Tuesday, 11 March 2014
The Madness Of The King
The King in Yellow is forbidden. And with good reason. There are only two responses a mind can have upon reading the work: it can be lost to despair, or it can be lost to madness.
Obviously, there is no way for us to understand exactly how the play wreaks its havoc; we can only speculate from the rambling, turbulent writings of those poor souls who have exposed themselves. Some, like Lange, speak of Lost Carcosa, an ancient city on some other world. Others talk of the Lake of Hali, or of the King in Yellow (who may or may not be named Hastur), a being so ill-defined some believe it has no fixed form to begin with. Some or all of this may reside in the star system of Aldebaran, or perhaps that star has relevance here in some other way. As I say, we cannot ever truly know.
But in a sense, it doesn't matter. Some say there exists a formless monster named Hastur in the Lake of Hali on a barren planet orbiting Aldebaran, who has dictated a play that will drive you insane. It doesn't actually matter whether or not this is correct. It doesn't even matter if the play itself is real. All that matters is that the madmen believe it. They believe Hastur - a name we might as well apply to the phenomenon as the being, whatever it is or might be - has driven them mad. And mad they most certainly are. Which means that Hastur is real whether he is real or not.
Especially when we consider just how far the King's influence actually spreads. It's not just those who find the play itself who succumb, after all. What better way is there to understand Hart and Cohle than to realise both are standing on a knife's edge; both are angels of the King no less surely than was Dora. With madness and despair the only two futures into which they can fall, they find themselves tangled up in both. For Hart, his despair lies in the feedback loop he has trapped himself within - his family not enough for him he's begun a torrid affair, but the more comfort he finds there the further his family drifts from him, and the more he needs his lover Lisa. This both results in a widening gyre of despair and the obvious and ugly insanity of demanding his wife be more supportive of his obvious failure to support her, and the bitter condemnation of women who he's somehow convinced himself are applying sex in a less moral way than using it to mortify your wife so you can snipe at her for not forgiving you enough.
Meanwhile, Cohle's despair at the loss of his daughter led to him willingly seeking out the madness of drug addiction. With mixed success, it would seem. If one seeks to hide from the vicious, elemental nature of the world, finding a way to "mainline the truth of the universe" would have to be considered a failure. But then this is the difference between Hart and Cohle. Hart is spinning into chaos. Cohle is orbiting it, tracing the very edge of the eye of the storm.
Because what other option is there? Cohle's admission that he sometimes feels grateful that his daughter died before she could comprehend the horror of the world or the sins of every parent is impossibly, numbingly bleak, but withstanding the world can require that kind of madness. The madness of perspective is a poison, but other poisons are worse; we must drip-feed ourselves with one kind to build up our resistance to the others. We must be mad to not go mad.
What other defence can we possibly mount against what is coming?