X Close

Cormac McCarthy’s irrational apocalypse In his world, mankind is nothing without bloodshed

"It should be quite a spectacle" (No Country For Old Men)

"It should be quite a spectacle" (No Country For Old Men)


June 9, 2023   6 mins

“When the onset of universal night is finally acknowledged as irreversible”, warns a character in The Passenger, “even the coldest cynic will be astonished at the celerity with which every rule and stricture shoring up this creaking edifice is abandoned and every aberrancy embraced. It should be quite a spectacle.”

In the context of Cormac McCarthy’s new novel, this long harangue about America’s decadence at the close of the Seventies is slightly tongue-in-cheek, the barroom prattle of an ageing rake complaining about the strange new world emerging in the aftermath of the sexual revolution. But just because it’s a joke doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously. If there’s one consistent message in The Passenger, McCarthy’s first novel in 16 years, and its companion volume, Stella Maris, it’s that things are much worse than you think.

Such pessimism, of course, is not new ground for the 89-year-old McCarthy. Today, he’s probably best known as the author of No Country for Old Men, in which the most memorable character is a psychopathic killer who lectures West Texas hayseeds on fate and free will before puncturing their skulls with a cattle gun. Even that was relatively light fare, however. The book that got him on Oprah, 2006’s The Road, featured a father protecting his son from marauding bands of cannibals in the aftermath of what appeared to be a nuclear war. And his masterpiece, 1985’s Blood Meridian, which follows a band of American scalp-hunters murdering and pillaging their way through the US-Mexican borderlands, is one of the bleakest, goriest books ever written. Its central character is a gargantuan, hairless albino child rapist known as Judge Holden, who eggs on the group’s mindless bloodletting with Nietzschean speeches about the divinity of war.

The darkness of McCarthy’s subject matter, combined with a high-flown style that earns him comparisons to William Faulkner and James Joyce, has contributed to his legend as perhaps the greatest living American author, and certainly as one of a small handful who could accept a Nobel Prize without embarrassment. At a time when the dominant strain of American writing is still “autofiction” — claustrophobic frog-marches through the psychic landscape of the graduate-educated bourgeoisie — McCarthy’s epic, blood-drenched tales of the American South and Southwest are a throwback to a time when novelists wrote big books about big questions and had the temerity to think they could answer them. McCarthy has said he admires “gutsy” writers such as Dostoevsky and Melville, and elsewhere he has dismissed Proust and Henry James as “not literature” because of their failure to “deal with issues of life and death”. No one could level the same accusation against McCarthy. Death and violence are his great subjects, which he approaches with philosophical rigour and theological depth.

McCarthy is also many other things that most of our present-day writers are not. He is second only to his contemporary Thomas Pynchon for his reclusiveness, rarely granting interviews and almost always refusing to talk about his own work. His fictional worlds are overwhelmingly masculine in a way that might provoke critical scolding were he 40 years younger. And the worldview of his novels is decidedly reactionary, which is not to say that they are crudely political or interested in anything so vulgar as a defence of the bourgeois social order. Rather, his books are coloured by a sweeping scepticism toward all the improving efforts of mankind, which can never rescue us from the fundamental brutality of our nature. “There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed,” McCarthy told the New York Times in 1992, and the naïfs who allow themselves to believe in progress on this score “are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom”.

Given this history, McCarthy’s latest novels are, for him, relatively subdued — in neither book is anyone shot through the head with a dragoon revolver or disemboweled by Apaches and hung upside down from a tree. There’s very little violence at all, and quite a lot of conversing about quantum mechanics and Kantian epistemology and mathematical topology, which McCarthy makes only half-hearted attempts to render comprehensible. (I confess I have a high tolerance for McCarthy’s brand of high-concept speechifying, but even I found myself wondering whether it was worth the trouble to look up “S-Matrix theory”.)

The Passenger and Stella Maris follow a pair of Tennessee-born Jewish siblings, Bobby and Alicia Western, whose father was a nuclear physicist who worked with J. Robert Oppenheimer on the construction of the atomic bomb. Alicia, whose conversations with her psychiatrist make up the entirety of Stella Maris, is a beautiful, schizophrenic math genius who commits suicide on page one of The Passenger. When we meet Bobby, it is 1980, eight years after Alicia’s suicide, and the former physicist is living an ascetic existence in New Orleans, socialising with roughnecks and barflies, still paralysed with grief over his dead sister. We soon learn that Bobby and Alicia were in love.

