Mud, Blood, Beer
Harpers editor Roger Hodge is a bit defensive about the “rough treatment” Cormac McCarthy has received in three recent reviews for his latest novel, No Country For Old Men. He sees malice, shallowness and haste in these efforts, even a trace of “bourgeoise consciousness” but having read the novel recently I agree that it was not Mc Carthy’s best effort and for me his theme is getting tired and redundant as well. It also turns out Hodge may be having trouble with objectivity due to a close, personal identification with the setting. He claims the Southwestern landscape so well depicted in the book includes the very piece of land he was raised on. I can also then assume he was raised on the myths which have become the moral crucible upon which Mc Carthy judges all and which cloud the judgment of so many in this fought over region.
Hodge tells us “The American West ,for McCarthy, is a place where the truth of history declares itself with unambiguous and ferocious candor.”One senses Hodges profound agreement with this questionable thesis all through the piece.
The John Wayne Morality play works well through The Crossing and Blood Meridian and into All the Pretty Horses but eventually it is Louis L’Amour pulp westerns with good writing.In purposeful constructs such as Bonanza and Marshall Dillon, the politics are unavoidable and in my opinion seriously, even dangerously flawed. We all identified with Clint Eastwood and the hard, honorable, uncompromising ‘Rugged Hero’ as we grew up and grasped for meaning, and I am more guilty than most of fetishizing The West ( I moved to Montana and stayed thirty years) but I have tried to move beyond the narrow ethos of blood and work and “common sense” that rejects nuance,play or ambiguity with a contemptuous sneer. His is a patriarchal universe, individualistic and conservative in the strictest ,narrowest, hardest and most repressive sense of the word and he seems perpetually mired in it.This is not to deny the pervasive aura of violence and cruelty out here but to insist on a competing, parallel meme of shared struggle and generosity even amongst us “moderns”.The Conservatism glorified by Mc Carthy drives the current cultural"perception" war of toughness,and realism against sissy liberal pacifists..As much as I enjoyed the early work, the repetitive hyperbole has grown tired and there is to much out there needing to be read.I have a long one at clearheadwaters.blogspot.com on the power of myth called Pride in Tobacco.
A terrific piece in the same ( Feb) issue is written by the great,great grandson of Charles Darwin. It describes with great hilarity the recent “intelligent design” trials in Dover, Pennsylvania. Must read.