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Dust, ash, and the sublime :
b tracing kant's aesthetics in cormac mccarthy's _the crossing_ and _the road_
h [electronic resource] /
by Ben Gerdts.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
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Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2010.
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ABSTRACT: My thesis entails an examination into the presence of the sublime in two novels by Cormac McCarthy: his postmodern western The Crossing and his apocalyptic work The Road. I draw on Kant's aesthetic theory of the sublime, specifically focusing on the Dynamical and Mathematical sublime in relation to the settings of these two narratives. For the sake of brevity, I limit my study to nature's and religion's relation to the sublime in these works. Areas of particular interest to me include: a) How/why the characters of each novel appear unaffected by or even resigned to the lack of control or explanation concerning their surroundings and b) Whether the characters' sense of choice is dependent upon the presence of the sublime in their surroundings. At the thesis' conclusion, I suggest further routes for research, such as the potential connection between the aforementioned Kantian notion of human freedom and a burgeoning concept of morality in McCarthy's later novels, and perhaps a link from McCarthy's sublime and otherworldly slant to literary subgenres such as Magical Realism.
Advisor: Phillip Sipiora, Ph.D.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Dust, Ash, and the Sublime: The Crossing and The Road by Ben Gerdts A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Phillip Sipiora, Ph.D. Tova Cooper, Ph.D. Ylce Irizarry, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 16 2010 Keywords: altruism, apocalypse, desert, divinity, ethics Copyright 2010, Ben Gerdts
Dedication This thesis is dedicated to all my friends and family who have encouraged and inspired me throughout the entire research and drafting process. The personal faith that Laura, Mom, Dad, and Mad all had in me was felt throughout the entire process. Without such influences, I would have lacked the motivation to continue on. Also and most importantly, I would like to dedicate my thesis to Rufus B., who has literally been at my feet throughout the wr iting process, always offering encouraging sup port and tireless entertainment; I love you little buddy
Acknowledgments I would like to thank the committee members for supporting and guiding me throughout the thesis process: my director Dr. Sipiora and t wo readers, Dr. Cooper and Dr. Irizarry. Without their input I would have had no idea regarding the nuances of academic research, writing, and the composition process. In addition, a tip of the cap to the staff at the USF English Department for offering a dditional assistance and tutelage in progressing the thesis. Lastly, thanks to all of my colleagues and fellow graduate students for the many hours, day and night, of support, reinforcement, laughs, and opportunities to vent.
i Table of Contents Abstract ................................ ................................ ................................ ............................... ii Introduction ................................ ................................ ................................ .......................... 1 The Crossin g ................................ ... 8 Dynamical Sublime in The Road ................................ ................................ ................ 28 Altruism Entwining the Father, the Boy, and Billy Parham ................................ ...... 46 Works Cited ................................ ................................ ................................ ....................... 64
ii Dust, Ash, and the Sublime: The Crossing and The Road Ben Gerdts ABSTRACT My thesis entail s an examination into the presence of the sublime in two novels by Cormac McCarthy: his postmodern western The Crossing and his apocalyptic work The Road Dynamical and Mathematical sublime in relation to the settings of these two narrativ es. For the sake of brevity, I in these works. Areas of particular interest to me include: a) How/why the characters of each novel appear unaffected by or even resigned to the l ack of control or explanation choice is dependent upon the presence of the sublime in their surroundings. A conclusion, I suggest further routes for research, such as the po tential connection between the aforementioned Kantian notio n of human freedom and a burgeoning concept of later nove ls, and otherworldly slant to literary subgenres such as Magical Realism.
1 Introduction of emergence and individuality ever since he published his first novel, The Orchard Keeper in 1965. The initial four works known as his Southern novels, were generally ignored by the reading public, but McCarthy attained a cultish following among literary scholars and college students along the East coast beginning in the Seventies. When McC general setting for his wo rk shifted from the South to the deserted American West, the writer was able to shed any Faulknerian comparison s and witnessed a firestorm like recognition with Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West (1985) From this work to follow garnered more esteem and captivation from the reading public. Following Blood Meridian McCarthy released three interconnected novels known a s the Border Trilogy: All the Pretty Horses The Crossing (1994); and Cities of the Plain (1998). He then published the desert noir No Country for Old Men (2005) and then post apocalyptic masterpiece The Ro ad in 2006. awards he has garnered and the adaptations of his work Aside from the National Book Award, McCarthy was the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 1969, a MacArthur fellowship in 1981, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007 for The Road Attesting to
2 his popular reception, three of his novels have been made into major motion pictures: All the Pretty Horses released in 2000 and directed by Billy Bob Thornton; No Country for Ol d Men released in 2007, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and honored with the 2007 Academy Awa rd for Best Picture ; and most recently, The Road released in 2009 and directed by John Hillcoat Furthermore McCarthy participated in a 2007 interview with Opra h Winfrey, granting the American public an immediate glimpse into t he literary genius that had been embraced yet remained secluded from the public eye for decades As if his stature had not already been cemented, famed literary critic Harold Bloom recogniz Time Magazine included Blood Meridian as one of the 100 best English language books written from 1923 to 2005, and the Library of America is apparently considering the inclusion of his novels among their prestigious publications 1 Within the realm of scholarly criticism and publishing, a growing number of The Achievem ent of Cormac McCarthy was the first book collections of essays have been published since then, increasing to a greater degree as scholars began to recognize that McCarthy was not simply a had his own niche to carve in the American literary tradition His scope became broader Today, a 1 A wealth of biographical information concerning McCarthy may be found at the Corma c www.cormacmccarthy.com as well as in Edwin T. Arnold and Dianne C. Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy pp. 1 16.
3 Cormac McCarthy Society exists and produces the biannual Cormac McCarthy Journal thus extending the breadth of critical attention to his works. As r efreshing as it is to witness a contemporary author deserving of fame actually receive it on both the popular and critical levels of the American populous, scholarly hilistic and resistant to morality and ic meaning and dearth of insight into existential significa In Cormac McCarthy's novels, adjusting a notion of the self to an understanding of the nature of the world is a baffling and precarious enterprise, since it is the essence of that world, in all the novels, that form and me aning refuse to coincide. Experience, meanwhile, continues to insinuate questions while supplying no answers, leaving the articulate and the inarticulate alike fatefully free. (41) Research focused upon his later, Western works, became entranced by the vio lence inherent in McCarthy, viewing such bloodshed as an extension of nihi lism redirected as punishment for humankind ess regarding the natural world; this resulted in many ecological interpretations 2 Other scholars discern interpretative value in the in his Border Trilogy 3 The issue lies not in this wide breadth of interpretation, but more 2 The 3
4 of particular McCarthy works with the savage and punishing settings or scenarios inherent throughout his oeuvre This study will investigate the presence of century aesthetic theory concerning the sublime in McCarthy, and will i nquire into the relationship between the punishing worldview /s and brief yet telling moments of spiritual permeates The Crossing and The Road due to the philosophical depth of both texts as well as the desolate set ting of the Mexican desert in the former and the post apocalyptic ashen wasteland of the latter. The principal objec tive will be in suggesting how either the sublime physical object or the sublime ons and actions towards others. When confronted by a landscape or circumstance of utter ruin, the characters of these texts exemplify a semblance of intrinsic goodwill directed at their fellow sufferers. Early in his seminal Critique of the Power of Judgment Kant expla ins the correlation between the sublime object and a setting void of order and/or morality: [I]n that which we are accustomed to call sublime in nature there is so little that leads to particular objective principles and forms of nature corresponding to t hese that it is mostly rather in its chaos or in its wildest and most unruly disorder and devastation if only it allows a glimpse of magnitude and might, that it e xcites the ideas of the sublime (130, 5: 246, my emphasis) While further elucidation and di s of the sublime will be divulged in the following chapters, the central premise stated in the above quote
5 permeates all movement T he sublime, in its awe inspiring, breathtaking, or invigorating influence upon the human mind, will allow me to expound upon and explore the connection between the ab ject and the astounding The characters, as they traipse and trudge through the hopeless environs that they inhabit, exemplify a shining internal sublime that empowers their moral and metaphysical inclinations. They thus strike back against the repressive forces of evil with an inherent and unexpected might, prolonging their valiant quests for retribution and/or admonition. Broken down int o three chapters, this study provides insight into each of the two thread within both novels in the third chapter. Chapter One consider s the presence of the Mathemat ical sublime in The Crossing intrinsic attraction to the hidden sublime world influences his decisions and ultimately incites his mental collapse. The Road detailed in Chapter Tw o, and their post apocalyptic s etting, as well as it s embodiment as a flame within the young boy glorifies the plight of the characters to a degree, introducing concep ts of hope and salvation to a barren and morally corrupt earthen nightmare. Lastly, the final chapter attend s to treatment of ethics in conjunction with the sublime, especially the manner in which the sublime object impacts ards one another in times of physical strife and corporeal terror, resulting in a flickering yet burgeo ning semblance of humanity in two works of a writer kn own for his prosodic brutality. The thesis ultimately traces the influence of the sublime in evokin g the magnanimity of
6 individuals enraptured in a debilitating battle with a n unforgiving wild that seethes and boils either within man or in the natural world. A secondary purpose of this study is to assist in the growing amount of scholarly thought intending a departure from the earlier nihilistic bereft and unrewarding to readings that begin to investigate the deeper philosophical and, more specifically, phenomenological intrinsic sense of cognitive awareness within characters and their intuitive attention to the of humankind such a trend in McCarthy. In fact, two of the earliest scholarly publications concerning The Road feature insight into the unique sense of 4 s have generally featured an aura of foresight from one novel to the next. The conclusion of Suttree entailed its main character leaving the rivers of Blood Meridian a text immerse d in the hostile violence of the historical American West. Likewise, The Crossing concludes with Billy weeping in the nuclear fallout of an atomic bomb testing site in New Mexico; The Road begins with two characters wandering the abysmal post apocalyptic l andscape. Serious questions abound concerning where prescience coupled with his alluring unpredic the other Hopefully, and most minim ally, this thesis will serve as intellectual gab 4 See Carlson and Kunsa.
