“One day is there of the series / Termed Thanksgiving day” — Emily Dickinson

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White Meridian | More scattered thoughts on Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Passenger

He’d bought a small ruled notebook at the stationer’s in Ibiza. Cheap pulp paper that would soon yellow and crumble. He took it out and wrote in it with his pencil. Vor mir keine Zeit, nach mir wird keine Sein.

The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy

In the second paragraph of the last chapter of Cormac McCarthy’s new novel The Passenger, protagonist Bobby Western, now living on a Spanish island near Ibiza, writes in German a sentence in a cheap notebook. The sentence translates to something like, Before me there will be no time, after me there will be none.


Vor mir war keine Zeit, nach mir wird keine seyn,
Mit mir gebiert sie sich, mit mir geht sie auch ein.

Sexcenta Monodisticha Sapientum, III, II, Daniel von Czepko (1655)

Western’s line appears to be cribbed from an epigram by the early seventeenth-century German poet, Daniel von Czepko. Czepko’s epigram translates to something like, Before me there was no time, after me there will be none / With me she gives birth, with me she dies.


I deny, in a high number of instances, the existence of succession. I deny, in a high number of instances, contemporaneity as well.

“A New Refutation of Time,” Jorge Luis Borges, translated by James E. Irby

Did McCarthy find Czepko’s in Borges’ essay “A New Translation in Time,” where I found it when I first searched the German phrase?


All language is of a successive nature: it does not lend itself to reasoning on eternal, intemporal matters.

“A New Refutation of Time,” Jorge Luis Borges, translated by James E. Irby


I feel like I’ve jumped into the deep end here too quickly for this riff, what with the seventeenth-century German poet and the wonky Borges essay that feels like a gimmicky (and perhaps ironic) championing of idealism in service towards forging an aesthetics of time. Let me put in a simpler substitution for Western’s (McCarthy’s (Borges’ (Czepko’s))) epigram, a favorite line from another life-and-deather with oceanic motifs:

Perhaps an individual must consider his own death to be the final phenomenon of nature.

“The Open Boat,” Stephen Crane


Start again: This is a scattered mess. I finished The Passenger yesterday, punched in the face by the final chapter, where McCarthy condenses characters and tropes and symbols and allegories into a slim 19 pages that points to both infinity and death. The Passenger is possibly McCarthy’s baggiest novel, messier than Suttree, and eschewing even a glimmer of the precision of Blood Meridian. Like No Country for Old MenThe Passenger is bound in genre fiction tropes—crime novels, detective novels, 1970s paranoia novels, Westerns, and so on. Like No Country, The Passenger purposefully derails reader expectations for what the genre plot should do. The refusal to go forward with the initial promised plot (Who is the missing passenger, escaped or removed from the sunken plane?) reinforces the tense ambiguity in the core of McCarthy’s worldview. The apparent abandoning of a tight plot might alienate some readers, but I suspect most fans of the trajectory of McCarthy’s work would have been disappointed if he’d stuck to a story that Makes Sense and Follows a Clear Trajectory and Ultimately Resolves. I would have been furious if the end of The Passenger gave up some kind of easy answer.


For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
“Because I could not stop for Death” (poem 479), Emily Dickinson

In her white gown carrying the barnlantern out through the trees. Holding the hem of her gown, her slender form candled in the sheeting. The shadows of the trees, then just the dark. The cold in the stone amphitheatre and the slow turning of the stars overhead.

The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy


Last time I wrote about The Passenger, I wrote about its dominant incest motif. I suggested that the dummy Crandall was the dreamchild of incestuous Western union. I had not yet gotten to the episode where Bobby, on the lam in Idaho, dreams of an incestuous stillborn child, one with only the rudiments of a brain. Bobby queries the dream doctor of his dreamchild: “Does it have a soul?” Bobby’s True Love, his sister Alicia, is the barest slip of a ghost in the final chapter of The Passenger (in contrast to the ghost of Long John Sheddan, who gets a full last dialogue with Bobby), but she shows up again here—theatrical, ghostly, an echo of the speaker of Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death.” I hope we get more from Alicia Western in Stella Maris.


His father. Who had created out of the absolute dust of the earth an evil sun by whose light men saw like some hideous adumbration of their own ends through cloth and flesh the bones in one another’s bodies.

The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy


Père Western, coauthor of the atom bomb (“evil sun”/evil son, evil Adam) is a background wraith in The Passneger (although more present than Ma Western—but I’m sure the lack of mothers in McCarthy’s oeuvre has been commented on at length, perhaps in academic papers. Dude doesn’t include mothers, and mother figures, if they appear, are tangential, marginalized). Wait, where was I? Père Western, haunting the background of The Passenger, takes a bit more of the stage (just a bit) in the final chapter of The Passenger. His Big Crime seems to soak diver Bobby, even if Bobby can’t directly address it.


