
You know the "detective's curse"--the solution was right under my nose, but I was paying attention to the wrong clues?
Hart's blindness, what he later refers to as "inattention," is in contrast with his willingness to see along the same lines as Cohle when it comes to the investigation. Hart's blindness is personal, not professional, and although it costs him his wife and family, it does not interfere with his ability to help solved the murders.

Like vision/blindness, darkness/light is another widely used trope in detective fiction. Lighting is important in many scenes in True Detective, two of which I will point out here: the flickering lights associated with the long single-take scene in the projects in episode 4, "Who Goes There?" and the dim lighting in Carcosa on the Childress estate. Flickering lights in general are associated with deception in True Detective; dim lights are associated with covert behavior and actions, eg, the dim light in Cohle's apartment when Maggie seduces him; fluorescent lights are associated with open deception, most strikingly in the police station; and sunlight is associated with revelation, trust, and clarity. 

Revelation/concealment is also arguably the dominant trope in detective fiction. Here in True Detective, it appears in three important ways. One, the King in Yellow as a religious revelation. Without this, the murders would not have happened, or at least not to that degree. Two, concealment of the cult's activities as political concealment. Without this, the murderers are more easily found, and the cult is exposed. Three, the power to both reveal and conceal as political power. This appears in the form of the task force, which ostensibly is to investigate the murders but which in fact is set to obstruct Hart and Cohle's investigation. 

Inevitably, visual tropes lead to the trope of the palimpsest, here where Hart and Cohle follow the footsteps and path of the criminal, losing it for a bit among the weeds and brush of the LeDoux encampment, but finding it again as part of Guy Francis's confession.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Idea map 6: South Louisiana and Carcosa.

Yeah, I don't know what those two brown splotches are, either. Probably diet Coke. 

This idea map turned out to be way more complex than I initially thought it would. The inner ring:

South Louisiana is a place of concurrent fictions: mutually acceptable fictions, metafictions, and alternative realities. "Where" you are in south Louisiana is a matter of place and perception. Here we have the palimpsest in action, because at any given time, one could be traversing through a site that has been previously transcribed and set, but forgotten over time or through human intervention. The key here is that things are static in a palimpsest, not dynamic.

Carcosa is a metafictional place, taken from a work of fiction (though we are never clear on how exactly the cult learns of the existence of Carcosa, or how they characterize it to themselves beyond Miss Delores's ravings). It is both a place, in that it exists in the abandoned fort on the grounds of the Childress place, and an idea, in that it seems to be a person to be worshiped, at least according to Miss Delores. It is a place out of time, asynchronous with the outside world, as Childress has constructed it in the abandoned fort.

The relationship between place and reality grows less certain the farther the True Detective narrative progresses. How real is a place? Where is it found? When a cult's members name a place Carcosa, then conduct a series of assaults and murders over the course of years without being caught, how real is any place not of Carcosa? Is Carcosa ultimately the real place, and is the area of south Louisiana around it the "real" fiction? And if the two places coexist, do they do so through multiple synchronous timelines? A palimpsest becomes problematic when trying to accommodate both Carcosa and south Louisiana once the murders begin, because it is so frequently overwritten.

Because of the power structures in south Louisiana--political power linked with money and pedigree--things can be hidden in plain sight. Errol Childress can kidnap, torture, and murder children and teenagers so long as he chooses the poor and powerless, because no one is likely to notice that they are anything more than suspected runaways. Other members of the cult can continue their practices alongside Childress so long as they adhere to similar social codes, drawing their members from one caste/class and their victims from another. The personal code of the cult members is in the words, phrases, and images they use in their practices, making up what is essentially the cant of the initiate. The code is occult, both in the sense that it is hidden and that it is cult-like. The codes become signs of both recognition and occlusion.

Yet there are also the codes that Cohle and Hart live by, both personally and professionally. Both men have a personal code, and they have made sacrifices that are elemental to their respective codes. Cohle sacrifices his personal life even as he clings to his work as an investigator, while Hart's multiple codes destroy his personal life without affecting his professional one. Both men have a professional code as police investigators, which makes them effective in their work, Cohle especially. Their ability to catch criminals depends on their ability to understand the codes criminals live by and predict the criminals' behavior. In other words, their suspicions about the codes of others are derived from their own codes.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Idea map 5: True Detective, The King in Yellow.

This one's going to be complex; I may have to come back to it a few times to consult and possibly expand.

First, the facts.

