Tag Archives: peter levenda

interlude 2: True Detective and Sinister Forces.

30 Aug
  1. I set out to write an entry on True Detective, season 2.
  2. But I didn’t, I couldn’t, I can’t. The show was/is too frustrating, but in a banal, insipid way.
  3. I made it this far in my little draft-critique: “Self-awareness isn’t satire. Self-awareness isn’t even clever, anymore. Self-awareness is just self-awareness. Nothing more.”
  4. That could have been the tag line for the season: nothing more.
  5. I dug the masks, the totem animals. Pizzolato has a thing for them. Animal masks cover the faces of the killers in the first season, and they cover the killer here. (They also adorn walls, etc.) It’s interesting; Grant Morrison has a pig-faced man reverberating through most of his comics. I’m betting—and I said this before—that Pizzolatto is a comics fan. Did he borrow again?
  6. One of the major influences on this season is David Lynch.
  7. Lynch is a very difficult filmmaker to copy, and no one should try. He works with an idiosyncratic intuition that is unnerving; he pulls his stories from dreams, raging caffeine highs, and an underlying sensibility that is dapper and decent, right out of the 1950s. He combines the nightmarish images with moments of sweet innocence. He is, as Mel Brooks described him, “like Jimmy Stewart, from Mars.”
  8. Pizzolato is not like Jimmy Stewart from Mars. This season has no balance. There’s no humor, no pathos. No horror or scares, either. Just grim and dour people making long speeches punctuated by pregnant pauses. Ugh.
  9. Here I am doing the thing I said I couldn’t do. Writing about True Detective. It’s like gummy bears. Or quicksand. Once you start . . .
  10. There’s one thing a crime show cannot be and that is boring. And let me tell you, True Detective was a slog.
  11. So I’ve been reading Peter Levenda’s Sinister Forces. It is a revisiting, retelling, rehashing, revising of American history, with occult patterns and forces at the fore.
  12. Don’t roll your eyes. (And bear with me.)
  13. Levenda is a very fine writer and a very fine researcher. I’ve read way too much in the conspiracy/underground/counterfactual genre, and Levenda is hands-down the best writer I’ve come across. Too good, really, for what he is doing. He’s seductive. He’s alluring. He’s tempting.
  14. His central thesis revolves around American religious belief, which he sees as a mash-up of the European alchemist tradition (itself a line of magical thinking dating back to ancient Egypt), Gnostic Christianity, mainstream Christianity, and Celtic pantheism. Many of our most important thinkers, writers, scientists and politicians were believers of one kind or another, often of off-shoots of mainstream religion.
  15. These politicians made decisions, many of them profoundly impacting the lives of Americans today. And they based these decisions, often in large part, on their beliefs.
  16. So our country, he argues, has one foot in the occult tradition. And that occult tradition has had a profound, if often misunderstood impact on our political history. (True Detective, season 1?)
  17. Levenda is working in both vertical history (the cause and effect, look at this and then look at what it caused, mostly interviews and primary documents) and horizontal history (everything is an interconnected web of near-invisible tendrils, impacting everything else, a kind of synchronicity writ large, encompassing literature and pop culture and folklore and yes, the occult). The problem with the former method, favored by most historians, is it often presents history as a fixed thing. Which it wasn’t, not when it was happening. The problem with the latter is that it often substitutes coincidental accidents as intentional events. Which, of course, isn’t how the real world works at all.
  18. Put another way: both approaches suffer from the invasion of novelistic techniques. (Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, you were right!) But Levenda addresses this very problem in his book. “You can’t tell stories without . . . telling stories.”
  19. Everything is true. All is permitted. Truth is fiction.
  20. Both approaches also apply to crime fiction. Crime novels—and movies and shows—tend to follow one of these two techniques. Breaking Bad is mostly vertical. Characters make decisions, people die; this type of crime fiction is looking to make sinners find penance and criminals redemption. Or death. True Detective, however, was mostly horizontal; it (attempted) to offer a delicate web of interconnectivity.
  21. Sort of, anyway. My biggest problem with the show was its inability to show the events that actually mattered. The entire story rested on a break-in and double murder that you never see and only hear second-hand.
