22 May 2012 at 7:36 pm #1310
“With his thumb he had been routing out life from the folds of his hairless skin…” (BM 93)
The connection McCarthy makes here between the hairless Holden picking bugs or whatnot from his skin ties in with one theory of why man became over time a relatively hairless animal.
“Humans lost their body hair…to free themselves of external parasites that infest fur — blood-sucking lice, fleas and ticks and the diseases they spread.” (NY Times article that I will link to below)
Natural selection for hairlessness and then sexual selection for less fur as bare skin was a signal of fitness, this theory maintains.
I’d read about this recently so I perked up when an interviewer asked Harvard biologist EO Wilson on Book TV why he thought man became a (relatively) hairless animal and he gave an entirely different answer, saying he believed man’s hairlessness was selected for so the hunter could track game over many miles of terrain for days at a time and stay cool and in the hunt. A heat-exchange theory.
Wilson said the antelope obviously could outrun a man over the short distance, but the hairless hunter’s endurance would allow him to take down the wounded animal in the end. Wilson’s comments on the hairless and the endurance of the hunter put me in mind of No Country for Old Men.
Some of these ideas tie in more broadly with a paper I hope to write on Disgust in McCarthy. Lots to work with there.
Here’s the article from the Times that reviews some theories on human hairlessness.
05 Aug 2012 at 10:50 am #1766
From On the Nature of Things by Lucretius:
And now, if store of seeds there
So great that not whole life-times of the
Can count the tale…
And if their force and nature abide the
Able to throw the seeds of things together
In their places, even as here are thrown
The seeds together in this world of ours,
‘Tmust be confessed in other realms there
Still other worlds, still other breeds of
And other generations of the wild.
“I wonder if there’s other worlds, he said. Or if this is the only one.” (Buffalo hunter, 317)
05 Aug 2012 at 11:10 am #1767
The passage from BM quoted above has another Lucretian resonance, that being his idea of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinamen, which has been called “as much a creative spark as atom of death,” according to Hugh Roberts (Shelley and the Chaos of History).
This Lucretian swerve was used by Harold Bloom to help illustrate an author’s break with his past, a theoretical framework with which one could view McCarthy as author as well as many of his characters, Suttree perhaps most notably.
The Lucretian Clinamen, I believe, is an intriguing portal through which to enter the “unbottomed deep” of McCarthy’s career and works.
Lucretius’ meditations on the Void in On the Nature of Things reminded me so much of the multiple mentions of it in BM, even the archaic verbiage McCarthy uses has a definite Lucretian ring to it.
13 Aug 2012 at 7:21 pm #1790
On satchels and suzerainity…
“He’d an old canvas kitbag…” (125)
“The judge carried in one hand a small canvas satchel…” (282)
The judge and his satchel seem to be never far apart, much like the U.S. president and what has been called the Nuclear Football, which reportedly contains the codes needed to launch a nuclear attack. The military person entrusted with carrying this satchel is a suzerain once removed or “a special kind of keeper,” to use Judge Holden’s definition of suzerain.
Judge Holden’s mysterious satchel might be looked at as a precursor to the modern satchel which holds the power to do the type of erasing and destruction on a massive scale that the judge engages in on a smaller scale between the pages of Blood Meridian.
<b<Carrier of the Fire
Ron Rosenbaum, in his 1978 Esquire article The Subterranean World of the Bomb, describes the person entrusted with carrying the Nuclear Football as “the man with the black briefcase” and the satchel as “that artifact of instant apocalyptic death.” Makes me wonder if a similar case were opened to unleash the onslaught that set the world afire in The Road. Bad things happen when briefcases are opened in McCarthy as Moss found out the hard way.
14 Aug 2012 at 1:34 pm #1792
Whenever I open a briefcase full of money anymore I always look for the tracking device right away instead of…
leedriverQuote20 Aug 2012 at 11:53 pm #1808
“Where’s your ape at?” (BM 238)
From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, called an American classic by McCarthy:
I found Bruce at the bar, but there was no sign of the ape.
