Violence and War, Then and Now

Hey you guys!  Welcome to Bookgum, Blood Meridian edition.  I’ll be the first to present my book report to the class.  Stay tuned the rest of this week for discussions led by Hotspur, Mans, and Dr. Girlfriend.

 Can we all just say Whoa.  No quotation marks.  Like that?  No said Shellbomber.  What a book!  So much to chew on: religious symbolism, style, humor, etc.  Let’s start by addressing the 800 pound gorilla bear dancing in a tutu in the room.  This novel is violent.

 Violence isn’t exactly an underused story telling tool, but it’s rarely featured more graphically than a Saw movie.  Unlike most works, Blood Meridian’s violence is as constant as it is casual.  It’s not a plot device, it just kind of is.  Cormac McCarthy warns against looking for a deeper meaning in a 1992 New York Times interview:

 There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed, 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.

 From the time “the kid” is “the baby,” he’s all too familiar with death.  He wanders as a teen, eventually ending up with the Glanton Gang, a band of scalphunters hired by various Mexican governors to patrol for Apache Indians (I mean Native Americans) on the US/Mexico border.  The mercenaries’ enemy, the “savages”, are initially depicted as just that.  There’s this part about ripping out innards and post-mortem sodomy and then this other part about dead babies hanging from a tree that made me barf in my mouth.  It’s quickly made clear that Glanton’s men as just gruesome.  When they finally catch up with the Apaches they prove that they too have no problem with baby braining.  This is the passage that would have made me quit this book if I hadn’t already agreed to write for Bookgum:

 …one of the Delawares emerged from the smoke with a naked infant dangling in each hand and squatted at a ring of midden stones and swung them by the heels each in turn and bashed their heads against the stones so that the brains burst forth through the fontanel in a blood spew and humans on fire came shrieking forth like berserkers and the riders hacked them down with their enormous knives…

 Yeesh.  Sorry you guys had to read that again.  The intense imagery makes it all too easy to actually imagine.  I know that’s the point, but still.  Gross.  And so it continues.  The scalphunters’ blood thirst progresses until they kill everything that crosses their path, including those they were sworn to protect.  Glanton and most of the gang are eventually killed at the Gila River by Yuma Indians (I mean Native Americans). A few escape, including the kid and Judge Holden.  A villain can be a hero (Omar’s comin’!), but the kid doesn’t have hero in him.  Is this who we are supposed to be rooting for?  His role as protagonist only speaks to the low bar set by the others.  He’s sometimes described as hesitant.   Plus that one time he let that one guy starve and bleed out in the desert instead of shooting him.  So, practically a prince.  Judge Holden (hold your horses, we’ll discuss him later in the week) (heh, horses) makes for a more interesting antagonist, and by that I mean “embodiment of Satan.” 

 In the dramatic last scene, when the kid has become “the man” and encounters the judge in a Texas bar, after 330+ pages and 23 chapters of breathtaking gore, it comes to an ambiguous end.  Huh?  The judge kills the kid right?  Maybe he raped him?   Is that why he was naked?  But wasn’t he always naked?  What could have been so horrifying that made those hardened men revolted when they saw it?  Not knowing if the totem dropped is THE POINT, but still.  Good grief.

The bulk of Blood Meridian is loosely based on My Confession: The Recollections of a Rogue, a memoir by actual Glanton Gang member Samuel Chamberlain detailing the scalphunting days of 1849-1850.  John Joel Glanton and Judge Holden both appear in Chamberlain’s account, although the historical correctness has been disputed.  Most people who know about these things and write about them on the internets think that the kid is McCormick’s stand in for Chamberlain.  I didn’t know this until after I finished the book, and it kind of surprised me.  I think I wanted to believe that such violent human nature was the product of some sicko’s imagination.  Albeit, a sicko who can write eloquent prose. 

