Blood Meridian, Chapter XXII- “Our animosities were formed and waiting before ever we two met”

angry wolf 1 dunce academy wolves blood meridianMore time passes in this chapter than in any other chapter in the book (save maybe the first, when we go from the kid’s birth to the present).  We learn some interesting things in this chapter.  For one, we learn the age of the kid.  Referred to only as “the kid” throughout the novel, we have no way of knowing how old he actually is.  Until now.  Though years and some historical events have been mentioned.  Recall the first page of the book: “Night of your birth.  Thirty-three.  The Leonids they were called.” (p. 3).  What does thirty-three mean?  1933?  1833?  Well, it’s the latter, as the “Leonids” reference would provide.Mid-chapter, it is mentioned in passing that he is sixteen: “this child just sixteen years on earth.” (p. 310).  (Time passes, and later in this same chapter he is 28, though still consistently referred to as “the kid.” (see p. 313))(there was a time in my life when 16 seemed too old to be referred to as “a kid.”  But now, to me, even a 28-year-old is very much a “kid,” and there are no doubt many who would still think of me as a kid at that)(I see from the back of the book that the kid is 14 when his journey starts.  Assuming that’s true, he is two years on the scalp hunt, which seems about right).

So if he was born in 1883, it’s 1849 in the beginning of this chapter (gold rush times, as we know; remember all the ill-fated argonauts?).  So the kid is in California during a very eventful time indeed.

If he’s 28 by the end of the chapter, that’s 1861, for whatever it’s worth.

In Jail

So we left the kid at the ocean, and he’s heading back into town.  He walks past a group of soldiers who, in the dark, think he is much older than he is.  Why?  Maybe because of the limp.  The dirt and layers of clothing.  Or maybe it’s the weight he carries, far more than what any 16-year-old should have experienced.

He finds a tavern and sits down and no one asks him his business.  But he sits there as if he is waiting for something, and sure enough, after a while, four soldiers come in and arrest him.  They don’t even ask him his name.  We are left to wonder how often this happened in these times.  No innocent until proven guilty here.  Justice is swift and mercy is nonexistent.

He’s taken to jail (the same one Brown was earlier held, we wonder), and becomes overwhelmed with the urge to speak about all he has been through.  His jailers think he has lost his mind, and maybe he has.  Who could go through all of that and remain sane?

The kid wakes one morning and who should he see but the judge come to call.  Well turned out.  New clothes.  The judge has done well for himself, but then he had all that money.

The judge is smiling, as he often is.  As we have learned, this is usually a good sign that whoever he is smiling at should be worried.

They enter into a dialogue that touches on central themes in the book:

  • good vs. evil;
  • right vs. wrong;
  • destiny;
  • fate.

The kid asks were Tobin, the expriest, is, and the judge does not exactly answer.  He tells the kid that he has told “them” (the authorities?) that Tobin used to be a doctor of divinity at Harvard College, and that he kept his sanity until the Aquarius Mountains (mountain range in southeast Arizona that they would have passed through on their way to California), but that now the priest has lost his mind and his clothes (everyone seems to lose their clothes when the judge is involved).

The kid asks the judge what is going to happen to him, and the judge informs the kid that he has been blamed for the massacre at the ferry crossing and is probably going to be executed.  Is the judge making it up?  Has he convinced the authorities here in San Diego that the kid is the mastermind of a heinous crime they did not even know had occurred?  We never actually find out.  But since they let the kid go just a few days later, we assume the judge was lying.  Or I guess that they don’t really care.  But consider the rest of the exchange.

The kid accuses the judge of being crazy, and the judge tells the kid to come closer to the bars, within touching distance.  “Don’t you know that I’ve had loved you like a son?” asks the judge. (p. 306).  Scary!

The kid says he’s not scared of the judge, but he won’t approach the bars.  The judge makes one of his famous speeches: “If war is not holy man is nothing but antic clay.” (p. 307).  Their war/scalp hunt was holy?  Purging the world by violence?  The judge accuses the boy of not doing his part.  How could the kid be in the wrong, the only member of the group to show any compassion?

“What joins men together…is not the sharing of bread but the sharing of enemies.” (p. 307).  What does this mean?  And as the judge points out, who would he have shared in having the judge as a joint enemy?  The expriest?  Glanton?  Both would have killed the kid themselves if it served their purposes.  A twist on the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” idea.  Thanks Arthasastra!

