Thursday, March 31, 2011

Daniel Woodrell, Writer

As I said once, if a website doesn't get updated for more than a month, nobody makes too much of it, but when a weblog doesn't get updated in a month, people begin to wonder whether it's been abandoned or that the blogger is dead! Not an ideal medium for deadline-resistant procrastinators such as myself. So I will now log an off-topic post, to prove I am still alive and I still have this blog in mind, and also to take the opportunity to remark on another writer I'm a fan of, Daniel Woodrell.

Not (yet) as well-known as Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell has to date published eight novels since his first in 1986:
Under the Bright Lights (1986)
Woe to Live On (1987)
Muscle for the Wing (1988)
The Ones You Do (1992)
Give Us a Kiss: A Country Noir (1996)
Tomato Red (1998)
The Death of Sweet Mister (2001)
Winter's Bone (2006)
The first five novels are currently out-of-print. Fortunately, with the critical and popular success of the movie of Winter's Bone last year, three of the first four novels will be republished in a few weeks as a set titled "The Bayou Trilogy", which includes Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do, all set in Cajun/bayou country Louisiana (the most recent four novels are set in Ozark country Missouri, Woodrell's native state). Woodrell's "rediscovery" could be comparable to McCarthy's "rediscovery" in 1992, when, after All the Pretty Horses became a critical hit and bestseller, McCarthy's out-of-print early novels got republished.

Winter's Bone is not the first Woodrell novel to be turned into a motion picture. In 1999, Ang Lee turned Woe to Live On into the movie Ride With the Devil. The novel has a historical setting of the American Civil War, in the Missouri-Kansas border area, where there was extreme violence between the pro-Confederate Bushwackers and the pro-Union Jayhawkers. William Clarke Quantrill, who led the Bushwackers, is a character in the novel and movie. The movie was a box office dud, though there might have been some critical praise at the time, and the movie has continued to fail to develop a following on DVD. Even the issuance of a Criterion director's cut remastered edition of the movie late last year did little to raise the movie's profile, but I am not surprised. Ride With the Devil is a typical big-budget star-studded Hollywood trash, whereas Winter's Bone, a low-budget independent film with low-profile names in writing, directing, and acting, truly brings out the Greek tragedy of the story to great effect, and ranks among the best American movies of recent years.

Winter's Bone the movie should be recognized: Debra Granik for directing; Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini for adapting the screenplay; for acting, Jennifer Lawrence (Ree) and Dale Dickey (Merab) and John Hawkes (Teardrop); Dickon Hinchliffe for original music, especially for the instrumental piece "Hardscrabble Elegy"; Marideth Sisco for singing many of the songs, some traditional and others written specifically for the movie. This movie has a soundtrack that rivals that of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? from a decade earlier. And movies made from McCarthy novels should be this great!

Besides "The Bayou Trilogy", to be released on April 28, Woodrell also plans a collection of short stories The Outlaw Album to be released on October 5. I don't know what the contents are specifically, and it might or might not include some short stories that are available variously on the internet, including these three:

A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir (2007), edited by Megan Abbott, is a collection of short stories by different authors, including one by Woodrell (282-287), which is available in its entirety in this anthology excerpt:
"Uncle" by Daniel Woodrell [pdf]

From the April 2009 issue of Esquire:
"Night Stand" by Daniel Woodrell [html]

From the December 2010 issue of Esquire:
"Twin Forks" by Daniel Woodrell [pdf]

Esquire seems to have a fondness for Woodrell! Besides the two short stories in Esquire, in the September 2007 issue, on the "Esquire 100" list, Woodrell is ranked number 63:
Daniel Woodrell: The Voice of the Ozarks
And accompanying the short story in the December 2010 issue of Esquire is this profile:
Daniel Woodrell: Writer: The most overlooked great novelist in America is about to enter your life

February 27, 2011 Woodrell interview in The Wall Street Journal:
Author Daniel Woodrell on 'Winter's Bone,' Attending the Oscars and His Next Book
March 2, 2011 follow-up Woodrell interview in The Wall Street Journal:
'Winter's Bone' Author Daniel Woodrell on Mixing the 'Verve and Vivacity' of Pulp with Family Stories

Yes, Daniel Woodrell is a writer to watch, if you have not already have his name on your watchlist!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Freemasonry In Background History to Blood Meridian

Masonic America

Some historical themes of Blood Meridian are the 19th C. Indian wars, manifest destiny and westward expansion, and Texas history. The child was born in 1833 when Andrew Jackson was president (1829-1837), and left home in 1847 when James Polk was president (1845-1849), and much of the kid's story takes place in 1849, the last year of Polk's presidency.

Andrew Jackson had a prominent role in the Indian Wars. In 1830, he signed into law the Indian Removal Act. As a result, large numbers of Indians died from starvation and disease, culminating in the notorious Cherokee Trail of Tears in 1838. Jackson frequently made referred negatively to the Indians in his annual addresses to Congress. In the 1833 address, Jackson said, "[the Southern tribes] have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear."

James K. Polk was credited with the annexation of Texas, as well as the acquisitions of New Mexico and California. "Manifest destiny" was coined by journalist John O'Sullivan in 1845 (who hinted at it in 1839) in an article about the annexation of Texas.

Both Jackson and Polk, like McCarthy, were transplants to Tennessee, but regarded as Tennesseeans. Like McCarthy, Polk subsequently moved to Texas. Most important here, both Jackson and Polk were Masons. Thus it could be argued that freemasonry greatly influenced the historical background to Blood Meridian.

