Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blood Meridian and Moby Dick

There are so many aspects of Blood Meridian that are subversive. The refusal to delve inside the characters, defying much literary convention. Their actions, and statements, are their characters and why should that be different? What does it matter how tormented a character is unless he says or does something about it. In that sense, it's like theater or film. Little opportunity to go inside the heads.

There are also descriptions that highlight the insignificance and meaninglessness of human actions. The wild poetry, and often archaic language. These I think are also subsersive - of our expectations and our philosophies of meaning.

Moby Dick is clearly the main precursor, as the front cover blurb says. Where does Blood Meridian fall in the pantheon of American novels, then? Not that I'm one to decide this, but the book speaks as eloquently about the American dream as The Great Gatsby in my opinion. Just the darkest aspect of it. It avoids the potboilerish aspects of All the King's Men. And it almost captures the scope and sweep of Moby Dick.

Interestingly, while it's funny in spots, it overall lacks the humor of Moby Dick. But I don't fault it a lot for that. It's as dark as any literature I've read. Darker I think than Macbeth. There are benign characters in Macbeth, of which there are pretty much none of significance in Blood.

Bloom talks a lot about the character of the Judge, naturally. He suggests the Judge is Moby Dick rather than Ahab. I disagree because Moby Dick is nature, and not a philosopher, as opposed to Ahab, a man and driven by idea.

I think Blood Meridian is more subversive than Moby Dick but less universal. The men in Blood Meridian are shaped by nature, in both major senses of the word, just as Ahab and the crew are. But their acts are not motivated so personally as Ahab's is. We feel that Ahab burns to the bottom of his soul with his quest. In Blood Meridian the Judge has his convictions, and his passion for capturing the world in his journal is strong, but there isn't the same consuming fire for a single objective. The Judge appears to be more philosopher than feeler, but Ahab is both.

But Blood Meridian is more subversive than Melville's great book because Moby Dick doesn't present as directly the atrocity toward each other that we are capable of. It doesn't ask us to consider war so much as battle. Just a thought.

What do you think?

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