At the beginning of this month, Carlos Franke, Phillip C., and myself spoke about Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited on a Skype call. The call will be posted on the Free Stuff for Citizens page, which you can access as soon as youjoin up to become a PEL citizen. PEL tackled McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men back inepisode 63, so long time listeners will be familiar with some of the features of his work.
The Sunset Limited is billed as a “novel in dramatic form,” and we all felt that we missed much less by simply reading it than with the other plays we’ve read for our group. As Phillip pointed out, it reads like a sort of twisted Socratic dialogue. McCarthy gives us two characters, known only as “Black” and “White,” who proceed without compromise to make their respective cases for life and death. When the play opens, White has just attempted suicide and Black has intervened. White’s position remains settled on death over life, while Black believes in a “life everlasting,” which he is convinced White also desires at some core level. This begins a debate between Black and White about the merits of life and death, the relationship between reality and consensus, the connection and obligation people might have to each other, and a lot more. McCarthy is the kind of writer whose lines you can pour over again and again and still find something new. Much of our discussion consisted of trying to get a hold on his slippery language and wrestling with these big themes. Of course, philosophical arguments for and against suicide came up, along with Camus and Schopenhauer, and we tried to get some understanding of what relationship they bear to actual suicides. If none of that is too morbid for you, go check it out.
Also, while The Sunset Limited lends itself very well to being read, the HBO version with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson is definitely worth watching if you haven’t seen it.
- Daniel Cole