Masonic Texas

Under the entry of "Freemasonry" in the Handbook of Texas Online:

In December 1837 delegates from these three lodges [Houston, Nacogdoches, San Augustine] convened at Houston to organize the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas. President Sam Houston presided over this meeting.... Between 1838 and 1845 the Texas Grand Lodge issued charters to twenty-one more lodges, and membership increased from seventy-three to 357. In addition, there were probably some 1,100 Masons from other jurisdictions living in Texas at this time. Although constituting only 1.5 percent of the population, Masons filled some 80 percent of the republic's higher offices. All of the presidents, vice presidents, and secretaries of state were Masons. After annexation Masons continued to be equally prominent in the state government, and between 1846 and 1861 five of the six governors were members of the fraternity.

In a footnote under the entry of "Star" in Mackey's Lexicon of Freemasonry:

At a celebration of the Festival of St. John the Baptiste, in 1844, at Portland, Maine, ... a member of the Grand Lodge of Texas ... observed, "Texas is emphatically a masonic country; all our Presidents and Vice-Presidents, and four-fifths of our State officers, were and are Masons: our national emblem, the 'Lone Star' -- was chosen from among the emblems selected by Freemasonry, to illustrate the moral virtues -- it is a five-pointed star, and alludes to the five points of fellowship."
(Albert Gallatin Mackey's Lexicon of Freemasonry was first published 1845, so this quote from 1844 would have been recent to him.)

Masonic Griffin

Fort Griffin was established in 1867 and closed in 1881, but in its mere 14 years of existence it had a great impact on the lore of the West. Fort Griffin was located by the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, mentioned in Blood Meridian, where the man passes through on his way to Griffin. The area around Fort Griffin was known as The Flat, a name not used in Blood Meridian, but was also called Griffin. Coming from the Clear Fork, the man would enter Griffin on Griffin Avenue, the town's main street and a path that would lead to Fort Griffin. He would first cross River Street, then First Street, then stop at the corner of Second Street, the location of the Beehive Saloon. [The "Fort Griffin" links on the "McCarthy Links" page contain street-level maps of Griffin.]

The Flat had a notorious reputation, populated with prostitutes and gamblers, lawmen and outlaws, buffalo hunters and later buffalo bone hunters. Pat Garrett hunted buffalo at Griffin, as did John Poe (years later and elsewhere, Garrett with Poe's help shot Billy the Kid). Lottie Deno (prototype for Miss Kitty on TV's "Gunsmoke", according to the Handbook of Texas) dealt cards at the Beehive. Doc Holliday among others had gambled with Deno. Doc Holliday too dealt cards at the Beehive as well as at Dick Shannessy's Saloon. It was in Griffin that Doc Holliday met his lifelong companion Bignose Kate Elder and befriended Wyatt Earp and family (resulting in the Gunfight at OK Corral with the Clantons years later). Other notables who spent time in Griffin included Bat Masterson and John Wesley Hardin.

Among the hunter-traders, Charles Rath and Frank Conrad relocated to Griffin Avenue their store, which traded mainly in buffalo and then in buffalo bones, which was usable as fertilizer, when the buffalo population was depleted. This must have been shortly after they opened the store, as 1878 was the year the southern herd was exterminated, and, according to the Handbook of Texas, some bone pickers amassed huge piles of bones by working ahead of workers laying railroad tracks. In Blood Meridian, the man reaches Griffin in 1878, and then in the "Epilogue" there are bone seekers and gatherers.

1878 also has another significance for Griffin. From the Beehive further along Griffin Avenue from Second Street to Third Street then Fourth Street, down another block to Conrad & Rath then a turn toward the river at Fourth Street, passing Shannessy's Saloon, stood a structure not mentioned in Blood Meridian: the first and only Masonic Lodge in Griffin, established in 1878. It is one of the last, if not the only remaining, structure still standing today in Griffin, whereas there are only footprint remains of Conrad & Rath, Shannessy's Saloon, and The Beehive Saloon.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Freemasonry and Death/Rebirth in Blood Meridian

In my last post, I wrote that the Masonic symbolism in the last part of chapter 22 coincides with the occasion of one of the protagonist's several death/rebirth scenes in Blood Meridian, i.e., when the protagonist actually is born or dies, or when the "child" dies in order for the "kid" to be born in the first pages of chapter 1, or when the "kid" dies in order for the "man" to be born in the last part of chapter 22. But Masonic language and symbolism surround also the other occasions. Hence Masonic symbolism could be taken as a sign of his death/rebirth scenes in Blood Meridian.

Masonic "Coffin"

In "Cormac McCarthy Crosses the Great Divide"(2004), Don Williams writes that McCarthy used to live in "a modest house on El Paso's Coffin Street. He could scarcely have chosen a street with a name better suited to his early reputation, and there are those who believe it was a calculated choice ..." This is an indication that McCarthy regards symbolism as significant, in his life as well as in his art. Those whom Williams refers to might readily believe the coffin is a sign of McCarthy's "nihilistic visions", a term Williams uses later in the article, but there is also a Masonic sense of "coffin" that has a resonance in Blood Meridian.

Under the entry for "Coffin" in Mackey's Lexicon of Freemasonry:
Coffin. In the ancient mysteries, the aspirants could not claim a participation in the highest secrets until he had been placed in the Pastos, Bed or Coffin. The placing him in the coffin was called the symbolic death of the mysteries, and his deliverance was termed a raising from the dead. Hence arose a peculiarity in the Greek verb teleutao, which, in the active voice, signified "I die", and in the middle voice, "I am initiated." ancient writer: "... teleutan is to die, and teleisthai to be initiated." The coffin in masonry is an emblem of the Master's degree....
It is interesting that the Greek verb "teleutao" is used to mean one thing as well as its opposite: "to die" as well as "to be initiated", which is synonymous with "to be born", and the Masonic use of this term is compatible with the notion that every death necessarily entails a rebirth, a theme of Blood Meridian.