7 concerning some latent routes for further discussion o intends to contribute to scholarly atte ntion or awareness regarding an emergent and b urgeoning sense of humanity in the work s of an author previous ly deemed nihilistic and devoid of compassion
8 Doomed Allegiance to the Sublime in The Crossing Throughout The Crossing main character Billy Parham embarks upon three Mexico. In the first part of the novel, Billy attempts to lead a trapped and pregnant she wolf back to her native turf ; next, Billy, along with his brother Boyd, travails the horses; years later, Billy ventures back to Mexico to find these physical wanderings, an intensely personal inner voyage takes sha pe within Billy. He is the subject of an alienated and altogether tragic bildungsroman during his taxing travails in the Mexican wilderness. This quest for self realization is manifested due to bond with the she wolf, and then, following the she necessary and brutal death, in the awe inspiring natural world that so greatly intimidates yet entices the seventeen year old American. he intrinsically finds pleasurable In spite of the fact that the daunting mystery or apparent danger contained within these objects might inspire fear or he sitance, the novel
9 presents these as objects more akin to Billy than his fellow man. Throughout his three crossings, the entirety of significant physical harm suffered by Billy, Boyd, and the she wolf is all employed at the hand s of corrupt men and never b y the unwieldy forces of the natural world. The she within a dog fighting ring in a horrific carnival of a Mexican village (122), innocent Boyd is shot in the back by nefarious horse thieves on the open plain (269), and the lasting, fina l image of an impoverishe d and weeping Billy is set in the foreground of an atomic bomb test run (424). This novel is not about vage and unforgiving wilderness; rather it concerns the young newfound allegiance to the sublime pleasure of nature followed by his eventual understanding of humankind unknowable mystic. the mystical and surr eal realm of consciousness. relationship with nature can indeed be made 5 it is not necessarily the aesthetic qualities couple the two so clos ely. In the sublime, Billy seeks and bears witness to those objects that contain an inexp licable vastness or mystery inapplicable to human logic, yet feature an incredible structure that is recognized and aest owever, The Crossing sublime by possessing and embracing those objects that are meant to remain distant from tions of utter wolf perishes and Billy relinquishes 5 See Frye.
10 his emotional core e ssentially attempts to hold that which cannot be held and is permanently punish ed for it. The idea of the aesthetic sublime, introduced by Edmund Burke 6 was treated at length by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in two of his works, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764) and the Critique of the Power of Jud gment (1790). Kant divides the feeling of the sublime into the Mathematical and the Dynamical. The Crossing judged as an absolute measure, beyond which no greater is subjectively (for the judging subject) possible, it brings with it the idea of the sublime, and produces that emotion which no ( Critique 135, 5: 251). 7 I n this sense, any object that exists outside the realm of logical cognition, that cannot be plausibly measured by humankind that thus lays outside of it, is called the Mathematical sublime. Ka nt provides examples of the majesty of the skies, the overwhelming scope of a mountain range that reaches above the clouds, or the relentless power of the seas during a storm all references allude to natural settings that are characterized as sublime bec ause of their resistance to measurement. The Mathematical sublime channels a sort of pleasure within the witness, for it is in humankind mental capability to experience and recognize the incomprehensible that channels such aesthetic fulfillment. No rati onality or logic applies to the sublime object; 6 A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful (1756). 7
11 rather, it is a phenomenon that is witnessed and appreciated, but with a meaning that does not register, within the mental faculty of mankind. This is a separate world that humanity can see and feel, but cann ot and will never understand; the pleasure is in simply knowing it exists, not in how it works. Throughout The Crossing Billy hears tales, anecdotes, and phil osophical conjecture from outcasts banished from society, living al one in the ruins of the desert ; not surprisingly the majority of truths that Billy absorbs stems from such Something to contain us or to stay our hand. Otherwise there were no boundaries to our own being and we too must extend our claims until we lose all definition. Until we must grasp but that is present and undeniably entrancing One of the principal tenets that humankind mu st maintain regarding the Mathem atical sublime is that of distance. Kant notes that innate physical fear of sublime natural forces is righteous and should be respected. In that the sublime exists outside of scientific reason, its strength and violence possess the force to reduce the human body to nothingness, as witnessed in massive death tolls of natural disasters across the ages. ability to process and realize the majesty of the sublime is something to be admired, but from a distance. Kant notes the simultaneous allure of and resistance to the sublime: [The feeling of the sublime in nature] may be compared to a vibration, i.e., to a rapidly alternating repulsion from and attraction to one and the same object.
12 What is excessive for the imagination (to which it is driven in the apprehension of i dea of the supersensible to produce such an effort of the imagination is not excessive but lawful, hence it is precisely as attractive as it was repulsive for mere sensibility. ( Critique 141 42, 5: 258, my emphasis) Billy Parham is ultimately doomed by his inability to resist the allure of the sublime. He cannot merely stand back and passively ob serve the majesty ; rather, something within with the sublime object forms the essence of his being in The Crossing yet is also the dedication to the sublime is realized in his first quest to take the she wolf that he trapped in the hills of hi s native New Mexico back across the border to the boundless desert landscape of Mexico. Throughout the journey, which comprises the first third of the novel, Billy and the she wolf form an unspoken yet seemingly intrinsic link that strengthens a nd serves a s the emotive crux of the primary part of the text. While Billy was ordered by his father to kill any wolf intrigue and attraction to th e wolf species will prohibit such an action. Before he has captured th e she w olf, Billy dreams of her tried to see her. Her and others of her kind, wolves and ghosts of wolves running in the whiteness of that high world as perfect to their use as if their counsel had been sought in the
13 spiritual being that is supreme and my sterious to him ; for Billy, the wolf is his connection to the sublime. Billy conceptualizes the she wolf, helplessly entangle d in one of his traps, as his portal to a wor ld that is ungrasp able and mystical Upon capturing the she wolf and deciding to lead her back to Mexico, the most intimate and revealing moments between the two characters express ract the sublime from his situation. Billy aspires towards a sort of mental transcendence in his relationship with the she wolf, as he consistently observes the various nuances of her actions and mannerisms in an effort to gain access to a world originally and intentionally remote from his human mentality. What Billy really craves is entry into his deeper capacities, into a manner of thought outside of his perceptibly limited logical mind, passage into what Kant calls the supersensible substratum : [T]he mag nitude of a natural object on which the imagination fruitlessly expends its entire capacity for comprehension must lead the concept of nature to a supersensible substratum (which grounds both it and at the same time our faculty for thinking), which is grea t beyond any standard of sense and hence allows not so much the object as rather the disposition of the mind in estimating it to be judged sublime. ( Critique 139, 5: 256) One night while sitting alongside the fire, Billy ruminates while he looks at the sh e wolf passage, some of the most vivid allusions to the sublime throughout the enti re novel point
14 to the arcane and enticing awareness at once so foreign yet so intensely coveted by Billy glowing in th e she Numerous connections extant between Billy and the she wolf suggest both Billy's innate desire to witness the sublime firsthand as well as the intrinsic link that exten ds the sublime in nature to the spiritual and metaphysical realm. Coinciding with the aforementioned passage of Billy's envisioning the wolf cascading across the sacred mountains with her ancestral brethren (31), later allusions within the prose intensify the bond between man and animal, between the normal and the sublime. As Billy and the she all that whirling pande monium he could feel the wolf trembling electrically against him 65). As there exists a sense of mutual electricity that is being passed to and from each character, a fused duo emerges, causing Billy and the wolf, initially two disparate characters originating from opposing worlds, to be seen as one entity. The sense of solitude, epitomized by the various vagabonds encountered and wolf in the later stages of their crossing. Following the wolf's imprisonment within a tent and in them was no despair but only that same reckonless deep of loneliness that cored developing bond between Billy and the she wolf in their shared loneliness, the text also hints at that same semblance of a metaworld that Billy so intensely seeks in the sublime, one of mystique
15 but also one that is as alienated and forgotten as he is when wandering alone in the hostile Mexican desert. Kant, in his Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime the she wolf experience during their failed journeys, it is this same al luring terror within the loneliness that drives Billy further in his sublime pilgrimage throughout the novel. The realm of the sublime, realized in the relationship between Billy and the she wolf, becomes tinted with the sacred and adds a religious dimension to the dynamics of behavior and trust between the two. T heir bond is complicated by the introduct ion of the spiritual and divine, for w hen questioned about his reason for trekking across the desert property of a great hacendado 8 and that it had been put in his care that my emphasis ). C ompared to Billy's assumed reasons 9 for escorting the wolf across the border this overt reference to God as a a figure as unknowable as it is beautiful and the impetus f Augmenting the divine reference, the wolf is interpreted by Peebles as a sublime object, one of lurid beauty yet glossed with an undeniable aura of mystery. Billy still does not know the finite reason for his attraction to freeing the wolf, but one may glean from such passages that in addition to there being a sort of moral duty supporting his actions, a deeper desire to oblige the spirit of the natural world is also directing Billy's decision. 8 Hacendado 9 ives in forsaking his family and taking their only gun with him. Rather, his behavioral patterns remain mysterious and open to interpretation.