It seems silly now to think of this story as story as pure fiction.  Most events in Blood Meridian can be read about in their present day form in every newspaper, almost every day.  Just kidding, no one reads newspapers anymore.  But for real, we are all too familiar with the realities of war, even if we only hear about them heavily edited and from a safe distance.  Sometimes real information gets out, whether it be through a lawsuit or a document leak, that can make the horror of Glanton’s gang seem too real.  In 2007, Blackwater Worldwide, a North Carolina-based mercenary company hired by the US government to assist in the Iraq War, was sued on behalf of the families of murdered Iraq civilians, including a 9-year-old boy.  The suit goes on to accuse the company of  weapons smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, child prostitution, illegal drug use and destruction of evidence.  They kidnapped children and made them give contractors oral sex for $1.  ALLEGEDLY.  Jesus H. Christ.  They killed and tortured the people they were hired to protect.  Sounds familiar.  Just this past weekend Wikileaks wiki-leaked another 400,000 documents concerning the Iraq War.  Spoiler alert: they weren’t full of good news.  Iraqi soldiers, under American leadership, cut off detainees’ fingers and burned them with acid.  This comes just a few years after we learned of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison.  Oh yes, and there are five American soldiers being tried for murdering Afghan civilians.  I’ll guess their names are Glanton, Holden, Kid, Toadvine, and Brown.

Random Thoughts:

  •  This book took me almost three weeks to read.  Anyone else have a hard time getting through it?  (I wanted to be involved with Bookgum because I’ve never been much of a fiction reader.  Memoir, science, and self-help have always been more my speed.  I should have waded in with a Twilight book or two.)
  • It seems strange that as much as the violence bothered my delicate lady sensibilities in the first half of the book, I barely noticed it in the second half.  Did that happen to anyone else?  Maybe this is just another example of becoming numb to something terrible after constant exposure (on a very small scale.)
  • Any alternate interpretations of the ending outhouse scene?
  • Were there any parts of the author’s style that were particularly annoying to you?  My picks: the chapter opening “spoiler alerts” and the untranslated Spanish.
  • Remember that mid-90s Sharon Stone western The Quick and the Dead?  Leonardo DiCaprio played a character called Kid.  Who should play the kid in the upcoming movie adaption of Blood Meridian?

Sourced sources:

Cormac McCarthys Venomous Fiction
Booklog: Blood Meridian
Blackwater Baghdad shootings
Wikileaks Iraq War Logs
1st JBML Stryker solider accused of murder

 Shellbomber didn’t major in English, no duh.

COMING UP:

  • Tomorrow, HOTSPUR IS gonna blow ARE COLLECTIVE minds with a discussion of the origin and ROLE OF mythology and RELIGION AND HOW that applies to BLOOD MERIDIAN.
  • THEN on Wednesday, Mans argues that Blood Meridian IS A COMIC novel.
  • Thursday WE HAVE Dr. Girlfriend STEPPING up and discussing THE ROLE of the author IN Blood Meridian, in the LARGER LITERARY world, and HOW CORMAC MCCARTHY does or does not “LIVE UP” TO this role.
  • Finally, ON FRIDAY, I’ll (this is AN AMERICAN PATRIOT now, by the WAY) wrap THINGS up with SOME FINAL thoughts and AN OPEN forum FOR FURTHER discussion SO BE SURE to keep F5ING.

Also, BE SURE TO give a round OF APPLAUSE for all THE GREAT writers!

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70 Responses to Violence and War, Then and Now

  1. Stu says:

    1) I’m excited to read something longer by some of my favorite posters on videogum, and this didn’t disappoint.

    2) I had read most of McCarthy’s other books going in, had heard it was legendarily violent (critic Philip Bloom, who calls the book one of the best of last century, says it took him three attempts to get through it), but, yeah, it was still pretty overwhelming. “It’s not a plot device, it just kind of is.” That’s a perfect description.

