Blood Meridian, Chapter Fourteen: “Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.”

quicksilver burrosINTRODUCTION

There are three major events in this chapter: (1) the group’s visit to the small stone town of Jesús María; (2) the group’s visit to Ures, the capital of the state of Sonora (curious, I looked on a map, and Jesús María is about 1570 kilometers, or (by my rough guesstimation) approximately 981 miles away, through hard, mountainous territory); and (3) a really, really bad day to be a mule or a muleteer in between.  At the end of Chapter 13, Glanton’s gang has killed and scalped Mexican soldiers, burned their uniforms, buried their bodies, and turned the scalps in for bounty.  There is a very vivid image of the group re-entering the city “haggard and filthy and reeking with the blood of the citizenry for whose protection they had contracted.” (p. 185).  Perhaps not surprisingly, they leave the City of Chihuahua in somewhat of a hurry, going north as if headed for El Paso.  But before they are even out of sight, they turn west “toward the red demise of that day.” (Id.).  There are repeated inferences that the group is “cursed.”  Cursed or no, they are certainly a curse to everyone they encounter.

Jesús María

Glanton’s band heads west towards the mountains “where the storms [have] their lairs,” (p. 188) and indeed they pass through several more storms.  Beautiful imagery of the storms (hail and lightning) and the surroundings through here (burnt land, mountains, flora, mirages).  As they head deeper into the mountains, they encounter “hardwood forests much like those they had quit in their youth.” (p. 188).  It is cooler and more remote here.

They make it through a pass, and coming down the other side of the mountains they encounter the small, sleepy mining (former mining?) town of Jesús María.  It is raining, and they stop in front of an inn, where they are (unwisely) let in.  In the morning the rain has stopped, and they appear on the streets “tattered, stinking, ornamented with human parts like cannibals.” (p. 189).  What a sight!  The whole town seems wary, and rightly so.

They start drinking around noon, and things head rapidly downhill from there.  We meet, in short succession, Frank Carroll, the proprietor of the bodega, an American who will later (if only briefly) join the group, a fiddler, and an old man with an eartrumpet.  The exchange between the fiddler and the judge is particularly intriguing.  The judge throws him a gold coin, and he reluctantly begins to play a song “that was old among the mountebanks of Spain two hundred years before.” (p. 190).  The judge seems to know the tune, and dances a strange and mesmerizing, solitary jig.  Who is the judge, and how does he know this centuries old song and dance?  Is he immortal?  A vampire?  Satan?  Who?  I also enjoyed the judge pouring alcohol in the old man’s eartrumpet.  The old man doesn’t let it go to waste, but stoppers it quick, and then drinks it down.

As night falls, Glanton’s gang, especially including Glanton, are intensely drunk and they take to the streets, shouting and ringing the church bells with pistolballs.  On p. 190, a priest comes out try to calm them down.  They beat and prod him obscenely, flinging coins at him, which he ignores, until small boys start collecting the coins, at which point the priest directs the boys to bring the coins to him.  Some of the Americans wander into a nearby stream, despite the cold, and emerge “smoking” and “apocalyptic,” “like fairybook beasts.” (p. 190).  The group seems to be getting increasingly out of control and frenzied.

The next day is the feast of Las Animas, which I am given to understand is October 27th, and marks the first day of the Mexican celebration of Halloween.  The judge has filled his pockets “with little candy deathsheads.” (p. 191).  He tries to solicit children to come and take some, but they “shied away like little horses.” (Id.).  What is up with the judge and kids? (Very, very interesting, the chapter heading for this section indicates “cazando las almas,” which literally means “hunting souls.”  Spooky, spooky stuff).

The men get more and more drunk as the day progresses.  Carroll closed his bodega at dusk, but begrudgingly opened it again “to save the doors being stove.” (p. 191).  This parallels the German proprietor later in the chapter, in Ures, who rather than even attempting to close down, merely abandons the whole place entirely.  This is one of those “blink and you miss it” moments in the book, but it is too great to pass up.  A group of horsemen bound for California comes through in the night, completely exhausted.  But they leave within the hour, probably saving their lives.  Glanton’s men are up all night shooting their pistols and raising hell.  Glanton gets so drunk that he seems almost mad, in fits, and shooting at everything in sight.  He is eventually bound to his bed.  Strangely, the judge tends to him, and tenderly.  Creepily, voices shout outside in the distance for a little girl who has gone missing in the night.  More of the judge’s handiwork?  Not necessarily, but it wouldn’t be surprising.

