Steven Shaviro Quote: “The Very Life of the Darkness”

“The Very Life of the Darkness”: A Reading of Blood Meridian Steven Shaviro (quote):

Western culture has dreamed for centuries of some act of heroic transgression and self-transformation: whether this take the Enlightenment form of rational mastery, or the romantic and mystical one of apocalyptic transfiguration. [Cormac] McCarthy, like Nietzsche, exposes not just the futility of the dream, but far more troublingly its inherent piety, its ironic dependence upon the very (supposed) mysteries that it claims to violate. What is most disturbing about the orgies of violence that punctuate Blood Meridian is that they fail to constitute a pattern, to unveil a mystery or to serve any comprehensible purpose. Instead, the book suggests that “a taste for mindless violence”  is as ubiquitous and as banal as any other form of “common sense.” Scalping has been a common human practice for at least 300,000 years, as one of the epigraphs to the novel suggests. Acts of destruction are as casual, random and unreflective as acts of kindness and civility which also occur at odd moments in the course of the narrative. The judge demonstrates this point with cynical clarity when he calmly scalps a young child after having rescued it and carried it about and played with it for three days; for all that he and his mates have just destroyed an entire defenseless village, Toadvine is scandalized. Toadvine is incapable even of imagining transgression; he robs and kills precisely to the extent that such acts seem to him within the normal order of things. The judge, on the other hand, transgresses only in an ironic mode: by his lights, the perversity of scalping the child after it has come to trust him is no greater than the initial perversity of rescuing it from an otherwise total holocaust. In both cases, actual transgression is impossible. Transgression is an endeavor to exhaust the world, to compel it to reveal itself: as the judge puts it, “Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth” (198). Such is the self-transcending project of Enlightenment. And we might be tempted to say that whereas all the other characters kill casually and thoughtlessly, out of greed or blood lust or some other trivial cause, only the judge kills out of will and conviction and a deep commitment to the cause and the canons of Western rationality.

Our order is never the world’s order, not even in the Nietzschean sense of an order that we impose. We mark out paths in the desert or we read the tracks of others, but we cannot thereby master futurity or compel events to our liking. For subjectivity is not a perspective upon or projection into the world, nor even a transcendental condition for our perception of the world; it is just another empirical fact, an inherence within the world like any other. There is no interiority, no intentionality and no transcendence. The radical epistemology of Blood Meridian subverts all dualisms of subject and object, inside and outside, will and representation or being and interpretation. We are always exiles within the unlimited phenomenality of the world, for we cannot coincide with the (nonexistent) center of our being: “the history of all is not the history of each nor indeed the sum of those histories and none here can finally comprehend the reason for his presence for he has no way of knowing even in what the event consists. In fact, were he to know he might well absent himself and you can see that that cannot be any part of the plan if plan there be”. And so, just as we can never possess the world (since we cannot even possess ourselves), by the same logic we can never transgress the order of the world or estrange ourselves from it no matter how hard we try.1


  1. Edwin T. Arnold, Dianne C. Luce (editors). Perspectives on McCarthy. University Press of Mississippi; Revised ed. edition (December 20, 2012)

4 thoughts on “Steven Shaviro Quote: “The Very Life of the Darkness”

    • The last statement seems accurate: “Given all these differences between analytic and non-analytic philosophy, one might wonder whether there is any point in treating Frege, Russell, Hegel, and Heidegger as being in the same line of business. The two sorts of philosophers have, in fact, often tried to excommunicate each other. Analytic philosophers often describe Hegel and Heidegger as “not really doing philosophy.” Hegelians and Heideggerians typically rejoin that their analytic colleagues are intellectual cowards who feel insecure outside a familiar professional environment. This exchange of insults has been going on for some fifty years, and seems unlikely to cease. “

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