He says that he will never die (Blood Meridian)

And they are dancing, the board floor slamming under the jackboots and the fiddlers grinning hideously over their canted pieces. Towering over them all is the judge and he is naked dancing, his small feet lively and quick and now in doubletime and bowing to the ladies, huge and pale and hairless, like an enormous infant. He never sleeps, he says. He says he’ll never die. He bows to the fiddlers and sashays backwards and throws back his head and laughs deep in his throat and he is a great favorite, the judge. He wafts his hat and the lunar dome of his skull passes palely under the lamps and he swings about and takes possession of one of the fiddles and he pirouettes and makes a pass, two passes, dancing and fiddling at once. His feet are light and nimble. He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.

The last paragraph (excepting the epilogue) of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

Seven quick thoughts:

  1. I’ve read Blood Meridian more times than probably any book but I still don’t know what it means.
  2. Hats, bears, coins, shadows, dancing.
  3. The judge is a metaphysical entity, but what?
  4. I think McCarthy’s is pointing to something past the devil.
  5. The kid definitely dies at the end.
  6. But how definitely—no body, no corpse?
  7. I’ll read it again, of course.
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14 thoughts on “He says that he will never die (Blood Meridian)”

  1. Sometimes I think the judge is the warlike violent nature present in everyone after it has been rationalized or westernized somehow. The judge as a kind of twisted renaissance man. And the kid is a different violent, warlike nature, somehow more pure (?) And in the end it’s almost as if the kid gets absorbed into the judge which the language of the book refuses to describe (even after describing many other horrid things like the baby tree)

    And then of course there’s the epilogue which describes a sort of process removed from the judge but somehow industrialized or mechanized. Making holes in the ground with fire.

    The book definitely refuses encapsulation which i think makes so much fun to read.

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    1. I’ve always kind of visualized the kid’s death as an absorption into the judge too—like the judge sort of hugs him into himself—but the death is also an abject rape, a synthesis—not just a decimation. I don’t know if that makes sense. In the narrative, the judge repeatedly accuses the kid of being “the one” among the others who held himself apart, who did not fully commit to their mission—so he’s collecting that scalp, pulling in that last soul into the collective dark Emersonian oversoul.

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      1. Yeah, the kid always held himself apart from the dance. “And they are dancing…” are the most terrifying words of the last paragraph. Who is it dancing? Those that can dance, those willing to go into the pit and see horror in the round, those willing to get blood on their hands. The kid was not one of these. I don’t blame him. He is not in attendance. The judge made sure of that. Only true dancers allowed. The violent, the horrible, the psychopaths, grinning hideously, their boots slamming on the boards. If this is the true dance of the world, as the judge (and McCarthy) would have us believe, I wouldn’t want any part of it either. I’m too faint of heart. So was the kid. That’s why he got swallowed up whole.

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          1. Great blog post (wow, five years ago). I must admit, in my many readings, I failed to appreciate that interpretation of the burning tree scene as a brief glimpse at the moral core of the book. You’re right though, in this scene we have, gathered out of the night, all manner of nature’s creatures, who gather merely to find rest and a moment of peace, rather than to hurt or kill each other (directly contravening the judge’s law of nature).

            I also agree with you about the lessening of the kid’s moral blameworthiness (and Tobin’s and Toadvine’s as well) for the awful deeds committed by the gang. His agency is subsumed by the collective agency of the gang during the most violent and depraved moments of the book. During these moments the kid disappears, while Glanton, David Brown (boy is he a vicious cretin), the Delaware’s, the judge, all take centre stage, the ‘true dancers’ in the game of War. Their intentions are always clear and explicit. Whereas the kid’s intentions are at worst equivocal, but at best genuinely moral and resistant to the irresistible bloodthirstiness that drives the others. So perhaps from a deontological approach to morality the kid’s actions are ethical, as his intention is often to do good, despite the harmful and destructive consequences of the collective actions of the gang. Unfortunately, this effort by the kid (and the paltry efforts of Toadvine and the ex-priest) to act morally, is a mere drop in the bucket, completely overwhelmed by all the wickedness and evil done by other men.

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  2. 1.The kid definitely dies in the outhouse. Not a debate. Brutally smothered and raped, turned into mush by the judge. Left in the jake. That’s why the drunks say not to go in there, and their indifference says something too. Or maybe they’re just blacked out.

    2. Don’t know what the judge means. He’s like a time traveling eraser. A screenplay adaptation of BM described him as a “mirror going down the road.” He’s like a more demented version of Roy Batty in Blade Runner. Some of Anton Chigurh’s speeches are judge-like.

    4. Spielberg once said “2001: A Space Odyssey” was the cinema’s big bang. There’s a before and after. Same goes with BM with respect to McCarthy’s work. It’s very fascinating to read Suttree, the Border Trilogy, and No Country after reading BM. Those post BM novels – timeline-wise – come off more apocalyptic than The Road. McCarthy’s characters – post BM – inhabit this A T.S. Eliot Wasteland zone.

    5. The epilogue is the “response” to everything in the narrative. It encapsulates the process – railroading, development, especially surveying – by which all that overt, low-barbarian violence will be rubbed out. That kind of violence has to end eventually. Just like in Europe with Vikings, Celts, Visigoths, etc.

    Here’s the last speech in McCarthy’s The Counselor: “I suspect that we are ill-formed for the path we have chosen. Ill-formed and ill-prepared. We would like to draw a veil over all the blood and terror that have brought us to this place. It is our faintness of heart that would close our eyes to all of that, but in so doing it makes of it our destiny… But nothing is crueler than a coward, and the slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.”

    6. Back to the judge. I think he has something to do with the North American Extinction theory. I don’t have text on hand to support this. It’s just something that came up in the brain after reading BM.

    6A. Back to the judge again. It wasn’t the principles and vision of America’s forefathers that made this country great. It was the huge unused bonanza they found here. Perhaps the judge, who would have fit right at home during Viking raids, or in Sennacherib’s army, is the last of his kind. We all have a friend that was born in the wrong century.

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  3. Damn. One last thought.

    Think about the background radiation in Blood Meridian. The judge is operating in a time in which two holocausts are taking place. The 200+ year holocaust against African-Americans, and the relative quick holocaust against the American Indian. It’s not a surprise that that kind of radiation would produce something like the judge. The judge is small potatoes compared to the what’s happening in a larger context in Blood Meridian.

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  4. I don’t care what he is other than would be interesting to have just one beer with him and then get the hell away! The rhythm and pace of the book and how Mccarthy sucks you into his vortex of terror until you feel like you have been an active participant is what draws me back. The dude can write.

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  5. Just finished my first reading of BM. I intend to read this book again shortly because I loved it that much. What struck me on my first reading was how it contained so much allusion to and subtext about McCarthy himself, his place among great authors, the anxiety of influence, originality, the nobility of reading. etc.

    One of the most amazing pieces of fiction I have ever read. I intend to read Suttree next.

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  6. The judge is the world. He is not the devil or evil or God, those are all two small for him. He is the ability of the world to move forward. Blood and war and not merely the natural states but the purest form of expression. He will always dance and he will always be because the world can only be moved forward by the arts he seeks to master but is already of.

    I had no idea what happened to the kid (or the man at that point in the story). Thank you for clarifying that.

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  7. The judge represents evil. A better explanation is made in his later book No Country for Old Men, when he refers to it as “the dismal tide”. The coming evil, and you can’t stop it. “You can’t stop what’s coming.” It’s a common them in many of McCarthy’s novels.

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