    3) The outhouse scene is the only occasion in the book I can remember where anything is left to the imagination. Or that we really see people reacting in shock to whatever they are looking at. This is after almost 300 pages of graphic be-headings, baby killing, scalping, torture, etc. So, seriously:

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  2. batteredgnome says:

    You know I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this novel, COULD SOMEBODY TELL ME HOW I’M SUPPOSED TO FEEL? There is no protagonist to latch on to as such, it is like a beautiful and stark and really long poem and the some of the sentences are too long and I would have received a clip round the ear if I presented them to a teacher in school and…

    Anyway, so the events in Blood Meridian happen one hundred years after The Road, right?

    • Napoleon Complex says:

      I think the point of there being no heroes is that sometimes there are no heroes.

      I think the point is that in an environment that is inherently violent and awful, you have to be just as awful to survive.

      Which is a truth about life, sadly enough.

      :((((((((((((((((((((((((((

  3. hotspur says:

    Great write-up, Shellbomber! “Blood Meridian’s violence is as constant as it is casual. It’s not a plot device, it just kind of is.” I agree!

    I had forgotten this but when you called out the Delawares with the infants just now it suddenly came back to me–a scene from Last of the Mohicans. Anyone ever read that? Don’t; it is 1,000 pages of boredom, but you reminded me that this totally happened in it:

    “…the savage tore the screaming infant from her arms … and … flourished the babe over his head, holding it by the feet as if to enhance the value of the ransom. … sullen smile changing to a gleam of ferocity, he dashed the head of the infant against a rock, and cast its quivering remains to her very feet. For an instant the mother stood, like a statue of despair, looking wildly down at the unseemly object… and then she raised her eyes and countenance toward heaven… and excited at the sight of blood, the Huron mercifully drove his tomahawk into her own brain.”

    Seriously: Jesus H Christ. That book is from 1802 or something. I think the violence “just is” because it’s completely natural to us (is McCarthy’s point) and so “Violence Then and Now” indeed.

    (I was lucky to find the quote here: http://www.online-literature.com/view.php/mohicans/18?term=infant)

  4. lilbobbytables says:

    I have no idea how I feel about this novel. I knew it would be violent, but jesus, when you make Eli Roth look positively restrained in comparison, then that is a lot of violence. However, your points about contemporary parallels to Blood Meridian is something I had not considered, depressing though it may be.

  5. duncan says:

    This book makes Hiccup Girl look tame

  6. Chris Trash says:

    I Started reading this and it felt like it was written by Tarantino & directed by Michael Bay, then I remembered it was a book.

    • Napoleon Complex says:

      This is kind of cheating, because EttiquetteGum stipulates that you shouldn’t reply to a post at the top that isn’t related to your post to get more views BUT THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT YOU GUYS I SWEAR OKAY JEEZ CALM DOWN

      I don’t know how you all feel about country music or alt-country music or guys with raspy voices who sound like Tom Waits if Tom Waits subsisted on a diet exclusively of gravel and was from Arkansas, but the lead singer of my favorite band Lucero made a nice little EP all about the book Blood Meridian. It’s called The Last Pale Light In The West and it is gorgeous AND brings the book to life. Who knew!

      In fact, I only ever read this book because I wanted to understand the music better. And then the music helped me get the book better. Then I went on to fall in love with Cormac McCarthy’s prose and devoured his stuff and the rest is history. ALL IN ALL VERY HELPFUL AND COOL.

      http://www.amazon.com/Last-Pale-Light-West/dp/B001MW0IWU
      “GET on THAT SHIT” – AAP

      • Patrick M says:

        @Mans, where can I download this for free?

      • Mans says:

        I was most shocked by how much the scalp-hunters downloaded illegally.

        “The sun sat ponderous like some elder god from some forgotten race, smeared in its own connubial waste and screaming with the whispers of distant stars. Shit, Glanton said, it timed me out again. The judge smiled.”

      • Heronimous says:

        i love that album.. the toadvine song just captures him perfectly..

  7. T-bag says:

    I have to agree with everyone else: This book was super violent, huh? I normally don’t get disgusted by that sort of stuff, but this book definitely made me feel weird in my stomach at several points.