16 The contras ting ideals of the world of the wolf and that of humanity are referenced early, before Billy captures the she wolf, in a scene where he goes to visit an accessing the w orld of the wolf, the viejo distinguishes between the two separate ideologies: He said that the wolf is a being of great order and that it knows what men do not: and their ceremonies lies the world and in this world the storms blow and the trees twist in the wind and all the animals that God has made go to and fro yet this world men do not see. They see the acts of their own hands or they see that which they name a nd call out to one another but the world between is invisible to them. (45 46) T he inherent confli ct between these two worlds story. In trying to cross over into the forbidden world of the wolf, Billy attempts an im possible transfer from the logically grounded to the sublime and thus alienates himself ideologically from the world of men leaving him in a sense, without a world. e she wolf is prefigured to a greater extent by the danger that she respondi
17 week Billy traps the she rather, the dream presages the approaching turmoil that will arise as Billy attempts to get nearer to the she mystical as well, a quality also found in the primal na ture of the she wolf s materialize into horrific repercussions. Tragically enough, he does not fully realize the innocent waywardness of his choices until the wolf perishes in the dog fighting ring as the moral intentions of Billy disintegrate into a scene of hapless hostility and brutal death at the conclusion of the first book. Billy fails to heed or recognize the lesson of Don Arnulfo earlier in comparing the wolf to a snowflake (46); pertaining to this scene, Molly because like the snowflake which melts in your hand as soon as it is held, it ceases to to possess the wilderness of the wolf, an endeavor that signifies Billy's desire to align himself with the mysterious and untouchable world of the sublime, Billy realizes too late that he cannot do so, as a limited being existing within the world of man. I n tur n, the young American shoots the dying wolf in the head, thus shattering the sublime consciousness within the wolf and inside
18 and at too great a price to really ever be forgiven. The mystery of the distance between man and the sublime provokes both death and despair but also self realization. Billy's failure to discern the incomprehensible nature of the wolf's world is clearl y evident in his final ruminations in the last paragraph of Book One. After executing the suffering wolf, Billy trades his gun for the wolf's body and heads out to the Mexican mountains to bury it: He took up her stiff head out of the leaves and held it or he reached to hold what cannot be held, what already ran among the mountains at once terrible and of a great beauty like flowers that feed on flesh. What blood and bone are made of but can themselves n ot make on any altar nor by any wound of war. What we may well believe has the power to cut and shape and hollow out the dark form of the world s urely if wind can, if rain can. But which cannot be held never be held and is no flower but is swift and a h untress and the wind itself is in terror of it and the world cannot lose it. (127, my emphasis) In this intensely metaphysical passage, one instantly recognizes the characteristics of the sublime that Billy so desperately seeks as he holds the she wolf's head, her conscious connection to that other world, in his hands. The essence of the sublime is that it conveys that which cannot be measurably fathomed, as an object outside of the realm of mathematical reason but likewise a product of pleasure and desire. One is reminded in this passage of the natural world to which the wolf belongs in the consistent allusions to the organic, earthly imagery that charges the excerpt with a
19 certain resonance and potency; this ethereal haven is a world immune to calculations and human interference one that is ideological ly distant yet omnipresent. David Holloway elevates the presence and allegiance of the wolf to one of a higher, more traditional genus supernatural knowledge, the living residue Crossing 25, as quoted in Holloway). The wolf is valorized because it stands for the essential itself, for the authentic truth bearing formless and fundamental absolute 10 the text reiterates the definite border between the world s of humanity and nature. The passage cites specific artifices created by hu man kind in the words altar an d war thus aligning bu t never venturing to merge logic and reason with the inexplicable sublimity of the natural world. order and rationality may breech the outer borders of the sublime, but his or her capacities for logic that revolve aro und a set of assumptions and physical rules/measurements, signified in the passage by the verb believe will never be capable of comprehending the inner arena of the sublime aesthetic, of the divine design. As he holds the wolf's lifeless head in his hands the sublime continues to impact and infiltrate his mind in a similar manner as with the she wolf. For much of the novel, Billy wanders alone and tends to philosophize introspectively 10 Critique of the Power of Judgment 5:244 46.
20 regarding his surroundings, most notably while traipsing through the ruthless desert and encompassing darkness of the Mexic an landscape. However, in the same way that Billy reframes the inherent danger embodied in the she wolf to sentiments of amazement, respect, and even romance, he tends to view the terrain with a similar sense of respect and awe. Correlating directly with K distressing or foreboding desolation of the dusty plains; perception of the inadequacy of any sensible standard for the estimation of magnitude by reason corresponds with r supersensible vocation in us, in accordance with which it is purposive and thus a pleasure ( Critique 14 1, 5: 258). to shape logically and construct limits or forms for the overbearing landscape results in a sort of internal and fundamental pleasure for him. W hen his view of the mountains is described early in the text one may glean a sense of primal regard for their structure and presence both in the natural world and within his looked new born out of the hand of some improvident go not only are placed outside of also are removed from the reasoning of a being superior to humankind, a god. Instead, imaginative capacities allow him to construct, realize, and embrace the sublime power of these natural structures. Discussing the romantic naturalism of The Crossing
21 terrifying, violent, large, and seemingly indifferen t, something essential and beyond knowing remains, manifesting itself in a universal story, articulated and embodied in the Judgment 133, 5: 249). The concept of divinity is mountains. In the second book of the novel, the intrinsic spirituality of the natural world resurfaces as Billy meets with a series of mystics who all offer their individualized theologic al exegese s. One hermit reflects upon his past discussion s with a man who Who can dream of God? This man did. In his dreams God was much hands it vanished into nothing once again. Endlessly. Endlessly. So. Here was a God to study. A God who seemed a slave to his own selfordinate d duties. A God with a fathomless capacity to bend all to an inscrutable purpose. Not chaos itself lay outside of that matrix. (149) the sublime, but the sublime als o acts as a link to the divine. The above quote presents a inscrutable inscrutable found out by searching ; impenetrable or unfathomable to investigation; quite the same purpose that
22 was originally described as foreign to a god in the earlier quote, the principal sublime characteristic of unintell igibility and mystery is vital to its description. Furthermore, the very epitome of the unruly and disorderly, chaos is referenced as being contained within the divine. The negative inscrutability of the sublime is the foremost characteristic that drives glorifying its presence throughout The Crossing Earlier descriptions of the mount ains in an aura of resplendent brightn ess and heavenly vibrancy unjustifiably romanticize the influence of the sublime for it is in the moments of terror and darkness that the true and ultimat e purpose of the sublime may be deduced. In distinguishing betw een the sublime Observations 47); considering the all pervading darkness, Kant likens the sublime to the idea of infinity: on of which brings with Critique 138, 5: 255). Fairly early in the text, the concept of infinite darkness is personified as an ominous phenomenon of the natural world. As Billy rides off in to the night, a rancher views him watching after him. All to the south was the dark of the mountains where they rode and he could not skylight them there and soon they were swallowed up and lost horse and sense of infinity coupled with encompassing or enveloping night conjures disturbing yet
23 resonant images of an inescapable and indescri bable blackness that is wrought with tolerate a human presence, but they remain in essence wild and beyond the fashioning Nigh darkness is referenced later in the text as existing in conjunction with the notion of the sublime as a mixture of fear, horror, and pleasure. As Billy sits upon the banks of a small body of water, he melds the sensory impulses of his immediate the lake where there was no wind but only the dark stillness and the stars and yet he felt a cold wind pass. He crouched in the sedge by the lake and he knew he feared the world to come for in it were already written certainties no man would wish for. He saw pass as in 26). While t he pleasure in such a scene may not be immediately discernible due to the direct danger that Billy willingly impinges upon his own psyche, the poignancy and awe inspiring power of the terrifying sublime is certainly pr esent and adversely effective regardin g the viewer of the come, a thought that is astoundingly accurate when considering the apocalyptic conclusion to the novel. The final scene of the novel provides a brief respite for a weary character, but more crucially envisions allusions to the ominous days to come. Following his physically tedious and morally debilitating voyages throughout the Mexican wilderness, a sullen a nd
24 exhausted Billy stops to rest in a forsaken barn down the road from Silver City, New Mexico, an area near the Trinity Atomic Test Site 11 Coincidentally enough, the last day that a cognizant Billy remembers is Ash Wednesday, when he encountered a group o f churchgoing Mexican familie s in the town of Animas Valley. The overt atomic references to the presence of the apocalyptic in this scene serve to convey both the pleasure of the sublime encounter as well as the depressing erosion of sublimity in a nuclear world set upon a course for destruction because of humanity nuclear science and mass death. Billy i nitially views the loneliness of the apocalyptic setting in an aesthetic le of trash was smoldering in the damp and a black smoke rose into the dark overcast. The desolation of Billy, a stranger to the scene, takes pleasure in his recognition of the unfath omable nature of the alienation and in the newness of the however, we call something not only great, but simp ly, absolutely great, great in every respect (beyond all comparison), i.e., sublime, then one immediately sees that we do not allow a suitable standard for it to be sought outside of it, but merely within it. It is a ( Critique 133 aspect 11 A promin ent locale for nuclear testing during the middle of the twentieth century, most notably of the atomic bomb prior to its use in World War II. McCarthy is a fellow at the Santa Fe Institute, a foundation indebted to science and discovery, witnessed by their fixation upon the apocalyptic in The Crossing and The Road For S anta Fe Institute, consult his November 20, 2009 Wall Street Journal interview with John Jurgensen.
