True Detective part 4: The World Needs Bad Men

If you want to start from the beginning, part one of the True Detective Essay can be found HERE

THE WORLD NEEDS BAD MEN. WE KEEP THE OTHER BAD MEN FROM THE DOOR.

- Rust Cohle

Detectives Hart and Cohle are bad men in the position to do bad things. As Cohle points out to a prostitute, “Of course I’m dangerous. I’m police. I can do terrible things to people with impunity.” It’s a common theme in pulp and detective fiction that in order to stop criminals the men who chase them must become equally as brutal. What makes True Detective unique is that it doesn’t focus on the morality of Hart and Cohle’s decisions. It remains focused on the bigger question: Why does Evil exist? If Evil did not exist, there would be no need for men like Hart and Cohle voluntarily spend decades of their lives chasing it. If there were no monsters, we would need no labyrinths to contain them and no heroes to slay them.

In the Minotaur myth the hero is Theseus, a brave youth who volunteers to kill the Minotaur in order to end the practice of sacrificing boys and girls to him year after year. Cohle clearly fills this role in True Detective, being the driving, obsessive force who runs headlong in to the labyrinth in pursuit of the monster. But it’s Hart who fills a smaller, more quiet role: that of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos who falls in love with Theseus and gives him the ball of string he uses to make it out of labyrinth alive. For all the jokes about the “bromance” in True Detective, there’s no denying that Hart and Cohle are involved in a meaningful relationship. On Cohle’s side, the interest seems largely driven by utility at first – Hart is a good partner and does solid police work. Hart’s interest in Cohle is a little more enigmatic. Hart is well respected by his superiors. He’s on track to rise through the ranks of the police force, should he want to, and yet he chooses to partner with Cohle, an obvious trouble maker. Cohle bothers him on a visceral level, challenging Hart’s religion and calling him on the hypocrisy of spouting family values while cheating on his wife. There seems to be no gain for Hart in maintaining his partnership with Cohle, and yet he chooses to follow him in to the labyrinth once in 1995 and again in 2012.

In his interviews, Hart fancies himself a great judge of character, but ends up telling us more about his own nature than he does about anyone else. He is a man who knows what matters in life, what keeps people tethered to their communities and responsibilities. In the first episode, he describes the problem with Cohle by saying, “Past a certain age, a man without a family can be a bad thing.” In a later portion of the interview, he talks about his security business and Private Investigative work telling the younger Detectives, “once you’re out (of the police work), you have to stay busy. Most end up in the cemetery.” Both are good pieces of advice, but Hart isn’t great at following through on them. He loses his family through infidelity and is far less busy than he appears in his retirement. Still, he can see the thread that ties people and society together, just as clearly as Cohle can see the spiral pattern of the universe. Theseus and Ariadre, Hart and Cohle, both pairs of characters need each other in order to kill monsters and live to tell the tale.

One of the first things Cohle says upon waking up in the hospital after killing Errol Childress is, “We didn’t get them all.” Even fresh from a coma Cohle knows that the job of slaying Evil is not done. It is Detective Hart, the man who holds the string, the man who knows the way out of the labyrinth, who keeps Cohle from getting sucked in to his destructive spiral again by reminding him, “but we got ours.”

Detectives Hart and Cohle have done their time as bad men guarding the labyrinth. They’ve played their part and in turn, the job has taken a toll on them. By the end of the show Hart is gone to seed, divorced and estranged from his daughters. Cohle is a suicidal alcoholic. The only way for them to have a happy ending is to step away from the chase, to stop running down the same path only to find a different monster at the end each time. There are other, younger men like Detectives Papania and Gilbough to guard the labyrinth and fight the monsters. In time they too will age or die and the cycle will begin again with new names, new faces, new monsters. Time is a flat circle and this story is another version of a myth about a labyrinth, a monster to be slain and two people searching for a way out.

True Detective Part 3: There’s a Monster at the End of It

If you want to start from the beginning, part one of the True Detective Essay can be found HERE

IT WAS ALL THE SAME DREAM, A DREAM THAT YOU HAD INSIDE A LOCKED ROOM…AND LIKE A LOT OF DREAMS, THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF IT.

