The book that I hate to love
By Mason Engelander
I hate literary analysis and I hate literary criticism. In my eyes, never has a bigger waste of words existed. How about you just goddamn write something better if you don’t like it? Or, for those who argue that it’s important to understand why a book is good or bad, I believe a book is or it isn’t. It’s written or it’s not. The rest is subjective, and there are too many people in the world to please every goddamned one.
I hadn’t read any Cormac McCarthy when, in one literature class, the words Blood Meridian and ‘The Judge’ were uttered. Little else was said about this novel, but I knew I had to read it.
Never has an impulse buy been so vindicated. And never have I wanted to know every meaning and every allusion behind every written word. For the first time ever, I wanted to get in, under, over and on top of a novel. I wanted to know what it was that made Blood Meridian so grittily epic.
…they rode slouched under slickers hacked from greasy halfcured hides and so cowled in these primitive skins before the gray and driving rain they looked like wardens of some dim sect sent forth to proselytize among the very beasts of the land.
Blood Meridian is the story of ‘the kid’ and a gang of scalp-hunters in the American south-west of the 1840s and 50s. Mexican and Texan governors pay rich bounties for the scalps of Native Americans, and this bloody business attracts all kinds of scum and villains. Chief amongst these arrives literature’s greatest antagonist of all, Judge Holden. ‘The Judge’, a 7-foot tall hairless albino paedophile, murderer, intellect and philosopher has only one rival for evil in the canon of Western literature…and it’s heavily alluded to that the Judge may actually be the devil himself.
It is Blood Meridian’s rich culture of allusion that makes this nightmarish novel devour my senses. From the lectures I’ve watched on YouTube to the websites with 30+ pages dedicated to the novel, I have discovered Blood Meridian is a novel based on reality, history and myriad other literature. It draws on Moby Dick, Paradise Lost and the Bible for characters, descriptions, vocabulary, syntax and its atmosphere of ‘End of Days’. The more I uncovered, the more I liked about Blood Meridian – my experience wasn’t diminished, it was enhanced. It galls me to say, but my love for Blood Meridian led me to begrudgingly acknowledge that criticism and analysis do have a place in literature.
My tattered copy hasn’t sat in the shelf since I bought it and I doubt it will ever have a place beside those other novels of the painfully trite and mundane. At least now I understand why it stands alone.
‘You speak truer than you know. But I will tell you. Only that man who has offered up himself entire to the blood of war, who has been to the floor of the pit and seen horror in the round and learned at last that it speaks to his inmost heart, only that man can dance.’
Read more of this series here
Mason Engelander is a Melbourne writer who currently runs and satirises for the website thecrat.com. He is a vegan and environmentalist whose indoctrination can be attributed to having lots of pets growing up and Captain Planet.