Monday, May 05, 2014

Blood Meridian

'Blood Meridian is also a novel about place, about the landscape of Texas and Chihuahua and Sonora; a kind of anti-pastoral novel in which the landscape looms in its leading role, imposingly—truly the new world, silent and paradigmatic and hideous, with room for everything except human beings. It could be said that the landscape of Blood Meridian is a landscape out of de Sade, a thirsty and indifferent landscape ruled by strange laws involving pain and anesthesia, laws by which time often manifests itself.' 
- Roberto BolaƱo, Between Parentheses, quoted in The Paris Review.
There is extraordinary landscape writing in every chapter of Blood Meridian, although given the accumulation of bloody events described in Cormac McCarthy's novel it is perhaps not too surprising to see this went unremarked in the original New York Times review.  Nevertheless, in a recent Guardian article the Alaskan writer David Vann concludes that because 'we have no access to the thoughts or feelings of any of the characters ... the landscape and human violence in the landscape come to the fore.  Blood Meridian is the Inferno of our time, though the architecture has changed. Hell here is an open desert landscape, an endless journey past demonic shapes and beings living and dead.'  In fact this desert does come to an end eventually, but when the novel's protagonist finally reaches the ocean at San Diego there is no real respite.  He stands by the tideline, contemplating a single horse, dark against the darkening sky, 'watching, out there past men's knowing, where the stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.'

It is hard to convey the quality of McCarthy's metaphorical landscapes without quoting directly from the text.  Here then are a few sentences from the beginning of Chapter XIV, descriptions of the journey taken by the scalphunters after leaving Chihuahua, from where they turned west and headed, 'infatuate and half fond toward the red demise of that day, toward the evening lands and the distant pandemonium of the sun.' 
They ascended through a rocky pass and lightning shaped out the distant shivering mountains and lightning rang the stones about and tufts of blue fire clung to the horses like incandescent elementals that would not be driven off.

They crossed a flooded plain with the footed shapes of the horses reflected in the water among clouds and mountains and the riders slumped forward and rightly skeptic of the shimmering cities on the distant shore of that sea whereon they trod miraculous.
They climbed up through rolling grasslands where small birds shied away chittering down the wind and a buzzard labored up from among bones with wings that went whoop whoop whoop like a child's toy swung on a string and in the long red sunset the sheets of water on the plain below them lay like tidepools of primal blood.

They passed through a highland meadow carpeted with wild-flowers, acres of golden groundsel and zinnia and deep purple gentian and wild vines of blue morninglory and a vast plain of varied small blooms reaching onward like a gingham print to the farthest
serried rimlands blue with haze and the adamantine ranges rising out of nothing like
the backs of seabeasts in a devonian dawn.

They rode through the long twilight and the sun set and no moon rose and to the west the mountains shuddered again and again in clattering frames and burned to final darkness and the rain hissed in the blind night land.


Eddie Procter (Landscapism) said...

Hi Andrew

I read Blood Meridian last year and also found the descriptions of the landscapes the book travels through starkly astonishing. I came to McCarthy late, via the book and film of The Road. I now have a pile of his other novels awaiting reading. A great writer.

Plinius said...

Yes a great writer, although the Nobel committee may consider that his books are not 'outstanding work in an ideal direction'. I've actually avoided watching the film of The Road so as to preserve my memory of its landscape of night and ashes - like Blood Meridian a new map of hell...