Friday, March 5, 2010

Cormac McCarthy's The Road

"...the universe of which you may say it knows nothing. And yet know it must." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

"He thought the bloodcults must have all consumed one another." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

"Like the dying world the newly blind inhabit, all of it slowly fading from memory." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

"Tattered gods slouching in their waste. Trekking the dried floor of a mineral sea where it lay cracked and broken like a fallen plate." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

"They sat at the window and ate in their robes by candlelight a midnight supper and watched distant cities burn." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

"A formless music for the age to come. Or perhaps the last music on earth called up from out of the ashes of its ruin." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

"The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a travelling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have been carried off by wolves." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

"He'd come to see a message in each such late history, a message and a warning, and so this tableau of the slain and devoured had come to be." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

"He thought the road would be so bad that no one was on it but he was wrong." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

"Like the desolation of some alien sea breaking on the shores of a world unheard of." -- Cormac McCarthy, author, The Road, 2006

To be honest I don't really care much for fiction. Paul Bowles, one of my favorite wordsmiths, once said, "I don't think you make anything much out of that which is false. No. Why bother? When you can do it with what's true?" So when a contemporary fiction writer like Cormac McCarthy joins the ranks of literary giants, I think it's worth mentioning. My hand is not exactly on the Muse's pulse so excuse my tardiness.

Whitworth, A., Knoxvillian Receives Pulitzer Prize, Tennessee Journalist, Apr 2007

A recently honored American author proved Monday that selling books is about much more than book tours and signings.

Former Knoxvillian Cormac McCarthy received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel "The Road," which follows an unnamed father and his young son through a post-apocalyptic world. ...

McCarthy, known for being reclusive, is notoriously publicity-shy. He has granted very few interviews for print publications and has surprised many in the literary community by granting an on-camera interview with Oprah Winfrey. The interview has not yet aired.

"It would be hard to think of a major American writer who has participated less in literary life. He has never taught or written journalism, given readings, blurbed a book, granted an interview. None of his novels have sold more than 5,000 copies in hardcover. For most of his career, he did not even have an agent," Richard Woodward wrote in an April 19, 1992, story for The New York Times.

McCarthy's writing has been praised and criticized for its often grisly nature.

Bill Hardwig, a lecturer in the English department, said Wednesday, "He definitely seems to be interested in evil unleashed-people who are outside the bounds of any kind of normalcy; violence, but beyond normal violence; outlaws, but beyond the outlaw just trying to get by."

Hardwig said McCarthy's earlier works are "a bit of a struggle" in their stylistic patterns.

"Some people hate McCarthy because you'll be reading the story ... and he'll go into a 15-page diversion about whatever-the beauty of something, or more likely the horror of something. He sort of switches tone that way," Hardwig said.

Hardwig said McCarthy uses themes similar to those found in William Faulkner's works. According to Hardwig, Faulkner worked a lot with the ideas of loss and defeat in the southern post-slavery psyche. Hardwig said McCarthy modernized Faulkner's ideas.

Hardwig said McCarthy's most recent novel, the prize-winning "The Road," is a change from his past books, in which he used more flowery language. He said "The Road" is more in line with Ernest Hemingway's minimalist writing style.

"I think he's trying to strip experience to its basest level of what would it mean to survive in a (post-apocalyptic) world like that. So (it is) super grim in that way, but very readable on the sentence level compared to his other stuff," Hardwig said.

"The Road," like many of McCarthy's novels, is often devoid of punctuation, from quotation marks to commas and semicolons. McCarthy also frequently uses sentence fragments.

Though many critics have said McCarthy's lack of punctuation and complete thoughts takes away from his novels, Woodward commended the sparse style. "McCarthy's prose restores the terror and grandeur of the physical world with a biblical gravity that can shatter a reader. A page from any of his books-minimally punctuated, without quotation marks, avoiding apostrophes, colons or semicolons-has a stylized spareness that magnifies the force and precision of his words."
Goodwin, C., Ten Things That Make Cormac McCarthy Special, The Sunday Times, Jan 2008

CORMAC McCARTHY IS NOW THE GREATEST AMERICAN NOVELIST McCarthy’s fans are messianic, believing he’s the greatest American novelist since William Faulkner. What’s so great about him? Thematically, his novels - 10 so far - have a searing, apocalyptic, existential grandeur. His main characters are solitary outsiders, criminals or outcasts. Stylistically, he is seen as the heir to Faulkner and Joyce. Saul Bellow praised his “absolutely overpowering use of language, his life-giving and death-dealing sentences”. Most believe McCarthy’s masterpiece is Blood Meridian, about a gang of mercenaries paid to clear Indians from the Texas-Mexico borderlands in the 1840s, which they do by flaying them and selling their scalps for gold. “In the entire range of American literature, only Moby-Dick bears comparison to Blood Meridian,” believes the critic Steven Shaviro. “Both are epic in scope, cosmically resonant, obsessed with open space and with language, exploring vast uncharted distances with a fanatically patient minuteness.” ...