25 immeasurable magnificence, but rather in its unhabituated and alien mystique. Billy gradually begins to realize that this setting is not sacred or glorious but is rather an indication of the erosion or diminishment of the natural world influence. That which was once a breathtaking landscape has been reduced to bleak nothingness, a quality of the terrifying subl ime that is ultimately more harrowing to environment ar ound him. Billy finally understands that the sublime has been perverted at the final scene of the novel serves as a biting symbol of such a development. The dog is described as a grotesque and mangled Inferno than the ghost towns of New Mexico: As it went it raised its mouth sid eways and howled again with a terrible sound. Something not of this earth. As if some awful composite of grief had broken through from the preterite world. It tottered away up the road in the rain on its stricken legs and as it went it howled again and aga 25) initial journey with the she wolf, a holy creature from which ema nated the lovely allure of the sublime. In the she wolf the influence, greed and cruelty of the human world instigated, progressed, and finalized her physical ruin. In the dog, however, one sees not only the physical toll inflicted upon the n atural world by the world of humankind but
26 howl. The results of humanity assumed dominion over the sublime natural world should come as no surprise, for the same idea is presented hundred thousand years and more. Dreams of that malignant lesser god come pale and naked and alien to slaughter all his clan and k in and rout them from their house. A god Arnold astutely identifies such a notion as a central theme throughout The Crossing : ating, spiritually, for he learns the is psychologically inverted and ruined by the debilitating influence of man upon the beloved sublime world. After harshly evicting the dog from its home, the next day Billy alled and called [for the dog]. Standing in that inexplicable darkness. Where there was no sound anywhere save only the wind. After a while he sat in the road. He took off his hat and placed it on the tarmac before him and he bowed his head and held his fa ce in his 26). Throughout The Crossing Billy Parham has kindled a relationship with the sublime, one that has opened his mind to another world and briefly to divinity, but that has also indirectly caused his psyche to self destruct. H arkening back
27 crushingly what cannot be held and whose spirit suffers a grievous wo emphasis). The Crossing goes horrifically awry; his intentions are true, yet misguided and romantic, and are ultimately ill fit for a world where the spiritual, ethereal, and pure are corrupted as quick ly as can be by the laughter of heathenish villains, the crack of a rifle, or the sonic reverberations of a divinity within the flesh and matte r of the terrestrial world yearns for the spiritual world of light, for ultimate unity with God. Billy represents both kinds of displacement, (139), but clearly h one in search of self realization, but concludes as a negative and destructive bildungsroman protagonists, McCarthy explore s the process of mapping the self, of locating oneself such a landscape goes, so does Billy: as it erodes and disappears, so too does he. The Crossing est to find and situate himself within the natural world, yet concludes with his being reduced to infantile and helpless weeping within a post apocalyptic setting devoid of any semblance of life or sublimity.
28 and Sublimity: Interpretations of the Dynamical Sublime in The Road apocalyptic vision The Road (2006) arguably continues the scenario left at the conclusion of The Crossing While published eleven years apart f rom one another, The Crossing (1995) ends with a dejected Billy slumping to his knees in the fallout of a New Mexico atomic bomb testing site ; The Road maintains such a storyline but with new characters, as a father and son wander the earth following some sort of nuclear catastrophe 12 Both works revolve around the premise of nomadic characters innocently traversing an unknown and daunting landscape, replete with dangerous pitfalls and teeming with bloodthirsty villains they a re ref erred to by the boy in The Road search for an unidentified haven of sorts. In fact, the theme of both works is so similar that Edwin T. Arnold, in writing about The Crossing makes a statement that seems more closely applicable to The Road yet appeared in natural matrix has been violently shattered, undone by man in an act of tremendous Man and boy p rogress across this dismal setting in search of salvation from their 12 The explanation for the nuclear wasteland of The Road is never fully provided by McCarthy;
29 and divinity present in the two, thus spurring them on to i ndividualized redemptive refuge Like The Crossing The Road features an ominous and all encompassing landscape that is both mystical and that lies outside the realm of reason. The father and son respond to it in much the same way as Billy does, reverenced wi th a sort of awe but tentatively and with the utmost concern for personal safety and caution. In the prev ious chapter, the Mathematical s ublime an d its influences were traced throughout The Crossing and the same version of the sublime is indubitably prese nt in The Road A n absence of logi cal reason and rationality applies to the ashen wasteland that both characters endure throughout the text, complicated evermore by the unknown origins and inexplicable nature that unleashed such apocalyptic fury so recentl y yet with such violence. Fairly early in the text, not only does the man have difficulty in comprehending the mystery within the apocalyptic, but he begins to forget the names of objects that he before, beyond the numbness and the dull despair. The world shrinking down about a raw (75). Within such chaotic nothingness and uncer tainty, the characters of The Road appear lost, both physically, in a land unknown to them, as well as mentally, witnessed by the The dark obscurity extant within the landscape of The Road is cut from the same literal thread that once perplexed yet enticed Billy of The Crossing The Mathematical
30 sublime is categorized by the formlessness of the sublime object that lies outside of m easurements derived from man Pleasure is elicited r ealization that reason cannot and never will apply to such an object, and that the mind has the ability to imagine the infinite or absolute as existing outside of any conventions of numerical wisdom. While the existence of pleasurable feelings associated w ith the apocalyptic may be debated concerning The Road moments abound in which the man is reverently aghast at the mystery and unknowability of the sublime object. One object that He got up and walked out to the road. The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then a distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so without description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the he sublime is witnessed by the man as a force, ominous to a degree, that permeates not only of ash has re colored the road, an object that easily would be recognized and habitualized While the Mathematical s ublime is applicable in The Road s ublime factors in to a greater degree throughout the text The former, associated with measurements, is replaced by the latter, driven by fear, which in turn exerts a solemn influence over the characters in the text. In his Critique of Judgment Kant describes the Dynamical s n object as fearful without being afraid of it, if, namely, we judge it in such a way that we merely think of the case in which we might wish to resist it and think that in that case all resistance would be
31 5: e example is the traditional Christian doctrine of fearing the power of God while embracing His eternal love and compassion. Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime conveys a legitimate amount of for esight into the interconnectedness of the fearsome object and the apocalyptic. In discussing the various states of the sublime, Kant has something of the fearsome in ublime, a lengthy duration of experienc e evoked by the fearsome object, directly correlates with the post apocalyptic, a setting riddled with the illogic surrounding th future and complicated by an inestimable, hidden internal significance. T he final sentences of the novel generally the most poignant in any McCarthy text, beautiful markings found on th that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and which adopts an overtly ecological stance, is notable due to the emphasis placed on the mystery of the natural world 13 This is a world that is irreplaceable and unknowable; in these final lines, a Hem ingway esque 14 appreciation for the resplendent yet forsaken land springs forth. It is a setting that has become ignored or habituated by the mind of 13 Regarding this conclusive passage, consult Kunsa, p. 67. 14
32 common man, a possibl e allusion to humankind deserving The Road dominion over nature. In much the same way as Billy attempted to possess that same sacred inscrutable side of nature this last passage appears to reference the undeniable inability of humankind to ever comprehend the dangerous wonders of the natural realm. The otherworldly setting works to discolor or distort familiarity and knowledge in the eyes of the wandering cha racters. The man repeatedly forgets commonplace referents to objects as well as characteristics of shape and u tility concerning certain tools; the nomads of The Road are also faced with objects that have been reframed through the guise of the apocalypse. I n such a case the s ublime provides emotions of breathlessness compounded by mystery. Late in the text, the boy and man finally arrive at the ocean, a destination that might serve to deliver the two away from their suffering. However, the umptions of the ocean are instantly distorted by the bleakness and power inherent in the massive object shif ting and crashing before them: Then they came upon it from a turn in the road and they stopped and stood with the salt wind blowing in their hair w listen. Out there was the grey beach with the slow combers rolling dull and leaden and the distant sound of it. Like the desolation of some alien sea breaking on the shores of a world unheard of (181, my empha sis) As they stare out into the sea, the foreignness of the object bewilders them; the referents commonly associated with the ocean but it is the sublimity of the apocalyps e