- Rust Cohle

In the detective genre the term “monster” is nearly synonymous with the big concept of Evil – it’s not tossed around for street thugs who kill each other over drug deals gone bad or squabbling in-laws who shoot one another over a borrowed car. “Monster” is reserved for those who commit the most heinous of crimes: the rapists, the torture artists, the child killers. True Detective operates under the same rules. We see a parade of terrible people doing terrible things, but there’s only one individual referred to as a “monster.” It’s not even Reverend Tuttle, he of the child porn tapes. No, “Monster” is reserved for Errol Childress: the man with the scars, the man that Hart and Cohle chase through a labyrinth and kill.

 


The most famous labyrinth in the Western world is the Cretan Labyrinth, designed by the architect Daedalus to hold the Minotaur. Being the product of bestiality, the Minotaur fits the classical definition of a Monster, but he is also the living reminder of the sins of his father, King Minos. When he ascended to the throne of Crete, King Minos was obligated to sacrifice a beautiful white bull to show honor to the gods. Being greedy, King Minos ignored his duty and kept the bull for himself. The gods had their revenge on the selfish king. They made his wife, the queen, fall in love with the great white bull to such an extent that she copulated with it and birthed a deformed child with the head of bull and the body of a man. The Minotaur’s deformity and his entire existence is a direct result of his father’s greed and selfishness.

In True Detective, Errol Childress, the scarred man, also bears the sins of his father. In episode 7, Hart and Cohle learn that Errol is the illegitimate grandchild of a member of the wealthy and powerful Tuttle family. If Sam Tuttle, Errol’s grandfather, had not been so fond of philandering, there wouldn’t be a murderous bastard grandchild on the loose in the bayou. Like the Minotaur, Errol Childress also has a facial deformity that can be traced to his father. In talking to a former Tuttle family domestic servant, Hart and Cohle learn that Errol’s father burned him when he was just a child, giving him his trademark scars.


Both the Minotaur and Errol Childress are monsters and both fit the big “E” definition of evil; they are murderous, incestuous, the products of brutality and bestiality. Though they are removed from society these monsters still exact their tolls. In the Minotaur myth, every seven years the city of Athens chooses seven youths and seven maidens to be eaten by the Minotaur or die while lost in the labyrinth. Similarly, Errol Childress abducts and murders his young victims on a schedule and with a great deal of ritual. When Detective Cohle chases Errol in to a series of labyrinthine tunnels we see what appears to be a human skeleton with antlers wrapped in a shroud, a pile of children’s clothes and an altar made of branches and human skulls. Errol’s labyrinth is a final resting place for sacrificed children, just as much as the labyrinth of the Minotaur. Both places are shrines to death of innocents and the endurance of Evil. A chosen few enter, but only the monsters survive.

In most myths resolution comes with the death of a monster, but True Detective subverts this pattern. Hard and Cohle “slay” monsters in both 1995 and 2012, but they do not gain any satisfaction from their deeds. If True Detective followed a standard narrative, the story would have ended in 1995 after the Detectives killed the bad guys and rescued a little girl. Instead, this “success” leads to a collapse of the partnership and further doubt and unease about the morals by which they live. Cohle is particularly haunted by his actions, and the incomplete nature of his victory. When recounting the incident he says, “and that little boy and that little girl, they’re gonna be in that room again, and again, and again, forever.” When Hart and Cohle find and kill Errol, the physical embodiment of Evil, they find no answers. The center of the labyrinth may have held the monster, but it was devoid of the truth that they so desperately sought.

We don’t need to look to fiction to understand why catching a flesh and blood monster isn’t satisfactory. In real life, the government captured, tried and convicted Jeffrey Dahmer. ). Top forensic psychologist spent months questioning Dahmer, trying to learn what drove him to torture, rape, kill and eat his victims before decorating his home with their dead flesh. Their interviews gave us more detail than anyone would want to know about these activities, but left us with no more insights as why such an Evil exists in the world. Capturing this real life monster left us with a few more tools in our psychological profiling kit, but it left the good people of the world just as powerless as we were before. We have as much hope of stopping the next serial killer as we do of stopping the next hurricane that will hit the Gulf coast. Evil is a cycle, a spinning force of nature repeating the same patterns over and over again. It cannot be stopped permanently, but it can be contained by structures like the labyrinth and held in check by men like Theseus and Detectives Hart and Cohle.

