Thursday, March 25th, 2004
Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and as his earlier novel, Suttree, are loaded with examples of readovers, as are Shakespeare’s plays. Here’s a readover example from Blood Meridian:
He rose and turned toward the lights of the town. The tidepools bright as smelterpots among the dark rocks where the phosphorescent seacrabs clambered back. Passing through the salt grass he looked back. The horse had not moved. A ship light winked in the swells. The colt stood against the horse with its head down and the horse was watching, out there past men’s knowing, where the stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.
This is interesting description, interesting sound (“phosphorescent seacrabs”). The second sentence, a fragment, is an elaboration of the first: a sort of sensual snap shot of what the protagonist of the novel, the kid, may or may not be seeing as he turns toward the lights of the town. The stuff out of the corner of the eye. Here the landscape is alive, but in the novel that “phenomenon”–the landscape being alive–takes on meaning in elaboration and action. We don’t know why the kid looks back, but he does.
The voice of the novel goes from near distance to far distance and the descriptive voice follows that distance into description that gives elements of the natural world fragility. The kid “watches,” the horse “watches.” They look “out there . . . where the stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.” This closer is related to the kid looking at the town, a human contruction, but the town faces another world so big and amazingly mysterious it calls for exactly what McCarthy gives it, a langauge that both grasps it but doesn’t grasp it, a hungry language, mysterious and scary: “where . . . whales ferry their vast souls through the vast and seamless sea.” It’s mysterious, frightening. But the image of the whale has an odd bouyancy, a lightness–it’s a “vast soul,” the sea “black and seamless.”
This language is delicate, light, perspicaciously placid, but in the context of the novel where so many horrible things happen, it haunts.