Academic journal article Spatial Practices


Academic journal article Spatial Practices


Article excerpt

In the neuter austerity ofthat terrain all phenomena were bequeathed a strange equality and no one thing nor spider nor stone nor blade of grass could put forth claim to precedence. The very clarity of these articles belied their familiarity, for the eye predicates the whole on some feature or part and here was nothing more luminous than another and nothing more enshadowed and in the optical democracy of such landscapes all preference is made whimsical and a man and a rock become endowed with unguessed kinships. (Blood Meridian 247)1

This book will examine Cormac McCarthy's later texts in the light of a formative debate in American culture. There is a tendency, beginning with Columbus and echoing down to the present day, to depict American landscapes in overwhelmingly positive or negative terms, or as either good or evil, as the judgments are often couched in religious or ethical language. Several iconic figures in the American literary-historical tradition exemplify either side of this polarity. This oft-noticed aspect of many key texts of our tradition is clearly described by Brian Jarvis in his study Postmoderni Cartographies; he argues, "one of the distinctive features to the history of the representation of [space] is its tendency to encourage responses that gravitate towards Utopian extremes. It was the best of places, it was the worst of places, but always the land itself loomed large in the imagination of America" (1998: 1). Some texts, exemplified by the Puritans and the Romantics, tend to demonize wilderness, turning it into spaces of sin and death. Meanwhile, writers such as Thomas Jefferson, Crèvecoeur, Frederick Jackson Turner and the Transcendentalists valorize wild environments, linking them to democracy, goodness and a boundless energy unique to Americans; here, wilderness becomes the sine qua non of the impulse to see or to create in America a second Eden.2

The tradition is not monolithic and one could cite examples from each group that point in the opposite direction. Yet the existence of the two trends is on the whole, I will argue, unassailable. Jefferson's idea of an agrarian republic, Crèvecoeur's linking of space to social equality, Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis about the importance of the frontier in the formation of the American character and the place of wild nature in the writings of the Transcendentalists all speak convincingly in favor of an Edenic trend.

While there are again counter-examples that arise from the tradition that equates wilderness with sin and death, one cannot deny the overall arc of writers in this group. Puritans such as Cotton Mather and Edward Johnson3 saw in the unbroken wilderness a moral abyss; Romantic writers such as Hawthorne repeatedly used wild places as sites where evil manifests itself, luring and torturing such souls as wander too near its border ("Young Goodman Brown" is a particularly good example of the forest as evil).

This is the twofold heritage of wilderness spaces in America. Cormac McCarthy's later texts give nature a prominent place and deal directly with this heritage. This book will show how, in each of McCarthy's later novels, distinct and conflicting views of the nature of wilderness spaces emerge. This can be seen as a debate, one that ties in directly to the American literary-historical tradition. Such discourses about the environment affect one's perception of the land; this is what is meant by the title of this book, The Writing of American Spaces. I am investigating the ways in which our relationship to the environment is textually mediated.

This book argues that sensitivity to the debate on the nature of U.S. spaces can bring one to a better understanding of McCarthy. Many texts, especially the most critically acclaimed and well known, such as All the Pretty Horses and The Road, derive their structure from two competing views of the land, something as essentially good or essentially evil. Although each text foregrounds a slightly different binary, attention to the debate on the nature of U. …

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