33 he apocalypse acts as its own illogical catalyst, for as it casts its shroud over the world that the man once knew, it alienates his natural preconceptions from his otherworl dly observations. This is no longer the familiar ocean of the past, the body of water that he once had a cogent grasp and knowledge of; this is now a strange entity tha t exists outside of manmade reason, replete with a magnitude that can only be defined as an absolute in and of itself. The characters of The Road become aligned with the Dynamical s ublime amidst such confusion for they never appear to dread the fearsome object directly as they move throughout the apocalyptic landscape ; fear is a distinctly possible sentiment, but is never realized in the main characters In fact, rather than conveying a sense of timidity concerning the potential recurrence of such a hostile and omnipotent event, the father and son use the landscape and destruction to their advantage in hiding from the true villains of the nov el, their fellow man. I n lig ht of such an apparent embrace of the apocalyptic, both are consistently reminded of their inferiority and weak physical presence in comparison to the mighty forces of uncerta inty that earlier reduced the landscape to its permanently gr a y state. In one of his midnight ruminations while his son is sleeping, the man wonders at their pitiful role as mere animals attempting to survive in the punishing and unforgiving environs in wh ich they are trapped: He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushi ng
34 black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like groundfoxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it. (110) I n such thoughts, the Dynamical s ublime, which is bred by the fea r that the object should produce but does not chaos, ultimate and inescapable power, and darkness are referenced in relation to the hing black vacuum of the landscape in hiding and in fear. However, interesting in this scene is that the man stands within such menacing blacknes s at the darkest time of the nig ht without fear of the earth or the universe. Rather than possessing an inherent fear of what one might assume should very well be the cause of trepidation and angst, the man exists within it in a manner of comfort and philosophical tranquility. Man and boy endure within the post apocalyptic landscape in a cautious yet an imperiling nature, but with a presence more inclined to promoting impunity. The novel itself pr ovides very little background concerning the origins of the current state of the land, only that there was a series of ). The absence of information shifts the focus of the text from the actual apocalypti c event to the characters attempting to subsist within its fallout. In such a case, the man and boy are closely aligned with the ashen landscape rather than placed in opposition to it. George der Trilogy, makes an
35 argument applicable to The Road that landscape and character share their fate (the negative materiality of death) and status (the positive materiality of life) as existential equa ls due to the erasure of all previous The Crossing it is man who inflicts pain and destruction in The Road landscape, as both endure against the sadistic and amor al actions of villainous man. Kant, in distinguishing between the various types of the sublime (and before he identifie s the Mathematical and Dynamical), clari fies the correlation between the terrifying sublime and the grotesque two terms that f it in directly with the paradigmatic occurrences of The Road terrifying sublime if it is quite unnatural, is adventurous. Unnatural things, so far as the sublime is supposed in them, although little or none at all may actually be found, are grotesque Observations 55). The characteristic that connects both terms is unnaturalness, a tag that certainly applies to the story of the man and boy. That the apocalypse was an unnatural occurrence, created most likely by man, and is thus an artifice rather than an act of nature, renders it applicable to such a classification as the terrifying sublime The presence of the terrifying commingling with the promise of the sublime introduces a uniquely dichotomous partnership to the conflicting worldviews inherent in The Road especially when the m an and boy happen upon a series of grotesqueries extant within and due to the presence of the apoca lyptic Scenes associated with cannibalism abound in the text and are the most poignant and burning images to the reader and to the characters; the man and boy stumble into a basement that holds a half consumed living
36 body on the floor among a group of imprisone d, emaciated people (93) as well as view a newborn human infant roasting on a spit while its mother and her fellow travelers wait to consume it (167). The graphic nature and inherent horror of such scenes serve to epitomize the madness of humanity in the f ace of destruction as well as the intrinsical ly corrupt nature of common man; paradoxically, the man and boy are situated outside of divinity (to be explored later in this chapter) What separates this novel from others of McCarthy that feature the punishing side of humanity 15 is the presence of the sublime and the hope associated with it 16 In The Road the sublime, that object that incites not only fear but also transcenden tal wonder, is ordained u nto the characters as their external survive. The inclusion of the divine is a characteristic that instant ly distinguishes the Dynamical s ublime from the Mathematical, much in the same way that The Road stands apart from other McCa rthy fiction. In the Dynamical s ublime, God is both a sublime object, as was referenced earlier by a quote from the Critique of Judgment using God as an example o f the fearsome object that is not directly feared by man, and a part of the sublime observer. In such a way, God is clearly connected to the sublime, but is also linked closely to man, the sublime observant in whom His ways are explicitly reflected 15 Outer Dark Child of God and Blood Meridian immediately come to mind. 16 invocation of the silent, still, darkness of the world is a potent omen. Yet, his powerful constructions of the permanence of places itself reaffirm the
37 through The Dynamical sublime makes possible the entities, God and humanity, as similar vessels that contain and are empowered by their awareness of the sublime. I n The Road the boy represents this two fold link between the divine and the sublime; furthermore, his role as a repository of goodness, innocence, and hope amidst such moral corruption and desolation is frequently referenced and revered by the man, his father and protector. Ashley Kunsa ident ifies the interplay between the intrinsic benevolence repeatedly witnessed in the boy and the harrowing scenes that take place that it accepts the disjunction between where the world/fiction has been and where it is going, and in this moment of possibilit y after the old and before the new reconciles by Kunsa is the conclusion of the novel, in which the boy, whose father has died and left him alone, is found by a family o f compassionate wanderers who instantly recognize the Kunsa reads The Road as a novel that emphasizes the change and transformation of a human afflicted world over a drastic event; this eschatological interpretation holds definite wei ght in its identification of a shifting metaphysical ingrained goodness as a final glow of desperate yet persistent self philanthropy. The boy in the text is most closely associated with a savior like ethos, for in him all of the previous transgressions of mankind, evidenced by the final lines of the text, stand to be remedied.
38 A breakdown of the correlation between the Dynam ical sublime and God will dliness Kant notes in a lengthy passage of his Critique that the feeling of superiority (fearless when facing the fearsome) over the daunting object is both a sublime sentiment and ability of humanity ; this talent, however, is only present due to the heav enly being of ultimate sublimity that implanted such a capability within man: Everything that arouses this feeling [of intellectual superiority] in us, which sublime; and only un der the presupposition of this idea in us and in relation to it are we capable of arriving at the idea of the sublimity of that being who produces inner respect in us not merely through his power, which he displays in nature, but even more by the capacity that is placed within us for judging nature without fear and thinking of our vocation as sublime in comparison with it. (147 48, 5: 264) implanting within hu man kind of the intellectual aptitude to both confront and elevate oneself above the sublime o bject defines the divine side of the Dynamical s ublime, and is also that facet which serves to link hu man kind and God via the sublime object. The Road adopts the boy as the sublime object, the epitome within humanity in the face of the physically daunting and dangerous object; as the apocalyptic environs reduce many beings to awe and madness, the boy remains strangely grounded and transcendently superior to such a magnitude of destructive and mysterious forces.
