Blood Meridian Title

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  • 03 Sep 2014 at 9:39 am #5804

    Toni
    Member

    Hi

    Over the past few years I’ve ran across different theories and ideas on what
    the title “Blood Meridian” might mean. But I’ve never really found, or come
    up with any satisfactory conclusions.

    I had a good laugh when a drunken friend once told me it’s all plain as day:
    It refers to the bloody circle (meridian) the knife draws around the skull
    in the act of scalping.

    As clever an idea that is, I was still not convinced.

    But a while back I found a thesis online by a guy named Daniel Robert King,
    titled “Your Side of the Street”: Cormac McCarthy’s Collaborative Authorship,
    in which he states the following:

    “The other important source revealed by McCarthy’s notes is that from which McCarthy drew the title of his work. On the cover of a folder headed “WESTERN – FINAL DRAFT” McCarthy has written “OED Meridian – Byron quoted.” The OED reveals that there is indeed a Byron quotation included amongst its definitions, drawn from Stanzas to the Po. This quotation, included in the OED entry for “Meridian” runs, “A stranger loves the lady of the land, // Born far beyond the mountains, but his blood // Is all meridian, as if never fann’d // By the black wind that chills the polar flood,” a revealing description of the inspiration behind McCarthy’s nameless protagonist.”

    Now this may be old news to some, if not all of you, but at least now I’ve found a satisfactory explanation concerning the title.

    The King thesis has some interesting stuff all in all, especially on the early years
    of McCarthy’s career and his relationship with Albert Erskin.

    Here’s a link to the pdf: http://etheses.nottingham.ac.uk/4309/1/594600.pdf


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    03 Sep 2014 at 10:53 am #5806

    efscerbo
    Member

    Hi Toni,

    I have a few comments: First, on its face, I would take the “literal” meaning of the title “Blood Meridian” to be simply “Sunset”. “Meridian” can mean “line of longitude”, and I would imagine “Blood” is being used as an adjective, meaning “blood-red”. Also, anytime I see a title of the form “X, or Y”, I have to imagine that Y is a restatement or explication of X. Such as “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale”. “The Whale” is a restatement of what “Moby-Dick” is. Similarly, I would say that “The Evening Redness in the West” is a restatement of “Blood Meridian”. In other words, “Blood Meridian” is the blood-red line of longitude the sun makes in the evening in the west. (Also, see the Boehme reference below.)

    However, there are a whole host of other meanings/associations in the title. I believe Rick Wallach has mentioned something in connection with Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis”, arguing that “Blood Meridian” refers to the American frontier, that is, the (ever-shifting) line of longitude separating civilization from wilderness back in the 17-1800s. At the time of the novel, that frontier line passed through or near Nacogdoches. (I don’t remember all the details of this, nor do I remember exactly which essay of Wallach’s I read it in. I’ll leave it for other people to comment on. Maybe he himself will have something to add.)

    There’s also a couched reference to a work by Jacob Boehme, whom McCarthy also uses for the second epigraph to BM. Boehme’s first book is titled “Aurora oder Morgenröte im Aufgang”, which may be translated as “Aurora, or the Morning Redness in the East”. Since “Aurora” simply means “Sunrise”, this bolsters the idea that “Blood Meridian” literally means “Sunset”.

    You can also read “Meridian” as “The point or period of highest development or perfection, after which decline sets in” (OED meridian, n., 4.b.). In this case, the title may refer to some “highest point” or zenith of blood or violence, which would certainly be appropriate for the book. The hint of “decline” in this definition also has resonance with the judge’s speech after the parable of the harnessmaker: “[Man’s] spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day.”

    Finally: I’d heard about the Byron connection for years, but after reading “Stanzas to the Po”, I was skeptical that McCarthy intended that as a reference because I don’t see much in common between the poem and the novel. Very interesting to find that McCarthy referred to it in his personal notes. Perhaps there’s more there than I thought. Thanks for that!

    Ed


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    03 Sep 2014 at 1:05 pm #5812

    efscerbo
    Member

    One more thing: “Meridian” can also be “[u]sed as a proper name for: the Devil (with allusion to Psalm 91:6)” (OED meridian, n., 2.b.). Psalm 91:6 reads “nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday” (NIV). The phrase “the plague that destroys at midday” corresponds to “daemonio meridiano” in the Vulgate Psalm 90:6 (note the change in numbering).


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    08 Sep 2014 at 6:48 am #5834

    Toni
    Member

    Hi Ed!

    “anytime I see a title of the form “X, or Y”, I have to imagine that Y is a
    restatement or explication of X.”

    Yeah, sure, I’m with that, but there’s just always been something about that
    title that struck me as mysterious; as if there was something in it I didn’t
    know how to read.

    I’ve studied Boehme’s “Six Theosophic Points” and “The Signature of All
    Things”, but haven’t got around to “Aurora” just yet.

