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Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy

Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy

Edwin T. Arnold
Dianne C. Luce
Copyright Date: 1999
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    Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy
    Book Description:

    Originally published in 1993, this was the first volume of essays devoted to the works of Cormac McCarthy. Immediately it was recognized as a major contribution to studies of this acclaimed American author. American Literary Scholarship hailed it as "a model of its kind." It has since established itself as an essential source for any McCarthy scholar, student, or serious reader.

    In 1993, McCarthy had recently publishedAll the Pretty Horses(1992), the award-winning first volume of the "Border Trilogy." The second volume,The Crossing, appeared in 1994, and the concluding novel,Cities of the Plain, in 1998. The completion of the trilogy, one of the most significant artistic achievements in recent American literature, calls for further consideration of McCarthy's career. This revised volume, therefore, contains in addition to the original essays a new version of Gail Morrison's article onAll the Pretty Horses, plus two original essays by the editors ofThe Crossing(Luce) andCities of the Plain(Arnold). With the exception of McCarthy's dramaThe Stonemason(1994), all the major publications are covered in this collection.

    Cormac McCarthy is now firmly established as one of the masters of American literature. His first four novels, his screenplay "The Gardener's Son," and his dramaThe Stonemasonare all set in the South. Starting withBlood Meridian(1985), he moved west, to the border country of Texas and Old and New Mexico, to create masterpieces of the western genre. Few writers have so completely and successfully described such different locales, customs, and people. Yet McCarthy is no regionalist. His work centers on the essential themes of self-determination, faith, courage, and the quest for meaning in an often violent and tragic world. For his readers wishing to know McCarthy's works this collection is both an introduction and an overview.

    Edwin T. Arnold is a professor of English at Appalachian State University. Dianne C. Luce is chair of the English department at Midlands Technical College.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-622-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Edwin T. Arnold and Dianne C. Luce

    In his 1974New Yorkerreview of Cormac McCarthy’s third novel,Child of God,Robert Coles wrote, “Cormac McCarthy is a forty-year-old American novelist who lives in the high country of Tennessee. His first and second novels,The Orchard KeeperandOuter Dark,earned him awards and fellowships. HisChild of God. . . will further enhance his reputation. . . . Mr. McCarthy might easily have obtained a fortune with this novel, but he was not intent upon a psychiatrist’s best-seller, and one begins to wonder whether he must reach many Americans through the long, circuitous route Faulkner...

  4. Values and Structure in The Orchard Keeper
    (pp. 17-28)
    David Paul Ragan

    The crucial challenge in approaching Cormac McCarthy’s demanding first novel,The Orchard Keeper,lies in the reader’s locating a center of value, a source of moral authority. The novel’s wandering structure, its shifting points of view, its refusal to invest any characters with either greater reliability or more acute perceptions all intensify the challenge and in part derive from it. Vereen M. Bell attributes the apparent lack of a coherent value system to the book’s concern with “the irrelevance of the human in the impersonal scheme of things” and contrasts the actions of its characters with the natural designs against...

  5. A Thing Against Which Time Will Not Prevail: Pastoral and History in Cormac McCarthy’s South
    (pp. 29-44)
    John M. Grammer

    Early on inSuttree,Cormac McCarthy’s best novel, Cornelius Suttree—drunken and disaffected scion of an old southern family—visits the ruins of that family’s plantation house. He wanders around, eyeing the “tall fluted columns,” the smashed chandelier, the ruined plaster, “the wallpaper hanging in great deciduous fronds” and an old “Keep Out” sign, which “[s]omeone must have turned . . . around because it posted the outer world.” While thus exploring he recalls a scene from childhood: he and an old man have watched a racehorse run on a track; the old man gestures with his stopwatch and declares...

  6. Naming, Knowing and Nothingness: McCarthy’s Moral Parables
    (pp. 45-70)
    Edwin T. Arnold

    Despite the relatively small amount of criticism presently available on the six novels of Cormac McCarthy, certain critical “truths” have become established about his work, in large part because they have been so effectively set forth by the author of the single book thus far published on McCarthy. Foremost among the readings found in Vereen M. Bell’sThe Achievement of Cormac McCarthy¹is the idea that McCarthy’s books are essentially nihilistic, devoid of conventional plot, theme or moral reference. As a corollary of the first proposition, Bell further states, “Ordinarily the omniscient narrator in McCarthy’s novels is recessive—merely narrating...

  7. Cormac McCarthy’s First Screenplay: “The Gardener’s Son”
    (pp. 71-96)
    Dianne C. Luce

    WhenBlood Meridianwas published in 1985, it appeared, to many who had been following Cormac McCarthy’s writing career, to represent a significant departure from patterns established in his earlier novels. Here was a novel set in the American Southwest and Mexico of the nineteenth century rather than the mid-twentieth century eastern Tennessee where McCarthy grew up and which is so familiarly detailed inThe Orchard Keeper, Child of GodandSuttree.Here too was a fully realized historical novel McCarthy’s first in that form, but a magnificent achievement—one in which his characteristic themes of the mysteries of the...