Traditional Freemasonry, or the Ancient Craft Masonry, has three degrees, consisting of:
first degree - Entered Apprentice;
second degree - Fellow-Craft;
and, third degree - Master Mason.
The notion of death/rebirth in going from one degree to the next allows the correspondence of Blood Meridian's protagonist's three identities with traditional Masonry's three degrees:
child = entered apprentice;
kid = fellow-craftsman;
and, man = master mason.
Freemasonry later added higher degrees, to a total of 33; both 3 and 33 are significant numbers in Blood Meridian.

Masonic "Seeing" And "Recognizing"

Under the entry for "Seeing" in Mackey's Lexicon of Freemasonry ,
Illuminated by its divine rays, the Freemason sees where others are blind; and that which to the profane is but the darkness of ignorance, is to the initiated filled with the light of knowledge and understanding.

Blood Meridian begins with the backstory of the protagonist's birth in "the night the stars fell", which are the "illuminated" "divine rays", as the father "looked in the blackness", which is the "darkness of ignorance". "See the child", the narrator's imperative that starts the novel, takes on the Masonic meaning, "Regard the protagonist as an entered apprentice Mason".

Under the entry for "Recognition, Modes of": Recognizing means presenting some kind of secret test, unknown to the uninitiated, in order to distinguish a Mason from a non-Mason. But there is an alternate sense of "recognizing". The language for rejection of a candidate for a higher degree contains this other sense. Under the entry for "Vouching":

[The] decree [of rejection is to] be uttered in general terms, such as, "I am not satisfied," or "I do not recognize you," and not in more specific language, such as, "You did not answer this inquire ," or "You are ignorant on that point."
In other words, "I do not recognize you" means "I reject your candidacy to the next degree of Masonry". Consider these senses of "seeing" and "recognizing" and note the repetitions of "see" and "recognize", the act of not answering the inquiry, and the echoed wordings in "ignorant"/"ignored" and "point"/"disappointment", in the scene in Griffin when Holden and the man meet (BM 328):

Was it always your idea, he said, that if you did not speak you would not be recognized? You seen me. The judge ignored this. I recognized you when I first saw you and yet you were a disappointment to me. Then and now.

The scene could be read in this Masonic way: Holden asks the kid who has just turned man, the fellow craftsman who has just turned master mason, whether he thinks he could be initiated into a higher Masonic degree if he does not satisfactorily answer the inquiry. The man responds brusquely that since Holden already has an illumined understanding of him, he needs to say nothing more. Holden, offended, responds to the man's obstinacy by reminding him that when he first met him in Nacogdoches as a child who had just turned kid, the entered apprentice who had just turned fellow craftsman, Holden initiated him in spite of his reservations at the time. Now, Holden once again has reservations, except that this time the man has shown disrespect, which is unacceptable to Holden.

Masonic "Beehive"

The man meets his physical death (implied) in the jakes of the Beehive. McCarthy uses the beehive to draw an analogy between the mindlessness of the individual dancer to the communal dance and the mindlessness of the individual drone bee to the swarm. But "beehive" also has a Masonic sense. Under the entry for "Beehive" in Mackey's Lexicon of Freemasonry:

Beehive. An emblem of industry appropriated to the third degree [of Freemasonry]. This is a virtue ever held in high esteem among the craft.... There seems, however, to be a more recondite meaning connected with this symbol. The ark [as in Noah's ark, not the Ark of the Covenant] has already been shown to have been an emblem of regeneration -- of the second birth from death to life. Now in the mysteries a hive was a type of the ark. "Hence," says Faber [in his Origin of Pagan Idolatry, according to the footnotes], "both the diluvian priestesses and the regenerated souls were called bees,..."
The protagonist is in his third identity as the man, and the beehive is an emblem of the third degree of Masonry.

Revelation's Tetramorph At the Death/Rebirth Scenes

As I wrote in a past post, Freemasonry absorbed the Judeo-Christian tradition, and Revelation's tetramorph, with the faces of lion/eagle/bull/man, is present at the death/rebirth scene in chapter 22, and it is present also in the other death/rebirth scenes.

In the beginning of chapter 1, as the child would soon die to give birth to the kid, the backstory of his birth is told: The protagonist was born under the sign of Scorpio during the Leonid showers. Scorpio is a scorpion but is frequently symbolized by an eagle (probably because the nearby eagle constellation Aquila represents the same sector of the sky), and the Leonids are so named because the meteors seemed to originate from the constellation Leo, the lion. Hence, here are the eagle and the lion, two of the faces of the tetramorph.

In the finale scene, McCarthy chooses to set it in Griffin. The mythological griffin is a combination of the lion and the eagle, again, two faces of the tetramorph.

McCarthy chose "Griffin" and "Beehive" for their resonances to Freemasonry, but Griffin was an actual town in Texas, and the Beehive, or Bee Hive, was an actual saloon in historic Griffin, so these choices also have a base in history. Freemasonry too has a basis in the historical background of Blood Meridian ... to be discussed in the next post.

And, Revelation's tetramorph is an iconic foursome which has equivalents in other systems of belief, including astrology, as shown above with Scorpio and Leo, but in other systems of belief as well ... to be discussed in future posts.