It was a lone tree burning on the desert. A herladic tree that the passing storm had left afire. The solitary pilgrim drawn up before it had traveled far to be here and he knelt in the hot sand and held his numbed hands out while all about in that circle attended companies of lesser auxiliaries routed forth into the inordinate day, small owls that crouched silently and stood from foot to foot and tarantulas and solpugas and vinegarroons and the vicious mygale spiders and beaded lizards with mouths black as a chowdog’s, deadly to man, and the little desert basilisks that jet blood from their eyes and the small sandvipers like seemly gods, silent and the same, in Jedda, in Babylon. A constellation of ignited eyes that edged the ring of light all bound in a precarious truce before the torch whose brightness had set back the stars in their sockets.

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy


His father spoke little to them of Trinity. Mostly he’d read it in the literature. Lying face down in the bunker. Their voices low in the darkness. Two. One. Zero. Then the sudden whited meridian. Out there the rocks dissolving into a slag that pooled over the melting sands of the desert. Small creatures crouched aghast in the sudden and unholy day and then were no more. What appeared to be some vast violetcolored creature rising up out of the earth where it had thought to sleep its deathless sleep and wait its hour of hours.

The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy.


More than a decade ago, I suggested on this site that the moral core of McCarthy’s best novel Blood Meridian is a sequence wherein a host of creatures coalesce into a “constellation of ignited eyes…in a precarious truce” to observe a burning tree in the desert. Witness and attendant, his own eyes presumably ignited, is the kid, the hero of Blood Meridian. The sequence rebukes the pronouncements of Judge Holden, satanic anchor of that novel, pointing towards coexistence and peace.

The whited meridian sequence in The Passenger, evoking the first ever detonation of a nuclear weapon, reverses McCarthy’s previous passage—blanches it, makes a ghost of it, turns its blood white. Whites it.


(I have a few more thoughts scribbled on a cheap yellow legal pad but the hour grows late and a big storm looms—so, more thoughts to come (including a kind of peace with mules?)


 

I’d Harass God | Emily Dickinson

“There is another Loneliness” — Emily Dickinson

There is another Loneliness
That many die without —
Not want of friend occasions it
Or circumstances of Lot

But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought
And whoso it befall
Is richer than could be revealed
By mortal numeral —

Police cannot suppress | Emily Dickinson

“The Mob within the Heart”

by

Emily Dickinson


The mob within the heart
Police cannot suppress
The riot given at the first
Is authorized as peace

Uncertified of scene
Or signified of sound
But growing like a hurricane
In a congenial ground.

Annual reply (Emily Dickinson)

“The Soul Unto Itself” — Emily Dickinson

“Sumptuous Destitution” — Anne Carson

“Sumptuous Destitution”

by

Anne Carson


“Sumptuous destitution”

Your opinion gives me a serious feeling. I would like to be what you deem me.

(Emily Dickinson letter 319 to Thomas Higginson)

is a phrase

You see my position is benighted.

(Emily Dickinson letter 268 to Thomas Higginson)

scholars use

She was too enigmatical a being for me to solve in an hours interview.

(Thomas Higginson letter 342a to Emily Dickinson)

of female

God made me [Sir] Master—I didn’t be—myself.

(Emily Dickinson letter 233 to Thomas Higginson)

silence.

Rushing among my small heart—and pushing aside the blood—

(Emily Dickinson letter 248 to Thomas Higginson)

Save what you can, Emily.

And when I try to organize—my little Force explodes—and leaves me bare and charred.

(Emily Dickinson letter 271 to Thomas Higginson)

Save every bit of thread.

Have you a little chest to put the Alive in?

(Emily Dickinson letter 233 to Thomas Higginson)

One of them may be

By Cock, said Ophelia.

(Emily Dickinson letter 268 to Thomas Higginson)

the way out of here

much/little (Emily Dickinson)

In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much – how little – is within our power

Emily Dickinson (poem 1287)

3-1

“Civilization — spurns — the Leopard!” — Emily Dickinson

leopard

“One day is there of the series / Termed Thanksgiving day” — Emily Dickinson

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“Publication – is the Auction” — Emily Dickinson

“Publication – is the Auction”

by

Emily Dickinson

Publication—is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man—
Poverty—be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly—but We—would rather
From Our Garret go
White—Unto the White Creator—
Than invest—Our Snow—

Thought belong to Him who gave it—
Then—to Him Who bear
Its Corporeal illustration—Sell
The Royal Air—

In the Parcel—Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace—
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price—

Or shroud of gnome / Himself, himself inform (Emily Dickinson)

eds

“Don’t you know you” –Emily Dickinson

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Spectre cannot harm (Emily Dickinson)

capture

A fine, pedantic sunshine (Emily Dickinson)

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Keen and quivering ratio (Emily Dickinson)

quivering