Blood Meridian Notes

Notes as I read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

On Nature
Nature is sentient. The landscape alive with hostile, insidious intent towards man. The land is bloodily bound to the ideas of fate and destiny, were the life and death of men are the price and the penance. “yet if he gave thanks to any good at all it was ill timed for the country had not done with him.”(p204)
“As if the very sediment of things contained yet some residue of sentience.” (p247) The Judge, and to a lesser degree Glanton and his gang, are at war with it. They have a will to dominate it.

The Kid’s Weakness
Kid has an unexpected brotherhood with Tate and the lame horse. Surprisingly he doesn’t abandon him. Is this the weakness that the Judge will see in the Kid? Is this empathy for others the reason the Judge will try to kill the kid? These displays of empathy, show he is not a part of the Judge’s project.

Cosmic Imagery
Cosmic imagery is Shakespearean channeled through Melville. The language of the novel is a melting pot of the King James Bible, Milton, Shakespeare and Moby Dick.

“The stars burned with a lidless fixity and they drew nearer in the night until toward dawn he was stumbling among the whinstones of the uttermost ridge to heaven, a barren range of rock so enfolded in that gaudy house that stars lay awash at his feet and migratory spalls of burning matter crossed constantly about him on their chartless reckonings.” (p213) The Kid seems to ascend into heaven, weak, frozen, hallucinating.

The landscape is malicious and primeval, a bloody theatre where man’s fate is played out. “A pale green meteor..”

The Judge’s superhuman feat of lifting the meteorite displays his mastery of this malicious universe. This display gives him mastery over these cosmic forces. “That great slag wandered for what millennia… unreckonable corner of the universe…”

Fate / Destiny
Gaston on fate (243) “men’s destinies”. He believes in destiny, yet usurps his own destiny by choosing his own.

Judge: the order you see in creation is only what you put there.
Destiny as a dark gravity pulling at men’s orbits.

”As if in the transit of those riders were a thing so profoundly terrible as to register event to the uttermost granulation of reality.”(p247)

Nature and man conjoined: “… a man and a rock become endowed with unguessed kinships”

“Destinies… bound and indentured.”

“Events have moved on and left man behind. Left man looking at million year old stars no longer there. Or celebrating the ascension of a leader already deposed, the coronation of a king already dead.” (p312) Man is remote from reality.

The Kid tells all to the old woman in the desert, wishes to conduct her to a place of safety, but when he touches her, he realises she is just an old husk who has been dead for many years. A confession to the dead. A wish to procure safety on the dead. Is the kid so remote from the living that he feels closer to the dead?

Massacre at the Mexican bar – the novel in essence
McCarthy set piece on destiny.
Seemingly chance events, build up of small things, McCarthy details the build up of small things happening simultaneously. This focussing on small, seemingly unrelated events creates the tense atmosphere leading up to the massacre. But non of the events are random or happenstance. It is in the nature of things. The nature of dogs behaviour. The funeral procession. Farm workers on a lunch break at the bar. It just happens the they all coincide at one geographic place, the bar, at one specific time. The dark gravity of destiny has pulled all the disparate factors here. McC builds the component parts like cogs in a machine, each component playing its part, all turning and intersecting and interacting. The cold machinery of destiny. It results in a massacre of innocents. All the mexicans are slaughtered. There are no repercussions for the perpetrators. They are not punished by authorities nor wracked with guilt. There is no moral indictment. The massacre just is, in and of itself.

The perpetrators become the witnesses to it. There is a stress on witnessing. Otherwise these events are lost in time, unrecorded. Is there a cold solace in bearing witness? Is that man’s ultimate purpose in this cold godless universe?

“Everybody don’t have to have a reason to be someplace.”(p328)
“But order is not set aside because of their indifference.”
There is an order to the universe. Fate. Destiny. The cogs of the universe turn on. With or without man. The Judge calls it all a ceremony, a dance, a ritual. And all true rituals need blood.

“War is god” Life and death, the wager itself.

Alan Moore, M. John Harrison & Me

The night I read M. John Harrison’s The Great God Pan, I dreamt I went to the Magus of Northampton, Alan Moore’s house for elucidation. His house was a Dionysian temple as re-imagined by Capability Brown, more an Eighteenth Century version of a Greek temple built on a snug scale for two or three occupants. From the outside it looked as though an immense solid stone block had been dropped from a great height and embedded itself into the city street. Inside, there were three levels to it. The entrance off the street led into a snug living space, the width and length of the whole building. The thick stone walls muffled all sound, as though we were in a subterranean cave. Six stone columns rose through the room and I sensed that they spanned all three floors of the building, connecting basement to roof.

