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The resurrection of narrative: Postmodern positions on knowledge in the work of Cormac McCarthy

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Hiram College

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Dichotomy, set up by Lyotard in his essay titled The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
  3. Technological advancement - an important aspect to consider in McCarthy's work.
  4. McCarthy's The Road - conflict in both structure and content..
  5. The Crossing by McCarthy - most explicit instance of discussion on narrative knowledge.
  6. The obsolescence of stonemasonry.
  7. McCarthy's second and most recently published play, The Sunset Limited.
  8. Judge Holden in Blood Meridian.
  9. The terror evoked by the Judge.
  10. Conclusion.

?For this world also which seems to us a thing of stone and flower and blood is not a thing at all but is a tale.' Cormac McCarthy, by profession, is concerned with narrative. Being so concerned, conclusions can be drawn by clues both explicit and implicit pertaining to McCarthy's stance on the condition of truth, narrative, and knowledge in our modern society. An analysis of his work yields a general tendency to exemplify the narrative. In doing so McCarthy sets himself against a specific trend in postmodern thought burgeoned by Jean-François Lyotard, that being the rejection of pre-modern, or narrative knowledge by modern, or scientific knowledge.

[...] The source of moral application to scientific knowledge is necessarily narrative knowledge which, as Lyotard stated, includes within it the capacity for ethical consideration and goodness[20] and is evident in Blood Meridian in Toadvine's outrage at the Judge's murder of a child whom he has adopted, but is even more profoundly apparent in the witness of the reader by narrative transmission (reading the narrative), who cannot help but pass moral judgement on the self-proclaimed Judge. Yet another echo of WWII, although faint, is evident in the story Tobin tells the Kid, wherein the Judge leads a group of men who have run out of gunpowder away from pursuing Indians; he gathers a myriad of found substances and creates gunpowder in the crater of a dormant volcano. [...]

[...] McCarthy qualifies the narrative in terms almost identical to Lyotard's: the world was a tale who but the witness could give it life?'[8] This statement is a strong echo of Lyotard's assertion regarding the pragmatics of narrative knowledge and the ease of its transmission: narrator's only claim to competence for telling the story is the fact that he has heard it himself. The current narratee gains potential access to the same authority by simply listening.'[9] McCarthy makes an interesting assertion regarding the nature of narrative knowledge which conflicts with scientific knowledge and its supposed monopoly on truth. [...]

[...] The increasingly efficient methods of violence and destruction, goaded on by the advent and advancement of scientific knowledge are cautioned against in this and much of McCarthy's other work. Part of that concern is due to the self-preservatory aspect of scientific knowledge; narratives, as described by Lyotard, are easily transferred, but also easily altered or even forgotten, as was the case in The Stone Mason, but scientific knowledge arguably does not change. It's strictly truth- based agenda requires that remain constant; if a piece of scientific knowledge is disproved, it was never true scientific knowledge. [...]

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