“For even if you should have stood your ground…yet what ground was it?” (p. 307).  Indeed, what moral code is the kid following?  What does he believe in?  He doesn’t agree with or believe what the judge believes, but if he doesn’t know what he believes instead, where does that leave him?

The judge suggests their animosities were formed and waiting before they met.  What animosities?  Is this good and evil?  The judge could certainly be considered evil, but could the kid or anyone in the group be considered good?  What then?  Compassion?  Humanity?  What?

The judge looks at his pocketwatch, says he has errands, and departs.  What errands would the judge have?  Again, scary.

The kid closes his eyes and when he opens them the judge is gone.  That night a corporal comes in and the kid tells him of a horde of gold hiding in the mountains.  This sounds familiar…Gold fever is prevalent in everyone in these parts at this time.  The soldier does not let him out then, but two days later the kid is released after being splashed through the bars with holy water by a Spanish priest. (We don’t know why; maybe they knew he was acquainted with the judge). He is taken before the alcalde, who says kind, fatherly words to him in Spanish (though we aren’t told what they are), and then he is released.  Would they release a mass murderer?  I don’t think so.  The judge must have been lying, surprise, surprise.

An Operation and a Dream

Remember the arrow in the kid’s leg?  It is long past time that he sought medical attention.  He finds a good doctor who tells him he can perform an operation and it will cost him $100.  The kid sells hid pistol for $40, and it’s not clear where he gets the rest of the money, but he shows up the next day for the surgery completely drunk and still carrying half a bottle of whiskey.  There is an altercation until the surgeon himself shows up and tells the kid he’ll have to come back tomorrow.  When the kid informs him that he will be no less drunk the next day, the surgeon agrees if the kid will agree to give him the whiskey and sleep for a while.  The surgeon assures him that they have spirits of ether, which is much stronger than alcohol.  (Note: it also has a hallucinogenic effect).

The surgeon takes out a pocket watch and informs the kid that they will operate at 1 p.m. (approximately 5 hours later).  Coincidence that both the judge and the doctor have pocket watches?  Probably, since there is no other mention.

The kid gets cleaned up and rests, but does not sleep, and when the time for surgery comes, he is still drunk.  He goes to the place of surgery and the physician’s assistant holds the rag with ether over his nose and mouth.

In that “sleep” the judge “visits.”  The description of the “dream” and “visit” is some of the best writing in the book:

Whoever would seek out his history through what unraveling loins and ledgerbooks must stand at last darkened and dumb at the shore of a void without terminus or origin and whatever science he might bring to bear upon the dusty primal matter blowing down out of the millennia will discover no trace of any ultimate atavistic egg by which to reckon his commencing.

(pp. 309-310).

Who is the judge?  We don’t know.  Where does he come from?  Nowhere.  He just always is and was.  A primal entity, without beginning or end.

But it gets better.  The judge looks down, in the ether dream, “with his small and lashless pig’s eyes,” and the kid is terrified, reaching for weapons in his sleep, but finding none.  The two represent opposing forces in a conflict older than time.

This was fascinating.  In the dream, the fool is gone, but there is another man with the judge, an artisan or metal worker.  He is forging, but without fire, “perhaps under some indictment and an exile from men’s fires.” (p. 310).  I don’t know much about forging, but when I picture it, I usually picture fire or heat.  But he’s doing it without fire.  I looked up cold forging and found some helpful links.  Perhaps the most interesting takeaway point on this is that one of the reasons for cold forging is that sometimes the materials are too delicate for the heat.  Forging steel without heat, with just hold hammer and die would seem like a punishment, but for certain materials it’s necessary.

Also note the duel meaning of forge: to form, yes, but also to make a fake or counterfeit.  Both meanings potentially at play here.

Indeed, what is he hammering?  “[S]ome coinage for a dawn that would not be.” (p. 310).  Forged and forged.  Note the double meaning, and in fact we find out he is a “false moneyer.” (Id.).  And what is he doing?  Who is he?  Who works for the devil (the judge being, oversimplified, the devil, but still)?  A demon.  And he is in the crucible (note again the multiple meanings in the vocabulary section below).  This demon forger is working for the judge crafting some counterfeit coin that men would use to barter for.