To one side of the room were two wide stone stepped staircases, one leading down to the basement and one leading up to the mezzanine and living quarters. Above us, the main light source, a the large glass dome extending the entire length of the ceiling, the only light source in the entire house. I could see that the glass surface was old and weather-beaten, encrusted with thick moss, which gave the light inside a thick green cast. I looked up the staircase that lead up to the top floor, but felt somehow that it was off-limits. An irrational compulsion not to even let my mind imagine what was up there. As though I were neither worthy nor trusted to take those steps upwards.

So Alan took me down the stone staircase to the basement. It was dark and musty, the light from the large ceiling glass didn’t percolate down to this level. Full bookshelves bordered every wall. Ancient books, large hard-backed grimoires filled the shelves. Most of the dream was spent down here, in the silent dark, as Alan Moore, in grave hushed tones, gave me pointers on how to read The Great God Pan.

Afterwards, upstairs in the light, I was enthusiastic as Alan Moore showed me around his house. I could suddenly sense a change in my host’s mood, as he began to tire of my wildly enthusiastic responses to the smallest of mundane details. Not wishing to impinge on my host’s hospitality any further, I said my goodbyes and opened the large wooden front door, and made my way out onto the street. I looked back at the house one last time and saw that it was indeed a small Dionysian temple, with the most intellectually appealing dimensions. Something of the Golden Section in its proportions, conjoined with the perfect aspects of scale in relation to me. I awoke from the dream to those pleasurable feelings of inherent rightness.

What Alan Moore said in the basement – How to read The Great God Pan

melispsalter-munch

Alan Moore began by looking for clues to the mysterious magical working that binds the four protagonists. The ritual to access the Pleroma. The ritual occurs years before the story begins, and is only alluded to, never in detail. Even the narrator has forgotten what happened. But that slippage of memory can be seen as part of the working, as all participants in the magical ceremony  lose something essential to their inner selves. None more so than Ann, who struggles with epilepsy.

How is the Pleroma accessed? What working would grant access to it? Alan Moore begins to search his shelves, rifling through great tomes, seeking clues in the paintings and illustrations that are mentioned in the text. We study the strange spermatoza shapes in the Melisendre Psalter, echoed in the borders of Edvard Munch’s Paris paintings. We make imaginative leaps from spermatoza to conception to birth to the cocooned twins of the story. Alan Moore puts forward the theory that accessing the Pleroma would involve some kind of sex magic. This could explain why Lucas and Ann get married later, when the working has failed, and they have to face mundane reality, to validate the forced intimacy of the ritual? To comfort each other, a consolation after the glimpsed joys of the Pleroma?

But what is the price for accessing the Pleroma? Why are all the participants in the ritual damaged in some mental or physical way? Alan Moore reaches to a shelf and pulls down Carl Jung’s Red Book. Consulting it he tells me that the dreadful cost of accessing the Pleroma is related to the soul. The clue is again in the spermatoza-like shapes in the Melisendre Psalter, which on closer inspection are revealed to be stylised alchemical symbols, shorthand for alchemical operations. The ritual separates the anima from the psyche and it is externalised, made corporeal, damaging the interiority of the participant. This psychic damage is what Ann is suffering from, and her and Lucas’ externalised anima/animus is seen in the story as the ghostly floating couple, dismissed by the narrator as a shared hallucination.  This couple, briefly glimpsed in the narrative, both “writhing and embracing” are an alchemical symbiosis, the externalised anima and animus, conjoined, hanging in the air “like a chrysalis in a privet hedge”.

Reading from the Jung book, Alan Moore intones; “Should any tensions arise between the conscious and the unconscious, the figures of the anima and animus, harmless until then, control the conscious mind in personified form and behave like systems split off from the personality, or like part souls.” He declares the conjoined floating twins to be Ann and Lucas’ part souls, separated from their respective psyches, by the workings of the ritual – the high cost of accessing the Pleroma.

