miércoles, 11 de abril de 2018

Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West (Vintage International, 1992)
by Cormac McCarthy
USA, 1985

More than any other contempo author/title I can think of, Cormac McCarthy in general and maybe Blood Meridian in particular--I can't be bothered to track down the details of the original dispute--seem to've divided my small circle of trusted reader friends into something resembling actively warring pugilistic factions: those who love the guy and those who can't abide him.  After finally subjecting myself to the over the top/no holds barred/orgiastic violence of his signature work, I can finally relate to this entirely understandable state of affairs.  Nominally the tale of a descent into Mexico by American scalp hunters--an odyssey replete with a multiplicity of beheadings, scalpings and more mundane atrocities, all recounted with an indefatigably gory precision--and by extension a sobering meditation upon the nature of man's perennial infatuation with bloodlust and warfare, Blood Meridian's in your face storytelling excesses as pertains to its close embrace of violence still struck me as something of a major aesthetic flaw until I began to think about the novel more as an Inferno-like journey through and reflection upon the so-called opening of the 19th century American west and less as merely an ultraviolent example of viscera(l) realism or anything like that.  I should note that I don't claim that that same strategy should or will work for you.  As it happens, though, I fell under the sway of McCarthy's artistry early on.  In a work in which Melville might be said to have replaced Virgil as the official tour guide of hell, I loved the sense of dread and felt right at home among the various other psychic connections linking Blood Meridian to both Moby-Dick and parts of 2666.  More tangibly, I loved the snap, crackle and pop of McCarthy's prose.  An audio example: "The terrain was thick with cholla and clumps of it clung to the horses with spikes that would drive through a bootsole to the bones within and a wind came up through the hills and all night it sang with a wild viper sound through that countless reach of spines" (253-254).  A visual example: "This ferry was taken over by the Yumas and operated for them by a man named Callaghan, but within days it was burned and Callaghan's body floated anonymously downriver, a vulture standing between the shoulderblades in clerical black, silent rider to the sea" (273-274).  These two style samples will have to suffice for now to give you an idea of what McCarthy's jab is like, but anybody interested in observing his punching power should continue tuning into the beating below.

Cormac McCarthy

On a rise at the western edge of the playa they passed a crude wooden cross where Maricopas had crucified an Apache.  The mummied corpse hung from the crosstree with its mouth gaped in a raw hole, a thing of leather and bone scoured by the pumice winds off the lake and the pale tree of the ribs showing through the scraps of hide that hung from the breast.  They rode on.  The horses trudged sullenly the alien ground and the round earth rolled beneath them silently milling the greater void wherein they were contained.  In the neuter austerity of that terrain all phenomena were bequeathed a strange equality and no one thing nor spider nor stone nor blade of grass could put forth claim to precedence.  The very clarity of these articles belied their familiarity, for the eye predicates the whole on some feature or part and here was nothing more luminous than another and nothing more enshadowed and in the optical democracy of such landscapes all preference is made whimsical and a man and a rock become endowed with unguessed kinships.
They grew gaunted and lank under the white suns of those days and their hollow burnedout eyes were like those of noctambulants surprised by day.  Crouched under their hats they seemed fugitives on some grander scale, like beings for whom the sun hungered.  Even the judge grew silent and speculative.  He'd spoke of purging oneself of those things that lay claim to a man but that body receiving his remarks counted themselves well done with any claims at all.  They drove on and the wind drove the fine gray dust before them and they rode an army of graybeards, gray men, gray horses.  The mountains to the north lay sunwise in corrugated folds and the days were cool and the nights were cold and they sat about the fire each in his round of darkness in that round of dark while the idiot watched from his cage at the edge of the light.  The judge cracked with the back of an axe the shinbone on an antelope and the hot marrow dripped smoking on the stones.  They watched him.  The subject was war.
The good book says that he that lives by the sword shall perish by the sword, said the black.
The judge smiled, his face shining with grease.  What right man would have it any other way? he said.
The good book does indeed count war an evil, said Irving.  Yet there's many a bloody tale of war inside it.
It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge.  War endures.  As well ask men what they think of stone.  War was always here.  Before man was, war waited for him.  The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.  That is the way it was and will be.  That way and not some other way.
(Blood Meridian, 258-259)

15 comentarios:

  1. I've only read McCarthy's Child of God, where the subject matter is horrifying, just hideous, and the Faulkner-prose is sharp, sharp, sharp.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Ah, I'd been wondering what kind of history you had with McCarthy. Child of God's "Faulkner-prose" sounds pretty great, the other stuff less so.

      Eliminar
    2. This has me revisiting my own experience with Child of God - https://theknockingshop.blogspot.ie/2011/10/child-of-god.html

      Eliminar
    3. Thanks for sharing that extended follow-up to Tom's thumbnail summary, Séamus. Enjoyed your prose as always!

      Eliminar
  2. This has been on my reread list for a decade or more. This might give it that necessary push to the top.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. I'd think that would be a really rewarding experience. Or at least that's what I thought until I read Rise's comment below!

      Eliminar
  3. I read this 2.5x, a bad case of overreading. The first time I thought the author was a genius and read other books by him and book reviews I could find to make sense of it. The second time he was still right up there. It was during the third time the trauma set in and the whole thing crumbled and I hated the artifice, finding it so mannered and numbing. Now I found the quote above funny and farcical.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. You were one of the McCarthy "haters" I'd been thinking about, Rise, but I couldn't remember the reasons for your animus or if you'd ever even explained it in detail. Whatever, quite an interesting response! Your "mannered" critique is quite intriguing to me, though, because even though I recognize that Blood Meridian's prose is highly stylized, I enjoyed the faux-biblical tone, the descriptive flair and Judge Holden's occasional speechifying. Still, I shall likely heed your advice and only reread the novel one more time and not 1.5 more times!

      Eliminar
  4. This is the only McCarthy book that I have read. I liked it for a lot of reasons. I agree with you in regards to his prose. They are so full of grandeur even when he is describing terrible things.

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Not to read too much into the little of McCarthy that I've now read for myself or just heard about from others, but I find his terrible theme/filled with grandeur style a pretty uncompromising cocktail for such a commercially successful writer. Strange, no?

      Eliminar
    2. McCarthy did not really hit the jackpot, though, until recently, when Oprah picked The Road, which I guess has the advantage of being a genre book, as is No Country for Old Men. In the 1980s he was prestigious but did not sell many books.

      Eliminar
    3. I was under the impression that All the Pretty Horses--not published until 1992 but the immediate follow-up to Blood Meridian--was McCarthy's first bestseller, but that still backs your point that the '70s and the '80s were lean years for him commercially. Will be interested to see if his later work is all that more accessible than his earlier work, but maybe I shouldn't be since I'm not all that in tune with the marketplace side of things anyway.

      Eliminar
    4. Your impression is correct. Looking it up, that book sold I lot more than I had remembered.

      Eliminar
  5. I guess I don’t really have an opinion yet on McCarthy, having only read All the Pretty Horses, years ago for school, and not really forming a solid opinion on that. There was something about the style I found appealing, but I don’t know how I’d feel about it in his other books, which I gather by reputation to be more...intense. Reading your review, I’m a bit tempted to find out, though. (Prior to that however, and coincidentally to reading this post, I find myself looking at my copy of 2666 and thinking it’s time...)

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. All the Pretty Horses is almost certain to be the next McCarthy in my queue, possibly as early as next month, so what you say about its style sounds rather, uh, appealing. Hope you enjoy 2666 when you get to it--would love to hear what you think about it. Cheers!

      Eliminar