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Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

  • In one sentence: The greatest and truest western.
  • Number of reads: 2 since 2012.
  • Galef type: Data 2 - What does it imply about the world, that X could happen?, & Style 3 - tickle your aesthetic sense in a way that obliquely makes you a more interesting, generative thinker.
  • To be read when: strong-stomached; drunk as fuck.

Say it is 1985 A.P. (After Peckinpah). How can anyone write anything new about poor white psychopaths in the hot rural places of Victorian America? The answer turns out simple: just have prose so tight and freshening - a jet hose comprising one-third Bible, one-third Emerson, one-third Ballard - that you again uncover the elemental bones of the Western. Also savagely de-emphasise your characters. Place them in enormous, indifferent vistas; give us no inner monologue - nor even indirect report of subjective life; have no speech marks to set their words apart from the landscapes (do not draw the eye to their presumed humanity); have no apostrophes, no hyphens even, lest we remember; have as few names as possible, leave them as types - "kid" or "captain" or "mexican" or "brave"; set their incredible violence among such vast places it looks like little; have few capital letters but for God's.

Lock your readers out; make everyone and everything opaque. (As he says himself:
In the neuter austerity of that terrain all phenomena were bequeathed a strange equality and no one thing nor spider nor stone nor blade of grass could put forth claim to precedence.
These cowboys and injuns punctuate the beautiful land of Central America with hanged babies; rings of decapitate heads; a four-eyed dog; a man calmly eating his own shit; endless thirsty hallucinogenic despair. This is exhausting, quite hard to read:
All night the wind blew and the fine dust set their teeth on edge. Sand in everything, grit in all they ate. In the morning a urinecolored sun rose blearily through panes of dust on a dim world and without feature. The animals were failing... That night they rode through a region electric and wild where strange shapes of soft blue fire ran over the metal of the horses' trappings and the wagonwheels rolled in hoops of fire and little shapes of pale blue light came to perch in the ears of the horses and in the beards of the men... the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear.
(As well as this Nabokovian trudge through the middle section, McCarthy sometimes steers close to the comical with sentences like
Itinerant degenerates bleeding west like a heliotropic plague.
A typical human interaction in this book is "The kid looked at the man"; no more. There's plenty of grandeur - just not in humans.

At the centre stands the Judge: Satan, Ahab and Moby Dick all in one. ("His skin is so pale as to have almost no pigment.") Racism, fear and poverty form the baseline. The Comanches, for instance, are here worse than demons
...grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns... riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning...
- "at least demons are Christian"! Lots of descriptions of the stars, inbetween brutalities
The night sky lies so sprent with stars that there is scarcely a space of black at all and they fall all night in bitter arcs and it is so that their numbers are no less...

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.
For the first time I understand why Aristotle's physics divides the world into different celestial and terranean operations: from down here back then, the stars look so clean and permanent, they're just not of our world, dirty, unhinged, and endangered as it has been, for almost everyone.