Saturday, June 25, 2011

Violence and Blood Meridian

Dear Dennis,

I told you that Blood Meridian was in the back seat of my car and that I feared it.

I had previously been comforted by your assurances that, if, (as I have not done) I did not finish the book Ulysses, by James (yawn) Joyce, I was not, necessarily, a shallow person. And I could not complete that course. Having stumbled through the first half of this scholastically well-rated tome, knowing sentence by sentence that it certainly was a well-worded set of paragraphs, knowing description by description that the worthy author had ably captured the vignettes of a day, knowing that as the Bloom-fanned pages fluttered and flipped, slowly, I should be appreciating it, I simply could not develop a plan to finally capture this Troy of a book. No hollow horse nor trickery could do it. So back on the shelf it has gone.

And as the sun set on that book, The Evening Redness of the West rose. You were correct. I was not, in the least, bored.

Then on the heels of that, I read, too, Hard Times, by Charles Dickens and was impressed by the fact that both of these books carried with them the air of the morality play.

Dickens, never shy in his naming of moral elements, takes us to the edge of Hell's Shaft in contrasting the lights of Sissy Jupe, Rachael, and Stephen Blackpool with the evils of Victorian industrial and utilitarian society. Certainly, the clouds of blackness that hung over the town of Coke were not less thick than those of the dust that rose under the hooves of the Glantons and Comanches of Cormac's meridian, if not as violent.

But I wonder if Cormac really sees his book as a morality play on the subject of violence, with the Judge, the Devil of War, rising from the shaft of an extinct volcano, able to tend bats and dance the naked totentantz.

Saint-Saens certainly developed the essense reflected by the Judge in his Danse Macabre. I was struck by Cormac's ability to present the picture of this group of men so clearly and yet so soul-lessly. I think he was able to make them seem so spiritually dead by refraining from giving us any picture of their inner lives, but only painting their actions and exterior beings. Only the Judge seemed reflective and animated from within, but the glimpses we were given revealed a black hole sucking light into darkness and life into annihilation.

Perhaps it is most fitting that the protaganist of this book, if there is one, the kid, dies a most demeaning death, non-descript and in the "jake". I find it interesting that critics and reviewers speculate about what indescribable violence the Judge must have inflicted upon the kid. Perhaps, they have fallen into the web of violence itself, seeking to create one worst thing, when the author himself was willing to spare us.

So what is the take-away from the morality play that studies violence? We aren't given the message on the kind of silver platter that Dickens would provide for us, with a nudge to the development of sensibilities that preserve the human spirit animated by kindness, generosity, love, and integrity. We aren't spared by C. M. the reality that has and does play out in every war and every willing maker or war. Nor does he urge us with a turn from alternative. Yet, it is the very bleakness, the desert of the heart of this novel, the thirst with which we are left, the nakedness that such imploding characters reveal, that turns us to the other.

Cormac has left his subject unmasked. There is no question for him, of the result of violence.

I am reminded of the words from Ephesians 2. "You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the judge of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." That is the morality play that Blood Meridian expresses. Like an illumination of a medieval manuscript, this story has revealed the hidden meaning of being dead in transgression. Goodness, it is not a pretty sight.