The Sunset Limited, McCarthy and pessimism

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  • 09 Sep 2015 at 10:14 am #7581

    Richard L.
    Member

    Yes, indeed, you are correct. Counting the appearances of the word “suicide” does not consider all of the number of suicides that happen or are implied.

    Even though the river is symbolical, the suicide near the beginning of SUTTREE can be said to be reprised near the end, making two in that novel. Scholars (such as Shelton) have seen a number of other suicides in McCarthy’s works as well, though it is debatable whether you can see Ab’s death as “suicide by cop.” Ab Jones makes an existential stand, refuses to yield to force, and is killed because of it.

    Sheriff Bell’s “quitting” in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN might also imply suicide, though that is up for interpretation.

    I’ve often divided McCarthy’s works into animal man, ego man, and spiritual man, or id-dominated man, ego-dominated man, and superego-dominated man, though nothing is so clear cut. Faulkner, Hemingway, and then Beckett for the three thirds still appeals to me for writing style, but this leaves out all of those other influences and is far too simplistic.

    John Sepich astutely pointed out McCarthy’s allusion to Thomas Mann in BLOOD MERIDIAN, and I’m anxiously awaiting the release of THE PASSENGER to search for other Mann references.


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    09 Sep 2015 at 11:44 am #7582

    Richard L: “White and black co-exist in the same being, and black will always be about to jump and white will always be trying to talk him out of it.”

    Interesting co-existence figure but imaginative, rather than a convincing interpretation. The last part should read, white will always be about to jump and black will always be trying to talk him out of it. s

    Benatar’s antinatalism is a classic example of how ridiculous some philosophers can get. I suppose it never dawned on Benatar that it would have better if his parents hadn’t spawned him.


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    09 Sep 2015 at 6:57 pm #7583

    adrianb
    Member

    BobbyKnoxville: I suppose it never dawned on Benatar that it would have better if his parents hadn’t spawned him.

    He acknowledges this on the very first page of his book.

    I think antinatatlism is at least a very interesting view. A view that basically no other philosopher up to that point had addressed. It’s controversial, sure, but I’m not sure why it is ridiculous.

    Benatar seems to gravitate towards controversial subject matter. His most recent book is called The Second Sexism and it’s about discrimination against men. Sort of an answer to all the feminist writings out there.


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    09 Sep 2015 at 10:06 pm #7584

    Well, if Benatar acknowledges that ‘twould have better had he never been spawned, I wonder what he thinks of his life now. Probably thinks it grand because he can get away with absurdities even get them published, though it looks as if he might have a valid, logical point in The Second Sexism.


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    09 Sep 2015 at 10:53 pm #7586

    adrianb
    Member

    Benatar has a negative view of the quality of human lives (his own included). Read a single page of his book and you see he does not think it grand at all. That’s the entire impetus for the antinatalist view. In any case, antinatalism is strictly an argument about why we should not bring people into existence in the first place (since we have a choice whether or not to do this). But Benatar, you, me, have already been brought into existence. So the argument is mainly for those thinking about having children, i.e. those who have the choice whether or not they ought to bringing someone into existence, because the person they eventually bring into existence doesn’t have a choice in the matter (non-existent people don’t have preferences to come into existence).

    Yeah, I haven’t read The Second Sexism. But it looks like a good one.


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    10 Sep 2015 at 6:58 pm #7587

    You can’t tell me that Benetar’s not a tad proud of getting his name in print. The very fact that he’s written books and gotten published suggests the life-force value of striving toward a goal and realizing it.

    Let’s assume,though, that name recognition and striving aren’t in his bag of values. That it’s filled with negatives, antinatilism being a major one. From whence does this “value” spring? Maybe from something that rubbed him deeply wrong along the way of living. Possibly from a gutless inability to face up to the hard realities of life (violence, destitution, depravities, etc) without hope of doing anything personally to try to improve things. Giving up on the possibilities of improvement is rather easy when you get down to it. It relieves the individual of personal responsibility. It “frees” him/her to be a White-like “professor of darkness” and wallow in “intellectual” despair. This works in Cormac’s Sunset Limited but not in the difficult, challenging business of real life,

    There is something terribly selfish about negatives like antinatilism. It says: nothing in life meets my standards so to hell with procreation and the future of the planet. Essentially, it’s a new kind of Shakerism minus the spiritual dimension of that ideology. Fly it.


