I must confess, I have only read two novels by Cormac McCarthy.
Having seen No Country for Old Men at the cinema, and enjoyed it as most others did, I quickly purchased the novel and read it. While at the bookstore, I noticed an “Oprah Bookclub Selection” by McCarthy (which necessarily caused a good deal of hesitation on my part) titled “The Road”. After reading both novels, I was initially struck by the sterile mediocrity and minimalism (which sadly is all the rage now–Tom Robbins notwithstanding) of McCarthy’s style (to say nothing of his shamefully complete and total inability to write female characters). However, that said, I did generally enjoy the novels (especially The Road).
It wasn’t too long before I realized why I had a superficial appreciation for the novels all the while wholeheartedly despising them upon deeper reflection. The persistent tone and theme of McCarthy’s writing is a pathetically contemptuous wistfulness and impotently despairing anguish over the loss of the pre-Enlightenment metaphysical ordering of the world. Thus, on the surface I enjoyed the novels for their entertaining portrayal of a world devoid of the horror of traditional moral/metaphysical frameworks (a horror, I might add, that is infinitely worse than the catastrophically violent and environmentally toxic world of The Road). However, insofar as McCarthy’s thematization of this portrait is lamentatious in the extreme, I find his work repugnant. McCarthy’s pathos is the fictional equivalent of Alasdair MacIntyre’s philosophical condemnation of the “Enlightenment project” (found principally in his seminal work “After Virtue”). The nostalgic sentiment that fuels both is an unseemly longing for “order” and “security”, a kind of cloying comfort that one appropriately achieves–and permanently at that–only in death.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”
–Jack Kerouac “On the Road”