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16 Mar 2017 at 1:21 pm #8912
By chance, since posting this I’ve started on a pretty intense read through a bunch of Walt Whitman’s stuff. Never read him before apart from O Captain My Captain in high school. And I’m pretty stunned at a number of resonances I’m seeing between him and McCarthy, philosophically. Whitman’s pretty heavy into all those themes I’m attributing to McCarthy in that long pdf above. (Although I’m sure this is not news for many people here.) And in particular, Whitman’s catalogues (say, for instance, sections 15 and 33 of Song of Myself) strike me as something McCarthy may well be glancing at in the passage at the end of BM:
“[H]e was among every kind of man, herder and bullwhacker and drover and freighter and miner and hunter and soldier and pedlar and gambler and drifter and drunkard and thief and he was among the dregs of the earth in beggary a thousand years and he was among the scapegrace scions of eastern dynasties”
And then there’s the fact that Tobin (and not the idiot; I know there was a thread on this a few years ago that got somewhat heated (http://www.cormacmccarthy.com/topic/the-cretin/) but I don’t care) left Harvard Divinity School to head west where he eventually joined the gang. Given the timeline and location, I have to imagine Tobin as one of Emerson’s acolytes, inspired to head west out of civilization and into the wilderness.
Has anybody ever written about this anywhere? Possible connections between McCarthy’s stuff and Transcendentalism, Whitman and Emerson in particular? I think it’d be pretty interesting to make a case for the judge as the anti-self (“self” taken in the Whitmanian sense), a dark, malevolent facet of the universal spirit or oversoul that inheres in each man. When God made man the devil was at his elbow, after all.
There’s also the fact that Moby-Dick is often said to be at least partly a response to Emerson (though I don’t know how much I buy that). I know the so-called “anti-transcendentalists” (usually Melville, Hawthorne, and Poe) are said to have taken issue with the unbridled blind optimism of Transcendentalism, hence their fixation on how dark and cruel both man and the natural world often are. Perhaps there’s something like that going on with McCarthy? Though a) I take issue with anyone calling Whitman blindly optimistic. His work has “many a bloody tale of war inside it.” And b) I continue (for now) to stand by my conception of McCarthy as mystic. Perhaps the point is that all the darkness and evil in the world cannot be ignored but must be assimilated into such a point of view?
17 Mar 2017 at 3:29 am #8914
- This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by efscerbo.
One more thing along these lines: The expriest in The Crossing says something that sounds an awful lot like a repudiation of an Emersonian pantheism:
“The priest in the very generosity of his spirit stood in mortal peril and knew it not. He believed in a boundless God without center or circumference. By this very formlessness he’d sought to make God manageable. This was his colindancia. […] And in this colindancia God had no say at all.
To see God everywhere is to see Him nowhere.”
A fair bit the opposite of:
“I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.”
30 Mar 2017 at 5:02 pm #8957
The end of Montaigne’s Apology for Raymond Sebond also seems relevant here: Throughout Raymond Sebond, Montaigne argues for a Pyrrhonic skepticism. He emphasizes that we cannot trust our senses, which puts all claims to knowledge at hazard. He goes on to assert that even could we trust our senses, all things in the world are forever becoming, and so there can be nothing absolute said of them of them. Finally, at the end of the essay, this leads him to posit that God is the only thing that can be said to “be” (as opposed to “become”). Which surely seems to tie into the judge’s Heraclitean nature and the sense in which Suttree ultimately realizes that God is not a thing, since he never stops moving.
These ideas are found throughout Montaigne, as well (whom McCarthy mentions by name in Whales and Men). But they’re particularly prominent in Raymond Sebond.
31 Mar 2017 at 1:56 pm #8964
Off-topic, but another interesting Montaigne passage. From “On Experience”, talking about dealing with kidney stones:
“And so as to give you the means to make a sound judgement and to be resolved like a sensible man, it [i.e., his kidney stones] shows you the state of the whole human condition, both good and bad, shows you, during one single day, a life at times full of great joy, at times unbearable. Although you may not throw your arms about Death’s neck, you do, once a month, shake her by the hand.”
Is that an expression in its own right? I’ve only ever heard it in McCarthy, and he seems to really like it, using it three times, in Suttree, No Country, and Sunset Limited. I Googled but didn’t find anything.
- This reply was modified 3 weeks, 6 days ago by efscerbo.
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