Violence in White Noise/Blood Meridian

“Are you saying that men have tried throughout history to cure themselves of death by killing others?”

“It’s obvious.”

“And you call this exciting?”

“I’m talking theory. In theory, violence is a form of rebirth. The dier passively succumbs. The killer lives on. What a marvelous equation. As a marauding band amasses dead bodies, it gathers strength. Strength accumulates like a favor from the gods.”

White Noise, pg.290.

The particular conversation between Jack and Murray that contains this excerpt was incredibly interesting to me. I found myself oddly grateful of Murray’s analysis of Jack, because it was both stunningly accurate and insightful. Murray put into words perfectly my own thoughts on Jack; Jack is weak and helpless, and weak and helpless people are drawn to epic and intimidating men. In building a career around Hitler studies, Jack hopes to simultaneously hide himself in Hitler and “grow in significance and strength” by his connection to Hitler. Jack fails to “get around” death by employing both methods, as a result badly contradicting himself; As Murray says (and even Jack admits), the word for this attempt is “dumb.”

The exact excerpt of the conversation above stuck out when I read it because it brought to mind Blood Meridian. In fact, that comment on the cover of Blood Meridian, “A classic American novel of regeneration through violence” meshes perfectly with Murray’s comment that “In theory, violence is a form of rebirth.” Going even further, Murray’s description of a marauding band amassing dead bodies (and in so doing gaining strength), serves as a direct tie in to Blood Meridian; That is exactly what happens in the novel. The Judge and Glanton’s outfit are a marauding band of men, a group that kills people and takes their scalps as souvenirs, souvenirs that serve as proof that they conquered those people; And in this scenario, the ability to conquer people is equivalent to strength.

The only thing that strikes me as odd is Murray’s placement of “In theory” before “violence is a form of rebirth.” However, I think his “in theory” is just a way to protect himself from the implications of saying something dangerous; It serves almost as a disclaimer (He does something akin to this again later on, as the two continue to talk about killing).

The question remains, however, whether or not any of the men in Glanton’s outfit can be named among those in history who “tried to cure themselves of death by killing others.” In a way, I think they were (at least in a very literal sense); Especially the kid. It was either kill or be killed, kill to escape and kill to prosper.

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“The Singularity”

The obsession with death in White Noise (and the fact that it was written less than 30 years ago) reminded me of this article I read a few weeks ago in Time magazine; Particularly, the point in the novel when Babette reveals that she has been taking Dylar in an attempt to relieve her fear of death.,8599,2048138-1,00.html

The article describes an event called “The Singularity” when technology itself will be able to create artificial intelligence that rivals or surpasses human intelligence. It sounds sci-fi and totally crazy, and I’ll admit I’m skeptical of it all and personally don’t think most of it will happen (especially some of the extreme things), but it does raise some very interesting questions and what-ifs about “life” as computers continue to improve at an incredibly fast rate. There are many theories about what could happen if the singularity became reality, but one is that the human mind, including all its thoughts, memories, etc., would simply be able to transfer to a stronger vessel than the human body, in a sense immortalizing that person. I know it sounds ludicrous, but if you just read the first two pages of the article you’ll realize there is some grounds for such seemingly-abstract claims.

This article may not have a direct tie-in to this book, but I get a similar feeling from the two. It does perpetuate the theme of “disaster,” as such an event would bring about “the end of human civilization as we know it” in a time-span of 35 years; And all from technology.

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McCarthy keeps it real

He took off the shirt. It stuck to the skin and a yellow pus ran. His arm was swollen to the size of his thigh and it was garishly discolored and small worms worked in the open wound. –Blood Meridian, pg. 67

I thought the discussion today in class about the presence of romanticism in Blood Meridian compared to other westerns was particularly interesting. I am personally of the opinion that, as a whole, what we’ve read of the novel so far is thoroughly un-romanticized. What leapt into my mind again and again was the (for lack of a better word) “gross-out” factor, prevalent to some degree at least every couple of pages in the book.

Graphic descriptions of blood and gore are obviously instrumental in creating a realistic, vivid image of what is happening in the novel; However, I think most people instinctually focus on powerful descriptions of violence, but in so doing often times neglect to also appreciate the bleakness and filth that everyday life could be back in the mid 19th century west; Ragged filthy clothes and torn up boots, unwashed bodies and bleak mud splattered towns, drinking water straight from the side of a rock or the ground, children going to the bathroom right outside their front door, rubbing the grease from the meat you ate at dinner from your fingers into your hair, and my personal favorite, the quoted passage above (describing Sproule’s festering arm) are all realities of daily life in Blood Meridian.

I have never been a huge westerns fan, but I have loyally watched them with family members who adore them and constantly have westerns playing on their TV’s (there is actually an Encore channel devoted entirely to westerns).  I realize that there are varying degrees of reality in these movies, some being much more believable than others, but never have I encountered a “western” that is nearly as raw and un-idealistic as Blood Meridian. I have never seen maggots crawling out of the wound of someone in a western movie, and while the actors may be dirty and wearing old clothes, they rarely look as ratty and grimy as you’d think they’d be. When someone gets shot it isn’t shown or described in detail; Even though babies and women and children were murdered back then, too, western movies rarely show it; there is a protection of the viewer from all of the terrible reality.

McCarthy completely deglamorizes death and destruction in Blood Meridian and makes no attempt to “protect” the reader, I think in an attempt to bring us to “the kid’s” level (senseless violence). McCarthy also immerses us in the squalor and gloom of the kids and his companions dangerous nomadic lifestyles, and in so doing achieves a level of reality unmet in most (if any) westerns.



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Slavery= total and complete control

“Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A,B,C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read.  To use his words, further, he said, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master- to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now…if you teach that nigger…how to read, there will be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it would do no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” (Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, pg. 29)

When you think about it, slavery was the ultimate control system; Thousands of human beings at the direct will of a much smaller pool of “masters.” Looking solely at numbers, slaves made up a big enough chunk of the population that they, statistically speaking, could have led a successful revolt (scroll down to chart: Of course, if it had only been a numbers game, that would have happened; But psychological control, more than anything else (even more so than physical brutality, in my opinion) was what made slavery (total control) possible.

Turning to the text, proof of this claim is clear in both the words of Mr. Auld (Douglass’s master) and the thoughts (and subsequent actions) of Douglass. Mr. Auld knew that teaching Douglass even just the alphabet and simple words was a danger to maintaining control of him (Douglass) because it was giving power (how ever minute) to a slave, and in doing so taking power away from his master (Auld). Auld said “learning” would “spoil” even the “best” slave, and he was right; learning the alphabet was an early catalyst in Douglass’s actual quest for freedom. Douglass was given an inch and took an “ell,” also correctly predicted by Mr. Auld; Douglass was taught, or “given” the alphabet, and he “took” it upon himself to learn to read and write with that small amount of information.

Mr. Auld also correctly guessed that Douglass would become “discontented and unhappy” if he learned to read. A little later on (pg.33) Douglass says that the more he read “the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers,” describing a depression at this time so profound that he “regretted his own existence” and believed he would have killed himself, “but for the hope of being free.” Most fortunately, Douglass eventually became a free man, but the agony he withstood as a slave who could read, who was not kept in complete and utter intellectual darkness, was almost more terrible than the agony of his fellows who were kept in the darkness.

So it was, by initally taking hold of just a small amount of control of his own head, that Douglass grew more powerful, bold, and capable, and eventually completely free from all of the terrible control (both physical and psychological) that his captors once exercised upon him.

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