YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 17, 2011

Blood Meridian and the Deep Ecologists

Ludmilla Jordanova

Before I launch into some remarks on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian,  here is an example of what the deep ecologists in cultural studies are studying now in the transnational academy (I am reproducing their CFP in its entirety):

“Call For Papers: Conference: Science, Space, and the Environment, Location: Smith Centre, Science Museum, London,Date: Tuesday/Wednesday July 17-18, 2012, Sponsor: Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich, Organizers: Helmuth Trischler, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich; Ludmilla Jordanova, King’s College London Department of History; Simon Werrett, University of Washington Department of History/ Science Studies Network, Seattle; Science Museum, London.

Although the sciences have provided critical resources in environmental debates, their own role in environmental change has been little studied.

This conference will explore how the sciences have affected the physical environment. How have scientific practices and ideas impacted on nature – for example do practices such as voyages of exploration or natural history collecting exploit plants and animals and their environments?

Does scientific activity cause pollution, depletion of resources, or other forms of damage to ecosystems? How are such practices to be evaluated, and how are they related to scientific and other ideas of nature and the environment, e.g. notions of conquest, mastery, or interrogation. How should scientific ideas about the environment be related to the impacts of scientific research on it? In particular papers should address scientific activities involving the circulation of knowledge and materials. A growing body of work in the history of science has explored the issue of circulation, examining how physical specimens, books, people, and materials related to science have been made to move around the globe in the service of producing or disseminating scientific knowledge. What has been the environmental significance of such circulations? How has the movement of people, plants, animals, and scientific instruments, books and personnel affected environments, e.g. on voyages of exploration, in processes of establishing colonial scientific institutions, or in undertaking imperial cartography or surveying? Papers which aim at fostering current theoretical debates on how to link the conceptual approaches of history of science, environmental history, and spatial history are particularly welcome. ” [end, CFP]

[My comment and critique of McCarthy:] In the early 1980s, I met such as Rudolf Bahro (the leader of the German Green Party (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Bahro) and attended a conference featuring Kirkpatrick Sale, a deep ecologist. The audiences for both events seemed to be New Left, then following the critical theorists, anarchist tendencies on the Left (followers of Murray Bookchin), and some form of localism or primitivism. It struck me then that these leftists were masochists in the face of Nature, and that they knew almost nothing about ecology as a scientific discipline, but were adopting environmentalism as a cudgel in the campaign to smash modernity and the drive toward progress, i.e., progress understood as the war against Nature and native peoples. With respect to the indigenous persons who were victimized by Westward expansion in to the Americas, East Asia, and Africa, it was widely believed that the indigenous peoples were attuned to Nature and embodied the communitarian social structures that these Leftists aspired to. (Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy was one such romantic, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Garaudy.) These true believers were dissatisfied with [Promethean] Marxism with its elevation of technology, arguing that there must be a non-industrial path toward socialism.

Cormac (“Irish King”) McCarthy

It seems to me that Colman McCarthy’s much lauded novel Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West (1985), can only be understood in this political context. For a summary of his career, see http://www.onlineenglishdegree.com/resources/biography-of-cormac-mccarthy/. The writer of this essay notes that the author’s work is historically sound, for he visited the locales and even learned Spanish. We also learn that his favorite book is Melville’s Moby-Dick. In a way, Blood Meridian is a (mis) reading of Melville’s masterpiece, that assumes, along with post-colonialists,  that MD was a critique of Western expansionism and its death-dealing war against Nature. But see my blog http://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, especially in light of Harold Bloom’s encomium to McCarthy’s great book as a spectacular example of the Sublime. Bloom also heaps praise upon the creation of Judge Holden, the evil Promethean who survives the events of the book: the god of war (249), perhaps aided by “a Prussian jew,” purveyor of Colt pistols (82). (On the character “Speyer’s” presumed historicity, see http://tinyurl.com/843vopy.)

 But it is the judge alone, unaided by Jewish pedlars of contraband, who takes a careful inventory of living and inanimate things, and who will not tolerate mystery. After telling Toadvine that nothing may live on earth without his permission, the judge goes on: “…The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.” (199)

Am I being too harsh? Perhaps it is because McCarthy, who could not possibly know the awful details of the slaughter he presents throughout a book of 337 pages, has had honors heaped upon him by the liberal literary establishment for what I sense is, in effect, a sadistic attack upon the reader (or even himself), conducted from a great height, gazing obsessively far below at “ignorant armies [that] clash by night” (see the “Dover Beach” reference, p. 213).  I do credit the “Irish King” with an imagination unprecedented perhaps in its relentless ferocity, and though MD is a violent book, particularly in its graphic accounts of the whale butchery, it is no match for BM.  Whereas Melville would tear the veil from benevolent nature [Mother] to reveal “the charnel house within,” McCarthy’s Nature is never enticing. As Charles Dickens said of Pittsburgh, it is “hell with the lid off.” (For a slight article on the critical reception to Cormac McCarthy, see http://tinyurl.com/b9gxyqk.)

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7 Comments »

  1. Rudolf Bahro was never the leader, I think, of the German Green Party, but he certainly was one of their key figures in their early phase. Wikipedia tells me that he left the party in 1985. He is famous for having said in an interview in 1990: “Actually, what really comes from the depth of the [german] people is a call for a green Adolf. And the left is only afraid of that, instead of realizing that a green Adolf would be a wholly different Adolf from the one we know.” I think this sheds some light on the thinking of the deep ecologists.

    Comment by Joel Naber — April 6, 2013 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

    • Hitler was quite green and health-conscious too. I met Bahro at a party thrown by Trotskyist academics in the 1980s, while he was still with the Greens.

      Comment by clarespark — April 6, 2013 @ 10:23 pm | Reply

      • What did he talk about?

        Comment by Joel Naber — April 6, 2013 @ 10:42 pm

      • He didn’t talk as I recall. The persons honoring him called themselves Red Greens, and later a few of them supported the far out Cynthia Mckinney for the presidential ticket of the Green Party. These were part of the anarchist contingent of the New Left; very counter-culture and Chomsky loving. I haven’t heard from them in years.

        Comment by clarespark — April 6, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

  2. [...] [This is the second of two blogs on Cormac McCarthy: see http://clarespark.com/2011/11/17/blood-meridian-and-the-deep-ecologists/%5D [...]

    Pingback by Cormac McCarthy vs. Herman Melville « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — November 29, 2011 @ 12:41 am | Reply


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