Early on, it seems as if The Passenger will become a thriller along the lines of No Country for Old Men. But a conspiracy concerning a mysterious plane crash and visits from government agents turns out to be a MacGuffin, serving only to create a persistent atmosphere of weirdness and threat. Most of The Passenger consists of Bobby going about his work and talking with family and friends about a range of chewy subjects. In Stella Maris, the action is dropped entirely — the book is a long series of dialogues between Alicia and her doctor about subjects like pure math, the philosophy of music, the ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the nature of mental illness. The recurring theme of these conversations, in both novels, is the impossibility of knowing anything — the unavoidable conclusion that, as Alicia puts it in a discussion of Richard Feynman’s over-sum theories, “human consciousness and reality are not the same thing”.

Given that McCarthy has apparently been working on these books for close to 20 years, one can’t help but wonder if the author at some point lost interest in his own premise in favour of the mind-bending scientific questions that consume Bobby and Alicia’s attention, and which are clearly objects of fascination for McCarthy. Some of Alicia’s dialogue in Stella Maris, for instance, is lifted in only slightly altered form from a 2017 essay, in which McCarthy suggested that language is a kind of parasite, transforming our unconscious into, as Alicia puts it, “a biological system under successful assault by human reason”. “In the end this strange new code must have replaced at least part of the world with what can be said about it”, she says. “Reality with opinion. Narrative with commentary.” It’s fascinating stuff, but it doesn’t particularly feel like something a 20-year-old girl would say in 1972, even if she were a math genius.

What ultimately holds the books together, in the absence of more conventional narrative structure, is a pervasive feeling that time is running out — for the doomed lovers Bobby and Alicia, and for America and Western civilisation. At one point midway through The Passenger, McCarthy writes that Bobby, whose parents met in 1943 at the nuclear laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, “fully understood that he owed his existence to Adolf Hitler. That the forces of history which had ushered his troubled life into the tapestry were those of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, the sister events that sealed forever the fate of the West.” McCarthy has long toyed with the idea that history moves in cycles, that civilisations reach a zenith and then decay, and that there is something self-undermining in man’s conquest of nature — consider the man-made apocalypse of The Road or the nuclear test explosion that closes The Crossing. “The noon of man’s expression signals the onset of night,” says Judge Holden in Blood Meridian. “His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement.” Here that same exhaustion appears as righteous judgment on our own civilisation’s “peak”, the industrial slaughterhouses and nuclear infernos of the 20th century.

There is a curious passage in Stella Maris where Alicia’s therapist asks: “What do you think is the one indispensable gift?” Alicia answers: “Faith.” No elaboration. I skimmed over this exchange the first time, more interested in the ensuing discussion on Schopenhauer’s theory of music, but now I think it might be the key to both books. For McCarthy, at least, faith is a spur to life, and like life, it is fundamentally irrational. Reason kills faith only to reveal that it cannot replace it, that it is in the end nothing more than a tool, like the physical theories that can build an atomic bomb but cannot explain themselves, let alone tell human beings how to live.

One of the epigraphs to Blood Meridian is a quote from the poet Paul ValĂ©ry: “Your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time.” It comes from an essay called “The Wisdom of the Orient”, in which an Asian “scholar from the land of Thin” rebukes a European for his civilisation’s rationalism. The line immediately before it: “You are in love with Intelligence, until it frightens you.”

That novel, and in particular the character of Judge Holden, is often read as a “deconstruction” of the myth of Manifest Destiny, a judgment on the genocidal violence behind the white man’s westward expansion. But read backward through The Passenger and Stella Maris, it is also possible to see the judge, a man of science for whom “whatever exists in creation without my knowledge exists without my consent”, as an indictment of the whole Faustian thrust of Western science and progress. “We are,” McCarthy once told Der Spiegel, “like primitive tribes that have been driven from their culture and have lost their orientation, their identity, their capacity to live.”

It’s a grim vision, sure, but perhaps not as grim as it seems. “When this world which reason has created is carried off at last it will take reason with it,” Alicia tells her doctor. “And it will be a long time coming back.” One suspects that for McCarthy, this outcome is nothing to fear, and indeed might mark a kind of rebirth. Or maybe not. If there’s one lesson to be learned from his fiction, it’s that the world cares precious little what we think of it.