Coming soon! True Detective part 4 (our thrilling conclusion): The World Needs Bad Men

True Detective part 2: Time is a Flat Circle

If you want to start from the beginning, part one of the True Detective Essay can be found HERE

SOMEONE ONCE TOLD ME, ‘TIME IS A FLAT CIRCLE.’ EVERYTHING WE’VE EVER DONE OR WILL DO, WE’RE GONNA DO OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

- Rust Cohle

One of the key symbols in True Detective is a spiral. It first appears on the Dora Kelly Lange’s corpse 1995, but it pops up elsewhere in the investigation as a tattoo on a suspect, and in the shape of a flock of birds as it flies over the abandoned church.

A spiral is defined by the fact that it is open, rather than closed. A spiral is a line that circles itself, winding and growing but always retaining the exact same shape. It’s the repetition of a spiral that evokes a sense of inevitability. Once the pattern is established, it will never change. The idea of spirals and repeated patterns doesn’t just appear visually – it also comes up in language and thought, most notably in Cohle’s rambling interview responses, where he says, “Someone once told me ‘time is a flat circle.’ Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over again.”

The spiral is also significant in that it is a naturally occurring shape. We see it in everything from a nautilus shell to the Milky Way galaxy. We also see it in hurricanes, which come up repeatedly in True Detective. Though we don’t see or experience hurricanes Rita, Andrew or Katrina in True Detective, they are all mentioned by name. These storms force residents of the Gulf Coast in to an unending cycle of destruction, loss and rebuilding. They also provide a key plot device by destroying evidence held by the police and paper files held by Reverend Tuttle.

Hart and Cohle enter start their own cycle of destruction and rebuilding when they see the spiral drawn on Dora Kelly Lange’s corpse and they spend twenty years spinning around that central point. Over the course of the show we see two cycles in the investigation of the same crime. The two detectives follow the same trajectory in both 1995 and 2012: a murdered woman, an uneasy partnership, a growing trust, a breakthrough after months of investigation, a step outside the boundaries of the law to catch the killer and finally, a feeling of dissatisfaction even after thwarting a killer and being lauded as heroes. The show drives home the idea of repetition and inevitability by using the same characters from 1995 to act out the 2012 portion of the story. Hart’s wife and daughters, Reverend Tuttle, the revival preacher and the girl from the trailer park brothel are all slightly different than when we first saw them, but they still have roles to play. They are trapped in this same spiral just as much as Detectives Hart and Cohle.

Most importantly for our analysis, a spiral is also a labyrinth; the open end is an invitation to follow the curved path of empty space between the lines. It’s notable that the season finale of the show is named “Form and Void,” a title that could be a description of the actual labyrinth through which Hart and Cohle chase the killer – the form being the walls of the labyrinth and the void being the dead space between. That negative space is where Hart and Cohle live and work. It’s the space between what is known and what is yet to be discovered, what is legal and illegal, what is right and what is wrong. In modern English the words labyrinth and maze are synonymous, but in classical terms there is a distinction between the two. A maze is a puzzle, with multiple paths and choices of direction. A labyrinth is a shape with a single, non-branching path that leads to the center. It supports the idea that there is a single, inevitable truth to be found if one only follows the path all the way to the end. The viewers, like the detectives, want there to be a central truth, a clear answer at the end of the long and winding investigation, but sometimes a singular answer does not provide solace or resolution.

True Detective Part 3: There’s a Monster at the End of It

True Detective part 1: Start Asking the Right Fucking Questions

http://thisisinfamous.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/true-detective.jpg

I recently binged all of HBO’s True Detective. Though not perfect, the show is gorgeous and full of enough mystery and symbolism to keep me puzzling over it long after I was finished watching. Nic Pizzolatto’s writing and the performances by Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart and Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle make this a really memorable piece of work.

