Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Update on Class: Blood Meridian

I just wanted to drop in and give a quick update on what's going on in class. We're almost finished reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, a blood and pus soaked "romp" through ye olde west. So far we've discussed the visual landscape created through McCarthy's mythic use of simile, the character formation through deformity and monstrosity, the chaos created by the Promethean/Luciferian figure of the Judge, and most importantly, the way the language of the book effectively conveys various thematic elements, including the spiritual complexity of frontier life (and death), the moralities espoused by various characters, the surreal transfiguration of the action and land, and sundry other things.

We had a great discussion yesterday that looked at the illustrations of Blood Meridian by six artists (Zak Smith, Sam Cheng, Sean McCarthy, John Mejias, Craig Taylor, and Matt Wiegle). Some of the illustrations are obvious in their representation, taking literally McCarthy's figurative language. Some are abstract representations, some transform the hypermasculine scalp hunters into sexy cyborg babes in bikinis. We came to the conclusion that the visual identification of humanity in the images causes us to have a more visceral reaction to the violence depicted, a feat that will make any filmic adaptation of Blood Meridian difficult (for both producers and viewers). I snuck in some theory by Levinas concerning the face at this point. We also analyzed what makes something eerie in visual representation, taking Masahiro Mori's concept of the "uncanny valley" and applying it to both the images and the actions of McCarthy's characters.

What makes a discussion of Levinas so interesting to me (looking both at the "face" of the illustrations and the morality of the novel) is the Judge's speech on page 147 of my copy:

"Whether in my book or not, every man is tabernacled in every other and he in exchange and so on in an endless complexity of being and witness to the uttermost edge of the world."

This utterance speaks to both the concept of recognizing the singular humanity behind each other's face and of being responsible to her. The other is sacred within the self, and we have the opportunity to witness her sacredness in our actions. Likewise, we are also sacred, protected in the very flesh of the other, who is our divine protector. Of course the judges actions bely a certain cynical interpretation of this, as his ultimate morality accords with a more satanic understanding of "do what thou wilt." Even so, this moment of the novel acts as a metanarrational moment where we can see the point of Blood Meridian's strange violence--that the human vessel is something sublime and fragile, and that none of us can escape its mortal and transcendent hold. In this way, I feel that I can interpret Blood Meridian as an uplifting novel of sorts, the kind of dark night of the soul that is necessary to a person's psychospiritual understand of her relationship to others.

Later this evening, I will post the "Post of the Week," which is Hee Lien Tan's examination of the challenges of a filmic adaptation of Blood Meridian.

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