Existentialism in Cormac McCarthy's Works

This topic contains 60 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 1 year, 2 months ago.

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  • 16 Oct 2015 at 3:22 pm #7742


    I remember putting down some thoughts on a Dos and McCarthy here on the new forum format 2 or 3 years ago? Has that thread been fried or lost? Either way, sure, start a new one. However, I won’t have any time to share much until Sat or Sunday afternoon.

    As for the existential thought, I never found that to be an issue in McCarthy. Faulkner specified man and his “environment” in one of his speeches, I find this to be the major theme in McCarthy, and Dos too.

    When I am done with football in a few weeks I’d like to read the one major Dos novel that I have not yet read: “The Raw Youth” aka “The Adolescent”. Any interest from anyone else? Reading it as a group would be interesting.

    21 Oct 2015 at 9:15 am #7781

    Candy Minx

    Yes, count me in. I have not read it either. We looking at post-superbowl? (Feb. 7) How about….Febuary 20th ish?

    Is there a version you suggest? It seems to have had a number of titles including “Discord”.

    22 Oct 2015 at 10:21 am #7791

    Candy Minx

    “By a practice I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended” Alastair MacIntyre

    I’m going back to the post #7725 with the quote from the ALL THE PRETTY HORSES

    “The example he gave was of a tossed coin that was at one time a slug in a mint and of the coiner who took that slug from the tray and placed it in the die in one of two ways and from whose act all else followed,

    No matter through whatever turnings nor how many of them. Till our turn comes at last and our turn passes.

    It’s a foolish argument. But that anonymous small person at his workbench has remained with me. I think if it were fate that ruled our houses it could perhaps be flattered or reasoned with. But the coiner cannot. Peering with his poor eyes through dingy glasses at the blind tablets of metal before him. Making his selection. Perhaps hesitating a moment. While the fates of what unknown worlds to come hang in the balance.”

    For me, this ties in rather nicely with both the coin Anton uses and with the diamond merchant in THE COUNSELLR because the fate, and integrity of something is in the craft, in the making, and that somehow fate is connected. The fate to me is in the practice and what that practice offers as skills and virtues …that virtues are from the doing. And somehow this is connected to existentialism…because the thoughts, the sense of freedom and knowledge or learning during a practice is within it’s value in a community. As MacIntryre qualifies a practice.

    For me….the idea that existentialism is a device or tool one would use as an individual is a flawed form of existentialism. Existentialism, as a learning tool, as a form of mindfulness, an ecology of mind is for community. It is an emergency response to anxiety disorder, created often from a society but also from unresolved childhood trauma or underserved needs from caregivers during childhood.

    the usage and attraction of an existentialism for the individual to eek out from under a control system is a re-enacting of the struggle of a child trying to survive from a inhospitable, or caregiving, or unfulfilled needs. It’s a cycling process of coping. There is nothing wrong with that…and if it serves as a an aid for coping, as said for addictions or lack of love….thats kay. the thing is there are existentialists who have offered more reconciling philosophies.

    The really profound existentialists are Viktor Frankl and Martin Buber. both rigorously aim at a existentialism that is working to reconcile these childhood issues and to move the individual back into a community….and the community into a caregiving structure and energy. Buber and Frankl both saw existentialism as a way to heal anxiety disorder and that was as between people and with relationships. Their extisntiaism wasn’t for the individual but much more healing and integrative.

    Philosophy needs to address the we not the I.

    Healing unmet needs is the very reason for practicing existentialism. Those unmet needs being recognized are trigger when we see political needs, social needs, spiritual needs…unmet in adult life….which is triggering the unmet needs of childhood. All of this is connected…and at some point the existentialist may choose to serve themselves or to extend the self-compassion they have in order to console themselves with existentialism to reach out. Serving the community, with the lessons of existentialism is a mark of true recovery and healing. Until the anxiety disorder of a community is healed then existentialism remains a comfort only to those who are privileged in society with the time to read and have a job and suppress unresolved childhood trauma and unmet needs.

