“Blood Meridian” review: A Dance Through The Pages Of History

When I read a book that is exceptionally good I always try to define what makes it so different than the other novels. Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian” is one of those books that made me think about why I like it so much better than the rest of the books in my personal library.

Thinking about that, I came up with this theory:

History books seem to be studying the history in a way that makes us perceive the past events as a sequence of images, a film, a fiction that started and ended before we were born. And now we live somehow disconnected on an existential level from this events. After getting out of high school most of the people won’t be joining history classes ever again. For them everything that has been learned from history remains in their heads as a myth, a concise explanation of the world before them. At least that’s how I felt. I guess most of the people do too.

The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day.

Reading “Blood Meridian” is extremely enlightening experience. It is a book that for the first time since high school made me rethink the events of the history It made me grasp the reflection of these even on the modern world and make me wonder where I want to go tomorrow. Not as an individual, but as a part of a collective, the collective of human kind.

The Kid, art by amoxes

“Blood Meridian” follows the stories of couple of characters. They are moving constantly from point A to point B to point C, etc. in the hear of America. At a certain point I started to perceive this movement not so much as a physical one, but as a metamorphic journey through the pages of history. I love it when an author gives you the right to choose how to interpret history. Cormac McCarthy does this with “Blood Meridian”.

The Judge, art by amoxes

Aside of the fact that “Blood Meridian” is a book that tell’s the history of the world in a new way, it is non the less a book that is built over the concept of the enemy. This concept let me to some very interesting questions, that I’d really like to find other reads to explore additionally. If the evolution of our species, accompanied by violence for survival, has a deep imprint on our DNA, can this explain the path the humanity took on over the ages? Is survival the one and only explanation of the bad things the human kind did? Can we learn from our behavior and not repeat it?

The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning. 

Somewhere on the internet I read that someone defines McCarthy’s style as a neo-biblical rhetoric. Kill me if I know what this means. However, after finish this novel I have an idea: today we all share a common perception of the biblical mythology, written 2000 years ago. We are all aware of the myths of Moses, the Savior, the Ressurection, etc. And these myths has shaped much of the modern society as we know it. “Blood Meridian” is a book that I imagine after another 2000 years would be the source that will shape the people of the future’s perception about today’s history. I’d really like to be alive then to see what kind of society the future will shape. Maybe this is the neo-biblical rhetoric. Who knows.

An important book. I will read it again.

Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” Is A True Tour-De-Force

According to Wikipedia “tour-de-force” is an achievement done with extraordinary mastery; a feat with a turning point and something that was not expected. William Faulkner himself chooses to define “As I Lay Dying” that way. In the introduction to his novel “The Sanctuary” (1932 edition of Modern Library), William Faulkner writes”I wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks, without changing a word.”

“As I Lay Dying” is a story told through the voices of its characters, their thoughts and their inner monologue. In terms of style the book resembles “The Sound and the fury” – the only other Faulkner novel I had read before “As I Lay Dying”.

The writing style is not the only common thing between the two novels. They also share a common atmosphere – the American South, the characters in both books are members of a big family and the issues that are being discussed are also common – poverty, religion, dignity, conflict between duty and desire, between words and action.

Cider Making,1840–41 , a painting by American artist William Sidney Mount .

One of the main differences between the traditional literature and the modernist novel is the description. Usually when reading a traditional fiction the reader receives a direct description of the setting, characters, atmosphere, etc. But when it comes to modernist fiction, the reader usually gets this information through the thoughts of the characters. This sometimes makes the book not so easy to be understood, especially when it is written from the point of view of a slowly developing man who accepts the events of the past 30 years as events that have occurred in the frame of 1 single day (“The Sound And The Fury”).

The sun, an hour above the horizon, is poised like a bloody egg upon a crest of thunderheads; the light has turned copper: in the eye portentous, in the nose sulphurous, smelling of lightning.

Faulkner is a very good painter with words even when he does not do it traditionally. The viewpoints of his characters contain the chaos of thoughts, which represents the “flow of consciousness” and in this chaos are spread bits of images. It’s up to the reader to pay attention to those bits and put them together in a bigger picture. This side of Faulkner’s writing helped me explore my own thinking process. By the time I turned the last page of the novel, I had completely overcome the unconventional narration and felt totally immersed in the world of his writing.