Let us pause for a brief poetic interlude.  Remember this is a hell-like image, but it’s cold.  It reminds me of Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice”

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Okay, back to the analysis.  One big question we’ve asked throughout our reading: if the judge is a judge, what is he the judge of?  We get our answer here, though not a simple one.  Speaking of the cold forger, forging his counterfeit coins for men to use to please the judge: “Of this is the judge judge and the night does not end.”  (p. 310).  He is the judge of counterfeit enticements?  The judge of what will trick man?  All man cares about is lucre, but this isn’t even real lucre.  He wants them to sell their souls for forgeries, false money.  Who is he?  What does it mean that of this the judge is judge?

Los Angeles and a Hanging

The procedure was painful, but the kid recovers.  He looks everywhere for the expriest, but no one has any idea.  Later that year he is in Los Angeles, staying at some cheap lodgings.  He wakes up one morning to a commotion in the streets.  Two men are being hanged at the jail.  The crowds are so thick that the kid can’t see much as it’s happening, but he goes over later that night to check it out, where the two men hang at their rope-ends “like effigies for to frighten birds.” (p. 311).  As he draws near, he sees that it is Toadvine and Brown.  So the judge wasn’t lying when he said that he left them alive in the desert, but they are dead now, and we don’t know for what.  For past or current crimes, we will never know.

The kid has very little money, and then he has none.  In a suit too big and old shoes, his eyes shifting and young, he is assumed to be a male prostitute.  People buy him drinks and when they take him to the back he presumably robs him of their money, though others take his shoes and purse and watch.

He cannot find the priest.  In a strange scene, he is coming home in a storm and sees another fool’s face slobbering in a window.  He rushes to the door, but it is not the judge’s fool, but another.  He leaves.  With his last two dollars, he buys from a soldier the string of ears that Brown had around his neck when he was hung.  He puts it on himself.

Back on the Trail

With no money and nothing keeping him in Los Angeles, the kid hires on with a group heading east, but leaves soon thereafter.  He seems without direction or purpose.  He’s picked up a gun and a horse, “the rudiments of an outfit.” (p. 312).  (This is a theme in all of McCarthy’s books, not just this one.  Men and their gear.  What it takes to survive in this climate.  Makes me want to get a gun and a horse and ride off into the sunset).

He is dressed in frugal and dark clothes.  Quiet.  He’s picked up a Bible somewhere, though he can’t read it.  But he’s not a preacher.  In fact, “he was no witness to them, neither of things at hand nor things to come, he least of any man.” (p. 312).  Why least of any man?

His travels take him places so remote that people are still toasting rulers already dead.  He can’t be bothered with gossip, news, and worldly things.  They are to trivial for him.  Why?  Because he is in search of a greater purpose?  Because of what he has seen, worldly trivialities pale in comparison?

He sees men kill each other over $2 hookers.  He sees animal fights.  He sees vultures so gigantic they make eagles look like small sea birds by comparison.  He sees San Francisco burn twice.  He never sees the expriest again, but “[o]f the judge he heard rumor everywhere.” (p. 313).  In conjunction with all this violence and burning?  Probably.

He heads east with a group looking to return to their homes, perhaps after failing to find their fortunes out west.  Seven days later he leaves them.  He heads north on his own.

The Ill-Fated Penitents/Pilgrims

On this journey in the strange land to the north, he encounters a group of traveling penitents, led by a guy playing a reed, and others playing other instruments, some of the men whipping themselves (it’s not funny, but reminiscent of the monks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:).  There is a guy in white carrying a cross, others carrying bundles of cactus plants, all of them hauling a cart filled with stones, their bare feet bloody and leaving bloody footprints as they go.  What a sight!  It sounds pretty awful.

The kid, now 28, watches them go, “like heralds of some unspeakable calamity leaving bloody footprints on the stone.”  (p. 314).

He camps out with the horse that night.  Finds water in the morning.  Keeps going.  Soon the horse is upset and will go no farther.  The horse is scared.  The kid soon learns why.

The pilgrims have been completely slaughtered, with prejudice.  Hacked to pieces.  Many seem to have gathered for shelter around the cross, but to no avail.  The alter-christ is in particularly bad shape, having been disemboweled.  Many have met a violent end out here, but this is particularly gruesome.

