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▶  More from Histories Book Reviews Plantation America
Physics: ‘Pale and Unwashed’
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
1985, vintage, 337 pages
Part One
The reading of Blood Meridian was a pleasure and clued this reader in to why such a large proportion of McCarthy’s novels have been turned into movies. Where Stephan King uses dialogue and lesser devices to pad out his novels—making reduction to movie form easy and uninspiring—McCarthy takes a story that Robert E. Howard would have told in 240 pages and tells in in 337 by fleshing out the veritable bones of the western landscape in wonderful prose. Where Louis L’Amour would have devoted one to three sentences on sketching a visual image, McCarthy makes of landscape impressions an orgy of the mind’s eye. This, I suppose, his deep visual range, endears him to the filmmakers and draws them like men to a tragedy.
Elsewhere should McCarthy’s standout novel of the unexplored West—the West that existed before the Civil War and thence not at all in the retarded American consciousness—be treated for literary merit.
What this reader finds most interesting is the many whispers of Plantation America, of America as a slave colony, which McCarthy inserts in his story.
First the story. McCarthy takes minimal license with the savage border strife predominantly on the Mexican side of the border resulting from the one-sided Mexican War of 1848-9, in which a feeble mestizo nation, paying tribute to savage Indians that the Conquistadors had been unable to rub out, has certain governors who pay Anglo-American scalp hunters to ply the remorseless brand of war which has just unseated their nation against its internal tribal enemies. In the novel as in real life, this quickly became a scramble to murder anyone with blue-black hair. Not mentioned is the band of Shawnee scalp hunters who were scalped in their deserved turn. However, much attention is paid to the Delaware scouts, who served the American cause from 1804 beyond the Mississippi. Of course, Delaware is not an Indian name. these Indians, were, from the very beginning of their history, a mixed-race collection of warbands acting as slave catchers and scouts and mercenaries for the Planter Elite in the east. They expanded this role to accommodate notion of westward expansion, which was wholly antithetical to the early plantation system, which depended on a western wilderness to pen in its livestock. Hence the Delaware, adapted as mercenaries to a changing America. The view of the west is had through the eyes of “The Kid” an orphan of the waning Plantation system as the world waned towards nationhood.
The physics of Plantation America are represented in character by Glanton, a captain of scalp hunters, a psychopath who monetizes humanity in exactly the manner that America does. There were many Glanton’s, a man who, as captain of man-hunters, represented the old order personified by Captains John Smith and Miles Standish.
In the sketched flesh of lesser characters McCarthy etches the symbolism of the passing age:
-Toadvive has branded face and cropped ears, a dead-man walking who will be hung in any U.S. territory.
-Bathcat, too is branded, fingers having been removed by some means accidental or occidental, a Dutch convict.
-On page 263 the common practice of enslaving Indians and Mestizos, practiced by each other and by American adventurers.
-On page 272 the perennial chattel of humanity, the creature which monstrous Modernity seeks to make of us all, is sketched with a minimum of compassion:
“A young Mexican girl was crouched naked under the shade of the wall. She watched him ride past, covering her breasts with her hands. She wore a rawhide collar about her neck and she was chained to a post and there was a clay bowl if blackened meat scraps beside her.”
Such was the fate of any woman of any race without an armed man to protect her until the advent of the universal police state in about 1920.
The border action starts in Texas, feasts in Mexico and dies in California. The cast, like most of American humanity, is nigh unredeemable. The picture of the frayed strands of barbarism and gathering strings of civilization is well-wrought in California, where the man who came to be known as Liver-Eating Johnson, began his heavy-handed career as a bodyguard where McCarthy’s cast ends there career as the type of bandits that necessitated such measures.
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Add Comment
Hugh MaguireJanuary 9, 2020 2:15 PM UTC

Before man was war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.
responds:January 10, 2020 10:43 AM UTC

Amen.