Blood Meridian Tidbits

This topic contains 65 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  Rick Wallach 6 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • 12 Dec 2014 at 4:39 pm #6134


    Heya Mike,

    I’ll start with Richard II. In 1.1, Richard is hearing Henry Bolingbroke’s (aka Duke of Hereford aka future King Henry IV) charges of treason against Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Bolingbroke begins by telling Mowbray “What my tongue speaks my right-drawn sword may prove.” Emphasis on “prove” by means of “sword”.

    Mowbray retorts:

    “I do defy him, and I spit at him,
    Call him a slanderous coward and a villain;
    Which to maintain, I would allow him odds
    And meet him, were I tied to run afoot
    Even to the frozen ridges of the Alps,
    Or any other ground inhabitable
    Wherever Englishman durst set his foot.”

    (Here, odds = an advantage, tied = obliged, inhabitable = not habitable, i.e., uninhabitable.) In other words, Mowbray calls Bolingbroke these things and says in order to “maintain” (i.e., support, prove) them he would be willing to meet Bolingbroke at a remote location (i.e., away from others who could intervene) and fight him to the death. The defeated would be “thought thereby to be proven in error as to his views.”

    Bolingbroke throws down his gauntlet and dares Mowbray to take it up, saying:

    “By that [presumably the downthrown gauntlet] […]
    Will I make good against thee, arm to arm,
    What I have spoke”.

    This goes on the whole rest of the scene. At every step it is reinforced that they intend to “prove” in battle who is right. Then, in 1.3, they show up at the “lists” to have a joust, where they talk more about this stuff. And later, in 4.1, there’s a similar exchange between Surrey and Fitzwater.

    Now, granted, the judge says “A man falling dead in a duel is not thought thereby to be proven in error as to his views.” [obviously, emphasis mine] But he also says, of the victor, “What more certain validation of a man’s worth could there be?” and “[W]ar is the truest form of divination.” In other words, whatever being makes such selections (the “divine” evoked by “divination”), it does not choose based on the actors’ views but on their respective worths to it. Clearly, this is different from the “judicia Dei” in Shakespeare, where people believe God will choose the righteous to prevail. But it’s not *that* much different. There’s still this idea of an “agent” making choices regarding “life and death [and] what shall be and what shall not”.

    These things arise elsewhere in Shakespeare: In Macbeth 3.1, Macbeth is thinking about the sisters’ prophecy that he shall be king but that Banquo shall [be]get kings. And he realizes that, if this is so, he has committed murder, sold his soul, even, for gains which will not pass to his children. And he decides he will try to prevent this from happening, saying:

    “Rather than so, come fate into the list
    And champion me to th’utterance.”

    In other words, he is daring Destiny/Providence to single combat in an attempt to “effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.”

    Then there’s the duel in Hamlet. Horatio warns Hamlet that he will lose (and presumably die) and advises him that if has any bad premonitions regarding the duel, he should bow out, to which Hamlet responds:

    “Not a whit. We defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all, since no man of aught he leaves knows what is’t to leave betimes. Let be.”

    Thus, whether or not the duel leads to his death, God is in charge of the decision.

    There’s also King Henry V, in at least two places I can recall off the top of my head: In 1.2, the very next line after “And some are yet ungotten and unborn / That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn” is “But this lies all within the will of God”.

    And even the St. Crispin’s Day speech is laced with this idea:

    “If we are marked to die, we are enough
    To do our country loss, and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.”

    All these things have great resonance with the war speech, where the judge makes the same claims, except a) he does not specify who the chooser is and b) he explicitly states that the decisions are “[n]ot a whit” based on the “views of the litigants” but on their respective worths to the chooser. So who is the chooser? God? The judge? Someone else? I vote the judge. In fact, I hold that therein lies the import of his nomination (i.e., “judge” = “chooser”). It is “judicium Dei”, after all. Perhaps McCarthy intended resonance with that idea? And what exactly determines one’s worth to the chooser? I have ideas on that, but it will take me another hour to write up, and I’d rather open the floor for other people to comment.