This article was first published in October 2022.


Park MacDougald is Deputy Literary Editor for Tablet

hpmacd

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

17 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
James Young
James Young
1 year ago

Cracking article. McCarthy is the living writer I have any interest in reading. Schopenhauer tells us not to bother with modern books because we have so little time, but I make an exception with McCarthy. And maybe Will Self, but I am never going to admit that in public. My favourite novel by McCarthy is Child of God. That is a transgressive novel in content but not in heart, lacking the genre’s typical and rejoicing ambivalence, in place he touches upon that dreaded phrase, something deeper.

Each leaf that brushed his face deepened his sadness and dread. Each leaf he passed he’d never pass again. They rode over his face like veils, already some yellow, their veins like slender bones where the sun shone through them. He had resolved himself to ride on for he could not turn back and the world that day was as lovely as any day that ever was and he was riding to his death.

Auden declared Nathanel West’s mean-spirited novels mistook pity for compassion. Everyone is too superficial and misguided to not rejoice in their demises. McCarthy can make you emphatic to any horrible monster. Only Thomas Middleton’s A Yorkshire Tragedy has crafted for me an out and out immoral beast, clear in his reasoning, and made him utterly and totally human. McCarthy’s Lester Ballard becomes a serial killer, the husband of AYT murders his own children, and the motives are out of spite and shame, but I understand why more than I care to admit.
As for ‘autofiction’, I cannot stomach it. None a patch on Rousseau’s Confessions and at least he claimed it was true. I feel this obsession with it stems partly from the voyeuristic enjoyment we have pouring into the lives of others like we are Jimmy Stewart in a wheelchair. Philip Roth is a perfect example. The reason I read him, in all truthfulness was how he scandalised himself in his narrators. You did not read novel on its own, you read it with the baggage of the author. It was never fiction to us. Not to insult him, I cannot say the last time I read him to judge, but it was a good grift. I would suggest this a product of a fame driven era and cultural epoch, but I imagine writers were similar in the past. Hemingway’s a clear example. Not one of his protagonists is in my mind not Hemingway. It is a charm as it is a drawback when I read him. In a similar way, I think this is an issue Hunter S Thompson has suffered in life and in his literary afterlife.
Some prefer- namely I- a reclusive writer with a small body of work. I suppose as an aftereffect of how terminally online many are now. Culture is totally fragmented. Instead of fifteen minutes of fame, we are all famous to fifteen people (that is not my saying, but Steve Sailer’s). Writers are too open about motivations because technology has made written communication lose a lot of its weight and provide ease. Everyone has opinions, only now are so many are recorded. Mine change each day and I am glad to have foresight in not uploading much online (this comment an exception rather than the rule). I was the last in my sixth form to have Facebook and the first to delete it when I reached university.
Reflection is good attitude to writing. We can type away so much, but how much is worth preserving or publishing? To ourselves, of course it is worth keeping if only to laugh at in a few years. To our friends, maybe. To the “public”, that is to the open literary self we cultivate and believe worthwhile sharing, perhaps not. My own view years ago was to write more and publish less. Now grub street dominates everywhere and we are all writers. I know how much of my pas writing is not worth it beyond mere novelty and I do not believe it is only me. Good writing is hard and occasionally easy for some who are lucky to be paid or not paid to write. I wasted a great deal of my time at school reading countless blogs and articles, keeping myself up to date with RSS feeds and daily emails. I wrote a great deal and had quite a few articles published. It impacted my grades, though I know my limits in intelligence and have no interest in travelling to the land of might-have-been because my excuses are plenty in that space. I do not really mind all that. My poor education has its charms, and they have made me what I am today. Looking