After heading online to read what other people had to say, I was surprised to find that some viewers and critics found the show boring or disappointing – especially the season finale. Not every show speaks to every viewer, but these criticisms didn’t make sense until I realized that most people probably came to the show thinking that it would be a mix between psychological horror and police procedural. It’s not an unreasonable expectation, given that True Detective is influenced by the grit of Pulp Detective Fiction, cult horror classics like The King in Yellow and authors like Thomas Ligotti. If viewed through that lens, True Detective is filled with too much philosophical mumbo-jumbo and offers an unsatisfying resolution to the core mystery. Maybe it’s just an unhealthy tendency to obsessively over analyze, but I found a different lens through which to view the show: a modern retelling of the Theseus and the Minotaur Myth where instead of two Athenian kids facing down a monster in a labyrinth, two Southern detectives face down a monster… in a labyrinth. Interested? Check out more below the jump.

YOU ARE NOW ENTERING SPOILER CITY! TURN BACK OR ABANDON YOUR RIGHT TO BITCH!

Patronage and the Arts

I’ve always joked about how we need to bring back a patronage system to allow artists the time to create while still having enough funds to fill their bellies. Then this morning, I saw that Jason Shiga, creator of awesome stories like Bookhunter and Meanwhile (which I reviewed here ) is actively seeking patrons at http://www.patreon.com. You can check out his page here . What’s interesting about this system is that, unlike Kickstarter, it doesn’t seem to be linked to a single project or deliverable. . All of the artists I’ve previewed give patrons some special access or item that is not available to the general public, but it’s not a direct one-for-one exchange. The focus is on making small (as low as $1.00 a month), regular payments to the artist of your choice. Using this model, if an artist was able to get enough patrons, he or she could have a steady income and be free of the scramble to produce, sell, get paid and produce again before the money from the first job runs out. It’s a direct method of supporting creative efforts and a way to be sure that 100% of the money you’re giving goes directly to the artist. I’m very interested to see how a model like this works, as it could give people a different way to be creative consumers – a chance to sponsor the creative process and not just the tangible result.

What do you think?

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Youtube

Q: What I have I been watching on Youtube lately?

A:  Thug Notes http://www.thug-notes.com/, wherein Sparky Sweets, PhD. is droppin’ knowledge bombs on all y’alls. Each episode provides a succinct summary and accessible analysis of one of literature’s biggest ballers.

Thug Notes is more than just entertaining – it’s brilliant – and I appreciate the hell out of what they are doing because I know how hard it is. Back when I was in college I thought I wanted to be an English teacher, so I spent four years working as an in-class teaching aide and tutor at a high school.  It was a great experience that taught me an invaluable lesson: I was not ready to teach. I was too young and too green to handle a classroom on my own. I loved what I did as an aide, but I also saw the grueling effort it took to get kids engaged with some of the musty classics that made up the curriculum.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was on the required reading list for the 10th grade literature classes. It’s a good book, but it was tough for kids who watched 16 and Pregnant on MTV to understand how Hester Prynne could be shamed by the judgment of her community.  “Why don’t she just take off that big letter A?” one of my students asked. “Why don’t she move away? Hester be stoopid.”

I didn’t have an answer for that student. Her questions were valid, especially given that she had no real context for a story that was set 200 years ago. I had no idea where to start in providing context. Should I talk about Puritan society in the early Americas? About the biblical allusions? Maybe other stories set in the same era? The student lost interest before I could think of anything to say and the moment was lost. The Scarlet Letter remained a useless old story, just something to be skimmed and forgotten.

Maybe if Thug Notes existed back when I was teaching, I could have answered my student’s questions. The genius of Thug Notes is that it peels away the need for context by summarizing classics as if the stories took place today. It takes the characters out of the past and focuses on the timeless and universal themes – love, lust, betrayal, hypocrisy, oppression, ambition – and makes it possible for the audience to see the connection between the story and the struggle in their own lives. When that happens, it’s something like magic.

If there are any classics that you’ve never been able to connect with, look them up on Thug Notes. You might find a little more relevance in those stories. At very least, you’ll be entertained.