Don’t think that everything in “As I Lay Dying” is supposed to be a challenge to the reader, because it’s not. The book has a beginning and and end. The whole story is in the frame of a journey that starts with its cause and ends with the final destination. This structure definitely helped me follow what’s happening amidst the chaos of the characters’ thoughts and their inner monologues.

That’s the one trouble with this country: everything, weather, all, hangs on too long. Like our rivers, our land: opaque, slow, violent; shaping and creating the life of man in its implacable and brooding image.

A major highlight in “As I Lay Dying” is the discussion of questions such as identity and existence. Those are issues that accompany the transition of the American South between two eras – from the Civil War to the modern age. A period that represents a constant struggle for preservation human values such as dignity and pride.

That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn’t care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride.

In his preface to “The Sanctuary,” in 1932, Faulkner writer about “As I Lay Dying”:

Before grabbing the pen and writing the first word of the novel, I knew what the last word would be and where I would put the last punctuation point. Before I started, I thought I would write a book that I would be happy with, even if I never write a book again.

Are you planning to find out by yourself what the last word of “As I Lay Dying” is? Share in the comments.

Featured image: Spirit Of America Painting by Michael Humphries

Party Like it’s 1999 with Thomas Pynchon’s “Bleeding Edge”

With the first Thomas Pynchon novel I’ve read (“The calling of lot 49”) I discovered a new dimension of literature. Language, characters, atmosphere – the main parts of each novel – have been developed by Pynchon to the extent that you can read the book once for the sake of language, then for the sake of the characters and finally for the sake of the atmosphere. I felt so impressed that when I was talking about this book, I had to mention each of these parts individually so I could express clear my thoughts. Some academic people call it postmodernism or post-post-modernism. For me it was a new way to read a novel.

However, what I’d like to talk about now is “Bleeding Edge” – the latest novel Pynchon wrote and the second books from him that I read. I must admit that it is quite strange to read a historical novel for a period that happened 16 years ago – when I was 10 years old.

The historical period that “The Bleeding Edge” is set in is an era that is filled with events that I still have vivid memories of. One of them is 9/11. Just like American remembered what he had done on the day that Kennedy was assassinated, so today every man on the planet remembers the day he saw the video on the television with the twin towers collapsing. However, “The Bleeding Edge” depicts even bigger picture than the one I remember on the news of this terrible moment.

The novel begins on a spring day in New York in 2001 and first introduces the reader to the reality of the “bursting of the dot-com balloon.”

Times of great idealism carry equal chances for greater corruptibility.

The economic shock is conveyed through the personal stories of the characters. As a reader who loves to learn new details about our modern history, this novel quickly grabbed my attention. Thomas Pynchon describes the reality before the Bursting and after. This masterful separation between these two eras in history is supported with the skillful use of words and phrases within one sentence, that are conveying the point of view of the characters and the narrator.

I must admit that at first the narrative felt annoying, since I am definitely a reader who has experience mostly with traditional novels and not so much with modern experiments. But after dozens of pages the narrative started to help me understand better what is going on. I started feeling like some kind of a finder, who searches and investigates the events that happen in the historical time period of the novel.

The main character of “The Bleeding Edge,” Maxine, is the next best aspect of the novel. Extremely charming, smart, fun, badass, femme fatal, paranoid, intuitive. A dozen of other weird and likeable characters gravitate around her. All of the characters are described with a very detail oriented style. Probably this kind of writing style helps the reader feel more like a direct observer of the events unfolding in the novel. I believe so, because the story is filled with weird moments when something completely unexpected happens and I started doubting the rationality of what I read.

Time travel, as it turns out, is not for civilian tourists, you don’t just climb into a machine, you have to do it from the inside out, with your mind and body, and navigating Time is an unforgiving discipline. It requires years of pain, hard labor, and loss, and there is no redemption–of, or from, anything

In these moments I felt like I had to choose whether to trust the author and swallow my doubts or to drop the book. A book that convinces you to turn down your own beliefs and take the extremely weird and unusual as a version of reality is the one you expect to justify your trust in the next moment. And this one did it for me – each chapter gave me more than the previous one and moved me forward.

The past, hey no shit, it’s an open invitation to wine abuse.

