Friday, October 28, 2022


After a long absence from fiction, Cormac McCarthy returns with a double dose of his bleak imaginings with this month's release of this novel The Passenger, to be followed up in December with a second novel, Stella Maris. The second book, I understand, is a continuation of the hard-scrabble tale begun in The Passenger. Fittingly, the two novels will be sold eventually as a boxed set. At 89 years old, these are likely to be McCarthy's last additions to his fatalistic oeuvre, assuming that no posthumous "lost" books find publication after his eventual passing. 

I haven't read The Passenger as yet, but being one of those who think McCarthy ought to be given a Nobel Prize for Literature, odds are that I'll find the strange pleasure one experiences reading some of the finger work from this brutal and often brilliant poet of the brutal forecast. Laura Miller, book critic for Slate, apparently has little sympathy for a masculine world view in literary fiction and finds McCarthy's reputation both inflated and needlessly, pointlessly violent, taking time to serve some implied shade against Hemingway, Faulkner, Don DeLillo and James Ellroy. She awarded The Passenger a well-honed negative review. This was a surprising take. Miller is usually a first-rate book critic, but her arguments here against the Cult of Cormac that sound thin, however well worded they are. The review reads more like a string of sentences she's been saving up for a while to say against the author the first chance she had. She might be gone off on an anti-McCarthy screed before, but no matter. 

Whether consulting his Inner Hemingway or hailing the Faulkner Within to make his prose compelling and effective in conveying the tragic atmospheres that are his literary domain, McCarthy has displayed mastery over his influences and forged an original and forceful voice of his own. Great writers have their deep and obsessive roots in persistent perceptions of how the universe of their respective understandings unfold, churn, create and destroys the nature of its existence despite heroic efforts to change and somehow improve the course of human events, and McCarthy has held to his doomed visage. This author as a committed Hobbesian who sees himself as the effective witness to what existence is after the collapse of the Leviathan; nasty, brutish and short. 

Though not meeting the stamp of approval from 21st century tastemakers, the struggles, and experiences of masculinity has been a rich vein for masterpieces for quite a good while, from Conrad, Mailer, London, Lawrence, McGuane and too many others to name-drop, and the relevance of their collective bodies of work cannot be wholly discarded or ignored only because it's inconvenient for what passes as the present conversation about what a writer's responsibility to a reader is. I prefer to keep that task simple and straightforward, which is a writer of fiction give an honest accounting of the problems that confront a set of characters. At 89, McCarthy has remained committed to the dictates of his imagination. That's all he's been required to do over a long career.

All this said, I have the Passenger on my desk, and I'll have it read soon enough, and from there a substantial view of the novel might arise. But there's been usually a state of shock after I've finished the other McCarthy novels--Blood Meridian, The Road, No Country for Old Men, and I've put off writing about this writer if for no reason apart from not wanting to think too long or too deeply about the horror that McCarthy dares to look straight in the eye and describe without flinching. 

Friday, October 21, 2022


 Fearless is a fine word, but a bit melodramatic. Blues musicians and musicians in general, I suppose, can be expected to engage in a bit of high-rent hyperbole when discussing matters musical. It's a trait I engage in. In any case, I look less for "fearlessness" and all its Saturday matinée associations and seek instead musicians who have confidence in what they're doing. There is that threshold we must all cross, built of self-doubt, stage fright, anxiety, when we're about to step onto the stage, but the one who will be the professional, the one who is going to turn in stellar performances more often than not, is the one with the instinct, the knack, the desire to entertain, delight and amaze others to convert fear, bad nerves, doubt, the shakes into energy that fires the brain and the limbs and makes all the synapses fire; the training, the practice, the wood shedding stops being experimental and preparation and transforms itself into confident, self-assured professionalism. It's a quality of being that allows the musician to mostly do anything he or she has their mind on doing. 

Those descriptions of resulting personal liberation resulting from as series of actions one does without. Concepts do not exist of themselves, self-contained. The idea of courage is meaningless until one grasps fears, embraces it and walks through that wall of uncertainty that would otherwise prevent the person, musician or not, from doing great and original things. It's walking through your fears and getting to the other side, stronger, tempered, with greater confidence in one's abilities. Fear I believe is a great motivator toward acts of personal courage. It should be turned around, I think. One cannot be "fearless", but one can live with less fear by taking risks, advancing toward goals one might not otherwise have attempted. Less fear. That seems closer to the real human condition, something that is achievable. Doing away fear is a nice goal in an abstract world, but eliminating this element from the range of human emotion threatens to turn musicians into automatons, machines. If one does not know fear by experience, consequentially one cannot know courage, that is, one cannot be brave. These are polarities that depend on one another to be useful in any discussion using either of the terms. Neither fear nor courage make sense without the presence of the other. Sans fear, an element I believe is always present in every human being (unless one is a sociopath), courage is not possible. 

That's a dualism and not likely appropriate to a discussion with a pretense of thoughtfulness regarding the range of emotion motivation, but there are those moments when one needs to strip a wondering discourse on watery conceptualizations down to a stark truism, with it in mind that the cliché contained within the truism is the banal assertion from which a new discussion can commence. That is why I was thinking reversing the term to that of having "less fearing" is more useful and presents a more coherent picture of what you're trying to get at, as it describes how fear, always present, can be mastered to an extent and turned to one's advantage as the hero, a musician in this case, advances toward that quality called courage. Like it or not, fear cannot be gotten rid of. It can, though, be eliminated, and people can be taught/trained to perform wonderfully despite the fears they have.