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Harold Bloom on Blood Meridian

In book review, reblog on July 13, 2009 at 2:32 pm
Leonard Pierce of A.V. Club interviewed Harold Bloom about the Yale professor’s take on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Bloom confirms my observation that McCarthy is secretly indebted to William Faulkner. I have yet to read As I Lay Dying and Light in August, but based from The Sound and the Fury and the epic Absalom, Absalom! alone, one could readily trace McCarthy’s precursor. An excerpt:

The A.V. Club: Talk a bit about how you came to read Blood Meridian. You apparently had a hard time getting through it the first time.

Harold Bloom:
I read it on the recommendation of a friend, Gordon Lish, a New York book editor and a specialist in fiction. He said that it was a very splendid work, but that he was always appalled by the violence of it, and I wondered what he meant. I think I had read some earlier McCarthy, and had mixed feelings about it—it seemed to me to be Faulknerian in a way that was not really integrated in a way that made it McCarthy’s own. It may have been Suttree, in fact, a book that I haven’t read since. It was a strong book, but you had the feeling at times that it was written by William Faulkner and not by Cormac McCarthy. He tends to carry his influences on the surface, quite honestly.

The first time I read Blood Meridian, I was so appalled that while I was held, I gave up after about 60 pages. I don’t think I was feeling very well then anyway; my health was going through a bad time, and it was more than I could take. But it intrigued me, because there was no question about the quality of the writing, which is stunning. So I went back a second time, and I got, I don’t remember… 140, 150 pages, and then, I think it was the Judge who got me. He was beginning to give me nightmares just as he gives the kid nightmares. And then the third time, it went off like a shot. I went straight through it and was exhilarated. I said, “My God! This reminds me of Thomas Pynchon at his best, or Nathanael West.” It was the greatest single book since Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. In fact, I taught it for several years in a class I gave here at Yale—interestingly enough, in a sequence starting with Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, moving on to Miss Lonelyhearts, then The Crying of Lot 49, and the fourth in the sequence was Blood Meridian.
I finally wrote something about it, and I was contacted by his people at Random House; they were going to put out a nice cloth-bound library version of it, and they requested to put what I had to say about it in a book called How To Read And Why in as an introduction, and I of course consented. Certainly, the book holds up; I wish that the rest of McCarthy, both before and after, was that good. I think the Border Trilogy has its moments, especially the first volume [All The Pretty Horses], but the second [The Crossing] and third [Cities Of The Plain]—especially the third—were disappointments. I was not one of the admirers of No Country For Old Men, which I found strained and the brutality coming through it all so… Nothing really mitigated it. The negative protagonist has none of the legitimacy or grandeur that Judge Holden has. And The Road I’ll have to visit again, because it really wore me down, that book, until the last 40 or 50 pages, where the father-son bond, I felt, was conveyed with real beauty and majesty. I want to make sure my impressions of it were correct. But to have written even one book so authentically strong and allusive, and capable of the perpetual reverberation that Blood Meridian possesses more than justifies him. I don’t think McCarthy will ever match it, but still… He has attained genius with that book.

AVC: When you called it “the ultimate Western”, did you mean merely the paramount example of the genre, or its final expression?
HB: No, I meant the final one. It culminates all the aesthetic potential that Western fiction can have. I don’t think that anyone can hope to improve on it, that it essentially closes out the tradition. And in the sense that it serves as an extension of the pastoral tradition, it provides an interesting and ironic contrast with American Pastoral by my friend Philip Roth.

(Read the whole interview at A.V. Club)

Related post:
The Rhetoric of Blood Meridian