The kid thinks he sees a survivor hiding up in the rocks.  An old woman.  He goes up to her and offers to help.  Her face is old, and she does not look up.  One interesting point: her clothes are faded, but bear “the figures of stars and quartermoons and other insignia of a provenance unknown to him.” (p. 315).  He talks to her for some time.  Old people play prominent roles in McCarthy’s works.  Symbols of wisdom.

But not this old woman.  He bends to touch her and asks in Spanish if she can hear him.  But she is just a dried out shell, having died many years earlier.  Strange, eerie stuff.  But a perfect end for this chapter.

Will there be no more of the expriest?  Surely there will be more of the judge.  What will happen to the kid?  Only one more chapter left to find out.  It’s a long one.  May break the analysis into two parts.

VOCABULARY

cotter- a pin, wedge, key, or the like, fitted or driven into an opening to secure something or hold parts together. (hence “uncottered” being the opposite of this, i.e. unpinned, unkeyed, insecure, apart, as in a mind (see p. 305))

stickpin- a straight pin with an ornamental head, worn to keep a tie in place or as a brooch.

antic-

cretin- informal offensive; a stupid person (used as a general term of abuse); a person who is deformed and mentally handicapped because of congenital thyroid deficiency.

glib- (of words or the person speaking them) fluent and voluble but insincere and shallow.

alcalde- a magistrate or mayor in a Spanish, Portuguese, or Latin American town.

fistula- Pathology. a narrow passage or duct formed by disease or injury, as one leading from an abscess to a free surface, or from one cavity to another.

trestle- a framework consisting of a horizontal beam supported by two pairs of sloping legs, used in pairs to support a flat surface such as a tabletop.

 bespeak-be·spokeplay \-ˈspōk\be·spo·kenplay \-ˈspō-kən\be·speak·ing 1 :  to hire, engage, or claim beforehand; 2 :  to speak to especially with formality :  address; 3. request <bespeak a favor>; 4 a :  indicate, signify <her performance bespeaks considerable practice> b :  to show beforehand :  foretell

bespoken- past participle of bespeak

atavistic- relating to or characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral.

forge-

1.

a. To form (metal, for example) by heating in a forge and beating or hammering into shape.
b. To form (metal) by a mechanical or hydraulic press.
2. To give form or shape to, especially by means of careful effort: forge a treaty; forge a close relationship.
3. To fashion or reproduce for fraudulent purposes; counterfeit: forge a signature.

v.intr.

1. To work at a forge or smithy.
2. To make a forgery or counterfeit.
coldforger- forging without fire

graver- any of various cutting or shaving tools used in graving or in hand metal-turning

burin- a steel tool used for engraving in copper or wood.

crucible-: a pot in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature or melted: a difficult test or challenge; a place or situation that forces people to change or make difficult decisions

specie- money in coin/metal form

slag- stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore.

dosshouse- a cheap lodging house, especially for homeless people and tramps.

carcel- jail; prison

dramhouse- place that sells whiskey

doggery- cheap saloon; dive

cockpit- bit or enclosure for cock fights; bloody conflict

scapular- Ecclesiastical. a loose, sleeveless monastic garment, hanging from the shoulders.

terns- a seabird related to the gulls, typically smaller and more slender, with long pointed wings and a forked tail

plovers- short-billed gregarious wading bird, typically found by water but sometimes frequenting grassland, tundra, and mountains

ocotillo- a spiny, scarlet-flowered desert shrub of the southwestern US and Mexico, sometimes planted as a hedge

pitero- term used to appoint people with low education or lack of basic education

matraca- A type of wooden rattle from Latin America, ratchet, noisemaker.

cholla- a cactus with a cylindrical stem, native to Mexico and the southwestern US
sotol- a North American desert plant of the agave family, with spiny-edged leaves and small white flowers

carreta- southwestern-

  1. a two-wheeled cart

scree- a mass of small loose stones that form or cover a slope on a mountain

swale- a low or hollow place, especially a marshy depression between ridges
hackamore- a bridle without a bit, operating by exerting pressure on the horse’s nose.
coulee- a deep ravine.
cairn- a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline.
rebozo- a long scarf covering the head and shoulders, traditionally worn by Spanish-American women.

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