39 Classifying the boy as a divine sprout emboldens the text and exemplifies the omnipotent nature of the Dynamical sublime. unaffectedness concerning the fe arsome object of the Dynamical s ublime may initially be dismissed a s being consequen tial of his naivety in being a seven year old child; however, his growing up within a wasteland of murder and cannibalism would strip any such label from him. Instead, his mindset is shaped by his supreme identity as the divine object, a c oncept that is re ferenced repeatedly throughout the novel. Early in the text, father and son repeat a notion that consistently refers to their magnanimous intentions towards times in t he text: once as an opportunity for the man to explain their sec urity to the boy (because they a beacon of hope for the boy as he envisions his quest to find another family in the event of fire remains intentionally ambiguous, as it only signifies man his dying words to his son, letting him know that th 17 17 Perhaps this is the same fire that is referenced by Edwin T. Arnold in a reading of The Crossing : llumination that nature surrounding the fire, a quality that is certainly applicable to that same fire referenced in a sublime manner in The Road
40 softly alluded to tag but he is lucidly labeled in a godlike manner by other characters in the novel as well. He is referred to by the old man prophetically named Ely as an otherworldly being or an angel, (145). In the final paragraphs of the novel, the mother of the well meaning family is immediately and abnormally drawn to the boy. First, she welcomes him as though she an observati on that alludes to a sense of familiarity althou gh the two have never met The woman later bluntly 1). In addition to references considering his uniq ue connection to God by other characters, the boy himself directly confesses his divine origins to his surprised father; as the two are debating whether or not to help a stricken man on the side of the road, the following exchange occurs: The man squatted scared. The boy didnt answer. He just sat there with his head bowed, sobbing. The boy said something but he couldnt understand him. What? [the man] said. [The boy] looked up, his wet and grimy face. Yes I am, he said. I am the one. (218) This final peculiar comment from the boy might strike any parent as a simpl e slip of the tongue due to speech, but given the
41 context of the novel, it s alignment with the Dynamical s ublime, and the consistent The Road also recognizes the explicit Messianic identity of the boy (66), reframing his heavenly origins in his unique practice of giving names to objects and people, a custom that is forsaken by adults throughout the novel. The divinity o f the boy may be witnessed in his superiority over the superior, aligning him closely with the very nature implicated by the Dyna mical s ublime. As his metaphysical origins or associations are clarified, his character becomes elevated in import over any oth er character in the novel as well as over the mysterious and the reader in the context of the apocalyptic nightmare in which the characters a re knowingly trapped. W ithout the alienating and humbling effects of the ashen world, its ability to sublimate the boy would be lost. Paul Crowther, in considering an avalanche as an example of the Dynamical s ublime, explains the correlation between the mighty object and the observer: [F]rom a rational viewpoint, not only can we comprehend the power of the avalanche and the havoc it wreaks, we can even conceptualize the idea of infinite power and the insignificance of our relation to it. The mighty object, in other fact that our conceptualizing capacity can even range over power that, from the perceptual and imaginative viewpoint of a finite creature, is
42 incomprehensible as a totality. This, I would suggest, explains our pleasure in the dynamical sublime. (149) In T he Road the boy as observer of the sublime becomes inferior to his role as the sublime object, for his presence as a godly entity realizes the insignificance to him The boy, not the apocalypse, is the mighty object, one who possesses the mys uses his inner godliness, that part of creation as an image of Himself 18 to overcome the fearsome object and to experience pleasing disposition do those effects of power serve to awaken in him the idea of the sublimity of will, and is thereby raised above the fear of such effects of nature, which he does not Critique 147, 5: 264). In essence, it is closeness to God that elevates the subjugated individual over the subjugating force. The boy not only reveals definite proximity to God in his accepting and casual approach to the horrors of the sublime object (his fearlessness of the fearsome), but also explicitly identifies himself a carrier of the word of God; like The ultimate significance of the r elationship betw een divinity and the Dynamical s ublime in The Road is that it inspires the sentiment of hope, mentioned earlier as a rarity 18 Se e Genesis 1:26 27.
43 in a McCarthy novel, and it is that hope which drives the characters on throughout the desolation of landscape and v punishing section of the post apocalyptic landscape, the man devotedly instruc ts the boy to keep hope alive: Th ey were c rossing the broad coastal plain where the secular winds drove them in howling clouds of ash to find shelter where they could. Houses or barns or under the bank of a roadside ditch with the blankets pulled over their heads and the noon sky black as the cell ars of hell. He held the boy against him, cold to the bone. Dont lose heart, he said. The inner bond bet ween two humans is what inspires the feeling of hope, even when al l natural forces are intent to impress death upon them. Whi le Ashley Kunsa correctly deduces the pervading theme of hope in the text, she places emphasis on the persistence of the landscape following a catastrophic event as a seminal beacon of optimism in the ch unlikely odds is itself the hopeful suggestion of an alternative to stark existe uch a suggestion is certainly plausible given the stripped setting and nihilistic premises of the violent and unforgiving early scenes, but it is t he element of humanity that serves as the greatest and most notable progenitor of hope in The Road The importance of the Dynamical sublime, physically dominating object, is that it promotes hope in the most unlike ly and otherworldly of settings. Kant describes the true basi s of pleasure in the Dynamical
44 s it ; in uperiority of his mentality, Kant notes, beings, recognize our physical powerlessness, but at the same time it reveals a capacity for judging ourselves as independent of it and a superiority over nature on which is grounded a self preservation of quite another kind than that which can be threatened and endangered by nature outside us, whereby the humanity in our person remains undemeaned even though the human being must subm it to that dominion. ( Critique 145, 5: 262) By separating themselves from the apparently unavoidable hopelessness of the situation, both man and boy are empowered to exist and persevere within the most hostile and unnatural of locales. The inherent fearlessness that both man and boy c onvey is exemplified by the manner in which they habitualize their lives within the apocalyptic. As the man describes his son, he notes a profoun d affinity for adaptation in the y surprised by the most outlandish events. A creation the imperviousness is due to the countless atrocities and horrors that the boy has already faced, resulting in a semblance of desensitization in t he face of the terrifying. However, it is not only the boy, his entire life having been spent in such a setting, whose sensations of fear have been dulled but the man as well, who remembers what it was like before the land changed; following a violent enco
45 manner in which the man rec ites seemingly rehearsed lines back to himself clearly alludes to the sense of adj ustment that he has made in the setting. Rather than exist in a state of perpetual trepidation, both man and boy adapt within the sublime landscape, aware of its presence but nev er fearing its wrath. Moreover, it is hu man self above the superior physical object, suggested in The Road by the consistent allusions to the boy as a purveyor of godliness. A sense of hope for the future exists withi n the boy that drives the man on to protect and cherish his son not only due to his innate role as parent, but also for the hope of humanity In discussing the possibility of love existing within the confines of death in the novel Thomas A. Carlson states same belief but differently: life and world are not possible if we do not love, and the hope of life and world, whose appearance is in fact always and only to borrowed eyes, rests in the child, his heart, who amid st the burned earth and its cold secular winds carries the pleasure in the Dynamical s ublime, compounds his role as both son of the ap ocalypse but more notably as divine and hope filled savior in training; nothing can harm the boy, f or his path is that of basic yet eternally beloved man, man in his closest relation to God, thus forming the central premise of The Road and dictating the fa (236).
46 Entwining the Father, the Boy, and Billy Parham The two previous chapters natural settings. O sublime concerns ethics, and extends the sublime focus from the sublime object to the sublime mentality. Here, The Crossing and The Road such an influence results in a strikingly humanistic worldview in each novel. As the main characters, Billy Parham of The Crossing and father and boy of The Road enc ounter various obstacles and are forced into difficult and impacting decisions, their immersion in the sublime shifts their approach from resembling one that is more pragmatic and egocentric to one that seeks to help others and abides more closely to an al truistic moral code. novel. I n fact, such sentiments are expected by the read er to a degree who seemingly braces him or herself prior to plunging into the text. As he discuss es Blood Meridian Blood Meridian 327, as qu oted in Shaviro). Bloody death is our monotonously predictable destiny; yet its baroque opulence is
47 Blood Meridian The Road and The Crossing feature protagonists who endure pain, but who expect to transcend the limits of physical torment 19 Kant notes in his Critique that the sublime object enables the human to rise strength of our soul above its usual level, and allow us to discover within ourselves a capacity for resistance of quite another kind, which gives us the courage to measure ourselves against the apparent all (144 45, 5: 261). In so doing, hu man kind attains an ability to confront physically daunting pitfalls and to challenge them with courage, no longer haunted by the hostile threat and devoid of timidity or passiveness along the way. Kant reiterates that it is not the bodily strength of inner fortitude, most notably that of the so position above its foe. One might notice the line of emphasis here upon the human mentality as a qualifier of su per iority, for the Mathematical sublime emphasizes the ability to realize (but not necessarily comprehend with logic and measurement) the sublime object while capabilities to surpass the co rporally dominant object The mind is the critical tool that allows one to strive for enlightenment, even when the body is grou nded and reduced to nothing when facing a physical magnificence of the sublime force. In his Observations ical representation of the infinite magnitude of the universe, the 19 Earlier protagonists, like Culla Holme of Outer Dark or Lester Ballard of Child of God either appear indifferent/immune to recognizing their suffering or embrace the debilitating state that leads both to insanity.
48 meditations of metaphysics upon eternity, Providence, and the immortality of our souls the human mentality as possessing a sublime quality, which allows for the soul to ascend above the physical Peter Josyph discussing the literary merits of Blood Meridian affirm the darkness, to affirm the horror, but ultimately to transcend it and to suggest that, even though we are alienated from it and cannot get to it, there is the final parable of man striking fire from the rock and whatever that intimates. The aesthetic achievem ent of the 20 concerning could not be more correct in identifying the relationship betw mental cognition and the terrifying world that threatens to engulf him. C har acters throughout the two novels are faced with moments in which they must act immediately relying upon their virtuous allegiance to the sublime mentality in order to p romote and seek goodness even when confronted by the gnashing teeth of evil The onus placed on them to react intrinsically and instantly and to make t he proper decision is agonizing yet it is also what distinguishes these characters from the more deprave d The Road provide a harrowing glimpse into the mental anguish that he faces daily, knowing that n 20 I define it in co e loosely appropriated as stating that when any aspect of Good is withdrawn from a situation, Evil will conjure meaning from the thrives and attains cogent The Castle (1975).