  1. The King in Yellow was published in 1895. HP Lovecraft was born in 1890.
  2. There is no actual play depicting The King in Yellow, though some have attempted to create it. The closest we've come to it in America is probably Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and even that is a poor shadow. Given that I'm not an expert in cinema, I'll leave it to others to decide what best approaches it. There certainly does not seem to be a published text that approaches the effects of Chambers's narrative.
  3.  The influence of Chambers's text, however, has been wide ranging. See the appendix to the Google Play e-book for a well-researched list, including True Detective.
So here we have concentricity again. In the middle sits Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa," which describes a dreamlike experience. Circling that is The King in Yellow as both Chambers's book and a text-within-a-text. Chambers pulls the name, and perhaps the idea of, Carcosa from Bierce's short story. The play The King in Yellow is a central part of Chambers's book, even though it is never fully presented; it's trickier to put it in the center when the text is fragmentary. The next circle around Chambers's book is a rich set of literary references to The King in Yellow, including references made by HP Lovecraft himself and other weird fiction writers. Rolling by next are the numerous popular culture references to the idea of Hastur, Carcosa, and The Yellow King, not least of which have been published by Chaosium as part of the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Along with those popular culture references is True Detective, which arguably handles Chambers's text the most deftly.

The inner circle:

Plot development is difficult to describe in The King in Yellow. It moves at first in reverse, starting with near-future elements--America of the 1920s--then coming back to Paris, then back in time (perhaps) to the Franco-Prussian War some time in 1870-71--Paris is under siege, and there are certainly Germans to be bayonetted--then back to what seems to be Chambers's contemporary Paris. Regardless of what moments in which the narrative occurs, there is a deep sense of moral vulnerability for the characters, at first associated with exposure to the text of The King in Yellow, which is rumored among other things to have caused riots overseas, thus associated with having an artistic sensibility. 

The hearsay associated with the text is imputed to lead to a common reaction to the text, yet we find that when Chambers's characters read the text, the viscerality of their experience goes beyond hearsay. That moral vulnerability extends past those characters who read The King in Yellow (not all of Chambers's characters do). By the time Chambers's narrative ends, the peculiar vulnerability exhibited by the artist has been explored from multiple perspectives. Chambers's primary characters are artists, especially artists in Parisian ateliers, and it is their sensibilities that both make them vulnerable to the enticements of the text of The King in Yellow and able to survive them. Some who read the text go insane, yes, but that is because they have been brought to ultimate knowledge of reality--which is what the artist struggles to gain, even if the work at hand is abstract. Thus, the text itself has a relationship to artistic sensibilities, a relationship that permits the text to evoke reaction without effort on the part of the reader. Any artist wishing to access this ultimate knowledge must first be able to cope with the revelations in the text.

The characters in Chambers's work are largely of the monied classes and the social elites. Their exposure to The King in Yellow is deftly copied into True Detective, where the powerful have access to the practices of the King in Yellow's cult. This access, although toxic to some, leads to power for others, and itself represents the definition of that which is taboo--both forbidden and sacred because of its power. It also gives primary access to the human body, specifically sexual access to the murder victims.

Camilla:  You, sir, should unmask.
Stranger: Indeed?
Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
In True Detective, the characters are one of three things: masked, unmasked, or wearing no mask. Hart remains masked until the very end. Even when he's being visited by his family in the hospital, Hart tells them that everything is going to be all right when he knows it won't because the center of the cult remains untouched. Gilbough, Patania, and all the other officers are unmasked by Hart and Cohle's findings; their easy, pat solutions to the murder investigation are shown up by the bodies found on the Childress compound. Without that unmasking, the officers and investigators would still wear their masks. Cohle is the only one who wears no mask. 

I won't avert my eyes. Not again. --Cohle to Hart, "After You've Gone," episode 7
Once Cohle hears from Guy Francis that the murderer is still loose, and once he realizes he will not receive any support from his precinct toward additional investigations, Cohle takes off all his masks. From that point on, he has nothing to obstruct his view of the evidence and his ongoing, private investigation into the murders.

One more topic in the inner ring, and I need to do some more thinking about it: the text and the human body



Monday, April 27, 2015

Idea map 4: True Detective, Carcosa.

This entry may be the slightest bit convoluted.

I discovered (wasn't hard) that Carcosa as a physical place was filmed at Fort Macomb in New Orleans East. Here's the Wikipedia page on it. 

Yet Carcosa is also a thing one believes in, as Miss Delores told us in episode 7:

"You know Carcosa?" she asks Cohle.
"What is it?"
"Him who eats Time. His robes is a wind of invisible voices...Rejoice. Death is not the end. Rejoice! Death is not the end! You know Carcosa! Rejoice! Carcosa!"

Carcosa is a male figure worshiped through his triumph over time itself, a point easy enough to sell to Christians if there are other motivating factors, such as access to or gaining of political power. This moves us away from both Bierce, who mentions Carcosa in his short-short story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa." Bierce's narrator wakes up in a world between worlds, anxious to return to his family in his beloved city of Carcosa. Bierce also mentions Carcosa in "Haita the Shepherd," but in that story, Carcosa is a god. In these ways, True Detective parallels Bierce's usage of the term, as well as Chambers's use, given that Chambers refers to it as a place.

The inner ring:

Carcosa is a place that twists reality. As Cohle, then Hart behind him work their way through the concentric circles of Carcosa, lured on by Childress's words echoing in the tunnels, we see devil nets, skeletons, skulls, rags of clothing, and other items hanging from the driftwood that shapes a tunnel within the brick-and-mortar walls of the abandoned fort. Here, Carcosa is a place that destroys artists as it lures others in.