Oh, the judge and the puppies!  What an exchange!  If you’ve read this far in the book, are you desensitized enough to find this humorous, or is there something wrong with me?  The kid thinks he wants to sell the puppies until he realizes (too late) what the judge intends to do with them.  Did you catch the magic trick the judge did?  The judge knows magic.  Black magic?  The Vandiemenlander’s participation in the exchange is almost as disturbing as the judge’s.  While pissing in the stream, he casually pulls out his pistol and shoots the drowning puppies, his pistol in one hand, his penis still in the other.  This graphic exchange is as awful as it is exquisite.  Only McCarthy can write something so good and yet so disturbing at the same time.

Around this time, Glanton comes to and somehow unties himself from the bed.  The first order of business is to take down the Mexican flag, tie it to the tail of a mule, and drag it all over town.  Someone decides they have had enough, and a shot rings out, striking Glanton’s mule directly in the brain, dropping it stone dead.  Shots begin to fly in all directions, people dropping like flies, including several of the Americans.  When Glanton’s group rides out thirty minutes later, they leave six behind.  Any who were still alive were baptized by the priest and then shot in the head.  Two Americans who had been living in the town, Carroll, the owner of the bodega, and another named Sanford, catch up to the group and join them.  The bodega had been torched.  Apparently no Americans were welcome in Jesús María after the damage the Glanton gang wrought.

The Muleteers

Oh, the muleteers.  McCarthy sums up the fate of the muleteers in one of the shortest but certainly most accurate sentences in the book: “Bad luck.”  (p. 194).  That’s for sure!

Glanton’s group encounters a string of muleteers coming up a very narrow pass.  The animals are straining, burdened under their load.  The lead muleteer greets Glanton cordially, but Glanton just blows right past him.  The muleteer doesn’t like this very much, and he pulls out his shotgun.  Bad move (although you get the distinct impression this guy was screwed no matter what).  David Brown, a member of the group coming up behind Glanton, already has his pistol out, and blasts this guy in the chest, sending him over the edge into the abyss.

The rest of the group doesn’t even turn around to see what’s happening or question why, they just start shooting the rest of the muleteers point blank, sending man and beast alike plummeting over the edge, the mules “dropping silently as martyrs. turning sedately in the empty air and exploding on the rocks below in startling bursts of blood and silver.” (p. 195).  Can you even imagine this?  The Glanton gang “methodically” forcing these men and animals over the edge, to an exploding demise below?  Blood and quicksilver/mercury everywhere, filling the arroyos below, “like the imbreachment of some ultimate alchemic work decocted from out the secret dark of the earth’s heart.” (p. 195).

There are some mules and men lower down the path, where we gather it is less steep/narrow, and they do their best to flee, Glanton’s men chasing them “like men themselves at the mercy of something terrible.” (Id.).  50 mules have been forced over the edge, the carnage below having no impact on Glanton or his men.  They ride on.

One final point in this section, the judge notices that Jackson (the black one) is missing.  Why does he care?  He takes the Delawares with him, and goes looking for him.  At daybreak they return, Jackson with them, completely naked, even missing his boots.  The only thing he still has with him is his pistol, which he is holding against his chest because he has no other place to put it.  What happened to him?

Okay, one more part in this section.  As they continue their journey, they encounter an old man driving two burros.  Wisely, the man refuses to talk to the group, and tries to hide from them completely.  Glanton tracks him down.  My Spanish isn’t great, but roughly, Glanton asks him why he was hiding, and the man doesn’t answer.  Glanton asks him where he is coming from, and the man doesn’t answer.  Glanton asks him what he has on the burros, and he answers “herbs.”  In what seems like a miraculous twist of good luck for the old man at this point in the story, Glanton then leaves him alone and carries on.  “Why did you look for me?” the old man calls after him.  There is no answer.

I am temporarily skipping the next section, regarding the judge and his “collections,” to discuss it separately.