49 flesh, but constantly aware that there is only one bullet left in his pistol. If caught in such ed: They lay listening. Can you do it? When the time comes? When the time comes there will be no time. Now is the time. Curse God and die. What if it doesnt fire? It has to fire. What if it doesnt fire? Could you crush that beloved skull with a rock? Is t here such a being within you of which you know nothing? Can there be? Hold him in your arms. Just so. The soul is quick. Pull him toward you. Kiss him. Quickly. (96) In contemplating the worst possible yet certainly plausible scenario, the man is drawn mor e closely to the boy, especially as he recognizes the fading presence of his internal him, for it is his grounded logic and rational approach that has fueled their s urvival; hence, the thought that a primal entity lurks within and may have the capacity to strike image of man formed out of the apocalyptic situation, and thus tortures his psyche. A scene in The Crossing features a similar scenario in which an innocent female child is put at risk and the protagonist must decide his action quickly and without second thought. In this instance, however, the reader is granted no access to the internal realm as the difficulty in discerning good from evil in the barr
50 youthful, vulnerable presence is colored with a burgeoning feminine sexuality, qualities that, when darkened by the wrathful yet silent night, are apt to be pounced upon and ravaged by the majority of heathens w hom she might pass; s girl walking barefoot and carrying upon her head a cloth bundle that hung to either side destination, but she declines and continues walking so the boys pass her by, assuming she will arrive to safety sooner than they expected. However, the brothers then encounter antly, almost instinctually, and with very limited exposure to these men, Billy tells Boyd that they will follow the two men to be nature of the men in a mere secon d of passing them by in the road is what categorizes him as a hero in the text; Edwin T. Arnold denotes the difficulty in sorting out the good between good and evil easily di stinguished nor are the agents easily identified and cast. It to an innately astute decision and enable him to discern effectively between the innocent traveler and ominous stranger. is correct, for the brothers find the men holding the girl hostage antly from his description
51 looked across the fire the man who was smoking had squatted on his heels and was watching him through the warp of heat with eyes the color of wet characterized here by black eyes and a face distorted by flames, later reveals his ve the girl and escape C haracters in both texts routinely make difficult decisions in an i nherent yet inexplicable manner, for r eaders are seldom provided with clarification to support any choice arrived at o r action taken by an individual. Such obscurity may be due to the fact that the characters themselves have difficulty in providing a reason for their subsequent choices. Rather than entailing a careful deliberation, characters simply react naturally to a irtuous nature than with a lauda ble aptitude for logical contem plation. As Billy is attempting to free the she 21 That Billy cannot answer the qu estion posed to him evidences that he himself has no reason to support his actions; rather, they simply occur i nnately, outside of the realm of logic or appeal to some function or end. Paul Crowther, in illuminating the ethical side of distinctly correlates to 21 Why was the wolf brought here? For what purpose?
52 affection for humanity, this feeling only takes on its distinctively moral character when it issues in impartial principles of conduct, rather than ad hoc (11) 22 but as an end in and of itself, testifies to his instinctually moral character, and is t hus reflective of the true nature of morality and ethics within the sublime. The b oy in The Road who inhabits a divine significance within the text, urges his father to take selfless actions towards others. In the punishing and twisted scenarios of the with godliness and his position as a Christ like savior. As the boy and his fath er pass an old man wandering the road, the boy seeks to help the stricken man: I dont think you should touch him. Maybe we could give him something to eat. He stood looking off down the road. Damn, he whispered. He looked down at the pport the father and boy assisting a stranger in an environment as hostile and unforgiving as that which exists in the novel, accommodate another simply as naivety or inexperience. However, the divine reference made by the father concerning the undefined pronoun he (more l ikely directed at the old man but a possible ref erence to the 22 Interpreted from the L atin alluding to a more utilitarian basis for decision making; this normative approach is the direct opposite of how characters respond morally when possessing the sublime, according to Crowther.
53 decision to give food to the old man. Later in the text, the boy seeks to help a man who stole from them, leaving father and son without any supplies or sustenance until th ey tracked the man down in the road. During their confrontation, the father desires to shoot the man or, at the very least, to take their supplies back and leave the man naked and certain to die in the cold, windy road. The boy, however, is apt to immediat ely forgive the man and seeks to assist him 23 ; in an argument with his father about personal responsibility and the extent of altruism, th e boy vaguely reveals that he ion is provided concerning this self imposed label for the boy; the scene instead serves to illustrate both the divine nature of the boy and also the dearth of explication that accompanies any moral decisions made by the sublime mentality. Kant further e lucidates upon his vision of the morally sublime individ ual as he categorizes such a character in comparison with the savage. In the following passage, Kant references the esteem to which the sublime individual must be held, as well as the intrinsic courag e, mental fortitude, and selfless disregard for personal safety that defines such a being: For what is it that is an object of the greatest admiration even to the savage? Someone who is not frightened, who has no fear, thus does not shrink before danger b ut energetically sets to work with full deliberation And even in the most civilized circumstances this exceptionally high esteem for the warrior remains, 23 retaliation in Matthew 5: 38 42.
54 only now it is also demanded that he at the same time display all the virtues of peace, gentleness, c ompassion and even proper care for his own person, precisely because in this way the incoercibility of his mind by danger can be recognized ( Critique 146, 5: 263, my emphasis) T he virtuous and moralistic individual will em body such traits without hesitance or intimidation by the challenges he will face because of his actions. There is also a strictly deontological, anti consequentialist tilt to the sublime otentially negative results. Rather, he responds intrinsically replete with a natural disposition towards helping his fellow man in times of danger and uncertainty. In The Road following the the empty dusk, their voices lost over the darkening shorelands. They stopped and stood doing, both characters immediately forsake their personal safety for that of another, this time one who has wronged them and attempted to leave th em stranded upon a beach with nothing. The employment of the word mindlessly in this passage contrasts the actions of the father and boy with the more grounded and practical leanings of the narrator. The narrator may view the decision as mindless in that i t is idiotic and yields to an increased likelihood in alerting dangerous entities lurking on either side of the road at night. Rather than choosing the logically disciplined action, father and boy risk their own lives for
55 another, thus refusing to consider the probable negative consequences of their altruistic ac tions in hope of helping an afflicted individual to survive in the relentless darkness. While the two in The Road are not punished by their seemingly ignorant decision to help another, Billy and Bo yd venture out early in The Crossing and happen upon a vagrant Indian to whom they provide food and other provisions. The Indian, a n embittered, sinister, and potentially evil nomad, continues to demand more of the boys, who in turn have difficulty in refu sing his requests. Upon discussing the Indian that night, Boyd and Billy have the following conversation: We ought not to of gone out there to start with, Boyd said. Billy didnt answer. Ought we. No. Why did we? I dont know. (12 13) The sparseness of the language in this exchange hints at the instability and insecurity felt by both young boys concerning their actions with the ominous Indian. That Billy cannot explain why they helped such an individual testifies not to his youth, but to his intrinsically s ublime character. Billy, in this sense, is an undaunted philanthropist, one who goes so far as to assist even those who are ungracious for hi s services. Following his failed quest to Mexico with the she wolf, Billy returns home to be informed that his pare nts have been murdered by a group of marauding Indians, the sheriff intimating that the same individual whom Billy helped was among them (167). The idiom commonly
56 the mo sublime as he shirks away and rejects a warranted future role as vengeful vigilante. A telling recognition of morality tends to exist within the smaller and more subtle actions of characters given the plethora of violence and pain that defines much of M approximation of chaos, his grand evocation of the mystery of the world, there is also evident in his work a profound belief in the need for moral order, a conviction that is essentially religious. There is, in addition, always the possibility of grace and redemption even in the darkest of his tales, although that redemption may require more of his ignorance or vice, the protagonists of The Crossing and The Road tend to exhibit an abnormal sense of right in the fac e of overwhelming wrong. S uch protagonists nevertheles s do remain in a punishing realm prone to enchaining and eradicating innocence; hence, the characters, rather than becoming overtly, even obviously (and thus insanely) benevolent, only allow for their magnanimous sides to emerge through minimal yet decisiv e actions. In one case in The Crossing simple wording between the brothers both revea ls the care and concern they have for the peasant Mexican girl and defines them as morally cognizant individuals positioned among corrupt and seething men. After