And, the Williams article I quoted at the beginning suggests that McCarthy uses elements of his personal life in his art, opening a biographical or autobiographical read of McCarthy's works ... also to be discussed in future posts.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blood Meridian's Chapter 22 - Masonic Symbolism

Blood Meridian's chapter 22, I have claimed, is neglected for its narrative and symbolic significances, specifically, the part after the hangings of Brown and Toadvine and before the eldress at the rocks at the end of the chapter, the part which begins with the two key sentences on page 313 I quoted at the end of the last post, with Revelation terms underscored to show that Revelation could account for quite a few words in this passage. Yet, there is an even bigger set of symbolism that would account for all of these same terms, because Revelation -- moreover, the Judeo-Christian tradition -- is absorbed into this tradition, a set of symbolism that could account for even more terms in this passage, and the tradition is Freemasonry.

I use as my main source here Albert Mackey's Lexicon of Freemasonry and Encyclopedia of Freemasonry because Mackey was a 33rd degree Mason who lived in the 19th C. and was considered an authoritative historian of 19th C. American Freemasonry; the Lexicon and the Encyclopedia were available as sources to McCarthy; and, as we shall see, Mackey's works make a good decoder for Blood Meridian's Chapter 22.

Under the Lexicon's entry "Banners":

General Standard of Freemasonry. ... The escutcheon, or shield on the banner, is divided into four compartments or quarters by a green cross, over which a narrower one of the same length of limb, and of a yellow colour, is placed, forming what the heralds call "a cross vert, voided or;" each of the compartments formed by the limbs of the cross is occupied by a different device. In the first quarter is placed a golden lion on a field of blue, to represent the standard of the tribe of Judah; in the second, a black ox on a field of gold, to represent Ephraim; in the third, a man on a field of gold to represent Reuben; and, in the fourth, a golden eagle on a blue ground, to represent Dan. Over all is placed, as the crest, an ark of the covenant, and the motto is, "Holiness to the Lord."

Then, under the Encyclopedia's entry "Ark of the Covenant": "Its covering was of pure gold, over which was placed two figures called cherubim, an order of exalted angelic beings, with expanded wings."

Then, under the Encyclopedia's entry "Cherubim": "But all agree in this, that they had wings, and that these wings were extended." Furthermore, the Encyclopedia indicates that the Assyro-Babylonians depicted Kirubi, or Cherubim, as vultures:

Kirubi after the Assyrian type, which formed a Merkabah, meaning a chariot (First Chronicles xxviii, 18), upon which Yahveh was seated. In the Egyptian monuments the gods are often represented between the forward-stretching wings of sparrow-hawks or vultures, placed face to face, and birds of this kind often enfold with their wings the divine Naos.

Now, I consolidate and restate in plainer language the descriptions of the general standard of Freemasonry. It is composed of an escutcheon divided into quadrants, each occupied by one of lion/eagle/bull/man. Above the escutcheon is an ark of the covenant, and surrounding the escutcheon and ark are two cherubim, one on each side. Artists have depicted the ark of the covenant and cherubim in many ways, but all we really know of how the ark looks is that it is entirely covered with gold, and all we really know of how cherubim look is that they have huge wingspans, often represented by vultures.

The coat-of-arms of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), a widely known Masonic organization whose coat-of-arms is a representative design, illustrates well Mackey's descriptions of the components:
[Image from UGLE website, webpage of The Arms of the United Grand Lodge of England]

Now we return to the Blood Meridian passage above to match two more phrases to Freemasonry: "vultures ... whose wingspan so dwarfed all lesser birds" would correspond to the cherubim with huge wingspans and often represented by vultures; and "piles of gold a hat would scarcely have covered" would correspond to the ark of the covenant entirely covered with gold.

The two-sentence passage from Blood Meridian, with the Masonic terms (which include also all the Revelation terms) underscored, now looks like this:

On that lonely coast where the steep rocks cradled a dark and muttersome sea he saw vultures at their soaring whose wingspan so dwarfed all lesser birds that the eagles shrieking underneath were more like terns or plovers. He saw piles of gold a hat would scarcely have covered wagered on the turn of a card and lost and he saw bears and lions turned loose in the pits to fight wild bulls to the death and he was twice in San Francisco and twice saw it burn and never went back, riding out on horseback along the road to the south where all night the shape of the city burned against the sky and burned again in the black waters of the sea where dolphins rolled through the flames, fire in the lake, through the fall of burning timbers and the cries of the lost.

Masonic symbols surround this scene. In the previous scene, the kid finds and carries a Bible to be used in the ark of the covenant in this scene, and in the next scene the kid has a brief stint as a guard for some pilgrims, an allusion to the Masonic lore that Freemasonry originated with the Knights Templar, who guarded pilgrims on the road as well as defended the Temple of Solomon, which in Masonic lore was built by Hiram Abif, the master mason and Freemasonry's honored first Mason.

The "bear" is the only entity in this passage not part of this set of Masonic symbols, as it belongs to a different, and significant, symbolism, to be discussed in future posts.

Masonic symbolism extends to the end of this chapter, when the kid dies and the man is born. It is already present at the beginning, both when the child is born and when the child dies and the kid is born, and it is present also at the end of chapter 23, when the man dies. Masonic symbolism seems to be a sign or a motif of the protagonist's death/rebirth scenes; moreover, those scenes could even be explained in Masonic terms. So, more Freemasonry to come....

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blood Meridian - Revelation's "Lake of Fire"

In a recent blogpost, I wrote that "fire in the lake" is an image from the I Ching, as translated by Wilhelm/Baynes. This two-sentence passage from BM p. 313 is where the expression (underscored here) is used:

On that lonely coast where the steep rocks cradled a dark and muttersome sea he saw vultures at their soaring whose wingspan so dwarfed all lesser birds that the eagles shrieking underneath were more like terns or plovers. He saw piles of gold a hat would scarcely have covered wagered on the turn of a card and lost and he saw bears and lions turned loose in the pits to fight wild bulls to the death and he was twice in San Francisco and twice saw it burn and never went back, riding out on horseback along the road to the south where all night the shape of the city burned against the sky and burned again in the black waters of the sea where dolphins rolled through the flames, fire in the lake, through the fall of burning timbers and the cries of the lost.

An expression similar to I Ching's "fire in the lake" is used several times in the Bible's Revelation: "lake of fire". Uncannily, the two expressions from unrelated sources express parallel, really identical, meanings, that apocalypse/death is not the end, but necessarily entails a resurrection/rebirth: A molting is the death of the old skin and the birth of a new one; an apocalypse is the death of the old world and the birth of a new one, and in the context of Christianity, it could be the death of Christ followed by his resurrection.

Earlier, the kid finds and keeps a Bible and is dressed like a preacher: "He had a bible that he'd found at the mining camps and he'd carried this book with him no word of which could he read. In his dark and frugal clothes some took him for a sort of preacher..." (BM 312) This action sets up a Biblical reading of the text quoted above, and it is a prelude to a Biblical vision the kid would soon have, as I will conjecture below. But first, some lines from Revelation.

In Revelation (KJV), "lake of fire", or a similar phrase, is used several times (underscored here) from Rev. 19 to 21:

Rev. 19:20 - And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

Rev. 20:10 - And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Rev. 20:14-15 - And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Rev. 21:8 - But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Revelation tells of a time of Christ's resurrection and Satan's downfall. The beast of the apocalypse, the tetramorph, one with "four faces", is described earlier in Revelation (KJV):

Rev. 4:7 - And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

Note the descriptions of the four faces: "lion", "calf" (some translations use "ox", such as the English Standard Version, or "bull", such as the Contemporary English Version), "man", and "eagle". Now, let's return to the two-sentence passage in Blood Meridian quoted above which contains "fire in the lake", now with certain other words also underscored:

On that lonely coast where the steep rocks cradled a dark and muttersome sea he saw vultures at their soaring whose wingspan so dwarfed all lesser birds that the eagles shrieking underneath were more like terns or plovers. He saw piles of gold a hat would scarcely have covered wagered on the turn of a card and lost and he saw bears and lions turned loose in the pits to fight wild bulls to the death and he was twice in San Francisco and twice saw it burn and never went back, riding out on horseback along the road to the south where all night the shape of the city burned against the sky and burned again in the black waters of the sea where dolphins rolled through the flames, fire in the lake, through the fall of burning timbers and the cries of the lost.

All four faces of the tetramorph are present: "eagle", "lion", and "bull", and the "man" would be represented by the "kid", himself soon to become the "man". The image of "riding out on horseback" harkens Revelation's several rounds of an arriving "horseman"; the use of "twice" harkens Revelation's "first resurrection" and "second death"; and the images of "burned again in the black waters of the sea", all the "burning" and "flames" in general, and "cries of the lost" harken Revelation's apocalypse. And, Christ is sometimes symbolized by the "dolphin". Hence, in this scene, the kid has a vision of Revelation ("he saw ... and he saw"), though his illiteracy has prevented him from reading it in the Bible he keeps.

So, in addition to an I Ching reading of "fire in the lake", I have now also a Biblical reading, but wait ... is this it? No, there are additional senses, along the lines of Revelation, which are also present in this two-sentence passage, and further on in the same chapter, of a tradition that absorbs the precepts of Christianity as well as other traditions. But Freemasonry, and a Masonic reading of this same passage, will have to wait until a future post....

Monday, January 17, 2011

"117" in No Country For Old Men and The Road, Part 2 of 2

This "117" post is getting so long that I am dividing it into two parts! In the first part, "Anton" is the key to "117" in No Country For Old Men, and the non-"117" "Anton" has resonance too in The Road. The "117" in The Road could be read merely as a nod to himself, to the "117" in No Country For Old Men. But I also think "117" has its own meaning in The Road independent of No Country For Old Men, and it is once again a date rather than a Biblical reference. But first I'd have to talk a little about Hamlet's Mill, which I thank Candy Minx for recommending to me some years ago.

Hamlet's Mill is grand and looping and suggestive ... the reading experience was like a rollercoaster ride. One main thesis, in my reading of the book, is that many of the world's apocalyptic and creationist myths can be traced to explanations of the earth's precession. Ancient civilizations were capable of detecting and measuring the earth's wobble, which makes one revolution every 26,000 years or so. If the sky-clock is divided into twelve segments, such as the zodiac, then the earth's precessional clock-hand moves from one zodiac sign to the next once every two millennia plus some years. Due to the direction of the precession, the order would be in the reverse order as the signs would go from month to month; i.e., instead of going from Capricorn to Aquarius to Pisces etc., the order would be from Aries to Pisces to Aquarius etc. The zodiac sign the precession is moving toward is said to be rising, while the zodiac sign moving away from is said to be going south, or sinking below the horizon or into the ocean. The ending of one zodiacal age giving way to the beginning of another, simply due to the earth's precession, is the real meaning of apocalyptic myths, according to Hamlet's Mill.

Christianity taps into the symbolism of the mythology. The age of Aries yielded to the age of Pisces at about the time of Christ, and so a pair of fish has been a symbol of Christ. Now, two millennia later, the age of Pisces will soon yield to the age of Aquarius. I think The Road is an apocalyptic myth about this current changing of the ages.

