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28 Jun 2016 at 1:35 pm #8369
All morning a bunch of news outlets were circulating a phony news report saying that McCarthy had died of a stroke. His publisher shot it down by tweeting, “Cormac McCarthy is alive and well and still doesn’t care about twitter.”
I got kinda dizzy when I saw the report that he’d died, weirdly, and even though McCarthy’s enjoyed some longevity at 82, has produced a body of work any artist would envy, and can hardly be said to’ve been taken too soon at this point — I still felt that reflexive griefpang. Maybe part of it has to do with the fact that he and his work are still such mysteries? I remember that, with Mailer’s death and Updike’s and Vonnegut’s, I felt like I’d read SO much of their work, fiction and non, and seen SO much of their faces on TV, heard their voice so often in radio interviews, that it felt like their lives were kind of rounded out. I don’t think the feeling of grief was as strong as it’ll be for McCarthy.
Anybody else have thoughts about this? Not necessarily even about McCarthy; maybe just the strangely removed sort of grief you feel for the death of an artist who struck a chord in your chest.
This also got me thinking about whether there’ll be an official biography, or collected letters. Does anybody know about whether he’s cooperating with anything like that?
28 Jun 2016 at 3:58 pm #8372
Aside from the papers, manuscripts and journals he’s already sold to the Wittliff Collection at Texas State University, no. There’s a second batch of documents rumored to be up for bidding. However, McCarthy is merely selling the stuff off and he’s not actively engaged in an “authorized biography.” Hell, even his autobiography will probably be unauthorized.
28 Jun 2016 at 10:05 pm #8374
Good to know that there’s a second batch! Occasioned by the death hoax, the guy who wrote the 2007 Rolling Stone profile on McCarthy posted a link to it and, reading it again, I saw McCarthy mention that, when he published No Country, he said that he was working on 5 novels at once and that it was the first one to be completed. So I guess that’s:
2) The Road
3) Sunset Limited
4) Passenger v1
5) Passenger v2
He said that he’d given some serious thought to what he’d do after those novels were done and that he was thinking he’d just keep a journal. Make notes on his ideas and the things he was reading. I think you’re right, even in jest, that if we were to see a posthumous publication of his journal that it’d be like an unofficial autobiography. Maybe that’s what he’s up to now as the Passenger inches toward galleys.
Do you personally, Rick, care to know much about his life? Do you think it’d pollute the novels to some extent?
29 Jun 2016 at 9:58 am #8379
It wouldn’t pollute the novels, but as an unreconstructed poststructuralist – who believes that Cormac McCarthy personally need not die for “the author” to inter itself – I think that if he suddenly opened up about his personal life, it would pollute McCarthy criticism like the Deepwater Horizon polluted the coast of Louisiana.
Or, as McCarthy’s editor, the late Albert Erskine, once snarled at Madison Smartt Bell for asking a few biographical questions, “Why don’t you just read the goddamned books?”
29 Jun 2016 at 2:36 pm #8383
- This reply was modified 9 months, 4 weeks ago by Rick Wallach.
Rick, did you ever meet Albert?
I’ve never imagined him as a snarling kind of guy, from the tone of his correspondence. He sounds much too cultured and measured. Funny how you get images of people.
On the subject of knowing about McCarthy the person, I agree I’d prefer not to, really. I’m reading a lot about Carson McCullers at the moment, and that’s fascinating (the February House, what a place that must have been…) but I’d prefer not to have that access to McCarthy’s biography. The interesting thing about the Archives is that there’s so little of McCarthy’s actual thoughts in there. It’s nearly all his fiction, his own words, his own universe. Make of it what you will, reader.
robmcinroyQuote29 Jun 2016 at 4:05 pm #8388
Rob: nope, he was before my time, and that, indeed, is saying something. However, Madison Bell told me the story of having Erskine slam the phone down on him so off the textual record I guess he could be as irascible as the next guy. Speaking of guys whose public personae channels the Gentleman Jim archetype, I did have a similar experience with Shelby Foote. I called him to speak at the first McCarthy conference in Louisville in 1993. He immediately got persnickety and even nasty, talking about McCarthy’s privacy in very edgy tones. I said, look, I know he’s a very private man. I just wanted you to talk about his books. Foote snapped, “Well then why not call John Sepich?” and hung up on me. I dialed that call expecting to converse with an elder statesman and ended it thinking “Sheesh, what an asshole.”
Coda: some years later Chip Arnold, Peter Josyph, I think Nell Sullivan and I were having dinner with the late Noel Polk at Otilo’s Mexican restaurant in Houston. Noel knew Shelby pretty well. I mentioned the episode described above. Noel laughed and spun about five more stories, some pretty funny, about Shelby behaving like a pompous jackass.
So it goes.
29 Jun 2016 at 5:29 pm #8391
Shelby Foote’s published correspondence with Walker Percy reveals both to have been sometime racists in a learning curve on a par with the rest of white-dominated segregated South.
After Shelby Foote read BLOOD MERIDIAN, he told Percy that he thought McCarthy was enormously talented but “a sick puppy.” Of course, he later revised that opinion too.
Richard L.Quote30 Jun 2016 at 12:30 pm #8395
Rob, you mention the archives. Rick, I know you’ve been through em too.
I think I was reading a note about a box of McCarthy letters that were being auctioned off that said they were from the first half of his career and that, in many of the letters, he wrote pretty earnestly about how pained he was to’ve seen his first three novels go out of print. Makes sense that there’d be no such note in his own files at the University, but did you guys not walk away from your time in the archives feeling like you had a better idea of who McCarthy was and what his motives were with each particular piece?
30 Jun 2016 at 12:55 pm #8397
No question about it. I’ll answer that in more detail tomorrow – right now I’m at Charlotte airport getting ready to board my connecting flight to Germany.
01 Jul 2016 at 7:09 am #8398
>>>a better idea of who McCarthy was and what his motives were with each particular piece?
Motives – yes; who he is – less so.
Yes, you do certainly get pulled into his world. Following the iterations of the work is a fascinating progress because you see the increasing depth of his thought, from an initial idea into the complex inter-relationships we know from the novels.
Oddly, it is from his failed works you get this sense most strongly. Whales and Men and the screenplay for NCFOM, and the earliest drafts of The Stonemason (including a screenplay) are pretty poor. In particular, they become bogged down in didacticism and it’s easier to see exactly what McCarthy is thinking, rather than the famous opacity of the finished works. So you do get a sense of that.
But knowing him? You definitely get a sense of his cussedness. His dealings with his agents are illuminating in that regard. He is not a man to be told what to do, that’s for sure. So, I suppose you get some notion of what he’s like, but I’m not sure I got much more than that. He is not a man who reveals himself readily. Interested to hear Rick’s take on this: he’s spent a lot more time in the archives than I have. Wes, too, if he’s around.
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