Re: RARA-AVIS: No Country For Old Men

From: Robert Elkin (
Date: 06 Aug 2005

Mike: Well, I wasn't trying to argue, but think now I may've been argumentative anyway. Will try not to be so here.

Was not trashing McCarthy at all, nor BM--I have been teaching the book for years at various universities & consider it a true masterwork. Also was not talking about McCarthy's style, merely that of the narrator he chose to create for the book (they're obviously not the same). Criticism I have heard of this style is that it too closely echoes Faulkner in things like Absalom, Absalom!; I think that read is a bit unfair & simplistic, as I find the prose suited to the book's time & purpose, but that's just me (As to my 19th century remark, citing only one instance from what you've put down: in 1847, "child the father of the man" is still only a line from Wordsworth; by 1985 it has become a worn cliché©®

Unsure what you mean by your "Twain" reference--usually Clemens is heralded as being the first U.S. writer to actually get something like the real speech of characters into his prose with Huck Finn. How does McCarthy fit into this?

BM's portrayal of the inherent animal nature of humanity in such an unflinching and unromantic fashion suggests of course that humans can choose not to be like this, and as it is tied to actual historical events & set in a historical context, also suggests that perhaps the first step might be to start to see historical events for what they are instead of as children's fairytales about cardboard heroes. I don't find this even close to the glorification of power/exercise of power so dear to the insecurity of the fascist mindset. But you were half-kidding anyway, and I'm sounding too strident, so I'll stop there with BM.

I agree on the excellence of Hammett, yet Hammett doesn't indulge in anatomizations of brutality, merely chooses (influenced of course by the guidelines under which he wrote) instead to leave some things to the imagination. Wouldn't call that "stark" in the sense of extreme/complete, though if you mean instead
"stark" as stripped down/minimized I'd agree. But the last doesn't apply to the tenor of BM very much.


--- Michael Robison <> wrote:

> Robert Elkin wrote:
> Sidenote: this "florid style" is really just the
> voice
> of a nineteenth-century narrator cast in the prose
> of
> his time. Perhaps stark brutality contrasts any
> medium of representation?--equally polar is American
> Psycho, to cite only one example. By the way, &
> referring to an earlier post, why do you think
> McCarthy a "fascist," whether you love him for it or
> not?
> *****************
> Your comment about his style being "really just the
> voice of a 19th century narrator cast in the prose
> of
> his time" is like saying Mark Twain is "just writing
> in the colloquial patois of the era." Even if true
> to
> a degree, it trivializes a significant and potent
> accomplishment in style. Here's the first three
> paragraphs of BLOOD MERIDIAN:
> "See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a
> thin
> and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery
> fire.
> Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and
> darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last
> wolves.
> His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers
> of
> water but in truth his father has been a
> schoolmaster.
> He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names
> are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and
> watches him.
> Night of your birth. Thirty-three. The Leonids
> they
> were called. God how the stars did fall. I looked
> for the blackness, holes in the heavens. The Dipper
> stove.
> The mother dead these fourteen years did incubate in
> her own bosom the creature who would carry her off.
> The father never speaks her name, the child does not
> know it. He has a sister in this world that he will
> not see again. He watches, pale and unwashed. He
> can
> neither read nor write and in him broods already a
> taste for mindless violence. All history present in
> that visage, the child the father of the man."
> The fascist comment was somewhat in jest, but not
> totally. Blood Meridian portrays man as naturally
> violent, born to war. Rather than offer some
> salvation from this predicament or, at a minimum,
> condemn this deplorable state, McCarthy embellishes
> it
> with a savage grace.
> And no, I don't think stark brutality contrasts any
> medium of representation. Hammett's terse style in
> RED HARVEST is perfectly matched to the content.
> miker
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