esthetic achievement of blood meridian

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  • 28 Mar 2015 at 5:58 pm #6775

    jasonp
    Member

    I constantly hear the word “esthetic” or “aesthetic” thrown around about Blood Meridian and I don’t quite understand what it means. There doesn’t seem to be an economical definition anywhere I look. Definitions seem to cover anything from word selection and diction to the amount of allusions in a piece to philosophy to general beauty.

    i.e.:

    “Blood Meridian . . . seems to me clearly the major esthetic achievement of any living American writer.” Harold Bloom

    I’ve also read the Blood Meridian section of Harold Bloom’s “How To Read and Why”.

    Still I was stumped on the meaning of aesthetics.

    I even went searching for the answer in an Introduction to Theory of Literature Open Yale Course (http://oyc.yale.edu/english/engl-300#sessions) and it sent me down a damn rabbit hole.

    Can anyone explain what aesthetic value is to me in a single sentence?

    I’d like to be able to experience a deeper aesthetic pleasure from McCarthy’s work but I only have a vague idea of what it actually is.


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    29 Mar 2015 at 4:37 am #6788

    Markus W.
    Member

    Esthetic/Aesthetic comes from the Greek αἴσθησις aísthēsis, which means so much as your “sensual perception” of a given object. In philosophy, it’s usually the branch dealing with matters of beauty and taste, and the laws that make something appear pleasing, like mathematical proportionality and such. But an object of art (or anything), strictly speaking does not have to be deemed ‘beautiful’ to have an esthetic impact. E.g. Gottfried Benn may write about decomposing corpses or his autopsy of a drunkard — and achieve a guttural reaction that has nothing to do with the experience being ‘beautiful.’

    In McCarthy, the esthetic object is the language itself, the esthetic pleasure that of the prose or rather, his poetry disguised as prose. The pleasure of reading, and especially of reading aloud, parts of the novel has much to do with the rhythm, sound and cadence of the words and can be diametrically opposed to the terror of what is actually described.

    There’s a material quality to the sound waves the words make when read aloud. I’ve experienced that when I taught Blood Meridian in class last winter. Reading something like the judge’s dance at the end aloud gives off an almost vertiginous, fugue-like quality. You can almost dance to it yourself, and I probably freaked out some of my students when I tried just that…

    Hope this answers your question.


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    29 Mar 2015 at 5:56 am #6791

    jasonp
    Member

    Thanks! Makes sense.


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    30 Mar 2015 at 7:09 am #6798

    jasonp
    Member

    To add… I was reading the Western Canon and aesthetic strength is defined by these qualities:

    -mastery of figurative language
    -originality
    -cognitive power
    -knowledge
    -exuberance of diction

    With those qualities in mind I can see how Blood Meridian is deemed “the major esthetic achievement of any living American writer”. But, based on these qualities, I can also see how Suttree may have even more aesthetic strength than Blood Meridian.


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    30 Mar 2015 at 9:45 am #6800

    Peter Josyph
    Member

    Important thread.

    A few notes on this theme:

    My first published memoir about reading McCarthy is called BLOOD MUSIC because it’s based around reading all of BLOOD MERIDIAN OR THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST aloud. It was interesting and instructive to say the least.

    At an early conference of the Society, I and a fellow actor, Raymond Todd, did a kind of antiphonal reading from the prologue to Agee’s A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (Ray) and the start of SUTTREE (me). The presentation was Rick’s idea because he loved the way the Suttree intro tributes and reverberates the start of the Agee. HEARING them aloud together really does help one to grasp (to feel) their relationship perceptually rather than just conceptually.

    For the very first McCarthy conference, I directed a presentation of readings from all of McCarthy’s works to that date. Rehearsing that and performing it with Ray and a local actress in Louisville was fascinating. I discuss this briefly in relation to the performative (you might say the auditory) aspect of McCarthy’s prose-poetry in a recent talk that I gave at Texas State-San Marcos that you can watch if you go to the link for it at the site for the Wittliff Collections. Ironically for a talk about McCarthy and performance, the clearest vocal track from my lavaliere mic got lost in the technical shuffle, but I can still be heard out of the speakers.

    With my own work as a writer, both fiction and non-fiction, reading it by hearing myself read it aloud is often quite crucial to the very long process of tweaking, coddling, trimming, thickening. One is, after all, composing, and so hearing it’s important: you find out what it needs differently. When I almost never read my work aloud is when I am writing plays and screenplays. It simply doesn’t help and it’s not at all necessary. Figure that one!!


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    30 Mar 2015 at 11:53 am #6801

    jasonp
    Member

    Only in the last month or so have I started reading everything aloud, an amazing experience for the ear and for digesting tough passages.

    As for McCarthy I wish I could understand why it sounds so good to the ear. Studying rhetoric has helped me better understand a few things. But… Overall I can’t quite put my fingers on the techniques that make McCarthy’s lines sound right.

    Lines like “Blacks in the fields, lank and stooped, their fingers spiderlike among the bolls of cotton” just sound right. There’s not a word you could change or add or subtract that would improve that line.

    His masterful lines are relentless and yet I can’t put my finger on what makes them tick.

    I hear similarities between Joyce and McCarthy and Faulkner and O’Connor and Melville, for example, but only instinctively on some feeling level.

    On that note… The best book to read aloud has been Finnegans Wake. Even though I don’t know what the hell is going on, it sounds perfect.


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    30 Mar 2015 at 12:56 pm #6803

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    I once hear Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly read aloud from the Wake at a Jung Foundation conference in Chicago. I would guess that had to be around 1975. They used theatrical masks someone had fashioned to represent the “presences” in the novel as they read. It was quite an experience.


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    30 Mar 2015 at 1:19 pm #6805

    jasonp
    Member

    That’s cool, Rick. I’d love to go to a live reading of it. Especially if the reader has a thick Irish voice (someone like the “Felix fooking Fench” guy from Cloud Atlas).

    Some experimental bands are currently recording the Wake to music http://www.gratefulweb.com/articles/jam-bands-experimental-music-and-james-joyce-finnegans-wake-set-music-unabridged


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