“Where is it”? I demanded. “I’m ready to write a check. I want to take the bastard home on the plane with me. I’ve already reserved two first-class seats — R. Duke and Son.”
“Take him on the plane?
“Hell yes,” I said. “You think they’d say anything? Call attention to my son’s infirmities?”
He shrugged. “Forget it,” he said. “They just took him away. He attacked an old man right here at the bar. The creep started hassling the bartender about ‘allowing barefoot rabble in the place’ and just then the ape let out a shriek — so the old guy threw a beer at him, and the ape went crazy, came out of his seat like a jack-in-the-box and took a big bite out of the old man’s head. . . the bartender had to call an ambulance, then the cops came and took the ape away.”
“Goddamnit,” I said. “What’s the bail? I want that ape.”
21 Aug 2012 at 12:12 am #1809
I wonder which is filthier, the fool’s cage in BM or Hunter’s Las Vegas hotel room in Fear and Loathing:
“The floor of the cage was littered with filth and trodden food and flies clambered everywhere.” (BM 233)
“The room was full of used towels; they were hanging everywhere. The bathroom floor was about six inches deep with soap bars, vomit, and grapefruit rinds, mixed with broken glass. I had to put my boots on every time I went in there to piss. The nap of the mottled grey rug was so thick with marijuana seeds that it appeared to be turning green. (F/L 187)
29 Aug 2012 at 8:23 pm #1834
The Anthropocene seems like an interesting concept with which to think about McCarthy. Has anyone done anything extensive with it? Human footprints on the landscape. A layer of carbon, or ash. I’ve not done a lot of reading on this idea yet, though I might check it out a little bit more soon. Thoughts?
01 Sep 2012 at 7:09 pm #1838
“A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.” (Philosophical Investigations 115, Wittgenstein)
“…he’d once drawn an old Hueco’s portrait and un WITTingly chained the man to his own likeness.” (BM 141, Webster/portrait passage)
01 Sep 2012 at 7:25 pm #1839
Webster fears that a portrait of him by Judge Holden would exert a hold over him, which resonates with the famous Wittgenstein aphorism about the picture holding us captive. Earlier in PI, Wittgenstein writes: “A simile that has been absorbed into our language produces a false appearance that disquiets us.” This brings to mind the business of “false books,” but also perhaps connects to being held captive by pictures and words, a feeling that can be evoked while reading Blood Meridian with the seemingly endless repetition of words and images being repeated back to us. Stuck in the uncanny valley with a hailstorm of likenesses raining down on us like arrows. One last Wittgenstein quote that I think helps clarify this feeling of captivity:
“This is the kind of proposition that one repeats to oneself countless times. One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing’s nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing around the frame through which we look at it.” (PI 114)
14 Sep 2012 at 1:23 pm #1891
“He is the Napolean of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.” (Description of Moriarty given by Sherlock Holmes in the 1893 story The Final Problem.
Came across that great quote so reminscent of Holden while checking out an amazing illustration for that Sherlock Holmes story (see link for the art and a fuller quote on Moriarty) which made me think of the Blood & Mercury scene in BM when the mules go off the side of the cliff. Moriarty as the motionless spider resonates with the judge and it definitely took me to that scene where the judge sits silently at the fire with his palms up.
28 Nov 2012 at 6:38 pm #2578
“Superman, Superman, I want to be like Superman.” (The Kinks)
There has been discussion here and there about McCarthy’s fondness as a youth for comic books. An image that bears a striking similarity to a famous scene in BM comes in the form of the cover of Action Comics No. 1, which introduced Superman and is the most valuable comic ever. On the cover, Superman is lifting a car and appears to be on the verge of giving it a heave, much like the judge with the gigantic meteorite when he “on a wager lifted the thing and on a further wager lifted it over his head.” (240)
Here’s the cover of that first Superman comic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Action_Comics_1.jpg
29 Nov 2012 at 8:40 am #2579
“It made me feel like Superman.”