    I particularly got nervous whenever there were animals or “idiots” or babies at hand. I knew they were always going to die, and I always felt terrible for them because they were all so helpless.

    I have no idea how I feel about Blood Meridian. On the one hand, the style and writing are fantastic, and really add to the suspense and drama. On the other hand: BARF. Is the violence there because violence is always there? Or is the violence there for shock value? I really don’t know. I just hope no babies get slammed against rocks in Never Let Me Go, or else we’re going to have to rename this BARFgum.

    • shellbomber says:

      I know what you’re saying Mr. Bag. I didn’t like it while I was reading it. In fact, I practically had to force myself to pick it up every night. It was the exact opposite of a page turner for me. But still, after I finished it I was glad I read it. So yeah. I don’t know how I feel about it either. Except I didn’t like the baby killing. I’ll make a strong stand on that point. I DID NOT LIKE THE BABY KILLING!

      • T-bag says:

        Seconded! We’ve drawn our line in the sand, and the two of us are DEFINITELY on the side AGAINST the baby-killing. It feels good to be certain about such a political issue in these ambiguous times.

  8. west says:

    The main thing that struck me about this novel was the religious aspect so I will hold off on that ’til tomorrow. However, I just wanna say: How the EFF are they going to make this into a film?? Seriously? Whoever does end up playing the kid (or anyone in this film) either has an agent with huge balls/no sense or will be complete unknown.

  9. Hil says:

    Guys, as excited as I was to read some new books and participate in Bookgum, I full-on gave up on “Blood Meridian” and returned in to the library halfway through. Normally I’ll stick it out all the way to the end, even if I’m not enjoying it (like the time I pretty much forced myself to read “American Psycho”), but like Shellbomber I just could not get through it – it took me nearly two weeks to get through 100 pages. I don’t know if it was the violence or the language (probably the violence – dead baby trees? Come on). Downvote all you want but I still look forward to reading what you guys have to say about it, specifically because I found it so challenging.

    In other news, I’ve already finished “Never Let Me Go” and I can’t wait to see what you guys have to say about it.

    • dr. girlfriend says:

      i too would have stopped had i not been a writer for this round, so don’t beat yourself up! i think what made me want to throw in the towel was that the violence was just so BORING (and i suppose that’s the horrible point to it all). it was like the iliad (the only book i did not read every single page of in high school).

      • hotspur says:

        You have to admit, though, the Iliad has staying power.

        I think both that book and this one are about things that actually happened/are happening and I feel like I have to credit the honesty here. I like jwormyk’s saying he describes the violence the same as the landscape. They are both facts that aren’t going anywhere and therefore should be taken account of–especially true given all the Blackwater stuff Shellbomber cites.

    • scrawler says:

      I’ve only made it about half way through so far. I’ve had to put it down after about 20 pages a day, the violence was just too much after awhile. It’s not so much that the violence itself bothered me (which was sort of worrying), but the pointlessness of the violence. Every person needed to be killed because why?? Though I would guess, not even having finished the book, that the point is to show how Glanton’s gang became the very thing that they were supposed to eradicate. That that is the only viable existence in that wasteland.

      The question I keep asking is: how does the world come to be what it is today (in a positive way) when everyone just a short while ago was so constantly immersed in a murderous rage?

      • I’D day McCarthy’s POINT IS that we haven’t changed. WE’VE JUST put up AN edifice that MAY FALL at any TIME (hence Glanton’s gangs DEGENERATION).

      • hotspur says:

        I agree with AnAmPat here. I think that somewhere it even hints the judge is a judge of how well we wear the edifice to disguise our true nature. Or maybe in his judgment we can never forge this mask? Not enough to pass for long, anyway, so we’re never going to get to a day where our true nature is completely hidden by how civilized we’ve become. Or something–it’s kind of cryptic. This is page 310 in my copy, chapter XXII, when the kid is dreaming. I am not 100% sure what to make of the paragraph but I think it supports what AnAmPat is saying.