The King In Yellow

King In Yellow original dust coverI’m under the spell of The King In Yellow, an exquisite suite of mysterious and enigmatic short stories written in 1895 by Robert W. Chambers. The stories are linked by the illicit banned play, The King in Yellow. The play itself, only hinted at with enigmatic quotes, never outlined, is said to be the supreme work of art too pure for the human mind to withstand – “Purest poison lurks in the very words of the text.” The stories relate the effect reading the play has on the characters’ sanity, causing madness or despair. Although the collection features ten stories, the forbidden play is only mentioned in the first four, “The Repairer of Reputations”, “The Mask”, “In the Court of the Dragon” and “The Yellow Sign”. They are by far the strongest stories in the collection, all strange and unsettling, and resounding in this reader’s mind long after the book has been closed.

King In Yellow original 1895The best of them, the opening story, “The Repairer of Reputations”, sketches out an alternative future America of the 1920s, one where a military government has segregated the nation, creating a separate Negro state and has halted Jewish immigration. Though there is a strong military presence, it is a time of peace and prosperity. Suicide has been legalized and is now state controlled, the story opening with the inauguration of the first Government Lethal Chamber.

During his convalescence from a horse riding accident, the narrator, Hildred Castaigne, read The King in Yellow play. He states, “I read it and re-read it and wept and laughed and trembled with a horror which at times assails me yet.” He is troubled by the play’s contents, he “cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men’s thoughts lengthen when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask.” It is only through fantastically evocative summaries like these, that we, as readers, glimpse the play itself. Of the play itself, we only glimpse a few tantalizing poetic fragments, but do witness the affect the whole play has on the chararcters’ minds.

King In Yellow HardcoverCastaigne’s character has drastically changed since the horse-riding accident and he now spends his time reclusively pouring over books and manuscripts, planning on becoming the king of something he calls the Imperial Dynasty of America. His friend, the deformed and mutilated dwarf, Mr. Wilde, verifies his claim on the throne, and traces the royal lineage to the lost Dynasty of Carcosa itself, confirming Castaigne as heir to The Last King. “Mr. Wilde explained the manuscript, using several volumes on Heraldry to substantiate the result of his researches. He mentioned the establishment of the Dynasty in Carcosa, the lakes which connected Hastur, Aldebaran, and the mystery of the Hyades. He spoke of Cassilda and Camilla, and sounded the cloudy depths of Demhe and the Lake of Hali. “The scalloped tatters of the King in Yellow must hide Yhill forever,” he muttered… along the ramifications of the imperial family to Uoht and Thale, from Naotalba and Phantom of Truth to Aldones, and then, tossing aside his manuscript and notes he began the wonderful story of the Last King.” Mr. Wilde, the Repairer of Reputations of the title, is the head of a vast conspiracy that has secretly infiltrated all levels of society and has the ways and means to overthrow the US government and realize the new Imperial Dynasty, with Castaigne as king. But Castaigne’s cousin, Louis, stands before him in the line of succession, and so Castaigne plans to force him to abdicate.

King In Yellow 1964 Ace paperbackIt is with Louis’ perspective on the narrative that we start to question our narrator’s version of events. Louis clearly thinks Castaigne is mentally ill, that he has not recovered from the knock on the head from the horse-riding accident four years ago, nor his time in the mental hospital. Where Castaigne is beguiled by his bejeweled golden crown that he keeps in a massive safe, Louis sees only a cheap brass and paste crown kept in a biscuit box.

Suddenly not only is Castaigne’s objectivity as narrator being questioned, but the very reality of the story is under threat. Louis’ skeptical perception brings the fantastical eccentric elements of the story crashing down. From Louis’ perspective, the horse riding accident has affected Castaigne’s sanity. To Castaigne, it is the reading of the King In Yellow that has opened up his mind to a new order of reality. Castaigne is the ultimate unreliable narrator, compelling the reader to question just how much of his tale is to be believed. His actions and motives may be deranged but there is a case to be made that even the alternative future 1920s society is suspect, an aspect of his fantasizing, for no other story in the collection refers to it. So with the very setting of the story under question meaning has become slippery, with the reader trying to get a foothold in some solid omniscient perspective. By undermining the authority of the social setting, it’s as though the forbidden play itself has affected the text, corrupting its certainty with a vertiginous resistance to meaning, privileging the visions of the insane. The editor’s footnote that abruptly ends the tale, describing Castaigne’s death in the Asylum for Criminal Insane, is a necessary textual interjection, an omniscient authoritarian intrusion to ground the text within the safety of realism.