January 31, 2015

The Epilogue to Blood Meridian

Over at the always wonderful Biblioklept, Edwin Turner draws interesting parallels between the enigmatic epilogue to Blood Meridian and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. Here's the epilogue:
In the dawn there is a man progressing over the plain by means of holes which he is making in the ground. He uses an implement with two handles and he chucks it into the hole and he enkindles the stone in the hole with his steel hole by hole striking the fire out of the rock which God has put there. On the plain behind him are the wanderers in search of bones and those who do not search and they move haltingly in the light like mechanisms whose movements are monitored with escapement and pallet so that they appear restrained by a prudence or reflectiveness which has no inner reality and they cross in their progress one by one that track of holes that runs to the rim of the visible ground and which seems less the pursuit of some continuance than the verification of a principle, a validation of sequence and causality as if each round and perfect hole owed its existence to the one before it there on that prairie upon which are the bones and the gatherers of bones and those who do not gather. He strikes fire in the hole and draws out his steel. Then they all move on again.
 Like Turner, I'd read the epilogue as describing the actions of a post-hole digger, followed by archaeologists  ... and "those who do not search" (settlers; us?). I'd imagined the digger marking the boundary between Mexico and the U.S., but as Turner notes, he could also be "carrying the fire, freeing the fire from the earth." Turner notes other interpretations: "it’s the final gnostic clue in the Judge’s web of mysteries; it’s the Promethean redemption of humanity against the Judge’s evil; it’s the spirit of civilization that will measure and conquer the bloody West, a progressive new dawn; it’s Cormac McCarthy’s signature, his designation of himself as the writer who carries the fire." Turner doesn't arrive at a satisfying conclusion; perhaps all we can say is that both McCarthy and Anderson are grappling with America's greedy, blood-soaked past and (perhaps) trying to draw lines to the present.

I first read Blood Meridian in Burundi, where I served with Mennonite Central Committee as a peace worker. It was a fraught time, and perhaps the novel explained or at least echoed some of the horrors I witnessed. A fellow MCCer had borrowed the book from a friend in the States, and I read the twice-borrowed copy to tatters, entranced by the language and the character of Judge Holden. For a while I thought it was McCarthy's finest novel, but now I'm back to All the Pretty Horses, with Suttree a close second.