This is a response to Dunce Two’s comments on chapter 2.
And if you’re just getting here, here’s the chapter one Blood Meridian analysis.
Okay D2, just to clear something up. I’m not instructing you to stop asking why. I’m just fighting the urge to try to answer before the book actually provides any answers for us.
So keep asking.
My thoughts on Chapter 2:
The more you read of Cormac McCarthy, the more of these old, shambling, muttering seers you run into. In this chapter, it’s the hermit.
And the more I read about McCarthy himself, the more I find myself putting him in the place of these types of figures when they appear in his work. Except for the movie of The Road, because when the old profound man showed up and started extemporizing about the universe with cataracts over his eyes, all I could think was Hey! That’s Robert Duvall!
McCarthy is notoriously reclusive and has typically done zero promotion and explanation for his work. There a couple of quotes from a 1992 interview he did with the New York Times that I think are worth mentioning here before we go further:
“There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed,” McCarthy says philosophically. “I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.”
A proving ground
The landscape, the weather, and the darkness of Blood Meridian are really standing out to me this time through. The hermit says of the kid’s saddle:
Dont leave it out yonder something’ll eat it. This is a hungry country (17).
In a couple of chapters we’re going to run into some magicians, and I’ll be referring back to this.
But the land is just as much a character as any of the men in the book. And just as mad, or “half mad” maybe, since you liked that description of the hermit. (that level of solitude is not for me, either).
Rain. Sandstorms. Mud. Cliffs. Nasty stuff, no friend to travelers. Enormous vistas that dwarf the pitiful little figures moving across the earth. Many of the descriptions of the men moving in the vastness of the plains remind me of the shot from Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence first rides out of the shimmering heat waves and he’s the only thing you can see in the entire desert.
It is a country that can eat people up and vanish them, and the men on its surface do the same to each other.Then their bones become part of the landscape and have the potential to prey on everyone who comes after.
So what does it say of those who can survive it? For me, this book is about the West (duh), but also about lands (and psyches, maybe, without frontiers). A place where men can truly be tested and figure out whether their will has any influence at all.
I’ll end that line of thought there. We’ll be talking about currency soon and some of this will make more sense.
I assume you’re asking about the “n*gger’s heart” that the hermit has. First, another quote by McCarthy, about his influences:
“The ugly fact is books are made out of books…The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written.”
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve read BM, and more than ever, I’m seeing the references in it to other works. Or at least the echoes, whether they are intended or not. The reason I mention this is that McCarthy is basically admitting that BM is influenced by other novels, which lets me off the hook for trying to spot other books on every page.
The hermit says that he was a slaver. How grisly is it that he’s carrying this man’s heart around as some weird trophy/memento? But back to the books I’ve been reading: I just finished two slavery-based Octavia Butler books in a row, both about slavery, and the scene with the hermit and the heart prompted one question for me:
He says he paid $200 for the heart, and the heart came in a man. Did he buy the man just to get the heart?
The machine that makes a machine
I agree with you that the conversation about the “evil that can run a thousand years” and the “Devil at God’s elbow when he made man” is pretty damn bleak.
This is the last I’ll talk today about the author himself, but from (little, and that’s his reclusive fault!) what I know about McCarthy, these could very well be his own words.
The NYT interview makes him seem pretty playful and easygoing. I have to wonder what I would feel like if I had spent as much time crafting a book that lived the dark, bleak souls, crimes, and landscapes inhabiting Blood Meridian.
You mentioned the “Like some wholly wretched baptismal candidate” line, and it’s a good example of something I’ve been thinking about.
Metaphors help paint a picture to help us understand something better, or more profoundly. I would say that good metaphors generally make an image more concrete in my mind, not less.
Lots of McCarthy’s metaphors, like this “wholly wretched baptismal candidate,” don’t really call anything specific to mind, besides being dressed in white and going into water.
But I feel the metaphor. It feels like the rest of the book, even if it doesn’t clarify exactly what he’s getting at. Does that make sense?
If memory serves, there’s a line coming up in chapter 4 in which the kid is described as being like “some reeking issue from the dam of war incarnate herself.”
Again, vivid as hell, but do I know exactly what that means? Or am I just supposed to say, “Wow, that’s intense and weird and awful.”
The main question I keep asking is, “What does it say about me that this book exhilarates me?”
My plan is to have chapter 3’s post up on Friday. Thanks to all.
If you’re just getting here and you want to keep up, please subscribe to the RSS feed.