  10. shellbomber says:

    Did you guys translate the Spanish? Google Translate gave me some interesting answers.

    “Que viento tan maleante” – That wind so thug

    That wind soooo thug. Indeed.

    • jwormyk says:

      I was using the Google transFAILator, but I wasn’t patient enough so I just switched to my 8th grade memory of Spanish (Donde esta biblioteca). Surprising, I don’t think my preschool level Spanish was much more wrong that google.

    • dr. girlfriend says:

      i guess i must know more spanish than i give myself credit for because i could pick everything up from context. living in texas IS useful for something.

    • Chris Trash says:

      If you guys need too translate anything else i suggest http://nicetranslator.com/ it somehow can read context, and i suspect minds.

    • batteredgnome says:

      My computer is on the blink so I didn’t have any translations at hand and yeah, it was a bit irritating. But not the end of the world.

      Having no internet did mean I read the last two thirds of the book in 3 days, though.

  11. dafs says:

    I was a fan of this one. Honestly, the violence didn’t get to me, but I got reacquainted with reading fiction through works that were particularly unsavory: American Psycho, the collected works of Palahniuk, Trainspotting, and various splatterpunk novels. Let’s put it this way, after reading Naked Lunch and Ballard’s “Crash” having a tree full of babies is almost tame.
    But back to the violence. I’ve already had a twitter convo with Kira regarding this, but I think its best cinematic comparison is the opening scene to Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece “The Wild Bunch”, where the ants and scorpions are being set alight by the children: violent creatures, violently destroyed, and the universe laughs all the way.

    • dr. girlfriend says:

      the violence didn’t really bother me either (it felt more like medical descriptions?). i can also see everyone slowly becoming anesthetized to it. in the last part of the novel, i was just like, oh shit, run away! whenever the glanton gang encountered someone, and then they would kill that someone. i was thanking god when the yumas decimated the gang.

      • batteredgnome says:

        Was that McCarthy’s point? I feel like he was trying to get us to “man up”, to prepare us for the ways of the world. As shellbomber demonstrated, violence remains an essential part of humanity (for want of a better word.)

      • Napoleon Complex says:

        I felt the same way.

        Except I was kind of like Oh no! when Glanton was killed, because why? Like, why? He’s a psychopath. I should be glad he’s dead.

        And I was in a way. I wasn’t glad when the Kid was killed, though. I think I just couldn’t help but get somehow attached to him even though he was terrible. WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME, CORMAC.

  12. brrrrrian says:

    I loved Blood Meridian. Agreed, it was totally gross and violent and gross, but that certainly didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it (does that make me Alex DeLarge?). Also, it was one of the quickest reads I’ve ever had… I read it in about 3 days. Granted, I was on vacation without internet at the time, but I really couldn’t put it down. It certainly helped that I understand Spanish pretty well so I didn’t have to look anything up. And I love the punctuation/lack thereof. And god damn that spinning top ending. And jesus, this will (hopefully) make for a violent-ass movie.

  13. Reeven says:

    Are we not allowed to talk about Judge Holden? Because I would really like to talk about Judge Holden. One of the most fascinating and horrifying literary characters (or just characters in any medium) I can think of.

    I personally loved Blood Meridian to death (get it? Welcome to Joke Meridian!), but it’s one of those books where I can understand completely why people wouldn’t like it. It did take me significantly longer to read than most other books might just because of the style it was written in; I would find myself only able to read a chapter or two at a time, and I would have to reread a lot to make sure I understood everything.

    I think the most disturbing thing about the violence for me is that I didn’t neccesarily have an immediate gut reaction to it, but it was more the psycological side of it that unnerved me, if that makes any sense, which it doesn’t. As in, what bothered me more than the smashing of the babies on the rocks is the idea that somebody WOULD smash babies on the rocks. The comparisons that have been drawn to violence in the modern world have a lot to do with this, at least in my mind. Actual violence is so commonplace nowadays, the actual acts of violence weren’t what stuck with me. It was the ability of the book to throw me into this world in which every single choice seemed to be made to put me into the mind of these people who are commiting the acts of violence.