- Bedouin camel herder on hearing the Grateful Dead playing at the Great Pyramid in 1978.
29 Nov 2012 at 3:39 pm #2580
Love that. Given your history of far-flung adventures, it almost wouldn’t surprise me if that camel herder told you that in person, Rick.
18 Oct 2013 at 12:01 pm #4164
Fichte’s conception/theory of the “Not I” or “Anstoss” has some nice resonances with Judge Holden and his relationship to the kid who, in this context, I see as a physical manifestation of the judge’s Not-I. Fichte thought that in pressing against something that resists us, we gain a sense of our own boundaries as a subject. The thought of the judge possessing any boundaries or limitiations might be anathema, though his killing of the kid or anything that seems to threaten his boundlessness might suggest otherwise. Zizek explains the Fichtean Anstoss in terms that evoke Holden, at least it seems so to me:
“It is important to bear in mind the two primary meanings of Anstoss in German: check, obstacle, hindrance, something that resists the boundless expansion of our striving; and an impetus, a stimulus, something that incites activity. Anstoss is not simply the obstacle the absolute I posits to itself in order to stimulate its activity — so that, by overcoming the self-posited obstacle, it asserts its creative power, like the games the proverbial perverted ascetic saint plays with himself by inventing ever new temptations and then, in successfully resisting them, confirming his strength.” (The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Center of Political Ontology)
So the judge, in the Fichtean sense of the Not-I, has successfully resisted killing a check or obstacle to him (the kid as Not-I) for 28 years but is also incted to activity by him for one reason or another, presses up against this obstacle or check on his freedom and eliminates that boundary to his limitlessness.
18 Oct 2013 at 12:07 pm #4165
“The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.” (Wittgenstein)
“A man’s at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with.” (Hermit, Blood Meridian 19)
I’ve seen where this memorable line from the hermit has been compared to Cartesian dualism, and while I can certainly see that this is likely true, I wonder whether McCarthy in this case reworked the famous quote by Wittgenstein and put it in the mouth of the hermit, throwing in an “aught” in place of “all” just to obfuscate it a little bit.
18 Oct 2013 at 12:26 pm #4168
Reading The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler recalls the Epilogue to BM. Koestler’s book on the history of astronomy called to mind a possible parallel with the advancement of science delineated by Koestler and the BM wanderers advancing on the plain at dawn (interesting the first words in Koestler’s book are DAWN/Awakening as the chapter head and subhed of Ch. 1, while McCarthy opens the Epilogue “In the dawn there is a man progressing…”). I thought for a moment that this might be a new interpretation but then sort of vaguely remembered I’d read this interpretation before and, as it turns out, Shane Schimpf offered just such an interpretation of the Epilogue in his book A Reader’s Guide to Blood Meridian. So I won’t try to reinvent the wheel here and will close this post with a nice quote from a 1959 NY Times review of The Sleepwalkers:
“Sleepwalkers somehow skirt disaster; they have an inner certainty that propels them although they cannot state what they seek or why they seek it. They move toward their goal by the most extraordinary and the most logically questionable methods; and when they have arrived where they always wished to go, they frequently do not realize that they are there.”
21 Oct 2013 at 10:17 am #4198
Good one. And Robert Penn Warren, in ALL THE KING’S MEN, had his protagonist, Jack, go through an unevolved period which he called THE GREAT SLEEP in which he recognized others who were also in THE GREAT SLEEP, the robotic stage when a man gives in to his animalistic impulses–the cycles of violence and revenge–and to what some philosophers have called the WILL FORCE. Death-in-life.
Some years back, I read an article by a Raymond Chandler scholar who said that Chandler got his style using humorous metaphors and frequent hyperbole from ALL THE KINGS MEN, as well as the concept for THE BIG SLEEP, which Chandler later used as a title.