Childress has shaped his vision of Carcosa as a cloister or temple, with a concentric arrangement. This reverberates within many works of detective fiction, especially Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, where the monastery under investigation has a library that is a series of concentric rooms and levels; in this library is where the key crimes have taken place and where the murderer offers his confession as he poisons himself with the pages of his own weapon. In True Detective, the concentric maze of Carcosa becomes a method of both concealment and revelation. Childress uses his voice to both guide and disorient Cohle, calling him a "little priest" to entice him on even as he waits to attack. The phrase "little priest" evokes the priestly role of the investigator, even as Cohle wanders through what is essentially Childress's central atelier. At the center is the throne room, yellow skeletons forming the throne and a circular opening in the top of the dome. (Here, Cohle has yet another hallucination, and it's one that reverberates with any Call of Cthulhu character: It's an open gate. I fairly cheered when I saw it.) Fittingly, it is here in the center of Carcosa that the battle with Childress begins and ends.

Because Carcosa is a physical place, it's linked to south Louisiana. Carcosa is a palimpsest, possibly the primary text on the metaphorical vellum of this narrative. Given that we do not learn when the cult began--we know it's been around at least since relatively early forms of black-and-white photography, and Courir de Mardi Gras itself dates back to rural medieval France. As a religious locus, Carcosa is linked to Catholicism, given that Catholic practices in south Louisiana (significantly more present than Protestant) are the norm. Catholicism overlays the cult activity, rendering the cult activity more difficult to see. 

I have a separate idea map for the notion of the palimpsest, so I will leave that for later.

Carcosa as mythology is a bit more difficult to resolve. Should the "proof" of a religion depend on evidence of a deity's work? If so, no religion measures up beyond individual belief. It's clear that Miss Delores believes in Carcosa, and it's clear that other cult members believe strongly enough to kill themselves (Reverend Tuttle) and others (even down to Officer Childress, who likely, though it's unproven, tells Guy Francis to kill himself in his jail cell). But what constitutes belief? 

What constitutes the teleology of True Detective? Note what book the former Reverend Theriot sees in the Tuttle library: Telios de Lorca. I believe that the de Lorca part is not what's important; it's the Telios part, pointing to telos 'end, purpose, goal' and teleology 'study of purposiveness; study of objects regarding their aims, purposes, or intentions'.

Teleological language may be the detective's blind spot, a matter that I'll get into in another post.

Finally, does Carcosa indicate cargo-cult science? Does it represent a distant pole from scientific integrity? Cohle is able to find his way through Carcosa--although he certainly did not anticipate its location or form--by keeping his mind rational. We already suspect that Hart would not have reopened the case, possibly even if he'd heard himself from Guy Francis that the killer hadn't been caught. This kind of 'ratiocination' is what detectives have used all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe. Does Carcosa ultimately point to the cargo-cult nature of much of human activity?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Idea map 3: True Detective, artist-investigator.

This is the central idea I'm working around for this project. There's not a lot on this page; that's because it's on the other eight idea map pages.

The inner ring:

For Chambers, the artist is primary, and the artistic sensibility the primary motivator to action. His protagonists in The King in Yellow are largely artists--even though some sections of the text are more flash fiction than traditional narrative, such as "The Prophets' Paradise"--whose exposure to events external to their artistic lives become a form of contagion. More on this in a bit.

The artist-investigator is a mediator in the same way that the priest and the investigator are mediators. The priest mediates between the community and the transgressor/sacrifice, performing functions that purify the community with the capture and despatch of the transgressor-as-sacrifice. The investigator mediates between society and the criminal, performing functions that purify society with the capture and despatch of the criminal. The artist mediates between the artistic vision and the viewer-community, becoming the translator of the vision to the community. Without the artist, the vision cannot exist, and its meaning cannot be comprehended. With the artist, the community can understand the significance of the vision and feel connected to others in the community through mutual understanding of the artist's work. This parallels the religious tropes of detective fiction, and in Chambers, the trope of concealment/revelation aligns itself with the trope of the artist-investigator:


Thus, the criminal is also an artist, a notion that is handled with grace and delicacy in True Detective. It is part of the philosophical foundation for Gilbough and Patania's belief that Cohle is the killer. Hart, who develops a criminal streak during True Detective that may well have precedent in his personal narrative prior to the beginning of the series, mediates between Cohle and Gilbough/Patania, thus putting himself in the position of both criminal and artist. 

But there is an element of craft, as traditionally opposed to art, in all this. Investigation is an art, at least in True Detective, and Cohle is a practitioner at the highest level. Procedure, on the other hand, is a craft, and although the other investigators are portrayed as clay-footed primates, Hart's skills make him a practitioner at the highest level, too. Both of these elements are necessary for Cohle and Hart to solve the murders and catch Childress. 