    What about the others?

    22 Oct 2015 at 10:27 am #7792

    Candy Minx

    Marian Fitzmaurice (2010) explains:

    “So, what counts as a practice? The planting of crops is not a practice, but farming is, as are the enquiries of physics, chemistry, biology and the work of the historian, the musician and the painter. A practice involves standards of excellence and to enter into a practice is to accept these standards and to judge one’s own performance against them. The goods internal to a practice can only be had by involvement in that practice unlike external goods such as money, status and prestige, which can be achieved in many ways. Also, such goods can only be specified in relation to that practice and they can only be identified and recognised by participating in the practice. ”


    Fitzmaurice, Marian(2010) ‘Considering teaching in higher education as a practice’, Teaching in Higher Education, 1

    22 Oct 2015 at 2:22 pm #7802

    Richard L.

    I don’t give the existentialist credit for most of the decisions of his life. Mostly, like everyone else, he’s ruled by his unconscious, which is in turn ruled by his appetites, subject to the conformity of society. The coin tosses are routinely irrelevant, chance smiles or frowns indifferently. He makes his decisions automatically, like stepping on the brake to keep from running into the car ahead of him.

    Moss takes the money needing nary a check on his moral code. Later, his decision to take water back to the crime site is an existential decision, made after recursive thinking checks his behavior against his own personal code of ethics.

    Likewise, he picks up the hitchhiker because his unconscious mind wants to screw her. Later, his conscious mind makes the decision not to sleep with her, even though she seems vulnerable enough.

    Existential decisions happen when we have to examine ourselves and figure out what we’re made of, or rather, figure out which of our selves is the true self. Free will often means saying no to our appetites and addictions.

    22 Oct 2015 at 3:13 pm #7803

    Candy Minx

    I’m not so sure.

    Saying “no to our appetites and addictions” has nothing to with anything except trying to reconcile unresolved childhood needs. Saying no isn’t enough.

    The thing is…that all this idea about free will, choice, appetites and addictions…these are the luxuries of the individual, of the libertarian, of the privileged person suffering from anxiety disorder…and trying to do what they want while at odds to their community.

    When one functions within a healthy healing group dynamic social commitments and duties and companionship, of which hopefully dialogue is included, ones “true self” is apparent.

    Only within a group, can one find out what one’s “true self” is. I am using true self in quotations out of respect for your usage…to me the idea of authentic existentialism or true self are terms that seem to stem out of a disenfranchised or dualistic mindframe.

    The only way to function as a “true self” is within a group.

    And at that point it’s just called self because it is reconciled and not constricted by a romantic ideal of the individual, or unresolved childhood pain or an outer control system.

    I disagree with this idea…”subject to the conformity of society.” In what planet is this happening in? Outside of breaking a law people are doing whatever the fuck they want. Do you visit Facebook? Or tv?

    The notion of an individualistic platform is every bit as oppressive as conforming to a society. we are living in a time where there is almost no expectation of conformity, customs, clothes, behaviors, manners, sexual expression…theres no conformity.

    I take it you haven’t hung out with teenage girls in a while dude.

    Existentialists look like the Amish these days. Libertarians look like nuns.


    The idea that we could use a blanket statement that we have to be “subject to the conformity of society” is a joke. I wish we did have a society that people actually cared about conforming to. A society that put healing, community, ecology of the mind, service to others at a priority over “true self”.

    There are hundreds of societies here on earth and some of them do provide a dialogue and practice for serving each other, redistributing goods and product among each other and allowing it’s culture to shine. Every member is both an existentialist and a poet and a labourer.

    22 Oct 2015 at 5:38 pm #7807

    Richard L.

    Re: “The notion of an individualistic platform is every bit as oppressive as conforming to a society. We are living in a time where there is almost no expectation of conformity, customs, clothes, behaviors, manners, sexual expression…there’s no conformity.”

