The Post-Nihilist Sublime

The Post-Nihilist Sublime:

Crossing those barren gravel reefs in the night they seemed remote and without substance. Like a patrol condemned to ride out some ancient curse. A thing surmised from the blackness by the creak of leather and the chink of metal.

Under a gibbous moon horse and rider spanceled to their shadows on the snowblue ground and in each flare of lightning as the storm advanced those selfsame forms rearing with a terrible redundancy behind them like some third aspect of their presence hammered out black and wild upon the naked grounds.

-Cormac Mccarthy, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West


One feels neither the echo of the older natural or Romantic Sublime with its terror or fear of some unknown ‘presence’ pervading the emptiness of things, nor even the nihilist sublime of absence with its shock of the baleful disjunctions of the missing trace of either the natural or the religious markers. There is no trace here, in fact the riders themselves in this scene have tasked themselves with total erasure, of empting themselves out of their own and their animals presence as they evade the Apache’s on their trail. This is truly the non-human turn where the human vanishes into the vastation of the kenoma – the great emptiness. Where the only repetition is the ‘redundancy of some third aspect of their presence hammered out black and wild upon the naked ground”. As if they, too were either icons of a bygone age being destroyed in the very act of passing into the immanent darkness of this bleak landscape, or were creatures of another order altogether, no longer human but something else, inhuman or nonhuman.


They rode on. They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote. For although each man among them was discrete unto himself, conjoined they made a thing that had not been before and in that communal soul were wastes hardly reckonable more than those whited regions on old maps where monsters do live and where there is nothing other of the known world save conjectural winds.

-Cormac Mccarthy, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West

That “they” were “like” men with its distancing of third-person plural and the conjunction attributing to them patterns, behavior, actions that pre-date their own existence, a hint of cosmic fatalism, a purpose other than their own, a puppet clause within the scheme of things with them directed from elsewhere, imprinted or clothed, covered over, surrounded with some ancient teleonomic design, algorithms in a process as old as Time itself. As if these were inhuman archontes (“blood legatees”) of an unreal or hyperreal order outside the natural or even religious – or even beyond cosmic horrorism (H.P. Lovecraft). Creatures of an order beyond human reckoning (“remote”)  with an ultimate command or reason (“imperative”) stamped upon their inner being, some normative algorithm or programmed and encoded task of which even they were unknowing and yet were duty bound to follow and enact. Each a separate and almost monadic being (Leibniz), and yet brought together in a mediated object of monstrous calculation, conjoined in some dark and unbidden “communal soul,” drifters in the blanks of an uncharted region of Time and Space outside the knowledge of men, a noumenal realm of pure conjecture and surmise that cannot be reduced to the presumptive disciplines of science or philosophy. Here in this darkness, the unmapped territories of existence, this monstrous organism, this angelic order of violence moves to the automatic and automated programs of some machinic system of which neither they nor any human could have known or foreseen.

Mccarthy’s works lend themselves to allegorical and symbolic embellishment. One can read him straight, as a violent western drama of men beyond the pale or one can enter into the various zones of unregulated meaning, disturbances of signification that cannot be reduced to either secular nor religious allegorical image, thought, or deed. His is an art that is moving beyond the known, beyond the knowledge of limited reasoning, outside the aesthetic taste of the last two hundred years of artistic boundaries of what is acceptable. His is a post-nihilist art of attribution and conveyance, a luring of the unknown and unknowable systems of complexity that seem to ride us like an “ancient curse,” shape us to designs we did not seek out, push us toward that realm of freedom and fate beyond which the human begins to change into an other… an alterity without redress or recourse to any known paradigm, a mapping of the unknown by way of nonknowledge.

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