Wednesday, June 14, 2023

cormac

 

To sic James Wood on Cormac McCarthy is unfair to the sensibilities of both writers. The New Yorker obit/review of the two last McCarthy book tries for the sweeping overview, but Wood is permanently not in the mood for McCarthy - hence his elevation of The Road, surely one of McCarthy's minor novels, as the major work over Blood Meridian, against which Wood tosses such howlers as: "Of course, his earlier novels explored “themes” and, in their way, ideas; an academic industry loyally decodes McCarthy’s every blood-steeped move around evil, suffering, God or no-God, the Bible, genocidal American expansion, the Western, environmental catastrophe, and so on. But those novels did not purvey, and in some sense could have no space for, intellectual discourse. These books were inhospitable to intellectuals, with their characteristic chatter." For Wood, an intellectual must either work at the New Yorker or teach at some respectable Ivy League school. They wear an I badge. But anybody who reads Blood Meridian and encounters the Judge encounters intellectual talk as high placed as that iof the figures in Moby Dick. The inability to see ideas in ordinary life - in ordinary American life - marks Wood's odd relationship to American letters.

Dwight Garner, god bless him, is much better in the NYT obituary. He gets McCarthy's oddness right. McCarthy's world is marked, like the world of Melville's Pequod, by a startling absense of women, of the feminine in general. But the homoerotic bonds don't find their hetero places as friendships - male friendship is as passing a state as, say, marriage. These are books essentially about loners and their disastrous effect on those about them. The Border Trilogy is McCarthy's exploration of what it might be like not to be a loner, but there is a certain static in that exploration, a certain sacrifice of narrative magnificence.

The truly American torture is solitary - something visited upon thousands of men every day in that God forsaken land. It is an extension of, a sort of diabolical parody of, individualism - that strange and very hetero fantasy ideology, which suppresses the mother role entirely, which seriously holds, among people whose lives were spent, as babies and children, eating free lunches, breakfasts and dinners, that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Taking that asociality into the wilderness - or its shadow, the backwards culture of pre-Civil Rights Dixie - is what makes McCarthy fascinating. It is also what makes McCarthy repulsive - especially to someone like James Wood, who can't "see" it.

This, from the great - or in Woods' view, unsound- Blood Meridian. The Judge is sketching and writing things in a notebook:

"A Tennessean named Webster had been watching him and he asked the judge what he aimed to do with those notes and sketches and the judge smiled and said that it was his intention to expunge them from the memory of man. Webster smiled and the judge laughed. Webster regarded him with one eye asquint and he said: Well you’ve been a draftsman somewheres and them pictures is like enough the things themselves. But no man can put all the world in a book. No more than everthing drawed in a book is so.

Well said, Marcus, spoke the judge.

But dont draw me, said Webster. For I dont want in your book.

My book or some other book said the judge. What is to be deviates no jot from the book wherein it’s writ. How could it? It would be a false book and a false book is no book at all."

 

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