The apocalyptic event in The Road occurs as the son is about to be born; the father represents the old age of Pisces, the son the new age of Aquarius. The first and immediate act of the father is filling the tub with water, to herald the age of Aquarius, the water-bearer. The father feels a need to go south with the son. The father believes that the south would be warmer, but there is no evidence for that, no explanation why they have not already done so in prior years. The father also feels a need to go toward water, the ocean. The acts of "going south" and "sinking into the ocean" are, as indicated above, the symbolic motions of the ending zodiacal age due to the earth's precession. When the father reaches the ocean, he sees all those dead fish carcasses in the water, symbolizing the death of the age of Pisces; he even swims into their midst to link himself symbolically with them. (In a flashback earlier, the dead perch in his uncle's lake is a foreshadow; later, the woman says "once there were brook trout".) Shortly after reaching his goal, the father realizes, even decides, it is time for him to die. As the father is dying, the son bring him a cup of water, a proper role for a representative of Aquarius, the water-bearer.

I think "117" in The Road is once again a date, one which marks the beginning of Aquarius by two ancient Western works. On the Roman calendar, January 17 is when the sun begins, at day's end, its course in Aquarius. There are two Roman sources for this: Ovid's Fasti and Columella's De Re Rustica.

In Ovid's Fasti ("Roman Festival Days"), Book I is about January, and lines 651-652 are about January 17:
"Haec ubi transierint, Capricorne, Phoebe, relicto,
Per juvenis curres signa gerentis aquam."
Which translates to something like:
"When this [day] has passed, Phoebus [Apollo; light; the sun], leaving behind Capricorn,
Begins his course through the sign of the water-bearer [Aquarius]."

In Columella's De Re Rustica, Book XI, this is written about January 17:
"Cancer desinit occidere"
Which translates to something like:
"Cancer finishes setting"
Since Cancer is directly opposite from Capricorn in the sky-clock, Columella is effectively saying the same thing as Ovid.

The scene toward the end of The Road, in which the light moves with the son, seems strange if read literally. Ovid's explanation of the Roman calendar sheds "light" on this scene: the sun, the light, is now in Aquarius, which the son symbolizes. This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius; let the sun shine in!

Interesting side-note: January 17 is when Cancer has reached its nadir and begins to mount its ascent (Columella) just as Capricorn has reached its zenith and begins to make its descent (Ovid). McCarthy's birthsign is Cancer, which McCarthy deems significant (his self-portrait contains what could be the Cancer glyph over his eyes and face), and so January 17 could be seen as personally significant to McCarthy, as this meaning of "117" marks for him an upturn after hitting a trough, a renaissance after a decline, a rebirth from a death.


Here are some fun trivia on "117":

(1) McCarthy's birthday is July 20, 1933, and Blood Meridian's the kid's birthday is about a century earlier, November 13, 1833. However, neglecting the year, the number of days from July 20 to November 13, inclusive of these days, is 117.

(2) Pagecount, in general, I don't give much significance to, simply because it is not a number the writer could control, as he could with, say, chaptercount and scenecount. But this set of numbers does seem interesting: In the repagination of Blood Meridian, the pagecount is 351=3x117, the three also being a significant number across McCarthy's works.

(3) And then there is the Kabbalah:
The Hebrew word "aleph-vau-pe-lamed" means "to be darkened", "to black out".
aleph=1; vau=6; pe=80; lamed=30.
The Hebrew word "zayin-yod-qoph" means "meteor", "spark", "flicker", "ghost".
zayin=7; yod=10; qoph=100.
In The Road, 1:17am occurs shortly after the light streaks across the sky ... perhaps a meteor (=117), as the world is permanently darkened (=117), and shortly before the birth of the son who carries the spark (=117).


For now, this discussion has not included what could be an implicit "117" in Blood Meridian, which would involve a bigger conspiracy theory, to be discussed in future posts...

"117" in No Country For Old Men and The Road, Part 1 of 2

Soon after No Country For Old Men was published in 2005, a heated discussion quickly ensued on the meaning of the "117" in the Cormac McCarthy Society Forum, brought up first by Richard L., if I remember correctly. Most of the theories early on and even today relate to Biblical references, by chapter and verse of 1:17 in one book or another. I believe I still am the only one to strongly believe "117" is foremost a date, January 17. When the "117" appeared again in the next novel The Road, I became even more certain, just as others were equally certain about Biblical interpretations. Hence, on January 17 in subsequent years I have observed "117" on the McCarthy Forum. Today is January 17, and so it is only natural that I am my first blogpost on "117" in No Country For Old Men and The Road, product of a compilation of my scattered posts from the Forum, with corrected or updated senses.

The archvillain Chigurh's first name Anton is named for two saints by the same name of Anthony. McCarthy conflated the two Anthonys (whereas I confused the two Anthonys in 2005). St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of retrieving lost or stolen items, and lost people and lost souls as well. This attribute explains Anton's role as retriever of the drugs, and pursuer of the money and of the fugitive pilferer, and perhaps even the claimer of the souls of the underaged runaway hitchhiker and the hidden-away wife. (Anton's raison d'etre thus parallels Bell's as well as Billy's in The Crossing: setting things right by putting or returning people and things to their proper places. This sense of propriety, or justice, forms the thesis of Plato's Republic, a work believed to inform Blood Meridian as well.)

Furthermore, San Antonio, TX was named after St. Anthony of Padua, and the city is close to the location of the McCarthy's archives. St. Anthony of Padua is also the patron saint of the maritime: of sailors and shipwrecks and fishermen, of travelers in general. The early history of San Antonio, TX includes settlement by immigrant boat people from the Canary Islands. Canary Islands and shipwreck harken The Road because Tenerife, a Canary Island, of the shipwrecked boat is one of only a few proper nouns in The Road. "Tenerife" is the name of three different but related regions: The province of "Santa Cruz de Tenerife", which contains the island of "Tenerife", which contains the provincial capital city of "Santa Cruz de Tenerife". And the "cruz"="cross" is very McCarthy, as Blackhiller has noted that McCarthy frequently uses that word across his novels.