  8. The Imprisonment of Sensibility: Suttree
    (pp. 97-122)
    Thomas D. Young Jr.

    Suttree(1979) is anomalous among Cormac McCarthy’s novels in two obvious respects. First, it is an urban novel, set in and around Knoxville, Tennessee, during the years 1950–1955. And second, in taking Cornelius Suttree as its protagonist, the book provides a texture of experience that is considerably more intricate and layered than elsewhere in McCarthy’s work, Suttree having been the beneficiary of an affluent upbringing and a college education. Despite his departure from the strict rustication and stolid, inarticulate protagonists of the other books, however, McCarthy’s fictional terrain here is not really so different. Knoxville in 1950 is an embryonic...

  9. “What kind of indians was them?”: Some Historical Sources in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
    (pp. 123-144)
    John Emil Sepich

    A number of critics have remarked that Cormac McCarthy’sBlood Meridianis based on “history.”¹ In fact, the dust jacket of the novel’s hardcover edition states flatly that Glanton, Holden and “a number of their followers . . . actually existed, and various accounts of their exploits can be found in chronicles of the period.” An under-informed reading ofBlood Meridianis comparable to the kid’s question to Sproule, just after their filibustering expedition to Sonora has been devastated by an Indian attack: “What kind of indians was them?” (56). In some ways, the assailant’s name hardly matters. But readers...

  10. “The Very Life of the Darkness”: A Reading of Blood Meridian
    (pp. 145-158)
    Steven Shaviro

    Death is a festival, a ceremony, a ritual; but it is not a mystery.Blood Meridiansings hymns of violence, its gorgeous language commemorating slaughter in all its sumptuousness and splendor:

    some of the men were moving on foot among the huts with torches and dragging the victims out, slathered and dripping with blood, hacking at the dying and decapitating those who knelt for mercy. . . . [O]ne of the Delawares emerged from the smoke with a naked infant dangling in each hand and squatted at a ring of midden stones and swung them by the heels each in...

  11. Gravers False and True: Blood Meridian as Gnostic Tragedy
    (pp. 159-174)
    Leo Daugherty

    I want to argue here that gnostic thought is central to Cormac McCarthy’sBlood Meridian.I will go about this by discussing four of its characters—the judge, the kid, the graver and the mysterious man of the epilogue—and the particular sort of world they inhabit. I am aware at the outset of the difficulties involved in establishing a relationship between any two things (in this caseBlood Meridianand Gnostic thought) when some readers may have a working knowledge of only one of them (in this case, I hope, the novel). While it is impossible to provide more...

  12. All the Pretty Horses: John Grady Cole’s Expulsion from Paradise
    (pp. 175-194)
    Gail Moore Morrison

    Winner of the 1992 National Book Award and the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, Cormac McCarthy’s sixth novel,All the Pretty Horses,simultaneously recapitulates and transcends many of the themes, situations, structures and characters of his earlier work, even while it is remarkably different from them. LikeBlood Meridian, All the Pretty Horsesis a western, although it is considerably gentler in tone and imbued with an archetypal aura of romance. Nonetheless, it is firmly grounded in the details of time (1949–1951) and place (west Texas in and around San Angelo, southeast to San Antonio, southwest...

  13. The Road and the Matrix: The World as Tale in The Crossing
    (pp. 195-220)
    Dianne C. Luce

    LikeAll the Pretty Horses(1992),Blood Meridian(1985), andOuter Dark(1968),The Crossingis a road narrative, but more than in the earlier novelsThe Crossingemploys the road as metaphor for the life journey or the narrative of a life. “En realidad la vía del mundo no es fijada en ningún lugar. . . . Nosotros mismos somos nuestra propia Jornada. Y por eso somos el tiempo también” (In reality the way [or road] of the world is not fixed in any place. . . . We ourselves are our own day’s journey. And therefore we are...

  14. The Last of the Trilogy: First Thoughts on Cities of the Plain
    (pp. 221-248)
    Edwin T. Arnold

    We have come to the end of something magnificent. WithCities of the Plain,Cormac McCarthy brings to a close the work that has consumed him for the past decade and more. The Border Trilogy is destined to engage us in speculation and debate for years to come. Indeed, it seems intended that way. Each volume joins in the larger pattern, to be sure, but each also maintains its essential uniqueness, and each will, no doubt, find its supporters and detractors.All the Pretty Horsesis the romantic adventure, a modernbildungsromanset on a foundation of philosophical and ontological...

  15. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 249-250)
  16. Index
    (pp. 251-256)