Richard L.Quote13 Nov 2013 at 7:43 pm #4585
Is “the eldress in the rocks” (BM 315) the Mexican Catholic folk saint Santa Muerte (Saint Death)? There are some interesting physical similarities between them. Additional textual evidence from that scene and from other episodes in the book could plausibly support such an interpretation.
Excellent article/book review on the Bony Lady: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/03/14/review-r-andrew-chesnut-devoted-death-santa-muerte-skeleton-saint
17 Nov 2013 at 12:22 pm #462202 Dec 2013 at 9:34 pm #4802
“He uses an implement with two handles and he chucks it into the hole and he enkindles the stone in the hole with his steel hole by hole striking the fire out of the rock which God has put there.” (BM 337)
“Cordevero understood full well that the salient point of the whole theory of emanation was the transition from Ein-Sof to the Sefirah Keter and he devoted great effort to its solution. The Sefirot, he argues, owe the source of their existence to Ein-Sof, but this existence is “hidden” in the same sense that the spark of fire is hidden in the rock until it is struck with metal.” (Kabbalah by Gershom Scholem p. 149 Keter Publishing House paperback edition Jerusalem, Israel 1977)
18 Dec 2013 at 2:46 pm #4886
jrossMember25 Dec 2013 at 11:28 pm #4912
Just thought I’d share a few interesting things I’ve noticed in BM and get some of your feedback on them:
First, one of the most interesting elements of BM (to me) is the question of whether the judge is supernatural or not. He clearly *is* supernatural, yet there is very little compelling evidence that he is so. (Now, that may seem a contradiction in terms, but in a book so laden with ontological and epistemological issues, this surely is not merely aesthetic. That is to say, it *is* a tremendous aesthetic achievement for McCarthy to beat around the bush so adroitly. But I get the sense that McCarthy is pushing the reader to grapple with various questions of knowledge by writing a character who so clearly *seems* supernatural yet withholding or presenting with great hedging any actual evidence of the same.) Various hints of the judge’s nonhumanity are: In Chapter 12, the judge predicts David Brown’s hanging in Chapter 22 (but maybe this was just a lucky guess?). In the last chapter, when the kid (now the man) meets the judge at the Beehive, McCarthy writes how the judge “SEEMED little changed or none in all these years” (emphasis mine). Also, the judge asks the man “Where is Shelby, whom you left to the mercies of Elias in the desert?” The judge could not possibly know this, but maybe that’s also just a lucky guess. That is, maybe the judge simply assumes the kid didn’t have it in him to kill Shelby. And obviously there are many more examples of this playful hinting at the supernatural nature of the judge.
But there seem to be a few instances where the narrator (don’t know the extent to which I identify the narrator and McCarthy) seems to let us see behind the curtain. One follows my last example above: In the same breath as the judge asks the man about Shelby, he mentions “Tate whom you abandoned in the mountains”. There is *no way* the judge could know this or even guess this. Unless you’re willing to accept some really lateral thinking (such as: maybe Tate didn’t actually get killed by Elias’s men after the kid abandoned him, and then maybe he made his way back to the gang and told the judge what happened, but McCarthy chose not to include any of this), this then becomes an instance where the judge knows something he cannot unless he is some sort of supernatural entity.
Another one is in Chapter 16, when the lieutenant comes to speak to the judge for the second time after black Jackson kills Mr. Owens. As the judge talks to the lieutenant regarding various legal issues, the narrator says how the judge “quoted Coke and Blackstone, Anaximander, Thales.” Coke and Blackstone make sense in this context, as two of the preeminent British legal thinkers (still today cited in US Supreme Court cases, apparently). But what about Thales and Anaximander? These are usually considered the two earliest philosophers in the Western tradition, but nothing of their thinking is in the least germane to a legal discussion. In fact, they are barely philosophers, at least by modern standards. They are simply the first known men to wonder if the world could be explained by purely physical phenomena, without recourse to the supernatural (a very interesting point in the context of BM, but irrelevant to the legal discussion at hand nonetheless). However, an interesting aspect of this passage is that the narrator says how the judge *quoted* Thales and Anaximander… yet they have no extent writings (not entirely true of Anaximander: There is a single extent fragment attributed to him. But there is nothing left of what Thales wrote. This was the case even by the time of Aristotle. In fact, it has been debated whether or not Thales even existed.) So how did the judge quote them? Is this sloppy on the narrator’s part, that by “quoted” he means “said things commonly attributed to them”? I doubt it. I think it means “quoted”. In which case…….
