What was the judge drunk on?

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  • 25 Oct 2012 at 7:15 pm #2270

    Anonymous

    In the brilliant gunpowder manufacturing episode in BM, Tobin reports that the Judge and one of the Delawares had been leaching out bat guano and pounding charcoal, and that they seemed intoxicated, but the intoxicant…? And what does this mean?


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    24 Nov 2012 at 1:43 pm #2481

    Glass
    Member

    Spent a little time on the mountain
    Spent a little time on the hill
    Heard some say you better run away
    Others say you better stand still
    (New Speedway Boogie/Grateful Dead)

    “…and there set he.” (128)
    McCarthy is possibly alluding here to the Pythian oracle, the creek in BM standing in for the fissure in the earth at Delphi from which toxic gas rose, according to the myth, and sending the Pythia into an altered state from which she raved. The judge sitting in the creek, a suture of sorts on the landscape, might be playing the Pythia and McCarthy might be mocking the myth. The leaching process could possibly correspond to the toxic vapors escaping the fissure at Delphi.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythia


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    02 Jan 2013 at 10:00 pm #2767

    Glass
    Member

    John Sepich offers a substantial possible explanation to this question on p. 120 in his magnificent book Notes on Blood Meridian. Sepich, referencing Carol A. Hill, one contributor to the Firefox article Powder, Flint, and Balls, writing of Hill’s account, says that “the liquid matter in the leaching process is at one stage called ‘Mother Liquor’ or ‘beer’ (254), terms perhaps related to McCarthy’s mention of the judge and Delaware Indians appearing to be drunk (perhaps on fumes) after the leaching process, ‘but on what none could surmise’ (128).”
    ……………………………………………………………………………
    For my part, as I think about this episode a little more, I’ve been working on this idea that the judge’s ritualistic preparation of the gunpowder is in many ways analgous to the process and ideation involved when Vedic priests would prepare the hallucinogenic drug Soma and ingest it in order to more easily connect with God or the divine. The preparation of soma, some accounts say, involved an extraction process as it did when the judge was making the gunpowder, which connects the judge to his self-professed divinity — war. I see a sacramental component in both the judge’s work and the Vedic priests.
    John Greenleaf Whittier wrote an interesting poem about soma in which he uses the verses about Vedic ecstasy to argue against the loud, emotionalism in the evangelical, tent-revival style of religion popular at the time he wrote the poem in 1872. Similarly, Holden uses words to argue against this style when he takes down Rev. Green in his tent early in the book. Those are a few of the connections I’ve made between soma and the gunpowder in BM. Here’s ehe Whittier poem, Brewing of Soma: http://www.qhpress.org/quakerpages/qwhp/soma.htm


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    21 Jun 2013 at 1:22 am #3514

    captainnico
    Member

    The judge had led them to the cave earlier to gather the guano for its “nitre,” an archaic word for saltpeter or potassium nitrate. Nitrates are a byproduct of the digestion of proteins. White ash from a fire of hardwoods is high in sodas, especially potassium carbonate or “potash” (this is also the original baking soda). If one were to make a slurry of guano and potash, this would reduce over heat to precipitate potassium nitrate and trace amounts of ammonium nitrate, which are just about the only nitrates that produce a precipitate. One byproduct of the reduction process is N2O, or Nitrous Oxide A.K.A. laughing gas.

    The addition of urea (a step which the judge adds lastly in the caldera) would create more ammonium nitrate which is a powerful oxidizer used in explosives. Ammonium nitrate would require reduction over low heat, which is why he trowels it over the caldera itself with his knife. Had he attempted this step over fire he would have blown himself up.

    In short, he was probably doing primitive whippets with the Delaware. Although I love that Pythian oracle imagery.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrous_oxide#Production

    Here’s a DIY version of the judges experiment: http://mad-science.wonderhowto.com/how-to/spice-rack-explosives-make-gunpowder-with-salt-and-sugar-0133759/


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    27 Jun 2013 at 10:06 pm #3544

    Anonymous

    Greeting from Santa Fe, NM. Not directly related to what the judge was drunk on, but I thought some might enjoy an intoxicating photo depicting “The Evening Redness in the West.” I looked across the street tonight, saw this, what with the diaphanous mountains (part of the Jemez range), and thought, what the heck.


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