    Hell, no, while there has been some progress in relation to race and gender, say, there is an even more demanding imperative to conform to the homogenizing of social norms. Capitalism is all there is, market forces, slavery going by other names. Nietzsche’s “slave morality” is a greater reality than it ever was. The propaganda machine says conform, conform, conform, and while the internet had the big boys scared for a few minutes, look now. Search engines take you to whatever message they want you to have.

    A few rich and powerful people control everything, the rest of us work for them, worship money with them, fight wars for them, live in fear of their bugaboos at their beck and call, buy whatever they have to sell us. The people fighting government bureaucracy while supporting corporate bureaucracy mimic Orwell’s 1984: It’s the same damn thing.

    Existentialism runs against the current. It loses. It will be swept away, shouted down, exterminated. But it will rise again and again in different individuals because it too is a part of the human condition. Not always for the better but not always for the worse. Ole Suttree’s still around.

    23 Oct 2015 at 7:43 am #7809

    Candy Minx

    Right I get what you’re saying. I have the whole time.

    However if you are finding that your radical freedom and existentialism is not being mobilized….how are you going to fix that?

    23 Oct 2015 at 8:08 am #7811

    Richard L.

    Re: how are you going to fix that?

    There’s no fix for the human condition, and there is no plausible agenda to cure it.

    Individuals, aware of the monstrosity, can make decisions as best as they can according to their own lights. Or, as the existentialists all point out, choose not to choose, the choice of conformists everywhere.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by  Richard L..
    30 Dec 2015 at 2:44 pm #7977

    Richard L.

    Well, here’s where the spooky quantum physics come into existentialism.

    Although many adopted existentialism as their philosophy for life, the Existentialism “movement” reached its height of popularity in the 1950s, pretty much in line with the popularity of Colin Wilson’s THE OUTSIDER and J. D. Salinger’s CATCHER IN THE RYE.

    Colin Wilson attempted to revive existentialism’s popularity in the later 1960s by giving it yet another add-on from the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (see Nicolas Tredell’s book, EXISTENCE AND EVOLUTION: THE NOVELS OF COLIN WILSON). This add-on is the “intentionality” that can be active in the superpositioned observable moment.

    Wilson wrote:

    “I came across the philosopher Husserl, and discovered that he called it ‘intentionality.’ When I perceive a thing, I throw my attention at it like a spear, but if I look at something idly and absent-mindedly, I often fail to see it because I am not paying attention. The meaning of what we observe is not automatically given to us; we have to direct and focus our consciousness in order to perceive it.”

    Wilson says that this decisive act is carried out by “an ‘I’ over and above the ‘I’ of everyday consciousness.

    This seemed to me all bosh, something closer to that other bestselling book of the 1950s, Norman Vincent Peale’s THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING. But lately I’ve been reconsidering what Wilson says, in light of Max Tegmark’s OUR MATHEMATICAL UNIVERSE.

    Tegmark, who teaches physics at MIT, says a lot of things that I find interesting and plausible. He says that there are many earths like ours, with histories exactly like ours–in fact, an infinite number of them. There are also an infinite number of one-offs, pretty much as in the television series, SLIDERS. When we come to an observable superpositioned decision, mostly we go with the flow, making our world identical to most of the others, conform, conform, conform.

    But, as with the kid in BLOOD MERIDIAN when he gives (or rather intends to give) mercy to the old woman in the desert, we can go against the flow and create an outlier world. An infinite number of such outlier worlds exist too, but they exist on a scale of Probability, and are strung out thus like stars in a galaxy, the conformers clustered in the middle, the outliers extending to more distant orbits.

    The main writer of the TV series SLIDERS attempted this in the early episodes which were delightfully humorous, but he soon quit the series because his bigwig bosses demanded less science and humor and more action-adventure.

    If this is true, do our many doubles have an effect on us? Probably with something like the oscillators that affect the way fireflies synch their lights? Maybe so, maybe so.

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