CORMAC McCARTHY IS A POET OF VIOLENCE If there is a dominant, recurring theme in McCarthy’s work, it is the unrelenting imminence of human violence. “There is no such thing as life without bloodshed,” he says. His early novels “trade in necrophilia, perversion and baby murder, and reading them one is struck repeatedly by the way he displays the bloody-minded glee of the horror writer, the gross-out artist”, writes the novelist Michael Chabon. Blood Meridian is his bloody masterpiece. The Atlantic called the novel “the most beautifully written, unrelievedly ghastly chronicle of violence, carnage, torture, rapine, plunder, murder and every other conceivable variety of barbarism to be found anywhere in our literature”.

“If I wrote about violence in an exaggerated way, it was looking at a future that I imagined would be a lot morevio-lent,” McCarthy said recently. “And it is. Can you remember, 20 years ago, having beheadings on TV? I can’t.” ...

CORMAC McCARTHY PREFERS SCIENTISTS TO WRITERS McCarthy doesn’t read fiction, and doesn’t have much time for writers other than Melville, Dostoevsky, Joyce and Faulkner. He doesn’t rate anyone who doesn’t “deal with the issues of life and death”. Writers like Proust and Henry James? “I don’t understand them. To me, that’s not literature.” McCarthy hangs out most days at the Sante Fe Institute, a think-tank for superbrainy boffins. He has no duties, and for many years didn’t even have an office there.
Jurgensen, J., Hollywood's Favorite Cowboy, The Wall Street Journal, Nov 2009

WSJ: When you discussed making "The Road" into a movie with John, did he press you on what had caused the disaster in the story?

CM: A lot of people ask me. I don't have an opinion. At the Santa Fe Institute I'm with scientists of all disciplines, and some of them in geology said it looked like a meteor to them. But it could be anything—volcanic activity or it could be nuclear war. It is not really important. The whole thing now is, what do you do? The last time the caldera in Yellowstone blew, the entire North American continent was under about a foot of ash. People who've gone diving in Yellowstone Lake say that there is a bulge in the floor that is now about 100 feet high and the whole thing is just sort of pulsing. From different people you get different answers, but it could go in another three to four thousand years or it could go on Thursday. No one knows.

WSJ: What kind of things make you worry?

CM: If you think about some of the things that are being talked about by thoughtful, intelligent scientists, you realize that in 100 years the human race won't even be recognizable. We may indeed be part machine and we may have computers implanted. It's more than theoretically possible to implant a chip in the brain that would contain all the information in all the libraries in the world. As people who have talked about this say, it's just a matter of figuring out the wiring. Now there's a problem you can take to bed with you at night.
Kennedy, R., Cormac McCarthy's Typewriter Brings $254,500 at Auction, The New York Times, Dec 2009

The little typewriter that clacked out about 5 million fairly renowned words over 50 years — with the able assistance of the novelist Cormac McCarthy — ended up being worth a lot more than anyone expected.

A heavily weathered, light blue, Lettera 32 Olivetti manual machine that Mr. McCarthy said he bought in 1963 for $50 and used to type all his novels, including a couple that won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, sold Friday at Christie’s to an unidentified American collector for $254,500, more than 10 times its high estimate of $20,000. (The price includes Christie’s commission.) The proceeds will be donated to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit interdisciplinary scientific research organization.

Glenn Horowitz, a rare-book dealer who handled the auction for Mr. McCarthy, told The New York Times earlier this week: “When I grasped that some of the most complex, almost otherworldly fiction of the postwar era was composed on such a simple, functional, frail-looking machine, it conferred a sort of talismanic quality to Cormac’s typewriter. It’s as if Mount Rushmore was carved with a Swiss Army knife.”

Mr. McCarthy will not be using the opportunity to go digital after all these years. A friend of his recently bought him a replacement typewriter, the same Olivetti model — for less than $20.


KV said...

McCarthy is a very sharp edged writer, and his works can hurt Spirit, yet presents a challenge for those who want to understand realms of mind, hellish and virulent, and mostly starkly naked.

I have no choice to put it on the summer reading list.

OilIsMastery said...

You are wise to do so ... :)

KV said...


On reflection, I will not be reading McCarthy. Why? I understand the reality and its stark nakedness; and, I don't care to revisit it, or the realms of mind that track back to the earliest pathos of evolution embedded in our genes.

OilIsMastery said...

Suit yourself. I'm sure you aim to do so.

aisforanxiety said...

As if you had a choice. Toss that coin!