Ures

On December 12, 1849, the group makes their way into the town of Ures.  They are instantly surrounded by quite the motley crew of people, “rabble unmatched for variety and sordidness by any they had yet encountered.” (p. 200).  Given where they’ve been and what they’ve done, that’s saying something.  One of my favorite lines in the entire book describes the prostitutes in the town:

Females of domestic reputation lounged upon the balconies they passed with faces gotten up in indigo and almagre gaudy as the rumps of apes and they peered from behind their fans with a kind of lurid coyness like transvestites in a madhouse.  (p. 200).

There’s nothing really to add or say.  It is amazingly vivid and paints quite the picture.

Did you notice that Glanton and the judge seem to be conferring a lot in these chapters, here riding at the head of the column? (p. 200).  What are they talking about?  Planning?

And here is where they come to the hostel, run by a German, who immediately flees and is “seen no more for service or payment.” (p. 200).  Smart man.  The men find a cowering old maid, give her some money, and instruct her to start heating water for baths and getting some kind of food together.  She calls out and soon other hiding women appear to help her tend to their needs.

Glanton turns around to see that several of their horses, probably also exhausted and hungry, have entered the house.  The crowd of rabble has followed the men, and stands outside the hostel.  Again, my Spanish is not el mejor, but Glanton calls into the crowd for groomsmen, i.e. people who will feed and care for their horses.  Two young boys push through the crowd.  Glanton takes the taller of the two and says that he is the boss.  “I’m putting you in charge of everything, understand?  Horses, saddles, everything,” says Glanton.  “Yes, I understand,” says the boy.  “Good. Let’s go.  No horses in the house,” says Glanton.  The boy calls out to six of his friends, all young, one hardly taller than the legs of the horse he is taking charge of, and they take the horses, “known mankillers some,” out of the house. (p. 201).  These men have no concern for the lives of others, or you wonder if even their own.

Glanton tries to find the expriest, “whom it pleased him to send for whores and drink.” (Id.).  Unable to find him, he sends two others.  Soon there is quite the feast/party going, the townspeople gathering around to peddle their wares, and a “mood of festivity and growing ugliness common to gatherings in that quarter of the world.” (Id.).  The celebration extends noisily into the night.  At one point, several dogs are fighting viciously over the bones of the goats that have been cooked, and the “first gunfire of the night” wounds several of them.  Glanton comes out and kills the wounded dogs with his knife.  This is another vivid scene.

Did you notice the line about Ures being “the town that Glanton and the judge had hoped to lay clear of”? (p. 201).  Maybe that’s part of what they had been conferring about.  Maybe they should have, as we will see in the very next chapter.

The next morning, before the sun is even up, the judge and Glanton appear, the judge in a white suit, Glanton in a black one.  I think we can throw any preconceived tropes about heroes wearing white and villains wearing black out the window at this point.  In a battle for who of these two is more evil, it would be truly hard to say.

Glanton calls out to a young man and asks if he is the one in charge of the horses.  “Yes, at your service,” says the young man.  “Our horses,” says Glanton.  The boy runs off into the cold, dark morning, and returns ten minutes later with the horses, well groomed and ready.  Note, it’s December, and the boys are barefoot.  Bitter, harsh country and conditions.

Where are Glanton and the judge off to?  From the beginning of the next chapter, maybe to see about entering another contract for scalps.  This will prove to be a bad decision.  I guess depending on who you ask.

The Judge as Scientist, Collector, or Antichrist

Coming down the other side of the mountain, before they got to Ures, the climate seemed to have become more lush and full of life.  Lots of animal life.  The judge had taken to riding at the front and loading his rifle with seeds of the nopal fruit to make what turns out to be a very gentle form of bird shot.  He was killing and collecting and stuffing “colorful” birds.  Also butterflies “with his shirt outheld in both hands, speaking to them in low whisper, no curious study himself.” (p. 198).  Isn’t the judge just sort of an amazing physical specimen?  Hairless, white, huge (just two pages earlier, we see that he is as tall as the new American Carroll, with Carroll sitting on horseback (p. 196)). The judge keeps careful notation of all his collections and observations in a ledger.

Sitting around the fire, Toadvine asks him what the purpose of all this was.

“Whatever exists,” says the judge. “Whatever exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.” (p. 198).  What is he talking about?  He continues:

Yet the smallest crumb can devour us.  Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing.  Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth. (p. 198).