    Even the strange, “barren” language with which it was written was meant to evoke violence in any way it could, even when describing the earth. I wish I had the page number or exact quote on me, but there’s one sentence that uses as word that means “violently hacked away at”, as with an axe, to describe a rock formation. As though the entire planet has been formed with violence. And that’s really what disturbed me about the book the most. And the fact that I was more disturbed by that than I was the actual actions the people took ended up disturbing me even more.

    I probably should have mentioned ahead of time that I’m no good at explaining what I mean when I say things.

    • I THINK tomorrow’s discussion will better incorporate the JUDGE. I GOTTA say, though THAT I AGREE with your TAKE ON violence. To McCarthy, violence IS NEITHER GOOD nor bad so much as an inescapable event CARVED INTO the land and SPILLING into our lives. The Judge, I THINK, says as MUCH.

  14. Patrick M says:

    The plot/structure of the book reminded me at times of the line from The Simpsons (“Blood Feud”) wherein Marge was trying to figure out the “moral” of the episode and Homer says, “It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.” (There were definite points when I felt more exhausted by the accumulation of events than other times.)

    I know movies are more than the sum of the plot points, but I think it will make a weird movie: I guess there will have to be a narrator? (or maybe not but then why bother?)

    • stu says:

      Yeah, I’m morbidly fascinated to see how the movie plays out. On one hand, no real plot arc here -more of a meditation on the imagery. It’s strength comes from McCarthy’s language, not the story or characters (the Judge being a major exception). That doesn’t translate directly to screen.

      If they were going to literally depict it as closely as they could, they would need a director with a Terrance Malick like taste in pacing and narration combined with a willingness to make Mel Gibson and Takashi Miike look tame. Hollywood, though, is unlikely to spend big money on a film that simultaneously ponderous and bloody.

      Maybe it can be a good film on its own right, but I don’t foresee an interpretation that is loyal to the book. I would guess they center it even further on the Judge and make it a sort of more violent “There Will Be Blood” character piece. With lots of pretty scenery of Mexico.

      • Mans says:

        And by “pretty scenery of Mexico,” you mean “blasted alien hellscapes of Mexico filled with sulfur and rot.” I guess they could film the movie in Florida.

  15. shellbomber says:

    How did you guys feel about the summary of things to come before each chapter? I kept going back and forth between reading them before I went on and only reading them after the chapter. Most were vague enough, but some were major spoilers.

    • Reeven says:

      I’m not sure what to make of them. I trusted McCarthy had a good reason to put them there, and read them before I began each chapter. Having done it, I sort of wish I hadn’t. I don’t really know what they were there for, and I feel like some big plot points were spoiled in them. I guess maybe it’s McCarthy trying to force there to be less emphasis on the narrative and more on the imagery? I think the next time I read this book (which will probably not be for several years), I’ll skip over those little summaries.

    • scrawler says:

      I would go back and read them after I finished each chapter. Sometimes I would find that I missed stuff, so they worked well as chapter recaps. As chapter previews they were annoying/spoilery.

      • Patrick M says:

        I read them before and after. (Finding out that there is going to be a tree of dead babies in a few pages doesn’t actually lessen the impact for me it turns out?)
        “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them,” is my motto, I guess. Only in Latin.

    • T-bag says:

      What I found funny is right before reading this book, I had read “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris (which is awesome and you should read it, especially if you work or have worked in an office). He borrowed the pre-chapter summary idea from “Blood Meridian,” but I had no idea at the time. So reading “Then We Came to the End,” I was a little confused as to why he was ruining everything in the chapter. And then once I picked up “Blood Meridian” and opened it, right there on the first page I was just like, “Joshua Ferris, you son of a bitch.”

      I don’t know what my point is, other than books are weird.

    • batteredgnome says:

      That, and the style in general of the book reminded me of modern architecture (I’m so sorry). The bare bones and elements are presented simply and manifestly, the fundamentals of the structure are there for all to see. I saw that in the sparse use of punctuation too, none of those baroque quotation marks.

