Blood Meridian Tidbits

This topic contains 77 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  RogerDuvall 1 week, 6 days ago.

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  • 03 Feb 2018 at 6:57 pm #10146

    RogerDuvall
    Member

    I don’t see many questions here, and this is as much a question as an observation. If it is not appropriate, please remove it. Here is the second paragraph of Blood Meridian: “Night of your birth. Thirty-three. The Leonids they were called. God how the stars did fall. I looked for blackness, holes in the heavens. The Dipper stove.” I have read some secondary material and some of this forum, and I have never seen anyone comment on the very odd use of the first and second person. Does McCarthy let the kid’s father step forward to deliver this one speech? Why would he do that? Or is it the narrator giving us a very important bit of information, an approximate time of his birth? (There was a very famous Leonid meteor shower in 1833.) I would like to think the latter because I would like to figure out when the narrator is telling the story, writing the book. I suspect that McCarthy had a date in mind and limits the narrator’s vocabulary and his knowledge to that of a person writing at that time.


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    03 Feb 2018 at 8:16 pm #10147

    Richard L.
    Member

    Re “I have read some secondary material and some of this forum, and I have never seen anyone comment on the very odd use of the first and second person. Does McCarthy let the kid’s father step forward to deliver this one speech? Why would he do that? Or is it the narrator giving us a very important bit of information, an approximate time of his birth?”

    The background material on BLOOD MERIDIAN is vast, but the place to start is John Sepich’s very thorough NOTES ON BLOOD MERIDIAN. The narrator is indeed ambiguous here as well as elsewhere in McCarthy’s fiction. Over the years, some have attributed this to careless editing, but scholars have found documentation in the letters between McCarthy and his editors to show that McCarthy very early decided to let his characters be conflated by design, and he argued with his editors over this.

    Very early on, McCarthy thought fiction might be done without character names at all, and indeed, years later, he gave us THE ROAD which has only one named character. Ely, and the text says that Ely might not have even been his real name.

    In BLOOD MERIDIAN, the narrator slips into this or that person and we judge for ourselves who is doing the talking. The Judge tells a parable to his men and every man thinks it is his own story, and that is the trick, says the Judge, to make every story every man’s story. Later the Judge preaches about the Man, and will you stand for that Man. Some think that Christ is meant, but others think it is an Everyman, or even the Oversoul from the prologue in SUTTREE. No soul shall walk save you.

    But the shape-shifting Judge lies, and you have to figure out for yourself when his words can be trusted.

    The Leonid shower was historical, as you know, every 33 years, and the birth of the kid is roughly 100 years before Cormac McCarthy’s own birth. The falling light fits the Gnostic note that this vale is made up of darkness and it is light that has fallen, alien here, into this dark creation. See, for instance, the “spark of the divine” thread in this forum. Or just see Sepich’s masterful work. Sepich cites as one of McCarthy’s sources Ruxton’s historical narrative about the birth of a kid during this time.

    So much of BLOOD MERIDIAN is amazingly historical, it takes us by surprise again and again.


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    03 Feb 2018 at 9:13 pm #10148

    RogerDuvall
    Member

    Richard L., thanks for the very thoughtful response. I think we can eliminate “careless editing” in the second paragraph of the novel, can’t we? I like the notion of “conflation by design.” I see something of the kid’s father and something of the narrator here, but I wouldn’t go so far as to argue that the kid’s father is the narrator. “Conflation,” therefore seems a good compromise.

    “So much of BLOOD MERIDIAN is amazingly historical, it takes us by surprise again and again.” Right, and shouldn’t we give credit to McCarthy if he is narrating from a particular time, adding another level of historicity? I was a little disappointed to read a note here by Glass that points out what seems to be a very intentional allusion to Twain’s Mysterious Stranger, published in 1916. To my way of thinking, this would mean the narrator had read The Mysterious Stranger and narrated Blood Meridian after 1916. I was hoping it would be a little earlier.