    12 Dec 2014 at 4:45 pm #6135


    And Mike,

    Thanks for the invite. I’d love to come, but I’m teaching a review session for my students from 4-6. They have a final Monday. And immediately after the final I’m leaving for home for the holidays. Definitely would like to meet for a beer and some bs’ing next year though. Hit me up, my email is I’ll be back in town beginning of the second week of January.

    And yeah, I agree: Californians are weaksauce, man. Yesterday’s “storm of the decade” is what we from New Jersey like to call… “rain”. What a joke. They shut down all the schools in the area for that? Wow. I was expecting a hurricane, not just getting pissed on lol.

    14 Dec 2014 at 2:57 pm #6137



    I agree on all fronts. Folks out here in CA will toughen up a bit over the next decade: they’ll have no choice.

    I’m finishing up a reading of Gorgias. I’ll get right on Richard2 when break starts this Friday.


    14 Dec 2014 at 3:13 pm #6138


    Sounds good, Mike. I quite like Richard II. I think Richard is such an interesting character. Shakespeare did some interesting stuff with the actual history in that play, as well. Apparently, historically, Richard II was suspected of doing some pretty gnarly stuff, having his uncle killed and all. And Shakespeare omits this completely, while including scenes of the aftermath. Meaning the play has a different feel, a completely different meaning, to people who know the history (Holinshed, at least) vs. people who don’t. Now *that’s* a McCarthy idea if I’ve ever heard one.

    And I’m still intending to reread Henry IV soon. Just got crazy busy the last couple weeks of the semester. Hopefully it’ll happen over break. I’ll definitely be keeping in mind what you told me a few weeks ago.

    28 Jan 2015 at 10:15 pm #6337


    Hey all,

    I posted this last night over on the The End of BM: A Reading thread:

    “In Garry Wallace’s “Meeting McCarthy”, he writes of meeting a UTEP philosophy professor, Irving Brown, who knew McCarthy. Wallace writes

    “Brown especially liked the part in Suttree where Cornelius sees his reflection in the glass door and thinks, “Suttree and anti-Suttree.” Brown said that in his opinion McCarthy had over-read Plato.””

    Now, first thing I look up in Plato’s Republic, here’s what I find:

    “Is the man who holds that there are fair things but doesn’t hold that there is beauty itself and who, if someone leads him to the knowledge of it, isn’t able to follow—is he, in your opinion, living in a dream or is he awake? Consider it. Doesn’t dreaming, whether one is asleep or awake, consist in believing a likeness of something to be not a likeness, but rather the thing itself to which it is like?” (476c)

    Granted, this is only my first rude attempt at finding meaning in what Brown said. But that sounds quite McCarthyesque to me. And we all know how McCarthy loves his dream sequences and to play with the idea of being awake vs. being asleep. Who knows? Just thought I’d toss it out there.

    20 Feb 2015 at 10:55 am #6598


    Completely random/wild association time:

    1) I’ve recently read on Kant’s objection to “the ontological argument”. Kant’s objection to such arguments essentially boils down to “‘Exists’ is not a predicate.” That is, “existence” is not a property of a thing. That is, saying an thing exists contains no information regarding that thing, and there is no way to meaningfully talk about the distinction between things with that property and things lacking that property. (Lest you think this type of thinking is flawed/useless, it is this precise idea that Russell used to shoot down Frege’s “logicization” of mathematics. Russell’s paradox hinges on the fact that one cannot meaningfully talk of “existence” as a property of mathematical objects. (Which is not at all the same as saying that mathematical objects do not exist. Just that, do they or not, “existence” is not a *property* in which they participate.))

    Now, maybe this is way out there, but when the judge says “Whatever exists[…]”, the mathematician in me yells “You can’t quantify over the set of all sets!” Realizing that Kant used the exact same line of reasoning to shoot down “the ontological argument”… Well, I wonder if McCarthy’s aware of that. (I’m sure he is.) And if he is aware of that, then I wonder if he intended the judge’s statement to be vacuous. He’s speaking in mad libs: Syntactically correct, but no meaningful way to attach a semantics. That would be exceedingly clever on McCarthy’s part.