      Having said that, the summaries kind of annoyed me. But, y’know, I saw what he did there. (Do you think Cormac McCarthy has ever use air-quotes, like, in IRL?)

      • dr. girlfriend says:

        cormac mccarthy DESPISES air quotes. they really interfere with the sere and sparse constitution of the air.

    • Mans says:

      The summary before the chapter is an old fashioned thing. My guess, though I don’ t know, is that this started during the 19th C. when novels were serialized in magazines before being published and that the summaries worked to tease the episode so that the reader would want to read it and get hooked (sort of like “Next week on America’s Next Top Model.”)

      So using them now is very self-consciously antiquated. When I see that in a book now, it is used more for humor.

  16. Principal Enchman says:

    I hope to have enough time to participate (i.e. read) next month. I would love to do a write up (it’s kind of my thing [sorry if that sounds annoying]).

  17. batteredgnome says:

    How have we gotten so far into this thread without suggesting Topher Grace as the kid? Does Gracewins law not apply here as well as videogum? Anyway…

    Topher Grace IS Blood Meridian.

  18. Patrick M says:

    I don’t really like the movie “Gummo”, but in the movie “Gummo”? There is [similarly] a cavalcade of disconnected meaningless and terrible things that happen (at one point, bacon is wasted). I read a thing with Harmony Korine where he said when he did “Kids” he didn’t realize that he was making a Puritanically Moral Movie, but after it was done he realized he had: in “Kids”, a bunch of hollow and dispiriting activities occur and then at the end, everyone is punished (with HIV! Classic Hollywood). So in “Gummo” he did the opposite: he punished everyone first (with a tornado, seen in flashback toward the end of the movie) and then the rest of the movie depicted the nihilism that followed.

    Still not that great a movie, but this made it 8% more interesting to me. THUS: since I read that (at an impressionable age? apparently), when I see violence depicted, my brain usually jumps to: (1) were people later punished (by the author) because of it? (2) Was the violence committed in reaction to something? I AM JUST LIKE MICHEL FOUCAULT WITH MORE HAIR.

    OK, so I understand no one is still reading this/cares but: unless I’m misremembering, the first truly snap-your-neck-backingly violent thing that happens is not a Glanton thing (I don’t think he’s been introduced yet), but the attack by the Comanches. This doesn’t justify anything that comes after it, obvs., but maybe in the back of the minds of Glanton’s men – and/or in the back of ours as readers – there is some antecedent like this that is a validation for what they do.

    As far as punishment: not really? Glanton and his surviving men are hanged, but it doesn’t feel like that resolves anything (and as far as I know, that’s just what happened IRL); something bad (?) happens to The Kid, but he’s the one person, except maybe Tobin the ex-priest that we’ve been asked to sympathize with; and as for The Judge [SENTENCE REDACTED WE WILL TALK ABOUT HIM TOMORROW].

    So, I typed all this I guess to say that I agree with everyone, that with the prologue (a scalping from 300,000 years ago) to the last (pre-epilogue) line (“he will never die”), there is and always will be pervasive brutality and now I’m going to hug my kids.
    This concludes stuff I was thinking about while I read this book, which I liked a lot.

    • Napoleon Complex says:

      Huh. You have some very interesting thought-tidbits here, Mr. M. I never thought of it as a cause-effect sort of thing, but that would be really relevant for the characters’ justification of their actions. Muy interesante.

      5 stars.

    • dr. girlfriend says:

      nice points. i like how you’re placing actions within context, instead of just saying, “what assholes”.

  19. bill_the_butcher says:

    I think we are missing any discussion of HISTORY in our discussion of violence.

    Consider what you know about the old west. Many of the movies you have seen about the couple hundred years of colonization, novels of Louis L’Amour.
    Consider the violence in those novels. It is calculated, those who die deserve it or if they don’t they are usually avenged. The killings matter, most deaths are important to the plot etc.