back, I cannot seriously suggest any of this countless reading had much use or importance. Very little I read went beyond my stimulation and need to be in communication with something. It was an accumulation and sharing of needless knowledge for no real end and then it disappeared and what was left was very little worth keeping. I even won English Literature student of the year because all the little facts and figures I knew impressed. One teacher enjoyed me a great deal and I say as a matter of record, if she was 20 years younger and I was 20 years old, and she wasn’t a lesbian, well you never know. I adore literature, but am I widely read? Not really, especially then. I simply gleamed facts and used them in lessons. Lots of it stored in my mind. Even in my years at university I committed similar atrocities in seminars, but many other course mates were similar, fundamentally reading off a sheet.
Now I read little online, this article a rare exception, and barely anything through the week. I do not feel less informed because the cycles change so often that a week is meaningless. My job does not require a knowledge of the ins and outs of foreign countries or cabinet members. We like to think we have a duty to be “well-informed” about news or grand topics, need to read about subcultures or opinion pieces, but my life goes on without it. It is not to say my extra free time is more productive, I am naturally lazy, but I have not grown sick or be given a headache from what I now read. A lot more sticks in that is worth sticking in.
Am I well-read now? I don’t know. The more you truly learn about a subject, the greater the distance to full understanding is felt. That might be only me though.
What I do recall well at sixth form (close to a decade ago now) was my strange obsession with Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. I had a real passion for it. I wrote notes, read it countless times, and even presented on it for a history class because I forced the teacher to let me. Looking back on my notes, I can feel a slight gust of fond memories, strange optimism. A different household that I now live in, a different person. It is a pleasure but of my own self-dialogue. When I studied it at MA, I found the book atrocious.
My writings on him are childish and naive but I am grateful to have written them to myself and not to have tried passing myself off as an expert but as a learner, the opposite of which I acted like at in every other lesson at school. It is so easy to play-pretend as a know it all when a computer is ever-present. It has affected consciousness on some level. The dopamine rush colours all our society, young and old. There is a feeling we must be heard by all but maybe we should restrain ourselves. Then again, who will listen to us when we are ready? Who will listen to my comment? I do not know. McCarthy has done well for himself through hard work with little output. I do not have the formula here. Maybe this is the new normal and the reclusive artist is consumed by the gregarious blob which pervades our free time. People underestimate how much the internet has changed how we live and how derive our interests and habits.
But “men dig tons of earth for an ounce of gold,” says Heraclitus. Whilst we shall always need the earth, I cannot seriously wish away journalism and websites because they do not search for the McCarthy tier of writing, we do require the gold and that should be a rare find. But both Pynchon and McCarthy have almost past their twilight years. They are from different eras and cultures from our own. Who now will replace them? Will we be able to? Shall we search among the Amish for a westerner not tainted by computers?
Whilst I dislike ‘autofiction’, I have grown to appreciate autobiographies and memoirs. I used to hate them, but a good one is usually great. Bellow said novels will only die when there is no one worth writing about and I think there is truth to that. Wolfe conversely saw the epic novel, the ones he usually wrote, in a terminal decline akin to epic poetry in the beginning of the 1800s. I think there is truth to that as well. My concertation for a Middlemarch or a David Copperfield has gone. I must work myself up to reading a long book and I feel I need to justify my reasoning when I do it. What a shame for a great book because ‘aesthetic quality’ can lose its charms after a while.
The autobiography endures because it speaks to what Schopenhauer states in The World as Will and Representation:

It is therefore worth noting, and indeed wonderful to see, how man, besides his life in the concrete, always lives a second life in the abstract. In the former he is abandoned to all the storms of reality and to the influence of the present; he must struggle, suffer, and die like the animal. But his life in the abstract, as it stands before his rational consciousness, is the calm reflection of his life in the concrete, and of the world in which he lives; it is precisely that reduced chart or plan previously mentioned. Here in the sphere of calm deliberation, what previously possessed him completely and moved him intensely appears to him cold, colourless, and, for the moment, foreign and strange; he is a mere spectator and observer. In respect of this withdrawal into reflection, he is like an actor who has played his part in one scene, and takes his place in the audience until he must appear again. In the audience he quietly looks on at whatever may happen, even though it be the preparation of his own death (in the play); but then he again goes on the stage, and acts and suffers as he must. From this double life proceeds that composure in man, so very different from the thoughtlessness of the animal.

The second life we live is the autobiography and a uniquely human trait. We may never be completely honest with ourselves, but we can set things straight and how we feel about events in our lives. It is pleasurable for both an eager-to-know audience and ourselves. Yes, it may be artificial and sound like a long list of regrets, but it can probe from the closest aspect to our own view and experiences. An honest and well-reflected autobiography is a wonderful gift to the world. Practically a philosophical work of its own personal and direct school.
I am not a Rousseauian, but I do think I share an affinity with his idealised egalitarianism, not necessarily in agreement in either the political or cultural conclusions, but in conducting myself. His outsiderness is charming (of course I say this after he has been dead for so long and we can finally look at him without his negative influence in politics hanging high). The aforementioned Confessions has a frankness that remains with me in my own conduct. Jonathan Dollimore, perhaps an example of an academic I like for the sheer little he has written and published, wrote a brilliant memoir about his own life which I recommend to all. I come back to both often.
People interest me. My father tells me whilst I was a lonely child, preferring it or having eventually grown accustomed to it, very few can match my willingness to have a conversation with about anyone. Many decades older than me which I know a few young people my age struggle with. I suppose I am naturally ‘extroverted’. Then again, I am also the man on the tube who tries to make eye-contact. I do think (can you ever be certain of your motives?) I believe in hearing what a person thinks of themselves. I want a conversation, but I do not want it to be frivolous. The best conversations are with the fewest words, but with the greatest impact. Words online, back and forth on discussion boards have never been satisfying to me.
I work as porter at Durham University and on my quiet nightshift alone strange thoughts pop into my mind. One was my distaste for not being able to hear another’s thoughts. Nature had conducted a great design, but not providing us with perfect clairvoyance seemed unfair. If only we knew the truth of others! Then in life we could conduct ourselves all fairly. Man would be forced to be honest with himself and the world.
But, as these errant wishes and thoughts do, it disappeared as the night went on. If people have rights, then I suppose the right to their own perception of the world is one of the baselines. You can’t change it, and you can’t invade it. Man deserves a chance to be honest with himself, even if he might want to share it with the world. Writing can illuminate so many new thoughts and understandings, but some of it should kept to ourselves. This will not line up a UN Declaration, but those documents are worthless and meaningless anyway.
edit: conversely, I’ve written a comment which went over 2000 words. Must be tired.

Last edited 1 year ago by James Young
Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
1 year ago
Reply to  James Young

James, I suspect McCarthy would approve of the size of your comment.

Philip Crook
Philip Crook
1 year ago
Reply to  James Young

Try Suttree which excellent and from time to time very funny in complete contrast to his other work. The description of a drinking session and it’s aftermath rewards rereading again and again. It is supposed to be semi autobiographical and informs a certain amount of his other work with its cast of characters who seem with himself to come back in other books. Don’t despair.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago
Reply to  James Young

Use more paragraphs, I think that is key.

Wondering what it is all about has always been my thing – and like you, no idea really – and the more one reads, the more sophisticated one is able to think of the answer – but not get closer…

Anny Dillard had it said perfectly – in talking to an old woman in the rural South, sitting on a bench outside a gas station, talking of life, and the line she always remembered from that moment, from that old woman….

”Seems we just set down here, and don’t nobody know why.” is about as good a summation of existence as any…

Sudo Nim
Sudo Nim
1 year ago
Reply to  James Young

The Unherd site’s articles (not all, but most) AND many of your comments are some of the best writing and reason on the Internets. I love swimming around this refuge of reason and culture.
Re Cormac’s books, they are really incredible. The Road almost single handedly turned me into one of those preppers you read about in Soldier of Fortune.

Madas A. Hatter
Madas A. Hatter
2 months ago
Reply to  James Young

Never mind the quality – feel the length.

Sam Wilson
Sam Wilson
1 year ago

Thank you for motivating me to finally pick up one of McCarthy’s books, after I’ve put them off for ages.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Sam Wilson

Do! I don’t read much fiction but couldn’t resist Blood Meridian as it was described as the greatest American novel ever. It takes a while (for me about 50 pages) to get inside his style (he doesn’t use quotation marks for one!) but when you do it’s worth it.
I then went for the Western Trilogy (can’t recall the individual names) of which the first was excellent (something about horses and a wolf), but after that got a tad dull, not helped by lots of dialogue in Spanish which is just a pointless turn-off if, like me, the only Spanish you know is how to order a beer.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

Some people are insanely violent, some of the time.
Most people try to lift civilization by their own bootstraps, most of the time.
Everything else is detail.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

Good God. Rodgers and Hart offer this antidote (from Pal Joey):
Zip, Walter Lippmann wasn’t brilliant today
Zip, will Saroyan ever write a great play?
Zip, I was reading Schopenhauer last night
Zip and I think that Schopenhauer was right

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
11 months ago

And Ira Gershwin warns:
“My nights were sour, spent with Schopenhauer”

Honestly, does anyone write lyrics like these anymore?

