Judge Holden or Universal Brotherhood   Leave a comment

A few years ago in a literature class, our assignment was to read the novel, “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy. Many people know McCarthy from his novel, “All the Pretty Horses” which was also made into a movie of the same name. Other more recent books made into movies are “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men.” McCarthy’s style of writing is much different in Blood Meridian than in his last two books. The assignment to read “Blood Meridian” was a most difficult one for me, because this book is packed with gruesome violence, but it is also filled with the most incredible writing and use of language imaginable. Most people who start this book give it up and some pick it up again and then again before they manage to read it to the end. At least one person in the class refused to continue. There is not a lot of plot to entice the reader on and the information about the characters, where they come from, what they think, is slim to non-existent, but their actions tell you all you need to know, and one of the most memorable characters in the book, and in all of literature is  “Judge Holden.” More is unveiled about this character than any of the others as the book progresses.

From a New York Times article by Richard Woodward: “Blood Meridian” has distinct echoes of “Moby-Dick,” McCarthy’s favorite book. A mad hairless giant named Judge Holden makes florid speeches not unlike Captain Ahab’s. Based on historical events in the Southwest in 1849-50 (McCarthy learned Spanish to research it), the book follows the life of a mythic character called “the kid” as he rides around with John Glanton, who was the leader of a ferocious gang of scalp hunters. The collision between the inflated prose of the 19th-century novel and nasty reality gives “Blood Meridian” its strange, hellish character. It may be the bloodiest book since “The Iliad.” More profoundly, the book explores the nature of evil and the allure of violence. Page after page, it presents the regular, and often senseless, slaughter that went on among white, Hispanic and Indian groups. There are no heroes in this vision of the American frontier.

The critic Harold Bloom, among others, has declared it one of the greatest novels of the Twentieth Century, and perhaps the greatest by a living American writer.

I remember telling my teacher when reading this book, I felt sucked down into some dark abyss, drowning in violence. And my professor’s response was,” He is a good writer, isn’t he?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” I said.

I abhor violence, war, physical abuse, I carry spiders outside if possible, and try never to step on bugs or kill anything.  The quote by Albert Schweitzer “We are life which wills to live in the midst of life which wills to live” helped me decide that everyone and everything around me is doing their best to survive, and I should be considerate of that, and if I could be healthy without eating meat why should animals die for my sustenance, and so I became a vegetarian 12 years ago. But I love this book. It made me think, and it refused to leave my mind for weeks after I finished it, always a good sign of great art whether it’s a film, book, or art piece.  I wanted to talk to others about it, not because of the violence but because of the questions it forced upon me.  The character called Judge Holden frightens and entices the reader. He is a complex evil giant of a man who seems to know about everything. The Judge is childlike, a fiddler and a good dancer. He draws the plants and animals he sees in a mysterious notebook, but then destroys his models “to erase them from the memory of men.” The Judge seems to be the embodiment of all that is evil. Is he the devil? Is he manifest destiny itself?”

“Blood Meridian’s” concrete locale is the border between the United States and Mexico, but as the website of the society for Cormac McCarthy states, the story depicts the borderland between knowledge and power, between progress and dehumanization, between history and myth and, most importantly, between physical violence and the violence of language.

After reading the book, I found the following words from an interview in 1992 that Cormac McCarthy did with Robert Woodward.  “There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed,” McCarthy says philosophically. “I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.” His words disturbed me. I wrote them down and carried them with me trying to understand his feelings, my feelings, what is true, what is possible or impossible for humanity? Can we evolve into more peaceful beings, or will we continue a downward spiral to barbaric living with continual wars that are accepted by citizens as a matter of course?  Is my life vacuous? Must I be on alert for evil lurking? Suffering is inevitable, is violence?                                                                                                                              “It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be….
War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.”
Blood Meridian
Judge Holden, Chapter 17, Page 248

But as often stated on the Monty Python show, “Now for something completely different.”

Steven pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. His most recent book is The Blank Slate. On a TED lecture, Pinker stated the following:

“In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

This doctrine, “the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset (“War is not an instinct but an invention”), Stephen Jay Gould (“Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species”), and Ashley Montagu (“Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood”),”  Pinker writes,  “Now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.”

I will read McCarthy, but have faith in humanity’s goodness.

Peace be with you.


Posted September 27, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Essays, Uncategorized

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