On an unrelated note: At the end of Chapter 20, after the kid kills the judge’s horses, the kid and Tobin are hiding together, listening to the judge “[expound] upon those laws pertaining to property rights in beasts mansuete”. Shortly thereafter, the following happens:
Then [the judge] spoke of other things. The expriest leaned to the kid. Dont listen, he said.
I aint listenin.
Stop your ears.
The priest cupped his hands over his ears and looked at the kid.
In an extremely brief passage, Tobin changes in the eyes of the narrator from “the expriest” to “the priest”. This is the one and only time in the book the narrator calls him “priest”. (Thanks be to Kindle for confirming that.) Surely that’s important. Is it that the only way to beat the judge is to not listen to him? Might this have to do with why the kid does not kill the judge? What to make of the fact that all subsequent references to Tobin by the narrator are as “the expriest”? Does something transpire in the interim that changes the narrator’s view of him? Could that be a typo? It would be quite a strange place to have one, given how it may well affect interpretations of the entire book.
Anyway, those are some of the more interesting bits I’ve seen recently, thought I’d put them to all of y’all. Merry Christmas / Happy New Year / Happy Holidays to everyone.
efscerboQuote17 Feb 2014 at 8:44 pm #5099
“Is it that the only way to beat the judge is to not listen to him?”
Ed, that definitely could be the case. I’ve been thinking about Blood Meridian in terms of the Silenus statues referenced in Alcibiades’ speech in Plato’s Symposium wherein Alcibiades compares Socrates to one of these fascinating statues, which were carved out of wood using the image of Silenus on the exterior but when you opened them up, they contained the representation of a deity made out of gold or some other precious material — ugly on the outside but containing something of tremendous beauty or value within. The world of appearances. A fortune cookie of sorts from olden times. A link to the part on Silenus statues as told by Alcibiades:
Reading the speech of Alcibiades evoked for me Tobin exhorting the kid to stop his ears, to name one congruence to BM that came to mind. I don’t have time at the moment to get into much detail as to why I think this comparison is apt, but please, everyone, check out the speech and the stuff on the Silenus statues if you are at all interested to learn more providing you aren’t already familiar with these statues. I also got to thinking that the jakes in which the judge has hidden himself while waiting for the kid to open the door is also somewhat resonant with a Silenus statue. Erasmus was particularly fascinated by these statues, of which no extant artifacts are known to exist. Anyway, it’s kind of fun to think of some of the ways McCarthy’s work might have a Silenic character to it.
18 Feb 2014 at 11:11 am #5101
- This reply was modified 2 weeks, 5 days ago by Glass.
Hey there, Glass – regarding your Anthropocene comment here quite a while back…
If anyone’s innerested, I wrote for a performance piece in the Berlin Natural History Museum a few years ago in which the classic habitat diorama is used to dramatize a post-apocalyptic scenario, perhaps caused by climate change, rather than an Arcadian natural history scenario, such as we’re used to seeing. It was a pretty cool experiment in dramatizing the Anthropocene, and I certainly tried to bring a McCarthy perspective to it, ie: Holden’s notion of the naturalist’s archive as a curatorial and narrative tool toward maintaining suzerainty.
Trailer here: https://vimeo.com/51564857
Full hour performance here: https://vimeo.com/48289092
Was a project that followed on the heels of my Tobin monologue, if anyone’s curious to check that out as well…
03 Mar 2014 at 9:58 am #5131
“Among the wounded some seemed dumb and without understanding…” (Blood Meridian 53)
When the kid and Captain White’s outfit are routed by the Comanches, I wonder if some form of agnosia or aphasia is in play during the attack throughout the group, stunned speechless, save for the sergeant’s “Oh my god,” and beset by a state of incomprehension because of what is happening to them.