Throughout True Detective and other detective fiction stories, the idea of contagion drives the narrative. The detectives must catch the killer so that his actions do not harm the community any further, yes, but also so that he does not inspire similar behavior in others. The priest must sacrifice the transgressor so that the community's conscience is relieved, but also so that other potential transgressors see the consequences. The artist must interpret the artistic vision for the community so that the community can see it and feel united in their understanding of it, but also so that the vision is presented with the purity of the artist's inner sight, free from the contagion of opinion.

Interestingly, in True Detective, contagion is still present because the rest of the perpetrators are able to hide behind their political connections. Like a blanket of original sin, this contagion remains to inspire other criminal-artists to breathe deeply and follow it.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Idea map 2: True Detective, detective fiction tropes.

I touched on a few of these ideas yesterday when I wrote about Idea Map 1. Today's work is going to go in depth on some of those ideas plus others, drawing on a number of ideas present in the study of detective fiction for several decades now. If you find yourself wanting citations, well, there's a world of scholarship out there already, enough to find easily on your own. One place to start would be the Wikipedia entry on detective fiction. It's not bad, and it'll point you in a few other directions you might find fruitful. I'd be cautious about the TV Tropes website, for two reasons. One, you'll never get out. It's an utter time sink. Two, those are tropes for television, not for the written word, so while there'll be overlap, there'll also be differences, and it's more than simply YMMV.

On to the map. As an aside, I need to be better with graphic programs.

The inner ring:

Layering: palimpsest; narrative, interpretive (via semiotics), and temporal layering
Visual tropes: sight/blindness, concentricity, concealment/revelation (subset: religious tropes, sacrifice), light/darkness, clarity/obscurity, masking/unmasking
Triangular relationships, with the most basic as priest/sacrifice/community, a triangle paralled in both Cohle and Childress's actions; the shape of the 'devil nets' that Cohle and Hart find as part of Childress's visitations; overlaps with the lovers' triangle of espionage fiction (lover/beloved/interloper parallels spy/handler/raven or swallow, depending on gender
Capture tropes: trapping/escape, freedom/confinement, constraint/release; associated trope is criminal/confessor, which is paralleled in Hart's relationship with his wife and in Cohle's skill as an interrogator; visual is crab traps in numerous scenes plus 'devil nets' at both crime scenes and unrelated scenes
Religious tropes: transgressor/confessor, sacrifice/redemption, purity/corruption, monk/congregant 
Atonement: the central trope uniting the artist-investigator with the investigator-priest


Layering is a common trope in detective fiction, mystery fiction, police procedurals, and sometimes in espionage fiction. Generally speaking, narrative layering occurs when the detective walks the path of the criminal in the effort to solve the mystery and catch the perpetrator. In True Detective, it's more complicated. Many feet walk the same path. Childress, and possibly the other members of the cult, are the first ones to walk their paths. Subsequently, Cohle and Hart start following Childress, unbeknownst to them, but they are sidetracked by the evidence found at the LeDoux encampment. They're not able to pick up the signs of the path again for years, and are able to do so only when Cohle has left the force and started investigating on his own. Detectives Gilbough and Papania follow what they believe to be Cohle's footsteps as the perpetrator, but in fact they're on the wrong path altogether. Temporal layering is connected to the crime scene. The events that take place on the crime scene overlay a scene that is (probably) otherwise uninvolved with a crime. After the crime scene overlays its present time, the detective(s) must retrace what has occurred in the crime scene by way of observation and measurement; Cohle's ability to use his understanding as an artist-investigator-philosopher means he outstrips the ability of the police force and its resources to explicate the events at the crime scene. He is able to understand what happens during the time of the crime and its aftermath in ways that the other investigators cannot. Interpretive layering is a matter of semiotics, or the philosophical study of signs and symbols. Evidence and its interpretation is perhaps the primary semiotic element in detective fiction. In True Detective, the evidence is incorrectly interpreted by Gilbough and Patania, so that they believe that Cohle is the perpetrator. The same evidence is incorrectly interpreted by Cohle and Hart at first, so that they believe that the LeDoux brothers are the central perpetrators. Later, the same evidence, augmented by other findings largely on the part of Cohle, is understood correctly by Cohle, then transmitted to Hart in Cohle's role as a profiler of corruption.

