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Indeed, one structuring device in Blood Meridian is a rhythm of landscape scenes providing moments of stillness, contemplation, or aestheticizing distance in tension with the violence and kinetic energy that otherwise pattern the novel. Always these concentrated landscape passages also function as prose poems, conjoining visual imagery with other poetic resources of language.

Often bathed in the iconic light of sunrise, sunset or deep night, or briefly illuminated by flashes of lightning, the scenes suggest both scientific and Manichaean determinisms that apparently direct the actors in the unfolding drama. Rather, they tend to deconstruct and de-romanticize the mid-nineteenth-century west and the imperialism that claimed, tamed and absorbed it as part of America. As composed by the narrator, the scene constitutes a reading of the American west as a realm of illusory beauty grounded in violence:.

The sun to the west lay in a holocaust where there rose a steady column of small desert bats and to the north along the trembling perimeter of the world dust was blowing down the void like the smoke of distant armies.


The crumpled butcherpaper mountains lay in sharp shadowfold under the long blue dusk and in the middle distance the glazed bed of a dry lake lay shimmering like the mare imbrium and herds of deer were moving north in the last of the twilight, harried over the plain by wolves who were themselves the color of the desert floor. It employs diction— holocaust , void , mare imbrium— unavailable to Glanton, through whom the scene initially appears to be focalized. Further, the association of the word with World War II ethnic massacre overlays this image of the American west with an evocation of the furnaces in the concentration camps, and the dark bats backlit by the blazing sunset suggest both the smoke from those incinerators and the rising souls or animas of the victims.

But the narrator forestalls any identification with Glanton.

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In effect, such a figure becomes the machine in the garden, the eruption of destructive aspects of human culture in the pastoral realm or, in this case, the wilderness. The narrator brings to his visual perceptions of the scene his knowledge not only of American and European traditions of landscape art, but also his imaginative engagement with poetry and history.

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.

Coming Ashore

As in so many of these painterly scenes, light and shadow receive emphasis. Not only the horses but the riders too seem hobbled to their shadows, their darker selves. A lobeshaped moon rose over the black shapes of the mountains dimming out the eastern stars and along the nearby ridge the white blooms of flowering yuccas moved in the wind and in the night bats came from some nether part of the world to stand on leather wings like dark satanic hummingbirds and feed at the mouths of those flowers.

Farther along the ridge and slightly elevated on a ledge of sandstone squatted the judge, pale and naked. He raised his hand and the bats flared in confusion and then he lowered it and sat as before and soon they were feeding again.

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Thus the scene is comprised of planes of geophysical grounding in the ridge and the mountains, alternating with the unplumbed spaces of the lower void and the upper ether. As in other depictions of the judge, where he postures atop a wall or battlement or on the rim of a volcano in naked display of his nature, he is here positioned on the brink of an abyss which he does not perceive as a threat.

The figure of the squatting judge looms most palpably, but it structurally balances the yuccas on the opposite side of the composition. Although bats feed on the fruit and pollen of yucca plants, suggesting the biotic associations typical of a painter such as John James Audubon, particular plant and animal varieties are not identified here. It is tempting to visualize the yucca as the tall, sculptural Joshua tree Yucca brevifolia , with arm-like branches that seemed to the Mormons to beckon them west.

But these forms may just as easily be another white-flowering desert yucca. In Blood Meridian , the most appalling whiteness belongs not, of course, to the bats, nor to the innocent yucca blossoms, but to the naked judge, whose imperial gaze takes in this scene with the satisfaction of possession, and who conducts the small drama before him—the flaring and resettling of the feeding bats—with a casual wave of his hand.

The scene stands as a visual warning of the nature of the judge and of the Manichaean world of which he is, among other things, the demiurge—a world-ruler ignorant of Spirit, the very embodiment of materialism, empiricism, imperialism, Manifest Destiny, war, and death. There they fire on the muleteers and wantonly crowd the caravan over the precipice:. Far from realistic, the scene represses the cries and even the bodies of the falling men to focus on the abject silence of the plummeting mules, augmenting the peculiar horror of the tableau. At the same time, the deaths of the men and mules are objectified and visually abstracted.

Glanton is a voyeur of violence, finding perverse beauty in the play and movement of color against a contrasting ground, yet insensitive to or excited by the pain and death inflicted on other beings. In further strange elision, as the narrator struggles to accommodate his horrific vision that reluctantly comprehends the burst bodies of the men and mules even as they are repressed, the blood is quickly displaced by the quick-silver, its movement suggesting an animation, a quick- ness outlasting that of blood. The downward flux and upward eruption of the mercury counter the flattened perspective of the crimson and silver drip painting and reestablish the topography of the steep terrain.

Catching light like water in a conventional painting, these quicksilver forms define the contours of the land as if they were invisible but for the movement of animated, bright matter over them. The eye follows these morphing, diminishing forms ever deeper into the chasm until they elude it. The Actaeon allusion reinforces the motif of the hunter hunted that becomes increasingly evident in the last half of the novel and that characterizes the life of the kid after the massacre at the Yuma crossing. As the messenger god, one of his roles was to conduct the dead to Hades, and thus the fleet mercury that rushes down the abyss alludes to the souls of the murdered muleteers.

The chapter in which Brown sees the ocean is largely devoted to his trip to acquire supplies, and it stands as the only extended treatment of Brown acting separately from Glanton and Holden. Brown walked down and held his hand to the sheet of spume that ran up the dark sand. This encounter with the unknown prompts in him no lingering awareness, no deeper level of perception. With deeper curiosity and intentionality than Brown, he seeks the coastline even before finding a doctor for his wounds, and he gazes long at the seascape, watching until the sun has set and little is left to see.

These details suggest in the kid a certain intensity of vision, his reading of the sea emotionally if not intellectually. Loose strands of ambercolored kelp lay in a rubbery wrack at the tideline. A dead seal. Beyond the inner bay part of a reef in a thin line like something foundered there on which the sea was teething.

He squatted in the sand and watched the sun on the hammered face of the water. Out there island clouds emplaned upon a salmoncolored othersea. Seafowl in silhouette. Downshore the dull surf boomed. There was a horse standing there staring out upon the darkening waters and a young colt that cavorted and trotted off and came back. The planar organization of the seascape suggests the strategies of the American luminist painters of the nineteenth century, who rendered foreground in realistic detail and through their handling of light suggested the transcendental in the distance.

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Consistent with its relentless role in the novel, the sun is the agent that hammers out the sea like copper. Indeed, the dramatic beauty of the setting sun backlighting the flying seabirds seems to motivate the kid to sit and watch. Her foal frisks in the surf, but she stands looking out to sea, another viewer in the scene, one whose presence suggests other ways of looking.

Moreover, she is a rare instance of the maternal in this novel in which human children are denied the protective maternal embrace. Behind the horse lies a dark band of water, from which the horse looks inland.

His horse is a dull, exhausted creature, functioning in much the way a shipwreck does to suggest profound aftermath. The sea is a barrier that turns back both Brown and the kid. It marks a limit to their suzerainty. It is the realm of mystery. Yet it too is a contested realm, a killing field Americans have sought to dominate. Accession Special Collections, U of Virginia Lib.



Arnold, Edwin T. Unpublished interview with Bill Kidwell. Maryville, TN. Arnold, Matthew. Kenneth Allott. London: Longmans, Audubon, John Woodhouse. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark, Bartlett, John Russell. New York: Appleton, Boime, Albert. Washington, D. The Planeteer [v1 6, April ] ed. Miller Details supplied by Alistair Durie.

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