Black and White Jacksons

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  • 29 Sep 2014 at 5:16 am #5929

    efscerbo
    Member

    I watched a production of Othello tonight (1965 Laurence Olivier version). My first time watching, I’ve only read it before. And in Scene 3.3, when Iago is speaking into Othello’s ear, trying to convince him that Desdemona is cheating on him, I immediately thought of McCarthy. Analogues are found in BM with Black and White Jackson and in TSL with Black and White.

    Consider BM: “[T]he white man would fall back alongside the other and take his shadow for the shade that was in it and whisper to him… [It was as] if the white man were in violation of his person, had stumbled onto some ritual dormant in his dark blood or his dark soul whereby the shape he stood the sun from on that rocky ground bore something of the man himself and in so doing lay imperiled.” (85)

    Now, it’s hard to ignore such an image, a white man who resides in the shadow of a black man whispering things to that black man, driving him distracted. I have tended to view “whiteness” in McCarthy as being evil or nothingness (cf. the judge, White in TSL, even the wife, pale and “pipeclayed”, in The Road who wants the man to give up). I have also tended to view shadows as the evil part of a man’s being. This latter is largely driven by lines like Black’s “The light is all around you, cept you dont see nothin but shadow. And the shadow is you. You the one makin it.” (TSL 118) There’s also “In the yard the man’s shadow pooled at his feet, a dark stain in which he stood.” (Outer Dark, 13) And “[T]he shapes of the men and their mounts advanced elongate before them like strands of the night from which they’d ridden, like tentacles to bind them to the darkness yet to come.” (BM 47) There are many such others.

    Putting this together, I have always imagined that Black and White Jackson form a sort of yin/yang, with White the evil part of this pairing. (And I believe this precisely is borne out in TSL: When Black tells White “the shadow is you”, he doesn’t realize it himself, but he is correctly identifying White, who later calls himself “a professor of darkness.” (140) In other words, he is no professor at all, at least not in the usual collegiate sense, despite what Black and we the readership have been led to believe. He merely professes his faith, his loyalty to the darkness.) And White Jackson lives in the shadow of the “good” half, continuing this metaphor. This makes a fair bit of sense.

    However: 1) Black Jackson kills White Jackson. If my characterization were accurate, this would be a purge of sorts, a cleansing of the evil inherent in him. But there is little to no evidence (surely none) that we ought consider Black Jackson “good”. He’s the judge’s right-hand man at various points, especially when they get to Yuma. And remember that the judge goes *himself* looking for Black Jackson when he gets separated from the gang after the shootout at Jesus Maria in Chapter 14. You have to be pretty damn important to get the Prince of Darkness personally searching for you. (Although, I’m aware of the point Elisabeth Andersen makes in her thesis, that the judge requires Black Jackson for the prophecy in the Tarot reading to occur. This weakens what I just said slightly. But I think that seeing how Black Jackson is treated at Yuma more than makes up for it.) 2) Look at the phrasing of the above passage: By virtue of White Jackson occupying Black Jackson’s shadow, White is “in violation of his person”. Black’s shadow contains “something of the man himself”, something that “lay imperiled”, something that White threatens by being there. This doesn’t quite jive with what I wrote above. This makes it seem like there is some “tertium quid” inherent in Black’s shadow which White’s very presence threatens. Like it is not that White is evil and Black’s shadow is where the evil lives, but that the shadow is something else entirely.

    I never noticed this before. What could that tertium quid be? Is White Jackson not the “evil side” of Black Jackson? I’m rather skeptical of this now. Does anyone have anything to add?


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    • This topic was modified 3 years, 3 months ago by  efscerbo.
    29 Sep 2014 at 9:40 pm #5935

    Glass
    Member

    Fascinating post, Ed. I obviously can’t address all of the interesting ideas you’ve raised here. Don’t think I could even if I wanted to. Plus, unlike the judge, I need sleep. At any rate, I would like to note wrt to shadows that this seems to be, in part, the continuation of McCarthy’s interest in the philosophy of absence or, in other words, reality that is created via the negative. Negative reality as it were. For instance, shadows are the absence of light when some object or other blocks the light. Possibly an interesting analogue might be the scene referenced by Richard a few days ago in which the grazing horses stop grazing and by doing “nothing” create a “sound” — silence — that every man can hear. The absence of sound creates sound, or at least “something” that can be heard. You really can get something from nothing. The holes in The Epilogue (or in the heavens for that matter) might be another interesting example to consider in the negative reality milieu. I want to think a little more about the idea of the shadow being an actual part of the thing itself as many of the passages you cited seem to allude. I think shadows are real, don’t get me wrong, but whether they are an aspect or a part of the thing I do not know (I lean toward apart from). A biblical phrase I’ve had on my mind lately also might be relevant — the blackness of darkness forever. Anyway, great post. I like the direction your thinking is going in, fwiw.