The judge wants absolute control.  He wants nothing to exist outside his knowledge, nothing to occur without his permission.  Who/what does this make the judge?

Recall in our discussion of the first part of Chapter XII, how: “Notions of chance and fate are the preoccupations of men engaged in rash undertakings”? Here, the judge is arguing that only that man who finds order, takes charge and imposes his will can “dictate the terms of his own fate.” (p. 199). Is that what the judge is doing?  Seeking violence, causing violence, methodically killing as a means of control?  There is some twisted logic to this, at least in the kill-or-be-killed position they have put themselves in.  But who caused them to be here in the first place?  Is this destiny or are they just doomed?  And again, who/what is the judge?

I also enjoyed the line: “The freedom of birds is an insult to me.  I’d have them all in zoos.” (p. 199).  The judge doesn’t seem to like anything living.  Is he himself alive?  Maybe I am being overly influenced by a separate book on vampires I am reading, but there do seem to be some fairly significant vampirical similarities.  No definitive evidence of blood drinking, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

A caravan of men and horses passes Glanton’s group silently in the night, cautioning each other with fingers to lips not to make a sound.  The judge is sitting on a boulder above the trail and sees them pass.  He held their fate in his hand, but decided to let them go.  Why?  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to who lives and who dies.  On balance, the odds seem to favor dying.

Notions of chance and fate are the preoccupation of men engaged in rash undertakings.” – See more at: http://dunceacademy.com/3434/blood-meridian-chapter-twelve-part-i-for-what-could-be-said-to-occur-unobserved/#sthash.BuHbnzSw.dpuf
Notions of chance and fate are the preoccupation of men engaged in rash undertakings.” – See more at: http://dunceacademy.com/3434/blood-meridian-chapter-twelve-part-i-for-what-could-be-said-to-occur-unobserved/#sthash.BuHbnzSw.dpuf

Similes and Other Enjoyable Quotes

“[H]orses like incandescent elementals that would not be driven off.” (p. 186).

Referring to mirages: “[T]he riders slumped forward and rightly skeptic of the shimmering cities on the distant shore of that sea whereon they trod miraculous.”  (pp. 186-187).  This gorgeous imagery concisely conveys an image I could devote pages and pages trying to recreate.  Anyone who has spent time in the desert knows these shimmering images.  Again, enjoy the sort of tainted/twisted religious references (e.g. “miraculous,” repeated creation imagery).

“[I]n the long red sunset the sheets of water on the plain below them lay like tidepools of primal blood.” (p. 187).

“[L]ike the backs of seabeasts in a devonian dawn.” (p. 187).

“[L]ike wardens of some dim sect sent forth to proselytize among the very beasts of the land.” (p. 187)

VOCABULARY

elementals- integral parts, inherent, of, relating to, or resembling a great force of nature

tierras quemadas, tierras despobladas- scorched earth/lands, unpopulated/depopulated lands

jokin roehawks- having a hard time finding a solid definition.  Gather from the feathers that it is some kind of bird, probably a hawk.  “Roe” can designate the male of species, as in “roe deer,” but I also see that “roe” is sometimes synonymous with “doe” (as in a deer, a female deer (ha, ha)).  The only definition I can find for “jokin” is Finnish for “something, some, what-have-you.”  Close enough?

groundsel- a widely distributed plant of the daisy family, with yellow rayless flowers.

zinnia- an American plant of the daisy family that is widely cultivated for its bright showy flowers.

gentian- a plant of temperate and mountainous regions, typically with violet or vivid blue trumpet-shaped flowers. Many kinds are cultivated as ornamentals, especially as arctic alpines, and some are of medicinal use.

gingham- lightweight plain-woven cotton cloth, typically checked in white and a bold color.

serried- (of rows of people or things) standing close together.

adamantine- unbreakable; made of or having the quality of adamant;rigidly firm; unyielding; resembling the diamond in hardness or luster.

adamant- a stone (as a diamond) formerly believed to be of impenetrable hardness

rowel- use a rowel to urge on (a horse).

devonian- of, relating to, or denoting the fourth period of the Paleozoic era, between the Silurian and Carboniferous periods (whatever that means)

cowled- wearing a hooded garment, like that worn by monks

ferric- relating to or containing iron, especially with valence 3 or a valence higher than in a corresponding ferrous compound.

