28 May 2008


"God's Thirst for Blood in McCarthy's West"

As the title to the collection of papers from the first McCarthy conference (in Louisville, Kentucky, 15 years ago), Sacred Violence, suggests, there is a definite connection between God and bloodshed in McCarthy's vision of both American history and future. As early as two pages into Blood Meridian, considered his masterpiece by many, eyes are gouged out. The novel hums with prose of electric poetic power devoted to the Western landscape and the bloody deeds that there occurred as pioneering and warring Americans collided with Mexicans and indians. The novel itself, like the yell of agony Sproule unleashes after he is attacked by the vampire bat, could be considered "a howl of outrage such as to stitch a caesura in the pulsebeat of the world," were it not for the way it is narrated, a perspective comparable to God's simultaneously detached and interwoven view of humanity. With the most recent addition to his legacy and canon, The Road, readers are again offered a vision of a landscape that is haunting and oddly beautiful in its fully-realized rendering through McCarthy's prose, where humanity's capacity for violence is as unlimited as its capacity for love and survival. In both novels, the landscapes, South and West, are numinous with the sacralizing effect of awesome acts of destruction and spilt blood, like Civil War battlegrounds. In Blood Meridian, for example, we find caves compared to reliquaries, and birds such as crows and vultures—black birds associated with death—compared to bishops and holy men. As with one of McCarthy's teachers, Hemingway, Eliot's The Waste Land subtly weaves through the narrative to add to both the sense of inconceivable loss and waste and the sense of an imminent and immanent absolution. Blood Meridian is McCarthy's Old Testament, where God is alive and thirsty for sacrifice and blood, and The Road is his New Testament, where a child saves humanity, or at least the humanity that would otherwise die and is dying in one man.

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