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    29 Sep 2014 at 10:13 pm #5936

    Glass
    Member

    Quick aside. When I first read your post this morning, I was thinking of the part where you talk about White Jackson romping on Black Jackson’s shadow, angering BJ to the point of going all ISIS on WJ. At the lowest, non-poetic level, it just seemed like a simple violation of BJ’s personal space, the Wiki page for which includes a link to a neurological condition (a damaged amygdala) wherein the afflicted has an overly sensitive regard for their personsal space. That’s inelegantly phrased but it’s the gist of it. Maybe Black Jackson was similarly afflicted?

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_space


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    01 Oct 2014 at 2:34 pm #5952

    efscerbo
    Member

    Hi Peter,

    Really like what you said about the “negative reality” thing. That seems very important. I think the horses grazing thing is definitely part of this. Also, say, when the mill goes silent in The Gardener’s Son when whatshisface shoots whatshisface. (I can’t remember the names and don’t have the book on me.) Very reminiscent of the flames of hell in Milton that give off darkness. And surely this is all part of the monism/dualism thing that saturates McCarthy’s work. Is evil absence of good or an actual counterpoint? Definitely think McCarthy leans towards the latter.


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    01 Oct 2014 at 7:26 pm #5954

    efscerbo
    Member

    Oh, damn, I dunno how I missed this before, Peter. But your saying “going all ISIS” made me realize: BJ decapitating WJ may well presage the beheadings in The Counselor. Are there any other notable beheadings in McCarthy? None that I can recall right now.


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    01 Oct 2014 at 8:03 pm #5955

    Glass
    Member

    Ed:

    Several, I think, with the bolito thing and the motorcycle scene from The Counselor continuing the horrific tradition. How about Captain White? And isn’t there a severed head under a cake bell in TR? Ballard yanking the head off of a cow by pulling on a rope? There might be more examples but I cannot come up with them just now. McCarthy also said something in an interview about beheadings on TV. Maybe we don’t always witness the beheadings in CM like we do in the Jacksons incident and The Counselor and instead only get to view the aftermath with the severed heads.

    Glad you liked the negative reality stuff. And your mention of Olivier reminded me of an important letter I saw in the Archives from one of McCarthy’s editors who also referenced Olivier, but in a TV production of Hamlet in this case. The editor mentioned McCarthy’s obsession with rotting flesh and gross stuff like that, as I recall. Funny. He was trying to get McCarthy to excise some parts of Suttree, so to speak.


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    01 Oct 2014 at 11:01 pm #5957

    efscerbo
    Member

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks. Jesus, Captain White, how’d I forget about him? Don’t remember the one in TR (I’ll look it up) and I’m not sure I’d put the CoG one in the same category (although, who knows.. It’d have to depend on context, and I don’t really remember that one all that well). But the Captain White one is big. Very interesting. I just thought of the ogdoad, too. If you think of any more, please, let me know.

    And what interview is that from? I’m pretty sure I’ve read them all, but I don’t remember that in particular being mentioned.

    Thanks again,
    Ed


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    02 Oct 2014 at 3:55 pm #5965

    Glass
    Member

    Ed, the beheadings quote is from the Rolling Stone profile — “Can you remember twenty years ago having beheadings on TV? I can’t.”

    The quote can be found about half way into the piece within the graf that begins, “But in writing this brutal epic of the past…”

    http://74.220.215.94/~davidkus/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61:cormac-mccarthys-apocalypse-&catid=35:articles&Itemid=5

    Aren’t there a bunch of severed heads displayed on a fence in The Road, said to serve as a warning or something like that? That’s straight out of the ISIS terror playbook.


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    02 Oct 2014 at 5:18 pm #5968

    efscerbo
    Member

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the link. Totally forgot about that. Very interesting.

    I don’t remember such a scene from The Road. I’m surprised I wouldn’t, b/c that’s so reminiscent of Heart of Darkness, but nonetheless I don’t remember it. But then, it’s been about three years since I read The Road. Need to get on a reread.

    Thanks again,
    Ed


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    02 Oct 2014 at 5:33 pm #5969

    Glass
    Member

    You’re welcome. The bit about the severed heads in TR was bugging me so I looked it up and found the passage on p. 90 of the Vintage paperback edition — “The wall beyond held a frieze of human heads…”


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