tectites- any of numerous generally small, rounded, dark brown to green glassy objects that are composed of silicate glass and are thought to have been formed by the impact of a meteorite with the earth’s surface (really cool as used to describe hail stones).

prestidigitant- magic tricks performed as entertainment.

tailings- the residue of something, especially ore; the part of a beam or projecting brick or stone embedded in a wall.

raggletag-a group of people: ragged, rambling, straggling; disorganized; disreputable; wanderers; rovers

ristras- A string on which foodstuffs, such as chilies, onions, or garlic, are threaded or tied for storage.

pulque- A thick fermented alcoholic beverage made in Mexico from various species of agave.

knacker- A person who buys worn-out or old livestock and slaughters them to sell the meat or hides.

doggery- a cheap saloon :  dive

mountebanks-a person who sells quack medicines from a platform; a boastful unscrupulous pretender :  charlatan

besotted bedlamites- archaic extremely intoxicated; drunk madmen/lunatics

charivari- a cacophonous mock serenade, typically performed by a group of people in derision of an unpopular person or in celebration of a marriage.

drubbed- hit or beat repeatedly

catafalque- A catafalque is a stage, canopy or scaffolding, erected usually in the name of a Church, to support a coffin on the occasion of a ceremonious funeral.

ciborium- a receptacle shaped like a shrine or a cup with an arched cover, used in the Christian Church for the reservation of the Eucharist.

pizzle- the penis of an animal, especially a bull.

cuartel- barracks

posada- (in Spanish-speaking regions) a hotel or inn.

gantlet- go through an intimidating or dangerous crowd, place, or experience in order to reach a goal; historical- undergo the military punishment of receiving blows while running between two rows of men with sticks.

arrieros- personas que se ocupan de los animales de carga; buckaroo; driver

talus- a slope formed especially by an accumulation of rock debris; rock debris at the base of a cliff

conducta- from the context, a grouping of animals transporting goods

guttapercha- a tough plastic substance from the latex of several Malaysian trees (genera Payena and Palaquium) of the sapodilla family that resembles rubber but contains more resin and is used especially as insulation and in dentistry in temporary fillings

cataract- a large waterfall.

vidette- historical- a mounted sentry positioned beyond an army’s outposts to observe the movements of the enemy.

imbreachment- not really sure- breach is gap, break, opening, gravel; opening maybe, in the context

nopal- a cactus that is a major food plant of the bugs from which cochineal is obtained; prickly pear cactus

suzerain- a sovereign or state having some control over another state that is internally autonomous; historical- feudal overlord

serapes- a shawl or blanket worn as a cloak in Latin America.

almagre- an earthy usually red or yellow and often impure iron ore used as a pigment

criada- Female servant, maid or maidservant, hand-maid.

brazier- a metal pan for holding burning coals or charcoal; a cooking device consisting of a charcoal or electric heating source over which food is grilled.

sutler- an army camp follower who peddled provisions to the soldiers.

billet- chunky piece of wood, as firewood; cudgel

bivouac- A temporary encampment often in an unsheltered area.

escarpment- a long, steep slope, especially one at the edge of a plateau or separating areas of land at different heights.
[I know these entries have been vocabulary heavy, but there is a lot here.  McCarthy is one of the most masterful writers in terms of pure language/word use that I have ever encountered.  It’s tempting to just breeze over the words you don’t understand, or think you understand well enough, but I think this is a mistake.  There is meaning upon meaning upon meaning here, and even those words you think you know might have a different significance given the context or timeframe/setting of the book.  Many of these words refer to their archaic/historical significance.  Maybe it is the former English major in me that chooses to focus so much on the words themselves, rather than the history, or broader themes.  But it is, for me at least, the language of Blood Meridian that makes it not just a violently entertaining story, but a masterpiece.  Gorgeous, gorgeous language.]

3 thoughts on “Blood Meridian, Chapter Fourteen: “Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.”

  1. Missed one from the chapter heading-

    fandango- 1. a lively Spanish dance for two people, typically accompanied by castanets or tambourine.
    2.
    a foolish or useless act or thing.

    This one will appear again.

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