    I just read parts of Barclay Owens’ Cormac McCarthy’s Western Novels and found it hitting several of the points that interest me. For example, he places Blood Meridian in the tradition of literary naturalism. I had arrived at the same conclusion, but I came at it from a different direction. A literary narrator working sometime between say 1890 and 1920 would very likely be a naturalist. Because of the graphic violence in his novels, Stephen Crane faced a reaction much like that of today’s readers to Blood Meridian.


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    04 Feb 2018 at 8:24 am #10149

    RogerDuvall
    Member

    Re “Or just see Sepich’s masterful work. Sepich cites as one of McCarthy’s sources Ruxton’s historical narrative about the birth of a kid during this time.” Sepich’s Notes was not on the shelf where it should have been at the library. I am waiting for a copy to come in from elsewhere.

    As I said in a previous post, I have been reading Barcley Owens’ Cormac McCarthy’s Western Novels. Without detracting at all from his idea that “A brief review of the violence of the Vietnam era will place Blood Meridian more clearly in its social context.”, I would suggest that an historical narrator might have been writing during or soon after the American Civil War, an event at least as brutal and violent as the war in Vietnam, an event which would have influenced his point of view.


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    04 Feb 2018 at 2:24 pm #10151

    Driftwood70
    Member

    In the “Leonids” passage, I have found the first person narrative voicing to be attractive as that cosmic narrator, or in this case, as the disembodied Gnostic “Judge Holden” whom has found the kid already on the night of his birth.

    And yet the masterful phrasing and syntax also seem to place the actual father there, quite mortally looking up from the ground at the stars, perhaps even in drunken revelry.

    So the signature McCarthy “conflation” that you both mention seems to be functioning on all engines there. Particularly in such efficient strokes, like haiku.

    Contrastingly, as Richard knows, I’ve always been curious about Chapter 10 being, if I’m not mistaken, the only stretch of the book told entirely in first person by an actual character, in a very lyrical and painterly story-telling mode.

    Without much to offer on it myself; it is really satisfying to hone in on and “hear” those voicings which seem to merge and separate, merge and separate, throughout the book.


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    04 Feb 2018 at 3:07 pm #10152

    Driftwood70
    Member

    Or maybe one thing I might offer is that the first person voice in the opening is one of direct encounter, to the most intimate degree, as historical encounter, and as the conflation of narrator/reader. (Again, almost as the “direct encounter” of haiku.)

    While the gunpowder yarn / origin story of Ch. 10, I’ve proposed, only works as “story-telling.” It would not carry the same narrative weight, or necessary suspension of disbelief, if we encountered those incidents directly via omniscient narrator as part of the action. It would change the book enormously, skewing it toward fantasy. The first-person but second-hand account means that we experience the critical sequences vividly as personal testimony, but not directly. And as the centerpiece of the book, it somehow calls into question the veracity of the entire ordeal, as being historical versus mythic, or somewhere along the “conflation” and the shifting continuum of it.

    Whereas the voicing of the opening “Leonids” phrases carry the tone of direct encounter, placing the myth in history, and natural history, as you’ve indicated.

    So, don’t know if the comparison is interesting for you, or illuminates anything. But I find the choices of voicings to be so masterful as to be really mind-blowing and wild.


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    04 Feb 2018 at 3:19 pm #10153

    Glass
    Member

    Interesting thoughts, so good. I go back and forth on who is narrating the great “Night of your birth” passage. But I lean toward the father. Then I change my mind again. Isn’t McCarthy amazing how he can do magic like that?

    I would note that I am fairly certain that the Judge was a witness to the kid’s birth, in the room if you will, in an early draft of Blood Meridian. This might be germane.

    Roger, thanks for mentioning my Mysterious Stranger post. I may develop that in more depth if I ever return in earnest to McCarthy studies.


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    05 Feb 2018 at 6:24 pm #10154

    RogerDuvall
    Member

    Re: “Does McCarthy let the kid’s father step forward to deliver this one speech? Why would he do that? Or is it the narrator giving us a very important bit of information, an approximate time of his birth?” I just got a copy of the revised and expanded edition of John Sepich’s Notes on Blood Meridian, which includes a concordance of passages where “the narrative voice is most clearly heard.” He attributes this passage to the kid’s father.


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