(In addition, "Fishermen" and "shipwreck" harken the first and last chapters of Suttree; "lost souls" and "travelers" harken the Epilogue of Blood Meridian. In Texas, the historic Camino Real de los Tejas runs from Nacogdoches (early border town), through San Antonio (capital of Spanish/Mexican province), to just south of Eagle Pass (current border town): the route from Blood Meridian to No Country For Old Men.)

The "117" resonance is with the other, more major, saint named Anthony, whose feast day is January 17, hence the "117": St. Anthony of the Desert, or St. Anthony the Great, is known as "the father of monasticism" because he was the first desert hermit to gather like-minded fellow desert hermits into a community (hermit community is oxymoronic) in the desert. (Aside: The gathering of men in the desert for a common purpose is also the activity of drug traders in No Country For Old Men and of scientists at Santa Fe Institute.)

In the desert, St. Anthony consumed only bread and water, and did so only after sunset. St. Anthony believed he himself was the first desert hermit, until he was told there was one who preceded him, St. Paul of Thebes. When St. Anthony went to the desert to find St. Paul, Satan tested him: Satan first tried to tempt him with women, and when that failed, Satan tried to frighten him with phantom wild beasts, such as scorpions, but notably with lions and wolves. St. Anthony finally managed to find St. Paul with the guidance of a she-wolf. When St. Anthony arrived, he was greeted by a raven. St. Paul told St. Anthony that he (St. Paul) would soon die, and sent St. Anthony to retrieve a valuable cloak. When St. Anthony returned, he saw that St. Paul had already died and that some tamed lions were digging his grave. (The wolf and the lion have a malicious as well as a benign side in the story.)

Note the parallels in No Country For Old Men: Llewellyn thinks of bringing water to agua-man only after dark. Agua-man expresses the fear of "leones, lobos"="lions, wolves" in the desert. "Llewellyn" means "lion", and Chigurh's antecedent character "Ralston" (which I only recently learned from reports out of the archives), means "wolf"; there are "scorpions" in the desert. When Llewellyn makes a return visit, agua-man is (presumed) already dead. "Pablo"= "Paul" and his men precede Anton into the desert. And, one of the meanings of "Cormac" is "raven", as told to be by Blackhiller.

Furthermore, St. Anthony the Great is the patron saint of pigs. One version of the origin: In 13th C. London, St. Anthony's hospital, founded by monks of his order, treated skin diseases, in particular ergotism, aka St. Anthony's fire. The monks kept pigs both for food and for treatment of the disease. The hospital's pigs, distinguished by bells around their necks, were free to roam and scavenge in the streets around the city. The association of St. Anthony with the pig is the source of the term "tantony pig", which acquired the meaning of "a petted follower" and "a servile adherent", according to The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language (1889), prepared under the superintendence of William Dwight Whitney. According to the Lexicon, "To follow like a Tantony pig" is "to be constantly at the heels of a person". A "tantony pig" in idiomatic usage seems to have taken on negative connotations: not a leader, but an obsequious follower, a whiner. In later art iconography, St. Anthony the Great would be depicted with pigs and with bells, usually tied around the tau cross but sometimes around the pigs.

Sheriff Bell is the tantony pig with bell, in appellation, character, and action: not a leader but a whiner, and a scavenger of wasted scraps left behind by others on the street. Though a bell/Bell hangs around as protection for the flock against the deadly St. Anthony's fire/Anton's fire, it is merely a symbolic gesture and offers no real protection.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blood Meridian - "Fire In the Lake"

Blood Meridian's chapter 22 is painfully neglected, I believe, especially its latter part, from the kid's wandering around the San Francisco area to his encounter of the eldress at the rocks at the end of the chapter. Neglected probably because it lacks the action commensurate with many earlier and later scenes, as the kid seems to just meander, and even Sepich's Notes On Blood Meridian tends to gloss over the potential symbolisms.

But the ogdoad of I Ching hexagrams in the preceding post was inspired by the single I Ching hexagram found in this part of Blood Meridian: hexagram #49 - Revolution (Molting), composed of the "lake" trigram ☱ over the "fire" trigram ☲. The I Ching explains the hexagram's image using four words: "澤中有火", which literally translates to, word for word, "marsh middle has fire". This is the phrase that Wilhelm/Baynes chooses to render as "fire in the lake".

The hexagram name is one word: "革", which translates to "molting" and "revolution". The two seemingly disparate translated words are analogous: "molting" means an old shell is cast off abruptly and completely to make way for a new shell, just as "revolution" means an old order is cast off abruptly and completely to make way for a new order. The sense of death/rebirth is present in these two words.

McCarthy uses the exact phrase "fire in the lake" on page 313. The latter part of this chapter marks the "death" of the kid and the "birth" of the man: the kid sees the reflection in the water of fires burning down San Francisco, a "fire in the lake" ("49" as I Ching number and as symbol of San Francisco!), and at chapter's end the kid encounters the eldress at the rocks, merely a shell of a body, an image of "molting", and this particular scene marks the last time the protagonist is called "kid".

The "kid" is experiencing his own "molting", to emerge as the "man", a kind of death/rebirth. A further reading could be, just as when a snake, e.g., molts, it does not always recognize its own shedded skin and might regard the old skin as another snake and might even try to communicate or attack it, so too the kid does not recognize his own skin but believes it to be an eldress!


