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The Bad and the Ugly

October 16, 2008

Inevitably playing in my head as I begin reading Blood Meridian is Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.  Clint Eastwood squints and leaves Eli Wallach to die and three characters journey endlessly on the deserts of Spain that are standing in for the American West.  The movie was made in 1966, and the graphic standards of cinematic violence had not, er, progressed to the point of this novel.  Yet there was plenty of apparently senseless violence committed by all, good, bad or ugly, in a search for gold—wealth, which, like blood, is one of the primary meridians of human life.

In the paragraph above, I have made no attempt to imitate Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian style.  For one thing, my paragraph has some commas.  And I have not strung long declarative clauses together in a convoy of words as McCarthy has done.  Here’s a good example:

“There were in the camp a number of Mexican slaves and these ran forth calling out in spanish and were brained or shot and one 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 the by the heels each in turn and…”

It goes on and it gets worse…the violence, of course.  But that’s not the point here.  The “ands…” keep lining up, moving the narrative ahead in a preacherly cadence that, if read aloud, makes one feel that one can play some vast, deep pipe organ (“some vast, deep pipe organ”–that’s a McCarthyism in itself).  McCarthy’s language is in the neighborhood of the King James Bible.  Some say Faulknerian or Melvillian (is that a word?).   Here’s a bit from the book of Revelation (King James):

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.

And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.  And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the treee of life and may enter in through the gates into the city.

For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers and murderers, and idolatrers, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. 

Yikes.

It’s no stretch to imagine the kid and the judge and Glanton and Toadvine on their pale horses entering towns of dogs, sorcerers, whoremongers and murderers.

(I’m reminded of Paul Newman’s movie The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) in which he plays a crazy frontier “judge” who’s always railing about whores and murderers and hangin’ and proclaiming that “justice is the handmaiden of the law”.  Or is it that the “law is the handmaiden of justice?”  Bar’s open!)

But wait, there’s more. The novel’s chapter headings declare a biblical map from the start: “Childhood in Tennessee – Runs Away – New Orleans – Burning of the hotel – Escape.  In the King James version of Revelation we find headings like “Vision of God’s throne, the general judgment, the heavenly Jerusalem…”

And all this provides gravitas and sonority and depth and a bone-white gloom and a sit-up-straight sense that maybe all this is true, and maybe it generates a little fundamental lunacy and a Gnostic rotten world pessimism running throughout making the reader know that there is no Clint Eastwood ready to make the clean shot to sever the hangman’s noose just before the drop to the end of the rope. 

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From → Blood Meridian

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