57 rescuing and butchering: Did you hear what he said about her? (Billy) Yeah. I heard it. (214) No further words ensue upon the topic, but such a small exchange between two owboys serves to convey the lasting impact that the hostile and grotesque statement had upon the boys (most notably Billy, who raised the topic) and to recognize the boys as opposed to such an evil ideology. In this sense, the boys are specialized and sepa rated from more weathered cowboys who have most likely repeatedly heard and become immune to the impact of such brutal words. In their youthful innocence and alignment with good, Billy and Boyd subtly exist as moral soldiers battling against the pervasive iron fist of evil in the novel exemplified in this scene by one minimal reference to an earlier comment O ne small action by a secondary character near The Road ensures alone and left scavenging the beach, happens across a man in a parka; while he appears to be one of the has learned throughout the text that face value amounts to nothing and that appearances and new individuals are never to be tru sted. Therefore, in a novel craving some sort of resolution, merely having the boy trust the stranger would not result in a harrowing and mysterious conclusion involving a n ominous adult stranger with an innocent, benevolent, and divine young boy. Thus, in a sense, the new stranger must
58 Upon ensuring the beloved boy that he would not harm him and that he had a family of along the way that he would cover his deceased father with a blanket (240). Based upon gers, the man should be expected to steal the boy prisoner, and so on. However, in the sma llest of details, the text communicates to its reader that the man is truly to be trusted and is a proper prospective guardian for the boy. In the scene to follow, the man allows the boy to say farewell to hi s father, and the narration ensues: [The boy] walked back into the woods, and knelt beside his father. He was wrapped in a blanket as the man had promised and the boy didnt uncover him but he sat beside him and he was crying and he couldnt stop. (240, my emphasis) While the text seamlessly maintains narrative focus upon the boy, the minute reference to the new man as a moral and genuine individual, one suited to prote ct the divine boy who An unspoken yet understood code of social morality exists amon g the individuals in McCarthy certainly present in the random man adopting the boy in The Road but also quite prev alent and directly related The Crossing As he is being
59 chased by horse thieves while simultaneously carrying his wounded brother Boyd, Billy benefits from the random beneficence of a group of mi grant farm workers in a truck: Tmelo 24 [Billy] called to them. Tmelo. The horse stamped and rolled its eyes and a man reached and took the reins and halfhitched them about one of the stakes in the truckbed and other hands reached for the boy and some clambered down into the road to help lif t him up. Blood was a condition of their lives and none ask ed what had befallen him or why. (272) The workers deliver Boyd to a village where a doctor administers care to him free of charge, even after Billy repeatedly offers the doctor his horse (301, 314). As Billy waits outside of the pueblo for Boyd to heal, he again witnesses the same truckload of workers: them stood and steadied himself by one hand on the should er of his companion and raised one fist in the air and shouted to him. Hay justicia en el mundo 25 he called. Then they all (318). Following their rescuing Boyd and delivering him to safety, it is almost as if the workers take pride in their selfle ss allegiance to Billy; such a relationship alludes to an unwritten bond that perseveres between Billy and the workers in their shared role as While existence in the often inhospitable envi ronments of the Border Trilogy requires a c ertain degree of survival instinct, the hospitality that also pervades these environments may play as crucial a role in defining them. That great generosity of spirit and sustenance can flourish in such environmen ts embodies 24 25 There is justice in the world
60 the McCarthian sense of grace, made more intense within a western setting where strangers are welcome at the campfire or hearth because, on the frontier, individual survival has always depended on mutual hospitality. (220) The hospitality of th them, alludes to the intrinsic presence of morality among groups of individuals and those in trouble. The Cowboy Code that exists in The Crossing is also the Sublime Code, for it is due to the influence of the omnipresent sublime, reflected within the actions of men that enables such selfless salvation ultimately to become manifested. M orality and ethical actions are not at a t he presence of the subli me in both works enables characters to strive for an elevated sense of individual self worth and enlightens their psyches to an altruistic purpose within the text. While the danger of the natural landscape and violent sadism inherent in crooked men may thr eaten thei belief in a deeper realm of existence and close relation to the sublime grants them a semblance of hope and a persevering will. As they slough through the dismal darkness and ashen or desert terrain towards the slightest beacon of light, the protagonists reserve a moral sensibility that does not break in the harshest or most inhumane of travels. *** confounded modern readers for the last half century and counting; there is no doubt that
61 Ashley Bourne denotes the changeability and apparent shift tha t is occurring within the locales and mindsets of McC : This is the tension underlying novels: the desire to reclaim a vision of the mythic West of years past entwined with a pragmatic recognition of the inevitable forces that must sweep the myth away A principal intention of this thesis is to convey that the literature is not impervious to one who is novels. The works, featuring viewpoints that oscillate between the violent and the sacred, embody a depth that has proven both challenging and rewarding for lay readers and cri tics alike interpretative exploration. In promoting the interdisciplinary angle of literary studies, any ioral science fields. 26 Disciplines such as religious studies and philosophy have already begun extraneously nihilistic in favor of a much more revisionist interpretation of the American West as well as providing insight into the Gnosticism and likenesses to Heidegger brand of Magical Realism retains a blooming possibility for critical inquiry, with the 26 Nuanced elements of the science fiction genre that are present in The Road such as questions into the passage of time, otherworldly powers of the divine subject, and uncontrollable future, seem primed for recent interpretative movements in cognitive criticism and Theory of Mind ana lysis
62 po tential to reignite a literary subgenre that remains underexplored and with a significance that extends into Postcolonial and Postmodern theoretical approaches 27 Any wo rk in relation to multiple critical faculties and veins of inter pretation consistently yield original and interdisciplinary readings/publications in the academic sphere The Crossing and The Road a more optimistic a The glowing centrality that supports the sublime is the idea that fear and intimidation, stemming from physical objects promoting negativity, may be countered with intrinsic mental superiority, always epitomized and realized within the respectable individual. departs from its traditional cynicism regarding human nature and instead incorporates ch aracters that possess honorable and val ued virtues. The author trades the incestuous Culla Holme ( Outer Dark ), the necromancer Lester Ballard ( Child of God ), and the brooding Judge Holden ( Blood Meridian ) for the tortured yet amiable Billy Parham of The Cr ossing and the kindhearted, altruistic father and boy of The Road It is as though innocence, tenderness, and selflessness in his protagonists, thus invoking empathy rathe r 27 Cormac McCarthy is commonly referenced with Magical Realist writers such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garca Mrquez, yet the unique manner in which his works engender the aspects of Magical Realism remains unexplored. Perhaps the issue remains that the subgenre has yet to be properly and uni versally defined; however, critical attention towards the subgenre has been marvelously captured in a few works, most notably including Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community Zamora and Faris, Eds., Duke UP, 1995.
63 razor sharp teeth, it gains a beating pulse.
64 Works Cited Luce, A Cormac McCart hy Companion 37 72. --The Crossing 38. --88. --Perspectives 45 70. Arnold, Edwin T. and Dianne C. Luce, eds. A Cormac McCarthy Companion: The Border Trilogy Jackson, MI: UP of Mississippi, 2001. Print. --. Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999. Print. The Southern Literary Journal 15.2 (1983): 31 41. JSTOR Web. 22 Feb. 2010. The Orchard Keeper and Child of God Southern Quarterly 38.4 (2000): 61 77. Print. Blood Meridian Language and Literature 20 (1995): 19 33. Print. Id Western American Literature 44.2 (2009): 108 25. Project Muse Web. 27 Feb. 2010.
65 Busby, Mark. Crossings Myth, Legend, Dust: Critical Respo nses to Cormac McCarthy Ed. Rick Wallach. New York: Manchester UP, 2000. 227 48. Print. The Road Religion and Literature 39.3 (2007): 47 71. Print. Choll A Cormac McCarthy Companion 3 36. Crowther, Paul. The Kantian Sublime: From Morality to Art Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989. Print. The Crossing Studies in American Naturalism 2.1 (2007): 46 65. MLA International Bibliography Web. 25 Oct. 2009. f some site where life had not s Allegory, A Cormac McCarthy Companion 92 130. Hall, Wade and Rick Wallach, eds. Western Novels El Paso: Texas Western P, 2002. Print. Hollow ay, David. The Late Modernism of Cormac McCarthy Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 2002. Blood Meridian and Wallach 205 22.
66 Kant, Immanuel. Critique of the Power of Judgment Ed. Paul Guyer. Trans. Guyer and Eric Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. Print. --. Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime Trans. John T. Goldthwait. Berkeley: U of California P, 1960. Print. st Apocalyptic Naming in The Road Journal of Modern Literature 33.1 (2009): 57 74. Project Muse Web. 7 Jan. 2010. Lilley, James D., ed. Cormac McCarthy: New Directions Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 2002. Print. --Trilogy, and New Directions 16. The Crossing and Luce, Perspectives 195 220. --A Cormac McCarthy Companion 161 97. M The Crossing 82. McCarthy, Cormac. The Crossing New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print. --. The Road New York: Knopf, 2006. Print. Love Medicine Blood Meridian Critique 41.3 (2000): 290 304. Pri nt.
67 mpulse to Action Flight, and Crisis in the Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian 104. Border Trilogy. 42. Border Trilogy. Arnold and Luce, A Cormac McCarthy Companion 131 60. Blood Meridia n Arnold and Luce, Perspectives 145 58. Luce, A Cormac McCarthy Companion 198 227.