Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 42:12 — 38.7MB)
On McCarthy's 1985 anti-Western novel, featuring Wes, Seth, and Dylan.
How does violence play a role in the way the world works? The novel tells a historically based story of the 19th century Glanton gang who were hired as scalp hunters by the Mexican government but then went on a rogue massacre. It's told from the point of view of "The Kid," a 15-year-old member of the gang through its last stand at Yuma. It's filled with rich, often Biblical imagery and is pretty much a trippy orgy of violence.
So what's the philosophical interest? Well, the character of Judge Holden voices a lot of philosophy about destiny. His thesis is that the way to truly have agency in the world is through violence, not through morality (per Kant). Contra Nietzsche, the Judge does not see us as potentially transcending to a new greatness, but as on our way inexorably down. This book is a counter-narrative to American stories of Manifest Destiny that see a whole world of possibility open to our enterprising way of life. It instead seems to consider violence as inherent and central to the human condition (whether or not you as an individual may be isolated from it): The gang is opportunistic and short-sighted as it is driven (mostly) westward by its violent internal logic. The Judge sees violence as the only way to attain self-knowledge, to be truly honest with ourselves. Violence is the way that nations are established and enables bubbles of peace in which moral norms are accepted.
Purchase the book. Some articles we looked this LA Review of Books article and this article on the scalp trade. Preview our previous discussion on McCarthy's No Country for Old Men.
Ronald Cogen says
I found your discussion of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian very intriguing. But, isn’t there also a transformational aspect to the novel, something you may have dismissed too quickly. After listening to the two episodes I couldn’t help but think of the concept of an Anti-Entwicklungsroman. There is a reason why the Kid is just a kid at the outset of the narrative, who later becomes The Man at the end. He is part of the narrative, but in some metaphysical sense is apart from it. The final scene of McCarthy’s “the Road” came to mind, when after all the passing destruction the dying father says to the son; “just do what I do …” The words used to describe this last scene boarder on the biblical sublime. At the end,, despite all underlying nihilistic events and descriptions, there is or may be hope. In the same vain, the reason for The Kid becoming a Man may just underline that aspect, or something like that kind of transformation, despite the almost unbearable descriptive layer of the narrative’s violence.
Ronald Cogen says
Afterthought to my comment of 28 November 9:31.
I think I tried to read more into the subject than what might really be in the text. The comment about Blood Meridian being an Anti-Entwicklungsroman still seems right to me. In most of McCarthy’s writing there is this developmental aspect, but the direction is clearly nihilistic. Also the theme of transformation is something to think about. But, in retrospect, the rest of my comment doesn’t hold much water. The end of Blood Meridian defies all mention of hope and can’t be compared to the final scene of “The Road”. I’ll have to read the damn thing (i.e. Blood Meridian) again, if I can foster up enough nerve …
Only heard Part 1 so far but have totally enjoyed the discussion. You may know this already, but a Yale professor has a wonderful two part
Lecture of Blood Meridian from 2008. Yale courses online. It touches on many literary themes — and compares the
Novel to certain aspects
Of Melville and Milton. And more. Anyway— love
You guys. You rock!!
Adam Balch says
Great episodes! I hope that you do more literature. It does seem that books with any sort of philosophical bent tend to not be the most light-hearted. However, just to throw out a few candidates:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest