Friday, September 16, 2011

My favorite scene in BLOOD MERIDIAN

My favorite scene in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is one of the few that doesn't end with blood spurting from an opened artery or a handful of brains blowing out the back of someone's head. It's the marvelous scene in chapter 19 that McCarthy laconically titles "Brown at the farrier's." When the murderer Brown arrives at a San Diego farrier's workshop and orders him to saw off the barrels of a shotgun he has stolen, the craftsman is dumbfounded and appalled. For the gun is a thing of beauty, a masterpiece of the gunsmith's art. Sawing off its barrels would be tantamount to cutting off Michelangelo's David at the knees or wiping one's ass on a canvas by Monet. The farrier refuses and flees (the only sensible thing to do when one sees a Cormac McCarthy character coming one's way), and Brown is left to hack off the barrels himself. This is one of the few scenes in the novel in which McCarthy orchestrates a stark conflict of worldviews and value systems. (It's also one of the very few in which an unarmed person stands up to a member of the Glanton gang and lives.) It is a collision of cultures. Brown is a nihilistic killer from out of the American desert places. For him, the value of any object resides solely in its capacity to inflict terroristic violence. The farrier, by contrast, is an urban businessman and craftsman, a believer in the rule of law and the pure value of exquisite artisanry. Compared to Brown, the farrier is an aesthete; compared to the farrier, Brown is an imbecilic monster. I also suspect that the farrier is the only character in the book who comes close to being an authorial stand-in. He is the book's only authentic artist, standing both within its violent world and critically apart from it. Perhaps we can begin to read Blood Meridian properly only when we read it from the farrier's point of view.

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