Not School Fiction Talks about Blood Meridian

This June I met with Jordan Payne, Fiction-group regular, and Dylan Casey, of PEL-fame, to discuss Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian. We discussed the Judge, the kid, the landscape, the language, the title and touched on the same author's No Country for Old Men, The Road and The Crossing in just under two great hours.

You can listen to our conversation as part of being a PEL Citizen.

We cover alot of ground in our time together, though there is much more in the novel worth discussing--such as the opening quotes, the epilogue, and the fortune-teller scene- which I hope will be picked up in the comments!

If you would like to join our next conversation, add into the Fiction group in PEL's Not School. Our 6th reading will be announced shortly (looks like it might be Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground) which will lead into a live conversation at the end of July.


  1. dominic says

    Oh wow…here I was debating whether or not to join the group and I missed the discussion! I’ll have to check it out soon

  2. Profile photo of Lynda says

    I listened to the whole thing last night. Twice, all the way thru.
    Blood Meridian has always frightened me away, I’ve never read it all the way through and I probably won’t do it now either because it’s all true and I like my truths couched in prettier stories.
    You guys did a great job with it.
    I’ll try to read the scenes you mention above in order to do you honor (yes, I own the book. It sits on the shelf staring at me like a melanoma).
    What are you going to read next?

  3. Profile photo of Nathan Shane Hanks says

    Dominic: Join us on our next one!

    Lynda: I’m very glad you enjoyed our conversation and I hope you will dip back into the novel if only for how beautiful it can be.

    Everyone: We will be reading Notes on the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyvsky, a short novel, within the first few weeks in July. You can add into the group by following the link to our forum below and commenting with a ‘yes’, and then some if you like. Also, we are considering ‘Infinite Jest’ for August with an early start beginning the second half of July which you can also comment on in the general forum for Not School’s Fiction group.

  4. Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says

    Nathan Shaine, Jordan Payne, Dylan Casey:

    Thanks for a very entertaining conversation about the meaning of Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy, the current classic master of American Fiction. First there was Mark Twain, then William Faulkner, now Cormac McCarthy.

    I especially appreciated your raising the fundamental questions of the novel while appreciating the journey, use of words, landscape, etc.

    My take on your examination of the title “Blood Meridian” is that the objective north-south meridian which marks objective time, marches inevitably from man’s (individual and collective) subjective east to west march into the sunset of war, bloodshed, violence, genocide, and Death, as embodied by the Judge. (There is a quote from Byron’s, Stanzas to the Po, “blood is all meridian,” but I suspect that may be coincidental, but not unlikely for McCarthy).

    You addressed the questions, Who is the Judge, and what does that mean for the human condition? You observed the lack of interiority , focus on action throughout. Who is the Kid and what is his moral postion. Why did the Judge follow the Kid and why did the Kid not kill the Judge.

    The novel comes to an end with the judge seated on the closet in the jakes, naked and smiling like a demon, gathering the kid against his “immense and terrible flesh” as the barlatch slams the door shut behind him (p. 333).

    We are left to imagine what happens to the kid behind that door and whatever it is must be truly horrible. Afterwards, the judge returns to the bar “huge and pale and hairless” to dance naked in “light and shadow” while whispering to anyone that will listen, that he “will never die” (p. 335)

    This novel reminds me of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (retold as Apocalypse Now) where Marlow hears Kurtz (Marlon Brando) on his death bed weakly whisper: “The horror! The horror!” But McCormack is heart of darkness with a twist–not only is there horror in our being, but perhaps it is good because it is nature.

    I appreciate the info from Yale Lecture Video with Professor Amy Hungerford on Blood Meridian: However, her compartive literature studies just do not include Conrad, Byron nor Nietzsche for some reason.

    I just do not see Milton, et. al., relevant compared to Nietzsche’s explanatory power of Thus Spake Zarathustra, and his entire philosophy. I was astounded (and intrigued by the questioning) that the entire interaction, and surrounding literature was mute regarding: 1) existentialism, 2) Nihilism–just a couple of comments 3) Nietzsche, especially when his philosophy is an answer all the major questions.

    Who is Judge Holden? Not just the overlord, but the Ubermensch–the ultimate man who has come at the zenith of his will to power, the only literate and fully cognizant character in the novel who stands for the ultimate will to power, violence at any cost, since the ultimate value of life is life, and all who would be freem must be men, must acknowledge and embrace Death and Life, Violence and perhaps Altruism, but never the position of the slave, when the master has a choice.

    Who is the Kid? What a nice guy (carrying around a Bible he cannot read)–except under necessity when he will unenthusiastically engage in murder out of necessity, not out of life energy, not embracing the war, not rising to the top of the slaves above the the well of bodies drowning beneath in blood. The Kid is the mass of humanity who have not embraced the true nature of humanity, and of nature and try to get by naively and with sincerity.

    What is the meaning of this universe, of life? The will to power by which the strong will live by passion and drag the rest of us along, while the will to weakness of the slaves will live in resentment against the strong with traditional morality keeping them enslaved. The will to power is actually the will to value, and is the only morality–beyond good and evil.

    If this sounds familiar to Judge Holden’s position in Blood Meridian, then dance with Zarathustra.

    Here is a quote from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols (9/33), which may help elucidate Nietzsche/Cormack’s view of eternal recurrence, of the passing on of heritage:

    ‘After all, the single one, the “individual,” as understood by the masses and the philosopher up to now, is in error The individual is nothing in himself, not an atom, not a “link in the chain,” no mere bequest from former times–the individual is the entire single human lineage leading up to him.’ Viva Judge Holden.

  5. Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says

    From “A Reader’s Guide to Blood Meridian ” by Shane Schimpf

    “Nietzsche argued that one of the key differences between slave and master morality concerns which quality is the antipode to “good”. Master morality places “bad” in this position while slave morality uses “evil”. The difference is key and essential to understanding who the Judge is and what he is a judge of. For Nietzsche, to properly understand what “bad” is, you must first think about what “good” is:

    ‘This, then, is quite contrary of what the noble man does, who conceives the basic concept “good” in advance and spontaneously out of himself and only then creates for himself an idea of “bad!” This “bad” of noble origin and that “evil” out of the cauldron of unsatisfied hatred–the former an after-production, a side issue, a contrasting shade, the later on the contrary the original thing, the beginning, the distinctive deed in the conception of slave morality–how different these words “bad” and “evil” are, although they are both apparently the opposite of the same concept “good.”‘ (On the Genealogy of Morals, sections 10, 11)


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