The above title is part of a quote taken from what I believe to be one of the great creative works in drama of our time: that being HBO’s first season (2014) of the cable television series ‘True Detective’ starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. I recently re-watched the series for the fourth time in six years and it never fails to satisfy my appetite for psychological drama. Set deep in the bayous of Louisiana and running on a split timeline between the recent past (1995) and the present day, the show hearkens back to turn-of-the-century "weird fiction" popularized by the genre’s progenitors like Robert W. Chambers and later epitomized by icons like H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed the series borrows from a shared mythos handed down by these two legendary giants of the category. The two protagonists in the story — Rust Cohle (played by McConaughey) and Marty Hart (played by Harrelson)— could be called anti-heroes. They are both deeply-flawed human beings who encounter, and are then forced to confront and do battle with an unspeakable evil. The anti-hero is someone who has always resonated with myself and in the American psyche as a whole. I would guess that this is due to the intense individuality embodied in this architype. They are symbols of the rugged individualism which has imbibed American culture since the country's inception. What really hooks me though are the show’s philosophical elements —albeit they are often misinterpreted and perverse versions of philosophy. Nevertheless, it is a show that requires a deeper level of thinking, which for someone like me can often lead to a tangent of philosophical ruminating after each viewing. But this post is not a review of a television series, nor is it an essay on the anti-hero archetype. Rather, it is a culmination of the aforementioned "ruminations" kicked off by the quote alluded to in the title of this post:
“Back then, the visions...most of the time I was convinced that I'd lost it. But there were other times I thought I was mainlining the secret truth of the universe.”— Rust Cohle
If you’re not familiar with the term, “mainlining”, it is a reference to intravenous drug use. I can assure you my knowledge of this is not from personal experience, at least not in the recreational sense. You must remember though, that years ago I was hospitalized for months while recovering from traumatic double arm amputations. So I guess I am indeed familiar with it in the medical sense. There was once a world of pain to overcome in those early days of recovery. But the metaphor in the above quote rings as a sort of sequel to the last blog post I made a week back titled ‘My Kid Could Paint That’. It is often that, in the course of our lives, these obscure and seemingly unrelated things can inspire the creative impulse deep within us. In these moments one can feel possessed by an intense need to express oneself. And if you remember, that creative impulse was precisely what the previously mentioned post was largely about. For indeed, that creative impulse, that creative urge, is something that I have been struggling to better understand; something that I believe has immense implications for humankind, as it certainly has had immense implications in my own life. And so it could be said that at times I have indeed felt as though I were digging at certain “secret truths” that have perhaps been lost— or in the very least, undermined— in our current, hyper-technical, pleasure-driven society of instant gratification. For is not the act of creation the very bulwark, opposition, and counter-attack to the chaos of existence?
"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction" — Picasso
In my last post I had started to work out a theory of the creative personality. With the help of the early 20th century Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank and his emphasis on the trauma at birth as constituting the root of all anxiety, and responsible for what he termed as forming the “nucleus of consciousness”, I have come to view the genesis of the creative impulse in human beings as a direct response to the separation anxiety we all experience when we are born. In the subsequent development of the child, creativity becomes an act of individualization —a continual act of separation from that state of “oneness” we experienced while in the womb. Through nurturing creativity, we begin to constitute our reality as a separate individual. The more we develop our individualism, the more we repress the initial, primal terror and chaos of separation. But at some point a funny thing happens: we learn about death. And the more we begin to realize the impending annihilation of our individual Being, the stronger that creative urge becomes. Creativity now becomes an attempt at immortalization. It becomes a force to combat that impending demise of individuality.
When the creative urge manifests itself, we begin to create order out of chaos. We assign value to this manifestation of order and call it beauty. Through the creation of beautiful things we bring meaning into our lives. The creative personality is not limited to artists, poets, or musicians alone. Likewise, the concept of beauty is not limited to art. Creative people exist in all facets of society just as beauty manifests itself in all facets of life. The scientist, the carpenter, the teacher, and yes, even the police detective utilize their inner creativity everyday. They bring order and beauty into existence and in doing so find purpose, significance, essence, justice, meaning and dignity.
"Every one has experienced how learning an appropriate name for what was dim and vague cleared up and crystallized the whole matter. Some meaning seems distinct almost within reach, but is elusive, it refuses to condense into definite form. The attaching of a word somehow (just how, it is almost impossible to say) puts limits around the meaning, draws it out from the void, makes it stand out as an entity on its own account." — John Dewey
The first season of True Detective was full of symbolism. Perhaps this is why a weekend of binge-watching the show got my creative juices flowing to write this post. The philosophical ruminations that followed paralleled my previous post and made me want to expand upon it. Though not apparent at the surface, the Creation theme is prevalent throughout the story. The ancient symbol of the spiral is recurrent as the mystery unfolds. The spiral is one of the oldest, primitive symbols of creation, evolution, of the universe, and of consciousness. It can be found in ancient cultures dating back as far as 20,000 years. In the closing scenes of the final episode, Rust talks about their ordeal as being part of “the oldest story...light vs dark”. It is fitting that the final episode is titled ‘Form and Void’. So I guess it’s not a stretch to link these themes of creation and of the overcoming of evil prevalent in that story to themes of creativity and of overcoming adversity in my own story. To be clear though, I don’t necessarily view the adversity of losing my arms as a wholly negative thing. That is to say, I don’t necessarily view adversity (chaos) as a wholly negative force. For without void, there would be no form. Without dark, there would be no light. But that my friends would be a whole other discussion for a whole future post.