But the expression "fire in the lake" is not limited to the I Ching. The Book of Revelation uses a similar expression, "lake of fire", and Blood Meridian's chapter 22 contains other references to Revelation. By coincidence ... or not ... both I Ching's "fire in the lake" and Revelation's "lake of fire" express parallel, really identical, meanings: apocalypse/death is not the end, but necessarily entails a resurrection/rebirth.

This thought will be continued in later posts.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Blood Meridian's Epilogue - The Five Elements & the I Ching

BM's 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.


There are many interpretations of this, and I adhere to quite a few myself. The latest one I heard (revealed by a poster in The Cormac McCarthy Society Forum) is from McCarthy himself, who in his notes wrote that this is intended to be a burial scene. But anyone who thinks this fully answers the question, that the game is now up, is taking too much of McCarthy's word for granted. So, let me throw in my latest theory. This one, once again, is from left field, where I reside. Oh, let me just call this my "Five Elements and I Ching" theory.

It starts with the funny business of the steel drawing the fire out of the rock. Fire is the characteristic element of this novel, and in the Epilogue fire is involved with two other elements: metal and earth. At the beginning of BM, fire is already involved with the other two elements: wood and water. The supporting order or production cycle of the elements is indicated by the circumference of the pentagram in the direction of the arrows:
Water supports/produces wood, which in turn supports/produces fire (indeed, fire's "folks are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water"), while fire supports/produces earth, which in turn supports/produces metal (image of steel over rock with fire within). So, the five elements, in their supporting order or production cycle, provide yet another unity of the beginning and ending of BM.

Each of the eight trigrams of the I Ching has an association with an element:
fire(☲) trigram with fire element;
water(☵) trigram with water element;
earth(☷) and mountain(☶) trigrams with earth element;
wind(☴) and thunder(☳) trigrams with wood element;
and, heaven(☰) and lake(☱) trigrams with metal element.

So, using this scheme, we could generate hexagrams of the image of the steel (metal) drawing the fire (fire) out of the rock (earth). Before, fire is innermost, then earth, and metal is outermost; afterwards, earth is innermost, then fire, and metal is still outermost. In hexagram construction, two trigrams are combined, with the top trigram representing the outer, and the bottom trigram the inner.

Here is the arrangement for the afterwards scenario:
relative position -- element -- trigram(s)
outermost or top -- metal -- heaven(☰) or lake(☱)
middle -- fire -- fire(☲)
innermost or bottom -- earth -- earth(☷) or mountain(☶)

[Note: This arrangement conjures the image of the heaven above, the earth below, and the fire moving between; this is coherent with Gnostic and Hermetic readings.]

This arrangement generates eight possible hexagrams:
structure -- hexagram number -- hexagram name (Wilhelm/Baynes version)
heaven(☰) over fire(☲) -- 13 -- Fellowship With Men
lake(☱) over fire(☲) -- 49 -- Revolution (Molting)
fire(☲) over earth(☷) -- 35 -- Progress
fire(☲) over mountain(☶) -- 56 -- The Wanderer
heaven(☰) over earth(☷) -- 12 -- Standstill [Stagnation]
heaven(☰) over mountain(☶) -- 33 -- Retreat
lake(☱) over earth(☷) -- 45 -- Gathering Together [Massing]
lake(☱) over mountain(☶) -- 31 -- Influence (Wooing)

[Note: "Fellowship With Men" is in the sense of "Sameness With Others" and "Sameness With People" (Cleary version).]

A major theme of BM is birth/death/rebirth, which the protagonist experiences not only when he is born and when he dies, but also when his name changes -- from child to kid, from kid to man. The first two hexagrams we've encountered before:

When the child dies to become the kid in Chapter 1, he is on a boat to Texas, where "[t]he passengers are a diffident lot" and he is just "a pilgrim among others", echoing I Ching's "Fellowship With Men". Also, we are told at the beginning that he is born on the night of major Leonid showers, and the image of this same I Ching is "Heaven together with fire".

When the kid dies to become the man in Chapter 22, he sees a "fire in the lake", the exact words found in the image of I Ching's "Revolution (Molting)". He is called "kid" one last time at the end of this chapter, again among pilgrims, all dead this time; the eldress at the rocks, a mere shell, reinforces the image of "molting".

The protagonist's death leads directly to the Epilogue, and here the fun continues with the I Ching. The remaining six hexagrams above should seem very familiar to anyone who has read the entirety of the five-sentence Epilogue many times, because three of those I Ching names are used verbatim in the Epilogue, and the other three are represented by synonyms!:

In the Epilogue, the three people or groups: "man progressing", "wanderers" (who "cross in their progress"), and "gatherers" ("and those who do not gather"), correspond to "Progress", "The Wanderer", and "Gathering Together" of the I Ching.

In the Epilogue, "move haltingly" and "appear restrained by a prudence or reflectiveness" are synonymous with "Standstill" and "Stagnation" of the I Ching; "escapement", not just a watch mechanism term, is synonymous with "Retreat"; and "sequence and causality" are synonymous with "Influence".

BM's Epilogue, with the five elements and I Ching senses underlined for emphasis, looks like this:
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.

Cormac McCarthy, Writer

Cormac McCarthy has, to date, published ten novels and three dramas:

The Orchard Keeper (1965)
Outer Dark (1968)
Child of God (1973)
Suttree (1979)
Blood Meridian (1985)
Border Trilogy:
(1.) All the Pretty Horses (1992)
(2.) The Crossing (1994)
(3.) Cities of the Plain (1998)
No Country For Old Men (2005)
The Road (2006)

The Gardener's Son (screenplay, published 1996; TV premiere 1977)
The Stonemason (play, published 1994; stage premiere 1992)
The Sunset Limited (play, published 2006; stage premiere 2006)