January 2014: The Undeadening

As you may have noticed, this blog has been dead for over a year. Fortunately for me (and hopefully for you), blogs have many stages of deadness and this one was only mostly dead. With a little hard work and some spare parts, I’ll have it alive and kicking again in 2014. You can look forward to more book reviews, writing updates, rants about the state of publishing and anything else that gets my panties in a twist this year. Along with the new stuff, I’ll be going back to cover some books and events from 2012 – 2013 as well. If I don’t get to all of it, here’s a recap. In the past year and a half I:

- Bought a house

- Refurbished a house (found out the hard way how much rewiring and a new power box costs)

- Received a promotion at my job.

- Worked with a team of awesome people to publish the Legacy Collection: 9,500 classic scholarly book titles digitized and added across 15 subject areas, including contributions from over 100 Nobel Laureates. (http://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/science-and-technology/elsevier-expands-its-legacy-collection-to-more-than-9500-books2 )

- Traveled to Amsterdam, Oxford, Washington D.C. and Boston

- Acquired a second dog (aka monster bitch: destroyer of floorboards, doorjambs, mail and my dream of never finding feces in the living room)

- Completed the rough draft of my novel

- Began work shopping  and revisions on the novel

- Read a bunch of books (2013 titles here:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/297374-mollymillions?shelf=2013 )

So stay tuned and you’ll hear about all that and more as this blog comes back to life!

Pusher (Wo)Man

Image

In which I answer the age old question, “Where do you find this stuff?”

Comic Con 2012 has come and gone, leaving my bookshelves full and my wallet empty. If you haven’t guessed, what I enjoy most about the convention is that it is a cornucopia of new and exciting reading material. Better yet, it’s a whole community of people who love books and come there to talk about and recommend new material. This year I received many good suggestions from the Witty Women of Steampunk panel, the Dystopian panel and my longtime favorite, the i09 Fiction That Will Change Your Life panel.  Here are a few that I’m particularly excited about:

Ready Player One: A Novel
Earnest Cline
A serenade to all 80’s based geek culture – equal parts epic quest, love story and virtual space opera.

Year Zero
Rob Reid
Humans may not be the most intelligent life form in the universe, but we’re the only ones that make music.  Unknown to us, alien cultures have been listening in to our tunes ever since we started broadcasting and now they want to go “behind the music”. When you throw in copyright law and intergalactic finance the situation only gets weirder.  This one was a Comic Con special and came with a memory stick loaded with music and readings by the author.

Shadow Show
Edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle
A short story collection tribute to the great Ray Bradbury, including submissions by Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers and many more.

Bedbugs
Ben H. Winters
As if the idea of tiny creatures that live in your bed and bite you while sleep wasn’t creepy enough, Ben Winters throws in a creepy brownstone, a secretive landlady, a young couple and psychological horror.

The Last Policeman: A Novel
Ben H. Winters
A police procedural set in a pre-apocalyptic United States raises an interesting question: What’s the point in investigating murders if we’re all going to die soon anyway?

Pictorial Webster’s:  A Visual Dictionary of Curiosities
John Carrera
A showcase of over 1,500 engravings that originally graced the pages of Webster’s dictionaries in the 19th century. I’ve already spent a few hours flipping pages and wondering at everything from Bell Jars to tarsiers. It makes a great visual prompt for any writer or artist.

Fatale, Book 1: Death Chases Me
Ed Brubaker
The first trade paperback of this Image comic book series, Fatale features hard-boiled secrets, lies, horror and lust from one of the best crime writers in the business.

Horns
Joe Hill
A man goes out drinking. The next morning he wakes up with a killer hangover and a pair of horns growing from his head. He also has the power to make people tell him their deepest, darkest secrets. Nothing good can come of this. Added bonus: I got a signed copy!

San Diego Book Awards 2012

Saturday night Tone and I attended the San Diego Book Awards banquet for the second time. The first time we went was in 2009, when Tone’s manuscript for Picking Up the Ghost was a finalist in the unpublished novel category. This time the published version of Picking Up the Ghost was a finalist in the published SciFi, Fantasy, & Horror category. Unfortunately, Picking up the Ghost didn’t win. I still think that being nominated twice isn’t too shabby!

The night wasn’t a total loss for the Milazzo household. A Year in Ink, Volume 4 , edited by Jericho Brown & Laurel Corona, won the short story collection/ anthology category. Since my short story, “Sleepwalking” is included in the collection, I can now say I’m published in an award winning book!