As noted when I posted Suttree, I’ve been on a Cormac McCarthy reading kick – The Passenger and Stella Maris and The Orchard Keeper and Suttree and Child of God and Outer Dark and now The Sunset Limited.
The subtitle of The Sunset Limited is “A Novel in Dramatic Form” – so really, it’s more of a play than a novel.
Camus said there was but one important philosophical problem, and that is suicide. And I’ve often thought it was a miracle that Cormac McCarthy never killed himself, given how bleak much of his work is.
The Road – despite its post-apocalyptic bleakness – is ultimately hopeful, but I feel The Sunset Limited perhaps most clearly gives McCarthy’s thoughts on nihilism and on choosing to live.
Notes and quotes…
1672 Black That’s strong as a mare’s breath, Professor. Wouldnt I love to lay some of that shit on the brothers? Whoa. Now. Just the two of us here talkin. In private. What did you just say?
White Your question. The bible is full of cautionary tales. All of literature, for that matter. Telling us to be careful. Careful of what? Taking a wrong turn. A wrong path. How many wrong paths are there? Their number is legion. How many right paths? Only one. Hence the imbalance you spoke of.
2339 Black Pullin your chain, Professor. Pullin your chain. I dont know why I love to mess with you. But I do. You need to listen. Or you need to believe what you hearin. The whole point of where this is goin—which you wanted to know—is that they aint no jews. Aint no whites. Aint no niggers. People of color. Aint none of that. At the deep bottom of the mine where the gold is at there aint none of that. There’s just the pure ore. That forever thing. That you dont think is there. That thing that helps to keep folks nailed down to the platform when the Sunset Limited comes through. Even when they think they might want to get aboard. That thing that makes it possible to ladle out benediction upon the heads of strangers instead of curses. It’s all the same thing. And it aint but one thing. Just one.
2765 White I suppose from the God point of view all knowledge is vanity. Or maybe it gives people the unhealthy illusion that they can outwit the devil.
2978 Black Why do you think folks takes their own lives?
White I dont know. Different reasons.
Black Yeah. But is there somethin them different reasons has got in common?
White I cant speak for others. My own reasons center around a gradual loss of make-believe. That’s all. A gradual enlightenment as to the nature of reality. Of the world.
3250 Black You probably right. Let me try this. I dont believe that the world can be better than what you allow it to be. Dark a world as you live in, they aint goin to be a whole lot of surprises in the way of good news.
3330 White (Coldly) I dont believe in God. Can you understand that? Look around you man. Cant you see? The clamor and din of those in torment has to be the sound most pleasing to his ear. And I loathe these discussions. The argument of the village atheist whose single passion is to revile endlessly that which he denies the existence of in the first place. Your fellowship is a fellowship of pain and nothing more. And if that pain were actually collective instead of simply reiterative then the sheer weight of it would drag the world from the walls of the universe and send it crashing and burning through whatever night it might yet be capable of engendering until it was not even ash. And justice? Brotherhood? Eternal life? Good god, man. Show me a religion that prepares one for death. For nothingness. There’s a church I might enter. Yours prepares one only for more life. For dreams and illusions and lies. If you could banish the fear of death from men’s hearts they wouldnt live a day. Who would want this nightmare if not for fear of the next? The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death. Or worse. Every friendship. Every love. Torment, betrayal, loss, suffering, pain, age, indignity, and hideous lingering illness. All with a single conclusion. For you and for every one and every thing that you have chosen to care for. There’s the true brotherhood. The true fellowship. And everyone is a member for life. You tell me that my brother is my salvation? My salvation? Well then damn him. Damn him in every shape and form and guise. Do I see myself in him? Yes. I do. And what I see sickens me. Do you understand me? Can you understand me?
- Read The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy