Indissolvable: On the Genealogy of the Judge

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  • 21 Jul 2015 at 7:10 pm #7346

    Glass
    Member

    There are some interesting echoes in the inscrutable passage in which the judge visits the kid in a dream (BM 309-310) and the Second Essay Section 13 of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality. In this part of the essay, Nietzsche is discussing his methods for finding the origins of morality, or “multiple points of origin, with multiple valuations,” as eminent Nietzsche scholar and law professor Brian Leiter puts it in his fine work, Nietzsche on Morality. (168) Here is the passage from GM II:13 (Clark/Swenson translation) that recalls language from the “Who would come other?” paragraph in BM:

    With regard to the other element in punishment, the fluid one, its “meaning,” the concept “punishment” presents, at a very late stage of culture (for example, in Europe today), not just one meaning but a whole synthesis of “meanings”: the history of punishment up to now in general, the history of its use for a variety of purposes, finally crystallizes in a kind of unity which is difficult to dissolve back into its elements, difficult to analyze and, this has to be stressed, is absolutely undefinable (Today it is impossible to say prescisely why people are actually punished: all concepts in which an entire process is semiotically concentrated defy definition; only something which has no history can be defined.)

    …(My bold)

    And here is the part of the BM paragraph that, perhaps, contains multiple Nietzschean echoes (the bold part particularly so):

    Whatever his antecedents he was something wholly other than their sum, nor was there system by which to divide him back into his origins for he would not go. Whoever would seek out his history through what unraveling of loins and ledgerbooks must stand at last darkened and dumb at the shore of a void without terminus or origin and whatever science he might bring to bear upon the dusty primal matter blowing down out of the millenia will discover no trace of any ultimate atavistic egg by which to reckon his commencing…

    (Again, my bold)

    Dissolve back into its elements. Divide him back into his origins.

    The BM paragraph, among other things, interestingly rejects the project and methods Nietzsche undertook in GM, insofar as getting to the origins of the judge is concerned. I think of Nietzsche, and his wonderful naturalism, being the one standing “darkened and dumb at the shore of a void” had he, in the spirit of a thought experiment, tried to divine the origins of the judge much as he had tried to find the origins of morality in his Genealogy.


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    • This topic was modified 2 years, 6 months ago by  Glass.
    21 Jul 2015 at 7:24 pm #7347

    Glass
    Member

    I am also very much predisposed to hearing Nietzsche’s meditations on permanence and fluidity in the Second Essay, concepts that come to mind often while thinking about McCarthy, who, by the way, celebrated his 82nd birthday yesterday.


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    21 Jul 2015 at 7:29 pm #7348

    davor123
    Member

    I’ve just written a post here http://www.cormacmccarthy.com/topic/blood-meridian-tidbits/page/6/#post-7342 against the Nietzschean interpretation if you are interested. The atavistic egg bit is, I think, related to the claim the kid makes when he famously says to the judge that he “aint nothin” and the judge replies: “You speak truer than you know.” I think Max Stirner is closer to the judges way of thinking than Nietzsche (for chronological and other reasons). Stirner writes:

    “They say of God, ‘names name thee not’. That holds good of me:
    no concept expresses me, nothing that is designated as my essence
    exhausts me; they are only names. Likewise they say of God that he
    is perfect and has no calling to strive after perfection. That too holds
    good of me alone.
    I am owner of my might, and I am so when I know myself as unique.
    In the unique one the owner himself returns into his creative nothing,
    of which he is born. Every higher essence above me, be it God, be
    it man, weakens the feeling of my uniqueness, and pales only before
    the sun of this consciousness. If I concern myself for myself, the
    unique one, then my concern rests on its transitory, mortal creator,
    who consumes himself, and I may say:
    All things are nothing to me.”


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    21 Jul 2015 at 7:31 pm #7349

    Glass
    Member

    Davor123, that was a great post and I was going to link to it in this one. Thanks for putting part of your post here! Neat connection to Stirner.

    Here’s a link to it:
    http://www.cormacmccarthy.com/topic/blood-meridian-tidbits/page/6/


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    22 Jul 2015 at 1:41 am #7350

    robmcinroy
    Member

    Good stuff Peter

    McC also uses the “dividing into origins” idea in the Whales and Men screenplay. At one point, Peter (the character, not you) drones on interminably about evil and says:

    Was evil simply cowardice? If you put enough cowardice into a container could you reach a critical mass that would exfoliate into evil? Was evil the grand gestalt that could not be divided back into its origins. Was it the genie in the bottle after all?


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    22 Jul 2015 at 9:26 am #7351

    Richard L.
    Member

    RE: “…the claim the kid makes when he famously says to the judge that he “aint nothin” and the judge replies: “You speak truer than you know.”

    Yeah, and as Rick Wallach pointed out long ago, this is the Moby Dick-cipher that McCarthy hooked into BLOOD MERIDIAN, the Judge’s weight in stone as given in the text ciphered into pounds equals the page number of the blank page–in the first edition, anyway. The double negative compounds the joke.

    McCarthy was aware of all of the paradoxes implied and of the common sense truths that were also implied: the Judge was nothing because BLOOD MERIDIAN is a work of fiction, the historical Judge could not be found by the search of other historical references (other than General Samuel Chamberlain’s memoir, which is right about everything else), the past of 1849-1850 is gone and all contemporary men that walked the earth then are now dust. The Judge is also nothing in the Buddhist sense.

    As Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger implied, the past and future do not exist and all that is real is the present, which we only see through a glass darkly, blinded as if in Plato’s Cave. Infinity is not something we need a telescope to look at, for it is all around us if only we could see it.

    Heck, I recently read the rather brilliant OUR MATHEMATICAL UNIVERSE by MIT scientist Max Tegmark, which puts forth the super-Platonian notion that all matter is but complicated mathematics which unravel into nothing. Plato again.


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    22 Jul 2015 at 12:19 pm #7352

    Richard L.
    Member

    And we should add: Connected to the nothingness in BLOOD MERIDIAN is the sense of groundlessness, the lack that makes everything keep moving. When the scalping party is in the desert, they run plumb out of ground.

    This too is a Buddhist concept (see David Loy’s THE PROBLEM OF DEATH AND LIFE IN PSYCHOTHERAPY. EXISTENTIALISM, AND BUDDHISM). Men suppress their sense of lack and seek to fill it up, hence our need for stuff, and for causes with which to identify to mask the emptiness within, for the perpetual seeking of some home in which we can ground ourselves.

    Some of the critical literature of McCarthy’s work deals with this (see Jay Ellis’s NO PLACE FOR HOME) but it is there in different forms. McCarthy’s take seems to be that we are alien and exiles in this material vale.

    Freud thought that home was typically the place of your birth and upbringing, where you might feel safe and secure. But BLOOD MERIDIAN’s cast seems to suggest that you are not at home even in your own body.

    Lots of McCarthy quotes have that nuance, your consciousness is that thing which cannot be put back, not made right again. The definition of original sin is the fall of the spark of human consciousness into animal man, the original separation from God.

    BLOOD MERIDIAN is a tale of exiled spiritual beings having a nightmare physical experience. As Terry Pratchett says, “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.”


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    22 Jul 2015 at 1:18 pm #7353

    davor123
    Member

    “Davor123, that was a great post and I was going to link to it in this one. Thanks for putting part of your post here! Neat connection to Stirner.”

    Thank you.

    Richard L, what you say is true. McCarthy exploits different uses and meanings of words and tries to create a certain instability in meaning. Joyce does the same thing in Ulysses (for example, in the Proteus episode). The problem with the Buddhist interpretation is that it can’t explain why the judge wants to own and devour everything. It doesn’t seem like the Buddhist thing to do while it is a Stirnerian motto.
    Another reason for the Stirnerian interpretation (at least to a certain extent) is that he published his book in 1845, before the events described in Blood Meridian. That doesn’t apply to authors like Nietzsche who came afterwards.

    Concerning the historical question, the absence of proof is not a proof of absence so one should be careful when saying anything about the judges historical existence. That’s the whole point about his nothingness. It’s a peculiar kind of nothingness. Stirner would call it “creative nothing”.

    Also, could anyone elaborate on the quote from the Wales and Men. I haven’t read the screenplay. It sounds awfully simplistic, but not uncommon for McCarthy’s later phase with his irritating and moralizing bores. I suppose one could have guessed what was coming. He made the hermit type from the earlier novels explode into an entire novel, screenplay etc.


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    22 Jul 2015 at 2:06 pm #7358

    davor123
    Member

    “Heck, I recently read Max Tegmark’s rather brilliant OUR MATHEMATICAL UNIVERSE, which puts forth the super-Platonian notion that all matter is but complicated mathematics which unravel into nothing. Plato again.”

    I guess one should be wary of popular interpretations of Plato. Plato didn’t think that the world is mathematical. He thought that mathematics provides a training in dialectics. Dialectic is his primary concern. That is why he makes a difference between noesis and dianoia. Historically, one can see mindfullness in the development of mathematics, but it is an example of dianoia or arguing from hypothesis (or, today, axioms).
    If anyone here has read Nishitani’s The Self-overcoming of Nihilism it is interesting to think about what he is saying when connecting Hegel’s absolute negativity with Stirner. He says: “At the basis of Stirner’s egoism is the Hegelian idea of absolute negativity (absolute Negativität) in which realism and idealism are superseded.”
    And, of course, Hegel always thought of his absolute negativity as Aristotle’s noesis noeseos. You can relate that to Plato’s noesis.


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    22 Jul 2015 at 4:09 pm #7359

    robmcinroy
    Member

    Davor, Whales and Men is a fairly early effort. You’re right, it’s an absolute clunker. It’s unpublished for a reason. However, it’s a very interesting read for that very reason: at his best, McCarthy is so opaque as to be, at times, unfathomable. When the judge proclaims, we all know he is saying something, but what that something is isn’t so easy to explain. It’s part of the challenge and enjoyment of McCarthy (and Melville before him): you have to work at it. In Whales and Men, however, McCarthy seemed to be working something through in his mind. You see in it lots of the themes and ideas that emerge in the Trilogy and beyond, but they are played out in didactic, wordy scenes that have no dramatic impulsion at all.


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