“You reading Heine, I somewhere in China”

Last edited 11 months ago by Russell Hamilton
J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

Outstanding article. This is another one of those articles I occasionally find on Unherd where the subject matter would not normally interest me, but the quality of the writing draws me in.
Sounds like McCarthy has provided us with a summary of his lifetime interests and obsessions in these last two books. I’ve only ever read “No Country for Old Men” because I was interested to compare book to movie adaptation. Otherwise, McCarthy is a bit too abstract for me.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I cannot stand sadism, which seems to be his main tool – I would rather a root-canal than read such twisted stuff – but then

”is not new ground for the 89-year-old McCarthy.”

He will, not too long, go to his reward – I wonder what he expects of that?

Vincent Morgan
Vincent Morgan
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

So 
 sadism is his main tool?

But you’ve not read his work?

Vincent Morgan
Vincent Morgan
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

So 
 sadism is his main tool?

But you’ve not read his work?

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I cannot stand sadism, which seems to be his main tool – I would rather a root-canal than read such twisted stuff – but then

”is not new ground for the 89-year-old McCarthy.”

He will, not too long, go to his reward – I wonder what he expects of that?

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

Outstanding article. This is another one of those articles I occasionally find on Unherd where the subject matter would not normally interest me, but the quality of the writing draws me in.
Sounds like McCarthy has provided us with a summary of his lifetime interests and obsessions in these last two books. I’ve only ever read “No Country for Old Men” because I was interested to compare book to movie adaptation. Otherwise, McCarthy is a bit too abstract for me.

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
1 year ago

I have recently relaxed to Jeremy Griffith’s presentation/interview about the ‘human condition’, which is illustrated inter alia by snippets of lions, hyenas and dogs baring teeth and occasionally sinking them in over hunks of raw red meat. They are just following their instincts, he says, while humans have intelligence to give them understanding. It may be worthwhile reminding that those vicious predators live with constant hunger and uncertainty or fear. Looking at human history, even up to today with Ukraine, Taiwan or Somalia for example, one wonders whether it is human instinct or intelligence that makes us, apparently, deliberately cultivate these drivers in preference to bonobo-like cuddliness and new-age harmony. The violent paranoiac or psychopath, or just the drifter with a Kalashnikov, will always have the initiative, and the gang will always be better coordinated than a scattered population of lone individuals, however much they outnumber their oppressors. Optimists keep telling us that our ‘human condition’ is not because there is not enough to go around, as our technology and ingenuity has always managed to find more ways to provide. Could it just be that we don’t have enough to do?

Last edited 1 year ago by Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
1 year ago

I have recently relaxed to Jeremy Griffith’s presentation/interview about the ‘human condition’, which is illustrated inter alia by snippets of lions, hyenas and dogs baring teeth and occasionally sinking them in over hunks of raw red meat. They are just following their instincts, he says, while humans have intelligence to give them understanding. It may be worthwhile reminding that those vicious predators live with constant hunger and uncertainty or fear. Looking at human history, even up to today with Ukraine, Taiwan or Somalia for example, one wonders whether it is human instinct or intelligence that makes us, apparently, deliberately cultivate these drivers in preference to bonobo-like cuddliness and new-age harmony. The violent paranoiac or psychopath, or just the drifter with a Kalashnikov, will always have the initiative, and the gang will always be better coordinated than a scattered population of lone individuals, however much they outnumber their oppressors. Optimists keep telling us that our ‘human condition’ is not because there is not enough to go around, as our technology and ingenuity has always managed to find more ways to provide. Could it just be that we don’t have enough to do?

Last edited 1 year ago by Nicholas Taylor
Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
11 months ago

Writers should stop writing when they turn 80 as McCarthy’s last two novels prove. This very astute analysis of his work, the best I have read, raised the same question I had “…one can’t help but wonder if the author at some point lost interest in his own premise in favour of the mind-bending scientific questions”. McCarthy spent a lot of time hanging around theoretical scientists in Santa Fe, and I hazard the guess that too much rubbed off on him. I believe he was a man who had faith but tried to hide it as did Charles A. Lindbergh until two decades after his historic flight .

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
11 months ago

zzzzzzzzzzzz…….

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
11 months ago

zzzzzzzzzzzz…….