Saturday, July 04, 2009

Alien

This is Eric Voegelin, political philosopher:

Of the profusion of gnostic experiences and symbolic expressions, one feature may be singled out as the central element in this varied and extensive creation of meaning: the experience of the world as an alien place into which man has strayed and from which he must find his way back home to the other world of his origin. "Who has cast me into the suffering of this world?" asks the "Great Life" of the gnostic texts, which is also the "first, alien Life from the worlds of light." It is an alien in this world and this world is alien to it. "This world was not made according to the desire of the Life." "Not by the will of the Great Life art thou come hither." Therefore the question, "Who conveyed me into the evil darkness?" and the entreaty, "Deliver us from the darkness of this world into which we are flung." The world is no longer the well-ordered, the cosmos, in which Hellenic man felt at home; nor is it the Judaeo-Christian world that God created and found good. Gnostic man no longer wishes to perceive in admiration the intrinsic order of the cosmos.


Readers of Cormac McCarthy will be well used to his use of alien to describe the harshness of existence. The various concordances produced by John Sepich show the following uses of the word in his texts:

Outer Dark 3
Suttree 7
Blood Meridian 13
All The Pretty Horses 8
The Crossing 8
Cities of The Plain 4
No Country for Old Men 1
The Road 5

Some sample usages from Blood Meridian:

The survivors lay quietly in that cratered void and watched the whitehot stars go rifling down the dark. Or slept with their alien hearts beating in the sand like pilgrims exhausted upon the face of the planet Anareta, clutched to a namelessness wheeling in the night. p. 46

Along the wall opposite crouched figures seeming alien to the light who watched the Ameicans with no expression at all. p. 101

The judge stepped into the sunlit doorway and executed upon the stones a series of steps with a strange precision and he and the fiddler seemed alien minstrels met by chance in this medieval town. p. 190


The instrument of salvation for Gnostics is knowledge - gnosis. But Voegelin cautions:

Self-salvation through knowledge has its own magic, and this magic is not harmless. The structure of the order of being will not change because one finds it defective and runs away from it. The attempt at world destruction will not destroy the world, but will only increase the disorder in society.


Or, put another way, a dangerous self-indulgence. Voegelin identified the totalitarian regimes he fought as a young man (he had to flee Nazi Germany after trenchant criticism of the regime) as political gnostic movements. They seek to establish a superman, a carrier of the fire, a possessor of the divine spark. Again, recognisable phrases to the reader of McCarthy.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh my friend, after my own heart, I wish we could collaborate.

Alas, if I offer you my critique of this entry as supported by quotes of EV and McCarthy I'd be putting too much of my research into the pubic domain, and I would like to at least TRY to publish it before I go completely open-source. (Yes, criticism: the sad and feeble last resort of those who can't actually write... .)

For the record, I think your critiques of McCarthy as a writer are insightful and largely right on the mark (-even if it pains me to say it, since I am a big fan).

As to McCarthy's implied view of the world and his message, I am diametrically opposed. I will have to leave it at that.

No need to thank me for this totally useless post.

(o:

-Carlomagno
(I take the honorific for the haughty nature of this message.)

Ps. If you want to speak off the grid in the future, or trade drafts in the future, I would be down for that. I'll keep in touch.

Anonymous said...

Tom-

Well, so much for leaving you alone. I just dropped in to say that, having started to focus my notes and prepare an outline for the EV/CM paper that I am writing, I am glad to say that my description of our substantive views as 'diametrically opposed' may be overstated. (Surprise, surprise.)

With regard to immanentizing propogandist Vs. diagnoser of pneumapathology...

...I think there's room (not just in a relativistic, let's all get along sense) room for both views of McCarthy's work as representing predominant currents in different periods of the oeuvre.

That makes some sense to me, as each version is in some respects a flipside of the other. As I mentioned in your 'Divine Spark' thread, the difference between the gnostic and the philosophic can be a knife's edge. It's what one chooses to do with the insights that really matters.

I am happy to come to this tentative conclusion, as your ideas about CM are powerful and I had trouble seeing them as misinformed, given the breadth of your reading. I owe you a sincere thanks, as these exercises have helped to organize my thoughts and research.

Good luck-- I'm really gonna try piss off now for a bit, promise.

-cs

Tom Conoboy said...

Carlos, sorry to be a while responding. I've had computer troubles, and one of the many problems this has caused is that I lost the emails with links to your various comments, so I've had to search through the blog for them.

Ps. If you want to speak off the grid in the future, or trade drafts in the future, I would be down for that. I'll keep in touch.

I'd be very happy to continue a discussion by email. I'm at tomconoboy[at]excite.com, if you want to drop me a line.


For the record, I think your critiques of McCarthy as a writer are insightful and largely right on the mark (-even if it pains me to say it, since I am a big fan).
I foresee a sea of trouble for myself in trying to promote those critiques, though. I think I'm a lone voice at present... Which makes it more interesting, I have to say.



...I think there's room (not just in a relativistic, let's all get along sense) room for both views of McCarthy's work as representing predominant currents in different periods of the oeuvre.
Yes, I think throughout his work and his career, McC is having this argument with himself, and sometimes his views are bleaker than others with BM and TR at the extremes.


As I mentioned in your 'Divine Spark' thread, the difference between the gnostic and the philosophic can be a knife's edge. It's what one chooses to do with the insights that really matters.
And likewise, I think his work is not gnostic per se, but him working through the questions and trying to decide where he stands. I'm not sure he's made up his mind yet...

Good luck-- I'm really gonna try piss off now for a bit, promise.
Keep in touch...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tom, I'll definitely touch base via email in the future re our respective research. For now, things may have to wait- I am not actually back in the academy yet. This paper is for fun... which makes me kinda crazy, at least by the standards of most everyone I know (-except for one sweet woman whose opinion must be discounted because she appears to love me). (o:

Re being a lone voice: set forth, O pilgrim. Perfect- always better to be that than a blind follower, and when McCarthy set out 40 years ago... I think he was in the same boat. So, there is some poetry in a well-read and well-reasoned detractor of his work having some of the same mettle.

By the way, my oft deigned self-portrait as a poster is due to my own sense that I have a big damn mouth (it's constantly getting me into trouble) and my perceived history of killing discussion threads. I'm glad to see that's not the case on your blog; I guess I have kept the wrong company. But I imagine such semi-true self-effacing drivel is annoying to hear, so from now on I will just be myself: the greatest ever. Joke.

See you soon,
--Carlos