Blood Meridian Chapter Two — “This is a hungry country”

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If you need your own copy of Blood Meridian

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.

The heart

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.

Metaphors

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.

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4 thoughts on “Blood Meridian Chapter Two — “This is a hungry country”

  1. I agree with D1’s remarks on what a hungry country implies, but I think there is another side of it that might be somehow difficult for you guys to digest.

    I came with this after reading your efforts for understanding the “why” after the characters actions, which is typical of a satisfied country.

    For people like us living in satisfied countries is hard to understand what a hungry country makes to people behavior. Hungriness and Violence are very tight related. I leave near Guayaquil, one of the cities with higher violence rates in South America. It is very common to se on the news a reporter interviewing someone who had just been arrested for cutting someone’s tongue (or any body part, for that matter), and the criminal answering something like “I just felt like it”.

    • Thanks Gustavo. I’m pretty ignorant about the world at large, beyond what I can learn from books. What you say is hard to digest/imagine, but it’s not hard for me to believe.

      I’m thrilled that we’ll have your insights on this.

  2. I think you raise an excellent point, Gustavo. Of course we are coming at this with our own perspective, based in large part on our own experience. Compared to someone growing up where you have, or in the America the kid has, I will fully admit that I grew up soft and sheltered. And I have definitely never gone “hungry.” Maybe “why” is a question only someone in my position would ask. Maybe if you grow up where hunger and violence are the norm, there is no why, that’s just the way it is. Thanks for this enlightening spin on things!

  3. Regarding the NYT interview, I can see his point that seeking some harmonious utopia as an ideal, when in fact that can never be achieved, is probably dangerous. Because you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Not that life can’t hold joy, or shouldn’t even be aimed to be filled mostly with joy. But life is not perfect, not possible without bloodshed, as he says, and bad things happen. If you live life as if they don’t, your whole world is going to come crashing down sooner rather than later.

    The heart, what he says about how he obtained it, I think definitely allows for the possibility, maybe even the probability, that he bought the man to get the heart. And he keeps it as a memento/reminder of who/what he was. And you don’t completely get the impression that it is a reminder of who he is glad he is no longer. Does he keep it to bring back memories, or to keep himself from going back?

    The metaphors and similes are powerful and unique. A lot of writers use these techniques. And a lot of them use them excessively and poorly. His use of them takes nothing away for me.

    The few that have stood out to me have been the mud effigies, the clay voodoo doll, and this baptismal one. The first two (and you mentioned too books being evocative of other books) remind me of T.S. Eliot’s THE WASTE LAND and THE HOLLOW MAN. I don’t know if this was intended, but I think there are similarities. Were I still an idealistic English major, I would maybe even write an essay about that.

    I don’t think it’s ugly that books are made out of books. I see that the same as knowledge: we all stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before us. I am constantly reading, multiple books at a time, thinking about books, looking at books, talking about books. It is hard to know where direct influence from other books ends and imagination begins. I guess that would quickly get into ideas and where they come from. What role do words play in ideas? In thinking?

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