Visual tropes are probably the most common tropes in detective fiction, and for good reason: they apply directly to the effort of the detective and any of his cohort. There are so, so many of these in True Detective that it's exhaustive to document them all.  (I've got a separate idea map on visual tropes alone, so more to come on this.) The key ones, especially by the time we get to the last episode, "Form and Void," are concealment/revelation, masking/unmasking, and concentricity. An additional one, face/avert, requires some attention in how it's used by Cohle. Concealment and revelation are the heart of detective fiction, espionage fiction, police procedurals...where would the criminal be without his attempts to conceal himself? Along with this trope goes those of clarity/obscurity, darkness/light, sight/blindness, and other demonstrably visual tropes. Masking/unmasking tropes are related to both identity and criminality, but independently. For instance, in True Detective, Gilbough and Papania are subjected to Hart's ongoing confessions about his infidelity, none of which is important to their investigation. At first, it seems that Hart is simply being clumsy, but the audience eventually sees (and Gilbough and Papania never see) that Hart's confessions are a cover for his counterinterrogation of Gilbough and Papania. Hart finds out everything from them; they find out nothing from him. Hart's mask as a womanizer isn't really a mask at all, given that all of that has come out about him for his wife and children. His unmasking reveals nothing. Gilbough and Papania share their investigation with Hart in an unrewarded effort to find out details about Cohle, details that Hart legitimately does not possess. Concentricity happens all over True Detective, with the most important one being the site of the confrontation between Cohle/Hart and Childress. 

      Abandoned fort
           Recreated woods, ie, Carcosa
               Throne room        
          Recreated woods, ie, Carcosa  
     Abandoned fort

That's inadequate as a diagram, but as I lamented above, I need to get better with graphic programs. The center is the throne room, where Cohle, Hart, and Childress battle, and where Cohle's most profound hallucination occurs. The Carcosa woods are the corridors circling the throne room--filled with devil nets, branches, moss, skeletons, rope, they're the area through which both Cohle and Hart make their way as they approach. The abandoned fort is the structure encircling all of this, and around it are the woods. 

Concentricity is an incredibly important trope in detective fiction novels, especially The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, one of the major 20th century updates to the genre. The idea of circling--the detective circling the criminal and vice versa, as in so many police procedurals, for instance, or the police force circling the wrong perpetrator as the gumshoe tracks down the correct one, as in The Maltese Falcon, or even in a non-detective fiction story such as Casablanca, with its reference to "the usual suspects"--is one of the core elements of detective fiction, and its importance in True Detective is not to be underestimated. Here, Carcosa becomes the center of a concentric reality, one that's distinct from the reality in which Cohle and Hart (and the rest of the police force) function. The landscape itself in south Louisiana becomes a character.

Triangular relationships are the armature for detective fiction and its related genre, spy fiction. In detective fiction, the primary triangle is that of the detective/criminal/community. It's based on the religious triangle of the priest/sacrifice/community, and it's paralleled in spy, or espionage, fiction with the lovers' triangle of the lover/beloved/interloper as paralleled by the spy/handler/raven or swallow, where the raven/swallow is the interloper. (Historically, a male seducer of a spy is referred to as a raven; similarly for female seducers and swallows.) Without this triangular armature, the structure of the narrative becomes something else as it blends into other genres.

In True Detective, this shows up in all manner of ways. Hart's infidelities create at least two lovers' triangles, and likely others. The distraction of DeWall and LeDoux and their victims onsite in "The Secret Fate of All Life" create a detective/criminal/community triangle with the detectives; that ultimate relationship doesn't come out until Cohle's interrogation of Guy Leonard Francis, the drugstore robber/killer who tells Cohle that the King in Yellow is still free. At that point, Cohle is forced to confront his ineffective work in the previous investigation and restart it, as a civilian rather than as an officer, to gather evidence and catch the real perpetrator. 

Capture tropes are key because frankly, where would detective fiction be without them? Even espionage fiction lets people go for the purpose of discovery. When such a release happens in detective fiction, however, there had better be a good reason. In True Detective, the capture tropes are played out in parallel between the flashbacks to Hart's infidelities and Maggie's discovery of them, and the flashbacks to Cohle and Hart's tracking down DeWall and Reggie LeDoux. Hart is a perpetrator on a significantly lesser scale than the LeDoux cousins, yet one without the other is incomplete. This links them to the espionage fiction trope of the lovers' triangle: Hart constructs lovers' triangles even as he is a detective searching for criminals whose sacrifice will appease the community. Within detective fiction conventions, Cohle and Hart track down DeWall and Reggie LeDoux through good solid police work, but it turns out that the ultimate perpetrator is still on the loose--and there may be others shielded by the politically powerful. Thus begins another cycle of capture tropes, this time with both Hart and Cohle as former officers, now PI (Hart) and gumshoe (Cohle, only formally after Hart hires him as an investigator outright).  The visual correspondents to the capture trope in True Detective are the 'devil nets', which are ostensibly made by Childress and placed at various crime scenes, and the crab traps, which show up during Cohle and Hart's questioning of various potential witnesses and family members.

Religious tropes: Here is where we encounter Cohle at his fullest development. Cohle is the transgressor turned confidant, transgressor turned confessor, the sacrifice who becomes the redeemer, the pure one distancing himself from corruption, and the monk who declaims to his congregants. Without the religious tropes, Cohle's character is underdeveloped and unworthy of trust. From his first monkish moments, where he tells Hart that he doesn't sleep but only dreams, to his final confrontation in the religious chambers of Carcosa, to his description of his afterlife encounter with his daughter, Cohle is primarily a religious figure. Without his monkish qualities, there is no grounding for Hart's indiscretions; similarly, without Hart's womanizing, Cohle's asceticism has no efficacy. 

