Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Transcendental Tuesday: More Trinity in Literature Interpretations

Last week on Transcendental Tuesday, link, I posted about the Trinity, quoting Emerson and others about this human universal in myth, religion, and literature.  On Thursday,  link, I posted about the dark side of the trinity as it symbolically appears in literature as the furies, as exemplified in novels by Joseph Conrad, Austin Wright, and Cormac McCarthy.

William C. Spencer wrote about the dark trinity of Outer Dark in his essay, "Cormac McCarthy's Unholy Trinity: Biblical Parody in Outer Dark," published in the anthology Sacred Violence: Cormac McCarthy's Appalachian Works edited by Wade Hall and Rick Wallach.  Spencer wrote, "Just as Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown encounters a diabolical figure in the dark forest who remarkably resembles himself, Culla encounters the three hellhounds that embody his own inner darkness."

The dark trinity of repressed human animal nature shadows Culla in the novel in italics until the end, the repressed inner darkness then coming into the outer darkness.  They are the murderers as well as the leaders of the lynch mob in search of the murderers.

The first three McCarthy novels, The Orchard KeeperOuter Dark, and Child of God, on the larger scale, are about the evolutionary fall of consciousness into animal man, bringing with it the knowledge of death and the subjective moral sense of good and evil.

Before the Fall, the alpha animal man procreated with every available female--mothers, sisters, and daughters included--and fended off all comers like the farmer in Child Of God.  The incest in Outer Dark goes back to that, as natural as that between the sons and daughters of Old Testament Adam and Eve.  The eclipse in Outer Dark symbolizes the Oedipal fear that the son will eclipse the father.

That McCarthy also ingeniusly incorporated his own history into Outer Dark is eloquently argued in Jay Ellis's book, No Place for Home: Spatial Constraint and Character Flight in the Novels of Cormac McCarthy (Studies in Major Literary Authors).  There are many other different and excellent interpretations of this as well.

William C. Spencer, the McCarthy scholar mentioned above, is also the man who first talked about McCarthy's novel, Suttree, as being an incarnation of the life of the buddha:  Suttree, born into a wealthy and influential family, renounces his privledges and goes to live among the downtrodden where, bodhisattva-like, he takes on the sufferings of other sentient beings.  The italicized prologue suggests that "no soul shall walk save you," and Suttree later says that "It is not only in death that all souls are one."  Spencer argued that Suttree transcends at the end of the novel, after overcoming his fear of death.

They say it is an eloquent paper, but no hard copy of it is to be found either at the Cormac McCarthy Society or on the internet.  William C. Spencer, then an English professor at Delta University, cannot now be found, it seems.  Perhaps someone who knows him will see this and let us know.

John Cant, author of Cormac McCarthy and the Myth of American Exceptionalism (Studies in Major Literary Authors), gives a Christian interpretation of Suttree.  But he also sees the Eternal Feminine in the novel in the form of the trinity, Wanda, Joyce, and Mother She.  Cant says:

"The Great Mother was typically represented in three manifestations, nymph, matron, and crone.  Suttree encounters all three; Wanda is the numph, Joyce the matron, and Mother She the crone.  The latter is the Queen of the Underworld; the Goddess presides over both life and death, each passing into the other continuously.  It was the loss of this epistemology that brought to man the need for 'resurrection,' the conquest of death."

The use of the Trinity is, of course, widespread in literature.  This last sunday, I reviewed the newly published book of interviews with Tom Robbins who discusses his novel, Another Roadside Attraction, published over twenty years ago.  Robbins says that his character Amanda is "a manifestation of the triple aspects of the universal goddess--maiden, slut, and mother/wife--as connected to the earth as any mushroom."

Animal man, middle man, spiritual man.  McCarthy may have wanted to style his body of work as a trilogy containing other trilogies.  His first three novels were an animal man trilogy, as Denis Donoghue has pointed out in his book, The Practice of Reading.  Suttree is a stand-alone novel, autobiographical and both historical and literary.  Blood Meridian starts with "See the child." and ends with the kid being transformed into a man after giving compassion to the imaginary crone in the desert, and then transformed again by death via the materialist Judge.

The western trilogy is about the middle man, and at the end of the trilogy McCarthy turns to spiritual man.  The greater trilogy of his entire work is thus far animal man, middle man, spiritual man, and although certainly not a perfect fit, it resembles the general arc of the work of James Joyce, and before that, of Dante.

McCarthy's writing style has changed with each phase, the animal man phase being a jungle of words in a Faulkner-like style, the heroic western trilogy leaning to the Heminwayesque, and the spiritual phase leaning to Samuel Beckett's minimalist style.

Trilogies within trilogies, arcs within arcs.

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