Friday, January 30, 2015

Noah Hawley's Fargo: In the Shadow of Das Nichtige

A few episodes into Noah Hawley's Fargo, last year's TV reimagining of the Coen brothers' film, my worry was that the show's thematic upshot would be that either there is no grain of the universe (that there is, is a therapeutic fiction we use to get by) or that the grain of the universe is arbitrary predation (as personified by Billy Bob Thornton's character). Happily, that turned out not to be the case. Rather, in a world beset by mysterious chance and arbitrary predation, the grain of the universe is neighborly decency: violence and murder are the elemental chaos against which civilization—families, police departments, diners—prevail in the harsh north simply in virtue of their continuing to exist, of still standing in the morning after the blizzard. He is a fool who, like Lester Nygaard, mistakes the appeal of chaos's temporary success for the long-term stability of common goodness.

To be sure, to live in Fargo, North Dakota, is to live on the outskirts of civilization, and so to court the abyss—to live in the shadow of Das Nichtige. But so long as ordinary people resist its appeal, it won't win the day; ever looming, it won't, because it can't, finally swallow them up. Their neighborliness is unconquerable.

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