  22. Anyway, in history, the horizontal approach—these are my terms, I’m sure they aren’t the preferred ones—is refreshing. Levenda pulls from all over the map, movies and literature and historical events, focusing on ancient Amerindian burial mounds in one chapter and serial killers, many of whom come from West Virginia, which is just bizarre, in another.
  23. Levenda does a fabulous job of connecting the dots between the crazy theories (there’s one that Charles Manson was killing people for the government, and then hiding their true purpose inside the massacres; think on that one for a moment), and the documented facts. (Operation Paperclip. Wilder than most fiction. Look it up.)
  24. But he suffers from the same problem of every conspiracy theorist. Or rather, the same two problems. A. There are no accidents. (Of course, there are.) And, B. there’s a key—if you dig enough, and make enough connections, and uncover enough hidden information—to unlocking what appears to be vast, interlocking, inter-dependent (yet somehow co-dependent) events. (There isn’t.)
  25. The problem here is that Levenda is a very fine writer and stylist. I’ve only read one other book in this spectrum that was as well-written. (John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies; read it like a novel and it will stick with you for months. It’s dynamite.)
  26. Levenda builds his scaffolding carefully. Multiple times I felt my subconscious mind beginning to agree with him. I had to assert my rational side. (And part of me regrets it. But that’s a story for another post.)
  27. One of his major themes is that there are historical figures in America’s history that are loci of events: Jack Parsons, Ray Palmer, Robert Oppenheimer, Charles Manson, Marilyn Monroe, E. Howard Hunt and half a dozen other post-war OSS to C.I.A. dudes. These figures, among others, form an subterranean layer. Levenda calls it “the darker mechanism of history.”
  28. I love this kind of approach. For years I’ve argued that there are semi-hidden novels—some near forgotten—that are hugely influential in American literature. Fat City, Little Big Man, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle among them. (I have a list of these somewhere.)
  29. Ditto for movies: The Trial and Touch of Evil, Thieves’ Highway and My Darling Clementine, The Hit and After Hours, movies that aren’t forgotten exactly, but seem to reverberate through other films to a larger degree than anyone seems to notice.
  30. Levenda has others, including Cotton Mather and Joseph Smith, who bop in and out of the narrative he’s telling. But he keeps hammering home the weird connecting points between the Nazi scientists, UFO sightings, serial killers, ancient burial mounds, and the assassinations of the 1960s. He loves uncovering relationships, oddball coincidences.
  31. Here’s a wild one: J. D. Salinger worked for the U.S. counter-intelligence during World War II. Later, his novel The Catcher in the Rye was associated with a number of assassins, and Mark David Chapman had it on him when he killed John Lennon. Salinger’s novel was, in at least two movies I’ve seen, used as a mechanism by counter-intelligence agents to train assassins.
  32. Life imitating art imitating life imitating what? A vague notion? A coincidence?
  33. That’s weird, right?
  34. And yet it probably means nothing.
  35. Which brings me back to True Detective, Season 2. Weird, and it probably means nothing.
  36. And yet, the show still has something intriguing inside of it, some piece that kept me watching. I think it has to do with its pagan roots. Like the Green Man in the first season, here it’s the snaking highways and the industrial settings, the psycho-sexual overlay of the land on top of the characters and their disturbed desires, the totems. There seems to be a sub-strata, hidden components, that if I looked at it long enough, would reveal themselves to me.
  37. But, just like Levenda argues about American history, the show doesn’t seem to know where its residual power lies. Pizzolatto is very bad at the Chinatown/James Ellroy/Raymond Chandler plotting. He can’t hack it. He is excellent at the almost supernatural, the high occult weirdness.
  38. Which is one of the many, many things season 2 was missing.
  39. He should have set the show in the early 1960s, during the time of the sci-fi and horror television shows. Rod Serling! Joseph Stefano! Harlan Ellison! Gene Roddenberry! You can see his detectives wandering through cheap-o television sets, interviewing zonked out actors with the end of the humanity by nuclear winter is corroding everyone’s thinking and the Zodiac Killer and other west coast weirdoes hover at the edge of the story.
  40. Including Charles Manson.
  41. With Ronald Reagan as the governor.
  42. Peter Levenda, you rascal. Darkening my thoughts.