    Of course, it’s far more likely imo that McCarthy is just having the judge be glib. But since the nature of existence is a frequent theme in McCarthy, it is not at all unreasonable that he would know that it’s very very difficult to meaningfully talk about “[w]hatever exists”.

    2) I’m currently reading Dracula (for the first time!!), and a few things jumped out at me: First, one of Drac’s most notable features is his pallor. More interestingly, he expresses to Jonathan Harker some kinship with wolves. When Harker reacts strangely to that comment, Drac says “Ah, sir, you dwellers in the city cannot enter into the feelings of the hunter.” The association of evil with the archetype of “the hunter” struck me. And of course, Mr. Long-in-the-Tooth keeps no mirrors in his castle. The relevant folklore being that mirrors reflect back the soul, and Drac has no soul. And frequent readers on this site know my thoughts on how reflections/doubles/mirrors fit into BM and other of McCarthy’s works.

    Oh, and Count has a thing for war (“In his speaking of things and people, and especially of battles, he spoke as if he had been present at them all”) and children (“‘Monster, give me my child!'”). And of course he’s based on Vlad Tepes, who could easily be an historical source for the judge, what with his torture, impaling, cutting off women’s breasts and making their husbands eat them and such.

    I’m sure this all may be just coincidence, but still, I think it’s fun to see correspondences in things, real or not.

    EDIT: A few more Dracula things, if anyone’s interested: 1) There’s a scene in which Dracula is shown having command over wolves in an eerily similar way to how the judge manipulates bats:

    “Close at hand came the howling of many wolves. It was almost as if the sound sprang up at the raising of his hand, just as the music of a great orchestra seems to leap under the baton of the conductor.”

    Very like

    “A lobeshaped moon rose over the black shapes of the mountains dimming out the eastern stars and along the nearby ridge the white blooms of flowering yuccas moved in the wind and in the night bats came from some nether part of the world to stand on leather wings like dark satanic hummingbirds and feed at the mouths of those flowers. Farther along the ridge and slightly elevated on a ledge of sandstone squatted the judge, pale and naked. He raised his hand and the bats flared in confusion and then he lowered it and sat as before and soon they were feeding again.”

    Also, Dracula can transform into a bat. And the judge controls bats…

    2) Then there’s a scene in Chapter 4 where Harker, who by now knows that Dracula is evil and supernatural, comes upon him sleeping in his crypt and decides to try to kill him:

    “There was no lethal weapon at hand, but I seized a shovel[…] and lifting it high, struck, with the edge downward, at the hateful face. But as I did so the head turned, and the eyes fell full upon me, with all their blaze of basilisk horror. The sight seemed to paralyse me, and the shovel turned in my hand and glanced from the face, merely making a deep gash above the forehead.”

    This reminds me of how both Toadvine and the kid have opportunities to kill the judge and are stricken with a similar “paralysis”.

    3) I always wondered about the following passage: At the ruins of Santa Rita del Cobre, just before they find “The dead boy”, Toadvine comes on the judge “standing in the gently steaming quiet picking his teeth with a thorn as if he had just eaten.” Obviously we’re supposed to connect this to the dead boy. Now, the narrator makes no mention of whether he had been cannibalized. But the only injury we’re told of involves his neck: “His neck had been broken and his head hung straight down and it flopped over strangely when they let him onto the ground.” I dunno, this is all so hyperspeculative, but… The judge is picking his teeth as if he had just eaten, a little boy is dead, and the only information we’re given is that he had a neck injury? What did the judge eat? Why are we given those two pieces of information in conjunction?

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by  efscerbo.
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    04 Apr 2015 at 7:03 pm #6879


    Came across an interesting passage in Melville’s Pierre:

    “That profound Silence, that only Voice of our God, where I before spoke of; from that divine thing without a name, those impostor philosophers pretend somehow to have got an answer; which is as absurd, as though they should say they had got water out of stone; for how can a man get a Voice out of Silence?”