    Now look at Blood Meridian. It’s insane, the deaths are insignificant grains of sand in the desert of the book. Even Glanton’s death gets a paragraph, only a paragraph.

    The 1980’s had saw a postmodern re-visitation of history and it came to be believed (known) that even though history claims to be objective, it is not. People can not write in a way that is completely factual, what they choose to say and how they choose to say it is always loaded subjectively with social norms, experience etc.

    Look at Blood Meridian. It is as objective of a novel as you will ever find. There is no insight into the character’s minds. None. No emotion. No dwelling. It is almost entirely objective, and, I think you could make a case, more objective than many history books.

    Think about this: who wrote the history of the old west? Most histories were written with the frame of mind that the native Americans were savage, and the histories rationalized the European takeover and massacre.

    But what does Blood Meridian do? It shocks you with such sparse, cinematic and gruesome prose, we all don’t know what to think about it.

    I think McCarthy is pointing out the flaws and subjectivity in the history/myths of the old west.

    I’ll talk about this more tomorrow but think about the Judge. He is the only writer inside the book. And think of how very corrupt and terrifying he is. Do you see the power that history writers have?

    • dr. girlfriend says:

      great points! we will cover more on “the writer” on thursday. i had not thought about it from a historical perspective.

    • jarkrenshaw says:

      I totally agree with the idea that this is a weirdly objective novel. The true difficulty of this novel is that objectivity. The language and the violence would be far easier to wrangle if you had something with which to attach your emotional investment. This also fits in with my theory that the point of the book (I NEED POINTS!) is that it’s a weird mirror on the reader. The dullness of the violence, the experience of becoming almost immune to it, its utter pervasive nature; they set your mind in a certain state and then the twist is that the ending, which you are forced to imagine, is something so horrifying that it finally evicts a reaction from someone. Maybe the whole novel is a reflection of what the reader’s imagination goes to in that moment where you are responsible for creating the outcome. Like some violent subliminal therapy experiment? We’re made to place meaning on something that’s been presented to us so objectively and it results in saying something about us rather than the story itself. For me that was the most compelling aspect of this novel. Yes?

      • bill_the_butcher says:

        Great theory!
        I like the idea of the reading filling in so much blank space, especially in the ending.

      • dr. girlfriend says:

        “We’re made to place meaning on something that’s been presented to us so objectively and it results in saying something about us rather than the story itself. ”
        wonderful. i think interpreting this work together has been more enlightening than simply reading. your points all resonate with me.

  20. Mans says:

    I just got off of an airplane after many delays, and tomorrow I know that I am going to be busy getting caught up at work, and I don’t want to post too much about what I think until after my thing goes up on Wednesday, but I cannot resist a few comments:

    I think that Shell did a great job! To me, one of the things that stood out the most in the novel was the fact that things are not that different today. We live in a world where terrible people do terrible things. Also, much of it reminded me of the level of our current political discourse.

    The rest I will wait and talk about later at length. I hope you all still have some steam. These comments are all really good.

  21. Grinth says:

    In regards to the ending, I thought that the man pissing was the kid. I’m not sure if I can provide adequate back up to support this assertion at the moment, but I thought I would throw that out there.

    I didn’t bother with translating the Spanish. A majority of Glanton’s gang couldn’t speak Spanish so I felt like I shouldn’t translate. Like them I was stuck in a harrowing landscape of dust, wind, blood, and foreign words, foreign stars. An alien world populated by a universal humanity.

    Personally I considered this novel to be without a protagonist. Yes the novel starts with the kid, he pops up periodically, and it ends with him, but large swaths of the novel he is essentially missing, becoming just another member of the Glanton gang. To me the kid serves simply to periodically reestablish the reader’s personal connection to overarching tale, a counterpoint to the often, almost Brechtian manner in which he distances the reader and relays his epic yarn (at the same time he is careful to not use him as too strong of a counterpoint, one of the reasons I feel the kid is “the kid”).

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