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Cormac McCarthy and the Myth of American Exceptionalism (Studies in Major Literary Authors) [Hardcover]

John Cant

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Book Description

2 Jan 2008 0415981425 978-0415981422 1

This overview of McCarthy’s published work to date, including: the short stories he published as a student, his novels, stage play and TV film script, locates him as a icocolastic writer, engaged in deconstructing America’s vision of itself as a nation with an exceptionalist role in the world.

Introductory chapters outline his personal background and the influences on his early years in Tennessee whilst each of his works is dealt with in a separate chapter listed in chronological order of publication.

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About the Author

John Cant teaches film at Essex University and is currently editing the next edition of The Journal of the Cormac McCarthy Society.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cultural Studies Meets McCarthy Criticism 16 July 2009
By Chris Dacus - Published on
In this pro forma study of McCarthy, Cant puts forward a lot of cant from the cultural studies perspective of the contemporary academy but very little in the way of insightful analysis or commentary. For example, the reader constantly encounters the assertion that cultural norms cause the various attitudes and beliefs of McCarthy's characters, leaving one to wonder where the "cultural" norms themselves come from. Not surprisingly, we are never told. We are told that language is a necessary screen of experience that shields the truth. It is not clear if Cant realizes that such an epistemic position results in self-contradiction and therefore self-cancellation. Presumably Cant would respond in good relativist fashion that the "screens" are interminable and there is no logical way out of the circle of screens because that is the nature of human experience. But in offering such a claim about the "nature" of experience, Cant is in fact asserting a universal truth that stands outside of all cultural matrices and at least implicitly claiming that he knows that truth. As for Cant's treatment of McCarthy's various works there is not much to say. The above cultural studies outlook is applied and McCarthy is interpreted as supporting it. Obviously a lot of literary criticism takes the form of a particular theoretical school, but here the ideological mantra is so strong that nothing else comes through.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incise, stimulating book-length study of Cormac McCarthy's fiction. 30 May 2009
By Richard L. Pangburn - Published on
This is one of the major studies of Cormac McCarthy's fiction. This volume has 368 pages of easy-to-read text. Its scope stretches from McCarthy's early short stories through the western trilogy, organized into logical chapters and with generous notations, a complete bibliography, and a helpful index.

Here is John Cant in a footnote on the comparing BLOOD MERIDIAN TO MOBY DICK:

"The judge may be likened to to Melville's whale in his mythic form, his size and colouring, his destructive power and his multiple meanings. The whale symbolized both the creative and destructive power of nature, both life and death. Its whiteness reflected that nihilism that so haunted the nineteenth century imagination. The judge parallels these meanings, as they inhere in culture. In the twentieth century it is culture that has the power to be monstrous." --n. 68, p. 309.

On page 171, Cant says:

"Blood Meridian is McCarthy's homage to Moby Dick. Melville wrote of America's hubristic drive to dominate nature; Ahab pursued the whale and it destroyed him. The kid, in his 'cluelessness' state of nature travels the southwest in search of meaning; he finds the judge and is destroyed.'

"Try as he might he cannot escape the culture of his day, that overweening, hubristic that believed that reason could solve all ills and usher in endless progress. It is the hermit on the prairie that poses the fundamental question, 'But where does a man come by such notions?'

"The answer is, of course, from his culture. What McCarthy attacks in Blood Meridian is gnosis, the faith in systems of knowledge and belief that claim a validity that cannot ever exist.'

"This is another of his consistant themes, the notion that the intellectual grids, including language itself, that we deploy in order to mediate our experience of the world are incomplete, provisional, mythic, and distinct from the world that they purport to define..."
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There is a wealth of solid Cormac McCarthy critical literature from which to choose, but this volume is not to be missed.
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