Sunday, April 10, 2016

Brief Thoughts 15

Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy 

Somewhere in the American south, a man named Culla impregnates his sister, Rinthy. When she gives birth, he takes the baby into the woods and abandons it there. It's rescued by a tinker who takes it off to safety. He lies to his sister and tells her that it died of natural causes. She quickly discovers that he lied. Culla sets off to try to forget what happened and Rinthy sets off to find her baby. Meanwhile, a group of psychopaths are spreading terror across the counties that Culla and Rinthy pass through. 

Despite the title and the premise of the book, it's probably the least dark I've read of McCarthy's work. Especially in the ending. More than any of his other work, it's about despite the depths humanity can sink to, McCarthy still believes it's capable of redeeming itself.

The Bible is a fixation in McCarthy's other works, but here the references are even further to the front. For example, there's a sequence when Culla is falsely accused of starting a stampede of pigs that causes several of them to fall into a river and drown and kills a farmer. It's an obvious parallel to the Bible story where Jesus casts a legion of demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs who run off a cliff.

This is one of McCarthy's lesser known works, but it's still well worth reading. It might not be the best place to start, I'd say go to Blood Meridian or Child of God for that, but given this was only his second novel, it shows he's been an incredibly talented writer worth reading from the start.

Buy Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy here. 

My Mother/Madame Edwarda/The Dead Man by Georges Bataille

This is a collection of three short works by Bataille, a novella and two short stories.

The novella, My Mother, is a coming of age story about a reserved young man being corrupted by his libertine mother. It horrifies him at first, but he finds freedom and eventually God in the debauchery she pushes him to engage in.

While I did enjoy it, I found this to be the weakest in the book. A big part of Bataille's appeal for me is the energy and immediacy in it. My Mother, however, is written in the style of a 19th century novel. As such, it becomes a little ponderous and slow, especially in the middle. It does pick up a lot during the end, which is kind of funny, because this book was technically never finished.  As such, the ending is hazy and disordered. Which isn't a bad thing, it's the kind of thing I expect from Bataille.

Madame Edwarda is a short story where a man is out drunk and decides he wants to get laid. He goes into a whorehouse and meets a prostitute who turns out to be God incarnated. This is a strange and insane story that seems to be a good summary of Bataille's atheistic concept of divinity. The base and the sacred as one in the same.

My favorite of the three is probably The Dead Man. A woman grieved by the death of her lover strips down, goes into an inn, and engages in all manner of debauchery. In the process, she meets a dwarf who may or may not be the devil. The simple prose and the frenzied logic of the character's actions reminds me of Story of the Eye. It's a formally experimental story as well. All of the text is clustered in the middle of the page and each page is labeled at the bottom as if it's a separate chapter. It's worth noting that Bataille writes in the preface that he was very sick while he wrote it and doesn't remember writing it. I'm not surprised.

My edition also contains some excellent essays. Part of why I wanted this book is because of Yukio Mishima's review of My Mother and Madame Edwarda included. Ken Hollings also provides an excellent essay called "In the Slaughterhouse of Love" that gives an engaging rundown of Bataille's philosophy of transgression.

While I'd recommend starting with Story of the Eye with Bataille, this is a good follow up if you enjoy that book. Bataille pulsates with a Sadean energy. I once read somewhere that Bataille is not an author who just engages you, he possesses and rots you from the inside like syphilis. I can't think of a better way to describe him.

Buy My Mother/Madame Edwarda/The Dead Man by Georges Bataille here. 

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