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    11 Sep 2015 at 1:41 am #7589

    Richard L.
    Member

    Re: There is something terribly selfish about negatives like antinatilism.

    Well, it seems to me that antinatilism represents the responsible and compassionate side of pessimism rather than the selfish side, as you put it. The alarmist pessimists are indeed like the Shakers in that they promote an idealism, just another form of the human sickness.

    Sufferin’ succotash, McCarthy only writes so much about this pessimism (and let’s wrap acedia, suffering, suicide, and antinatilism all in that same package) BECAUSE it is so commonly a part of the human condition. The theme of the classics.

    The subjects of suicide and antinatilism are always with us and always worth arguing logically. The dead would take the living with them if they could, Suttree muses, but later, timelessly, in the clockless hours of the prologue, he reaches out for the reader to identify with and to be compassionate for our fellow denizens of this encampment of the damned. One man’s story is every man’s story. No one walks here save you.


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    11 Sep 2015 at 8:11 am #7590

    Richard L,
    Earlier in this thread, you and adrianb said that McCarthy rejects antinatalism. Right. Yet here you write, “Sufferin’ succotash, McCarthy only writes so much about this pessimism (and let’s wrap acedia, suffering, suicide, and antinatilism all in that same package) BECAUSE it is so commonly a part of the human condition.” I suppose you don’t mean that Cormackian pessimism includes antinatilism. If so, you’ve contradicted yourself. Perhaps it’s just a wording problem.

    As for the Prologue to Suttree, the closest it comes to compassion is Big Voice’s, the narrator’s, mention of “Dear Friend.” Who is this “friend”? Bud Suttree’s daddy? Knoxville? Western world? Would Daddy Suttree take Big Voice’s Prologue as friend speaking to friend? Do Big Voice and Bud really care? What rumbles and riots through the Prologue’s high rhetoric? Pain? Bitterness? Anger? Despair? Guilt? Jeremiad? Probably all of the above.

    The Prologue is largely about Death, so much so Big Voice appears to be digging his own grave, shoveling up words for a grim feast in which he feeds on Death, descends in and out of him, steals Hamlet’s “the rest indeed is silence,” links Hamlet and Yorick in “the interlocutor’s skull.”


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    11 Sep 2015 at 10:51 am #7591

    Richard L.
    Member

    Re: “Earlier in this thread, you and adrianb said that McCarthy rejects antinatalism. Right. Yet here you write, “Sufferin’ succotash, McCarthy only writes so much about this pessimism. . .”

    Whoa, just because he writes about pessimism does not mean that he endorses it. We’ve had these discussions since the forum was born; people will continue to have them after we are gone. No doubt your reading of it is different than mine; no surprise there. And if any reader wants to cherry pick his works for pessimism, they’ll find plenty of quotes to support their argument. McCarthy’s ambiguities and recalcitrance are built into his art so that it would be timeless. We look into the magic mirror of it and see a reflection of our own making.

    Well, I happen to see the prologue as Ralph Waldo Emerson spiritual and John Donne compassionate. The community is a prison island. The condemned inmates are always in, not knowing what they’ve done. And who are they? They are you, of course, and all of us. Suttree says, “It is not only in death that all souls are one.”


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    11 Sep 2015 at 3:32 pm #7592

    A prison island it certainly is: in the Prologue and in the hell-hole image of Knoxville at the novel’s end. The only way Suttree thinks he can survive is to escape big, bad K-ville, cut out, vamoose from friends and family. The city is hopeless, he and Big Voice imply, no chance to reform it, which real history has proved grossly wrong.

    Bud’s gloomy sensibility seems to me similar to Benatar’s. Two peas in a pod, both with character defects. If things are bad, just run the hell away and leave all that you said you held dear. If life doesn’t meet your “standards,” ‘twould have been better you weren’t born, and by all means don’t bring any kids into this vale of tears.

    No nation can thrive or survive with this kind of pessimism. It’s a ticket to cultural death. Most healthy minds think life is worth living and children worth producing. McCarthy implied as much in his talk with Oprah.

    Many folks summon the guts to tough it out and deal with adversity whatever form it takes. They don’t whine about the worthlessness of life; they don’t run away; they stay and cope. They are the real heroes.


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