Paul Auster’s “4321” made me think about the meaning of the word “masterpiece”

Once in an interview with Paul Auster I’ve read that thrpoughout his entire life everything has led him to the creation of the novel “4 3 2 1” – his magnum opus. After finishing reading the last page of the novel, I would say the same thing about myself – that everything I’ve read, watched, has done throughout my life has led me closer to the total immersion in “4 3 2 1”

The big event that rips through the heart of things and changes life for everyone, the unforgettable moment when something ends and something else begins. Was that what this was, he asked himself, a moment similar to the outbreak of war? No, not quite. War announces the beginning of a new reality, but nothing had begun today, a reality had ended, that was all, something had been subtracted from the world, and now there was a hole, a nothing where there had once been a something, as if every tree in the world had vanished, as if the very concept of tree or mountain had been erased from the human mind

The narrative follows couple of storylines and at the same time I would not say there was an unnecessary word in it. With every word the novel is getting bigger and bigger, the characters are growing on you and they are no longer just a product of your imagination, but it feels like they come to life in front of your eyes. This kind of books I always say are “exceptional”.

His mother’s name was Rose, and when he was big enough to tie his shoes and stop wetting the bed, he was going to marry her.

4321 by Paul Auster

World War II, Korean War, Kennedy’s presidency, Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson, the Vietnam War, the Summer of Love, Charles Manson’s cult, Sharon Tate’s death, the student protests at Columbia University, the ethics in journalism, the lightening of the Pentagon secret papers that have accused the US government of lying about the Vietnam War since the 1950s, the redemption of the New York Times, the radicalism, the Black panthers, feminism, racism, terrorism, the shooting of Andy Warhol, Richard Nixon, the creativity at times when the world is burning.

If all of these listed events speak to the potential reader, I would bet he would be interested in immersing himself in the reality that created them, deconstructing it and probably experiencing the feelings that made me think about the meaning of the word masterpiece:

masterpiece /ˈmɑːstəpiːs/ noun
a work of outstanding artistry, skill, or workmanship.

This is one my favorite contemporary novels.

the world as it was could never be more than a fraction of the world, for the real also consisted of what could have happened but didn’t, that one road was no better or worse than any other road, but the torment of being alive in a single body was that at any given moment you had to be on one road only, even though you could have been on another, traveling toward an altogether different place.

How Walter Isaacson’s Biography Of Leonardo Da Vinci Made Me Go To The Louvre

One of the best books I read in 2018 was a biography. Not to anyone but to Leonardo da Vinci – a historical figure that I’m sure almost every normal person thinks of as some kind of a genius. 

To be honest, after finishing the biography written by Isaacson I was left with the impression that Leonardo was not a genius. He was the most ordinary person in the world who only happened to ask a lot of questions about things around him in times when people were afraid to do so. His whole life path, all his knowledge, his whole contribution to art and science is due not to a rare genius of his DNA but to his curiosity that was stronger than the fear of the unknown.

There is no dramatization in this book – a trend that was kind of annoyingly present in the latest biography books I had read. As you read you can rely on 100% facts with minimal speculation and dramatization. Sources of information are mostly Leonardo’s notebooks, many of which are stored in the Windsor Royal Collection and to which Isaacson had access while working on the biography.

I found the artistic moments of Leonardo’s life very interesting and leading in the biography. Painting such as the Lady with Hermeline, John the Baptist, The Last Supper, St. Anna with the Madonna, the Savior of the World, etc. The information was very rich, interesting and, last but not least, useful. Useful because it seems to arm the eye of the reader with knowledge – knowledge by which to see the merits in his paintings that have made him an innovator and one of the greatest and influential artists of the Italian Renaissance.

Leonardo Da Vinci John Baptist Louvre
John The Baptist, a famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. The photo was made by me in October 2018, when I first visited the Louvre. 3 days after I’ve read Leonardo Da Vinci’s bigoraphy written by Walter Isaacson.

Supporting moments in the biography were his scientific discoveries – the periods in which he studied topics such as optics, anatomy, hydropower, space, and so on. They have not succumbed to Leonardo’s artistic activity, but on the contrary – they have outgun his artistic dedication. What really impressed me is the art he created, combining knowledge from all these disciplines.

The Virgin and Child with St Anne by Leonardo Da Vinci

I was never a man of art before, and that’s why I find it a great deal that a book made me understand art in a new way and look differently on Renaissance paintings.