Cohle's own background indicates some level of criminality, both once he goes undercover and after he leaves the police force. His real skill is as a confessor in "the box," aka the interrogation room. 
I never really found it that hard. You know, you just look at somebody and think like they think. Negative capability. I mean, I guess it's a skill. Most times you don't even need just look them in the eyes, the whole story's right there. Everybody wears their hunger in the heart, you know. You just got to be honest about what can go on up here [taps temple with pocket knife blade]. The locked room. (S1 E3, "The Locked Room")
Cohle's skill in interrogation is unparalleled, as admitted by Hart and shown on screen. Cohle's services as an interrogator are really those of a confessor, someone who can work his way inside the mind of a perpetrator and gain a confession. Yet Cohle is also the sacrificial figure, as his near-death experience in episode 8, "Form and Void," indicates. Cohle's sacrifice isn't that of his life, but of his death: Cohle is returned from what he believes to be the afterlife and his daughter's love, back to the world we, and other perpetrators, live in.

Notions of purity and corruption are throughout the True Detective narrative. At first, we think that Hart is the "pure" one and Cohle is the corrupted one, but we quickly revise that as we see Hart's infidelities contrasted with Cohle's asceticism. Hart is the transgressor, and as he confesses his infidelities to Gilbough and Patania (who could not care less about them), we see a man who cannot rid himself of his past because he cannot confess fully. Cohle, on the other hand, hides nothing, and is excoriated for it. His unwillingness to be true to anyone but himself ultimately gets him booted from the force and from police work altogether; he bounces downward until he is a part-time bartender at a shack joint in rural Louisiana, drinking on his off-hours (or so he tells Gilbough and Patania). Even that doesn't constitute corruption in the moral sense. Hart is as corrupt as he ever was, while Cohle's work and drinking do nothing to defile his monkish existence.

None of Hart's transgressions matter to Cohle, whose sole motivation is to solve the murders and find the real perpetrator. Cohle is willing to sacrifice himself to do so, as demonstrated in the fight between himself and Childress. Cohle has no way of knowing the degree to which he is outmanned by Childress, who is physically larger and stronger, and whose attacks are devastating once Cohle is disarmed of his pistol. In fact, Childress very nearly wins the battle; only the fortunate placement of a pistol near Hart, knocked away during a fistfight, permits Childress's defeat.

Cohle's rescue by Hart begins his afterlife journey. During his hospitalization, Cohle describes a scene to Hart that can only be a near-death experience. Cohle encounters his dead relatives, including his daughter, and attempts to go with them across some kind of border. Cohle does not cross, though, and finds himself back in the material world, suffering from his wounds and watching news broadcasters describe the denials of the politically powerful even as the Childress compound is scoured by police investigators. Although there are many subtle references to Melville's Moby-Dick in True Detective, there is one that cannot be overlooked:

Not a word he spoke; nor did his officers say aught to him; though by all their minutest gestures and expressions, they plainly showed the uneasy, if not painful, consciousness of being under a troubled master-eye. And not only that, but moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe. ("Ahab," chapter xxviii)

The religious tropes lead naturally into that of atonement, which is another dominant trope of detective fiction. In True Detective, this trope is incredibly complex.

First, there's the contrast between Hart as sinner and Cohle as priest-confessor. Hart has a sheriff-style personality, one who is privately corrupt yet publicly pure. He seems to be sacrificial when in fact he is selfish. Hart's true confession scene only occurs during his last visit with Maggie, now his ex-wife, just before the shootout at the Childress compound. Hart doesn't fully know what he's going into, but he intuits that this will be decisive, no matter how it turns out. Hart does his best to reconcile things, but given his inability to come clean on any substantive part of his life, this too is unresolved. Even when he is in the hospital, after the shootout and recovering from his injuries, Hart still lies to his ex-wife and his daughters as he assures them that everything is going to be all right. 

Despite all this, Hart is the craftsman, where Cohle is the artist. Without Hart's genuine skill at doing police investigation legwork, much of the detail surrounding the murders committed by Childress would have gone unrecorded. But once Hart discovers that numerous police reports have been falsely adjusted, the real trail becomes apparent, and Hart and Cohle can progress in their search for the killer.