    This “meridian as a proper name for the devil” thing is also very interesting.
    I had never come across that, not that I recall.

    I thank you for your very comprehensive reply. I’ve enjoyed your earlier
    posts on BM as well.

    Much obliged.

    – Toni


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    • This reply was modified 3 years, 2 months ago by  Toni.
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    08 Sep 2014 at 11:43 am #5837

    efscerbo
    Member

    Hi Toni,

    No problem, glad you’ve liked what I’ve posted so far. I dunno how comprehensive my reply actually is: It’s only what I’ve cobbled together over the years. I imagine other people lurking in the shadows may have things to add. Hoping we’ll hear from some of them.

    Ed


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    14 Sep 2014 at 4:06 pm #5860

    Ken
    Member

    Although many of us have “heard about the Byron connection for years”, efscerbo, I think what Toni reported in the first post is significant. Maybe some others here have heard it before, but it is my first time: On the cover of a folder [in McCarthy’s notes in the Wittliff Collections?] headed “WESTERN – FINAL DRAFT” McCarthy has written “OED Meridian – Byron quoted. So, not only was McCarthy aware of the Byron quote while writing BM, but he made a note of this. Up until now it has only been speculation that McCarthy had Byron’s poem in mind, but now this is confirmation, hence significant.

    Nevertheless, I agree that the Byron quote is not the source of the novel’s title. I believe McCarthy already had the notion of using “meridian” in the title, and then he researched the word’s meanings, derivation, and usages for possibly inclusions of its multiple senses in the title and novel. I believe that’s the way he thought (laughing out loud, quite an egotistical claim, to know how McCarthy thought while writing!). Off the top of my head, I cite another example of this: My idiosyncratic belief is that McCarthy chose the “four of cups” primarily because the minor arcana card corresponds to his own birthday on July 20 (the period July 12 to July 21 is represented by the four of cups), and then he researched the various interpretations of the card (blended pleasure, etc.) for additional senses for possible inclusion in the novel. Just the opposite of what most people believe, that the card’s meanings motivated McCarthy’s choice.

    ***

    Not to hijack this thread, but in the same general speculation on the origin of the book’s title, I’ve brought this conspiracy theory up in the past, half serious and half for entertainment value, and I’ll just jump into the middle and without context but which anyone with further interest could look up…

    How would you translate and interpret “midi pommes bleues”? It is an enigmatic combination of words which usually gets translated as “noon blue apples”, and has a variety of interpretations, many boiling down to two general ones:

    (1) The sun shining through the apples of the stained-glass window casts a blue light at some significant spot in the church in Rennes-le-Chateau (and maybe also the St. Sulpice Church in Paris) at noon each year on January 17.

    (2) “Blue apples” is a local expression for “grapes” and signifies “bloodline”, in the sense that “vine” is used as a symbol of “bloodline”.

    Interpretation (1) has these resonances with McCarthy’s westerns: “January 17” is the “117”; St. Sulpice, like St. Anthony (“Anton”), has a feast day on January 17; January 17 is a recurring date in this conspiracy; “Rennes” means “chariots” (BM original cover; “Cormac” name meaning) and shares a derivation with “ride” (frequently used word in BM); St. Sulpice Church is 33deg east and 33deg north of Paris Zero Meridian (“thirty-three”; “meridian”)oops! St. Sulpice Church is on the Paris Zero Meridian (“meridian”). [Not part of this conspiracy theory: It is Mount Hermon, where some of the fallen angels descended to earth, that is 33deg east of this Meridian and 33deg north (“meridian”; “thirty-three”; “night the stars fell”).]

    Interpretation (2) offers this: Not only “bloodline” (or simply “blood”) from “pommes bleues”, but “midi” can also be translated as “meridian”. Hence, “midi pommes bleues” = “meridian blood”.


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    15 Sep 2014 at 10:57 pm #5864

    efscerbo
    Member

    Ken,

    I’m not sure how you interpreted what I wrote in my response to Toni, but I’m pretty sure I said the exact same thing you did. I wrote “Very interesting to find that McCarthy referred to [Byron’s Stanzas to the Po] in his personal notes. Perhaps there’s more there than I thought. Thanks for that!” I agreed and acknowledged it is significant. So I’m not really sure what you’re getting at.

    That said, I fully agree that it’s very reasonable that an author could “find” other meanings to elements in a work (whether it be the title “Blood Meridian” or the use of the “four of cups” or something else) after those elements have already been introduced. Your second paragraph coincides quite closely with my thoughts on the matter.

    Ed


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    16 Sep 2014 at 7:09 am #5867

    Ken
    Member

    Don’t pay too much attention to me; I probably made too much of things and overstated and it came off as … confrontational ranting! What I meant was, interesting or not, relevant to Blood Meridian or not, the Byron quote remained speculation for years. But when speculation becomes confirmation, that is a significant step.