Also, since we were talking about mosaics in McCarthy recently, I couldn’t help but notice the Comanche “shields bedight with bits of broken mirrorglass” (52) that seem to have the effect of blinding their enemy, in this case Captain White and his men, hinting at a state of agnosia, though the narrator renders the scene in crystal clear clarity amongst all this chaos and confusion, seeing clearly in an otherwise aphasic moment.
03 Mar 2014 at 11:56 am #5132
I suspect that these unfortunate gentlemen also suffered from sudden OAB and ABL, too….
Incidentally, Pete, on the original issue of hairlessness (of whose many forms alopecia is the one whose evolution troubles me the most at the moment), go prowl the Googleverse for various discussions of hominid neoteny (don’t get sidetracked by the axolotls – they’ll glugg and glurrrp all day and waste your time).
03 Mar 2014 at 12:42 pm #5133
- This reply was modified 2 days, 6 hours ago by Rick Wallach.
Years ago I was visiting friends in an old farm house way down in Meigs Co. Ohio. At the end of the long whiskey-filled evening I almost went to sleep in one of the bedrooms in the attic but at the last minute decided against it and went to sleep on the couch on the front porch in the summer air. Sometime later, I know not how long, I woke up to see just beyond the end of the porch something on fire. I got up and stood in the front yard in my underwear and watched, all by myself, a car completely engulfed in flames underneath the carport. It was like a movie: a car completely engulfed in flames; an inexplicable inferno where before there had only been the country night.
I ran inside the house. I had never been there before so I couldn’t find the lights. I wanted to yell out but I could not. I stumbled up the stairs in the dark to the attic where a couple of my friends were sleeping and managed to wake them. Brad asked me, “What’s wrong?” to which I could not answer. I distinctly remember having an image of the burning car in my brain so powerfully that it overtook my capacity to put a linguistic description to it: it was itself only. He asked me then, instead, “Is something wrong?” to which I could reply, “Yes. Come with me.”
It took the volunteer fire dept. 40 minutes to get there and we watched that old house burn to the ground. I will ever forget it – nor the temporary physical inability to put words to the image that had suddenly ruptured my understanding of reality.
There was the whiskey too, of course. But I managed to function in every other way like an Eagle Scout. I just simply could not describe what I had just seen blasting a hole in the night.
03 Mar 2014 at 1:26 pm #5134
Rick, thanks for the pointer on hominid neoteny and taking the time to comment. The neoteny stuff sounds great. I’m still trying to figure out what OAB and ABL are, but I suspect it’s not good.
Jeff, great story and nicely told. What a crazy night! I can see how the aphasia took hold in those terrifying moments. And thanks for posting the link above to the anthropocene work. I enjoyed that a lot. Not sure if I mentioned Timothy Morton above when I referenced the anthropocene, but he’s really interesting to read and think with regarding these issues. I like his concept of Hyperobjects. You might find it worth checking out if you aren’t familiar with his work. Apologies if I’ve already covered this ground. Thanks again for the aphasia story.
03 Mar 2014 at 1:38 pm #5135
Oh I suspect we’ll all have the fortune to experience OAB and ABL soon enough.
06 Mar 2014 at 2:58 pm #5139
Heh – you can look up the abbreviations; I don’t want to spoil the thrill of discovery for you.
On the neoteny issue, the best quick, concise (and amusing) essay on the subject, and a terrific intro to the entire topic, is Stephen Jay Gould’s classic essay “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse,” in his book The Panda’s Thumb, explained as only Gould could explain it. Fortunately, you can enjoy this little masterpiece from the comfort of your own desktop:
- This reply was modified 2 days, 6 hours ago by Rick Wallach.
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