Between Hart and Cohle is a pile of bodies--first only one, that of Dora Lange, but as they investigate it becomes many--and the body becomes the locus of atonement for both the investigators and the killer. For the investigators, finding the real killer will be a debt repaid, as Cohle reminds Hart in season 1, episode 7, "After You're Gone." For the killer, the body, and really, any body, becomes the locus of ascension, as Childress tells his sister-wife in "Form and Void":
 “It’s been weeks since I left my mark, would they have eyes to see.”
Childress's method of communication is through death. The styling of Dora Lange's discovery scene--which is not the crime scene--is Pre-Raphaelite. Childress is an artist even as he is a murderer and cultist, which takes years for Cohle to understand. Yet it is only Cohle, as an artist-investigator, who will understand it. 
“My ascension removes me the disc in the loop,” he’s describing the cosmology of eternal recurrence of various characters, including Cohle and Reggie Ledoux hit upon, and he’s hitting upon his personal mythology. When he says, “It’s been weeks since I left my mark, would they have eyes to see,” we can tell from that that he’s angling for a reckoning, for a showdown. (Slate interview with Nic Pizzolatto, 10 March 2014)
On the other hand, we have Cohle, the priest-confessor. He suffers from hallucinations; he's been committed to a drug rehab/psychiatric facility, ostensibly to support his cover as a drug manufacturer and transporter; he's performed criminal activities since leaving the force. In the beginning, he personifies the cowboy cop, driving a decrepit Ford F-150, showing up drunk to a dinner invitation, and manipulating prostitutes for both drugs and information. His work in south Louisiana transforms him, so much that he becomes the strange cop in a strange land, someone who doesn't belong with either the police or the perpetrators, someone who can move between both worlds but who is trusted in neither, and someone who relies upon his sensibilities as an artist to support his work as an investigator.

This is a lot for one day's work. I have much to augment all these pages, items derived from my re-viewings of the series, my reading of Lovecraft scholarship, my re-reading of Chambers, and my general thoughts. 

More to come.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Idea map 1: True Detective, general.

Pic of the initial idea map. This is what told me there was a book in all this.

The inner ring of ideas:

True Detective (I'm not italicizing it, it's too laborious for this kind of work) explores the nature of the detective through detective fiction tropes, through its episodic development of the detective fiction tropes as well as other tropes, through references to Lovecraft and Chambers, the author of The King in Yellow, and behind all this, the idea of Carcosa as both place and idea.

True Detective offers a wealth of detective fiction tropes. Just a few: Visual tropes, sexual tropes, and espionage fiction tropes (a subgenre of detective fiction); sacrifice and ascension; time and non-time; day/night, light/darkness, clarity/obscurity; and others (I've another idea map for detective fiction). These tropes form a structure that True Detective plays with and on, incorporating the artist from Chambers's work and the amateur, and often unintentional, investigator from Lovecraft's work into the figure of the artist-investigator, fully realized in the form of Rustin Cohle. 

So what is the nature of the detective in True Detective? The title points us in no certain direction. What, exactly, is a true detective? Is it someone who works on a police force? Is it a private investigator or gumshoe? Is it someone who adheres to a code, and if so, what's the code? Is it someone who behaves ethically, and if so, what are those ethics? Is it someone whose investigation is as lurid as the tabloid-style title that True Detective evokes? 

In the season 1, the buddy cop trope gets exploded. Cohle is seduced by Martin Hart's wife yet never claims to be a victim; Hart and Cohle don't have any kind of bonding moment until the season is nearly finished and Cohle is off the squad; the two detectives are not confidants, even though they evidently have confidence in each other when trouble arises; no matter how much they drink together, Cohle is uninterested in bonding with Hart, even when Hart's wife has left him over his extramarital affairs. Despite all this, during the two shootout scenes--the LeDoux encampment and the Childress homestead--there is never any question but that these two will fight and save each other, come what may. Is that, then, what a true detective is? Are all other loyalties minimized, and is this the only one that signifies what the phrase means? If so, then this is more of a wartime definition, such as that of a soldier with his unit, and not a peacetime definition.

The detective versus the investigator. This is an idea that's been around since at least Auguste Dupin in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), when Dupin outwits the poorly trained and dog-leashed policemen with little effort. This is especially the case in "The Purloined Letter" (1844), which contrasts Dupin's methods with the plodding, methodical police work. Similarly, Cohle as the investigator, monkish and brilliant (that's yet another idea map), has capabilities well beyond those of Marty Hart, whose real skills are in the basic legwork of police investigation. We're put on notice that the age of privileging either the detective on the police force or the investigator working independently (in Cohle's case, even as he's on a squad) is behind us. It takes both kinds of effort to solve today's crimes.

Yet what a contrast Cohle and Hart are.

Hart: Policeman, morally and sexually corrupt, utter womanizer despite his understanding of the consequences, yet he fits in with the other policemen and with society in general. He's the image of the hardworking father on good terms with his colleagues.

Cohle: Monastic, monadic, Cohle is the consummate investigator. He lacks moral and sexual corruption to the degree that Hart possesses it. Early in the season, Cohle is desperate to find some way to sleep, the consequence of the death of his toddler daughter not long before. His daughter's death fundamentally changed him, and although those changes made Cohle's life nearly impossible, it is because of those changes that he ultimately is able to solve the murders committed by Childress and the cult. Cohle does not fit in with society except with criminals when he works undercover; this fact does not trouble him at all. 