    This reminded me quite strongly of Tobin in Chapter 10: “[I]t may well be that the voice of the Almighty speaks most profoundly in such beings as lives in silence themselves.” It also reminded me of the silence of the mill in The Gardener’s Son after McEvoy shoots Gregg (specifically, Dianne Luce’s reading of that in “Reading the World”), and more generally the attitude towards language/words/symbolic representation that seems to pervade McCarthy’s work.

    04 May 2015 at 12:26 pm #7062


    I just came across this. I don’t know if it’s been mentioned in the literature before, but it’s new to me.

    Now, I’m too young, but maybe someone who has knowledge of the Catholic Church before Vatican II can confirm this: Apparently one of the old Easter traditions was to light the Paschal candle on Holy Saturday with a flint, the fire from the stone symbolizing Jesus rising from the dead.

    If true, McCarthy is certainly old enough to know about this.

    05 May 2015 at 5:45 pm #7068


    This is my first post here and English is not my native language so I apologize for possible grammatical errors. I’m curious what you think about this quote:

    “He adduced for their consideration references to the children of Ham, the lost tribes of Israelites, certain passages from the Greek poets, anthropological speculations as to the propagation of the races in their dispersion and isolation through the agency of geological cataclysm and an assessment of racial traits with respect to climatic and geographical influences. ”

    As far as I know the only person at that time who had these ideas concerning the propagation of races and species through geographical isolation was a German scientist Moritz Wagner. He had some sort of a debate with Darwin on this subject because Darwin had some doubts about the role of geographical isolation.
    It is interesting also that Moritz Wagner travelled through North and Central America and the Caribbean from 1852 to 1855 and wrote a book Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 und 1853 about it with Carl Scherzer. I’ve read some bits of the book online when he was in Washington but not when they went south. It is reminiscent of the judge. Of course, there are innumerable historical influences on the judge but this could be an important part of the puzzle.
    Also, there are many Hegelian influences that have not been noticed. Judges thoughts on war are very close to Hegel’s in Philosophy of Right. This is Hegel: “War has the higher significance that by its agency, as I have remarked elsewhere, ‘the ethical health of peoples is preserved in their indifference to the stabilisation of finite institutions; just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would be the result of a prolonged calm, so also corruption in nations would be the product of prolonged, let alone ‘perpetual’, peace.'”

    Or: “The immediate actuality which any state possesses from the point of view of other states is particularised into a multiplicity of relations which are determined by the arbitrary will of both autonomous parties… But since the sovereignty of a state is the principle of its relations to others, states are to that extent in a state of nature in relation to each other. Their rights are actualised only in their particular wills and not in a universal will with constitutional powers over them… It follows that if states disagree and their particular wills cannot be harmonised, the matter can only be settled by war. ”

    06 May 2015 at 4:39 pm #7069


    Hi davor,

    Welcome to the forum! It’s always nice to get new people contributing around these parts.

    Those Hegel quotes are great, thanks. I’ve been interested in connections between McCarthy and Hegel for a while, partly because he’s mentioned in The Stonemason, where the main character discusses his master-slave dialectic. There’s also an interesting anecdote recorded in Edwin T. Arnold’s “Cormac McCarthy’s The Stonemason: The Unmaking of a Play”: One of the guys involved in attempting to stage The Stonemason in DC in the early 90s told Arnold about a “three-hour conversation” he and McCarthy had “on Hegel and the nature of narrative.”

    Sadly, as far as I know, connections between the two seem rather unexplored in the literature. The only papers I’ve found on them have been a PhD thesis by Ian Jensen out of U Montana about a decade ago and a brief paper by John Wegner on Dostoevsky, Hegel, and McCarthy.

    I’ve tried reading Hegel myself, but I find him quite impenetrable. Maybe it’s time to give him another shot, though. Would you happen to know where specifically Hegel discusses the “nature of narrative”? Or anything even related to something like that?

    Thanks again,

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