    Anyway, when I get my act together and dig into my own notes from the old Forum and edit them, I should post on your Gravity Rainbow thread, as I too sensed connections between the Pynchon novel and Blood Meridian in my last rereading of Gravity’s Rainbow a decade or so ago. Let me just paraphrase here some notes related to Blood Meridian‘s title.

    The word “meridians” appears twice, I think, in Gravity’s Rainbow, both times in the same sentence. Josef Ombindi, a leader of the Empty Ones, a self-genocidal movement among a subgroup of Zone-Hereros, daydreams about a spiritually utopian past in Tibet, politically neutral like Switzerland: “Switzerland and Tibet are linked along one of the true meridians of Earth, true as the Chinese have drawn meridians of the body.” (GR 321) “Meridians” is used here in different senses: the usual astronomical one we apply to Blood Meridian, but the other sense related to traditional Chinese medicine offers an interesting metaphor. In TCM, there is no blood meridian per se, but there is a heart meridian which includes blood. The image I get is a metal acupuncture needle inserted into the flesh to release or redirect or reactivate the energy or fire inside the body. Pynchon’s metaphor of the human body to the Earth provides an image of Blood Meridian‘s Epilogue: a metal object dug into the earth and pulling out fire. Perhaps there is the implication of healing as well. And there are the other enigmatic images of the Epilogue that make the earth a metaphor for the body: a search for bones; sequenced tracks of holes, like the meridian maps of the body.

    The word “blood” appears frequently enough in Gravity’s Rainbow, but the interesting occurrence is the first one following, almost immediately after, the occurrences of “meridians”. Now the shift is to the mind of Enzian from the mind of Ombindi, Enzian’s antagonist and major rival for leadership of the Zone-Hereros. Enzian recalls the African Herero myth of the sunset: “each sunset is a battle. In the north, where the sun sets, live the one-armed warriors … who fight the sun each evening, who spear it to death until its blood runs out over the horizon and sky.” (GR 322) The myth evokes McCarthy’s title.

    Not “meridian” but “noon”: This is a Herero custom during its declining years, when so many of the natives converted to Christianity: “… as noon flared the shadows in tightly to their owners, in that moment of terror and refuge, the omuhona took from his sacred bag, soul after converted soul, the leather cord kept there since the individual’s birth, and untied the birth-knot. Untied, it was another soul dead to the tribe.” (GR 316) So, symbolic death rituals were performed at the meridian, though the word “meridian” is not used here.


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    21 Sep 2014 at 2:22 pm #5893

    efscerbo
    Member

    Ha, no worries, Ken. I wasn’t sure who misunderstood whom.

    Anyway, thanks for resurrecting the Pynchon thing. I wonder how much they have in common, and it’s easy to spiral off into paranoia (very Pynchonesque, indeed). I mean, they’re both writers with a “scienc-y” edge (McCarthy less so, I guess, but his post at SFI is well-known), they both won the MacArthur “Genius” Grant (and supposedly there are annual get-togethers of previous winners), they both had the same agent at one point (Candida Donadio). I’ve heard Gravity’s Rainbow described as a very “Gnostic” novel. And as I mentioned in that other thread, there are a couple of lines they have in common, such as “buttresses of light”, which appears in both The Orchard Keeper and GR (and Blood Meridian), and, most telling (to me), “secular wind”, which appears in both GR and The Road.

    And lately I’m reading Bleeding Edge, and it’s weird how many similarities there are with The Counselor: There’s a woman wearing “leopard-print”. There’s an place named “NetNet”, which is an expression Westray uses. There’s illegal activity going on with a hint that Arabs in the Middle East are truly behind it, like Reiner alludes to. There’s a whole bunch of computer hacking described in tech jargon, much like the scene with Lee in the screenplay. Also, Pynchon uses the expression “pari passu”, which I’ve never seen anywhere but Suttree.

    Believe me, I’m well aware this is probably all coincidental. But since I was wondering about a connection between them already, seeing all these things in Bleeding Edge has really pricked my ears up.

    Your stuff on the title is very interesting. Would definitely be interested in seeing more at some point.

    Thanks,
    Ed


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    21 Sep 2014 at 2:47 pm #5894

    efscerbo
    Member

    Couple comments:

    I just looked up the passages you mentioned in GR: Right after the one on 322 about the one-armed warriors fighting the sun, there’s a mention of the north being the “locus of death”. Just the word “locus” recalls (to me) the opening of Chapter 21 in BM: “The earth fell away on every side equally in its arcature and by these limits were they circumscribed and of them were they locus.” (307-308)

    And that whole section is a meditation on names vs. the act of naming, including “There may be no gods, but there is a pattern: names by themselves may have no magic, but the act of naming, the physical utterance, obeys the pattern.” (GR 322)

    Definitely strikes me as the kind of stuff McCarthy may find interesting.


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