The coda of corruption is the primary structure of the narrative. True Detective has musical roots, with sections playing, returns to previous points (music and memory), and the final resolution--the coda--worked out in the present day of the narrative. These various sections of the narrative build in two directions: one, where the detectives Gilbough and Papania, the internal investigators, are convinced that Cohle is the murderer, and two, where Cohle and Hart gather information over the course of years to track down Errol Childress, the real murderer. Without Cohle's skill as an artist-investigator, however, Gilbough and Patania would have had little to go on. The original murder of Dora Lange would have been unsolved, and the evidence of the existence of the cultists and their political allies would never have been documented. What makes this happen is the transmission of corruption by and through the artist, Cohle, as he investigates the many murders and documents his findings. Without his sensitivity as an artist combined with his skill as an investigator, the murders would have continued.

Carcosa as place versus idea, south Louisiana as place versus idea. As we discover in the episode 7, "After You've Gone," Miss Delores knows of Carcosa.

"You know Carcosa?" she asks Cohle.

"What is it?"
"Him who eats Time. Him robes is a wind of invisible voices...Rejoice. Death is not the end. Rejoice! Death is not the end! You know Carcosa! Rejoice! Carcosa!"
 It's interesting that both Carcosa and south Louisiana are unquestioned. Even when things are at their worst--when the evidence comes out that the Carcosa cult is backed by the most powerful political individuals in the state--no one questions whether Carcosa exists, and no one questions why these powerful political figures are backing the cult. It seems that being able to rape and murder young girls to ensure one's ascension is some kind of understandable explanation. 

Where I am, and how.

Where I am, and how.

1. I've watched and re-watched True Detective and have taken notes each time. I want to do it again and probably should, though it might be mere self-indulgence.

2. I've read a good bit of academic research published in Lovecraft Annual on topics that I could tell were related to my core ideas. All of this research was published well before True Detective came out, so there's no direct scholarship in Lovecraft Annual. Still, I found numerous valuable articles.

3. I've gone through Selected Essays Volume 2: Literary Criticism, the collection edited by the esteemed ST Joshi. I took notes on several essays, especially "Supernatural Horror in Literature," HPL's statement on the nature of what he variously terms horror, terror, cosmic horror, and weird literature and his estimate of his predecessors and contemporaries who seem to grasp what he himself is about. Quite a few sections were fruitful.

4. I haven't done a thorough job of tracking down websites and blogs yet, for a couple of reason. One, there are a few ten thousands devoted to that first season of True Detective. After a few searches for subtopics and keywords, I discovered, not to my surprise, that they vary in quality. Vary. Verily. Two, the majority that I consulted follow the episodes, especially those blogs and websites associated with entertainment shows and outlets, and few of them go beyond plot summary and guesstimates of upcoming content in season 1. The content struck me as similar to that of Lost in its heyday, when people felt themselves in competition to get it. There are some good reference sites, such as one Wikia site that takes pains to cross-reference. I don't have a lot of fear that someone else has picked up my ideas.

5. A couple of other volumes in Joshi's Selected Essays series might have valuable works. I have two more volumes with post-its on promising items. Really, there's no end to this.

Where I've set the signposts.

1. Firming up my central idea. I've got it, I just need to get it sharpened, then let it sit while I do other things, which will let me see if it needs expansion.

2.  Transcribing my idea maps into blog posts. If I were just writing a speech, I could use the idea maps I've drawn, but I need them to be prose now. 

3. Damn, this thing really is a book. I just kind of guessed that when I got started because everything was pouring out of me, and then I look at the nine pages of idea maps and the (currently) 42 pages of handwritten notes in my notebook--which is an inventor's notebook, much like a lab book, larger than a simple composition book--and I realize that I haven't even written a speech yet, much less an essay.

4. It may well be time to do an outline. I've got a long history of writing outlines only to find that I radically change them, which has always worked well, and I'll go on the assumption that the same will be the case now. 

5. The abstract is due 23 May, but I want it done well before then so that I can give it time to simmer and survive revision. I've read many a crappy submitted abstract, and the best ones were from candidates who'd actually done the work and knew what the edges of their work looked like. Those are what I need to find, the edges.

Wish me luck. I always liked you best.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Years and days gone by.

When I last updated this blog, I was doing so while at a former employer. I was writing about Lovecraft because the work was drying up at that firm, and I knew it, and in between posts on Lovecraft and reading his work, I was sending out resumes and cover letters to pretty much anyone who had a job on offer that I could've squeezed into.

I'm back here to work on a paper for an HP Lovecraft conference this August (NecronomiCon Providence). I want it to be good, solid, so that my abstract gets accepted and I get to present it.

What I'm going to write about here: I've got nine pages of idea maps on my subject, all of which I will put into prose form and get my ideas together. Before then, and what I'm doing right now, is finishing up some scholarly articles on topics related to Lovecraft and my topic. The deadline for the abstract is 23 May, which I should make pretty easily.

"Time is a flat circle." --Rustin Cohle, True Detective