The first movement (on economics) studies McCarthy’s evolving critique of United States economic imperialism, beginning with an overview of mechanization and industrialization, the manifestations of the early twentieth century’s rapidly changing industrial landscape. Chapter 1 provides the case study, a semiotic examination of how mechanization and industrialization are represented through images of transportation machines (trains, cars, trucks)—and how those images code a complex web of interrelated notions of labor, masculinity, and nationalism.
Cormac McCarthy: a complexity theory of literature examines McCarthy’s works as a case study demonstrating how literary texts can make chaotic and complex systems imaginable. This book offers the first sustained analysis of McCarthy’s literary engagement with complex systems, from food webs to evolutionary economics. Focusing on McCarthy’s depiction of the role of economics and art on global inequality and eco-disaster, it argues that McCarthy’s works offer a case study in the role of literature in challenging us to imagine the consequences of our world’s unmaking, and to recognize what creativity and ethos is needed to make it again in the ‘very maelstrom of its undoing.’
The introduction charts Cormac McCarthy’s meteoric rise to literary preeminence, and lays out two of the most significant themes that emerge from McCarthy’s work yet remain critically understudied: first, McCarthy’s literary depictions (and critiques) of American capitalism as exploitative of living systems; and, second, the role of literature in reorienting cultural value of living systems. These themes capture two of the great crises facing us in the twenty-first century: over-consumption and ecodisaster. By applying a methodological approach that reads literary texts as complex systems, the book looks at how McCarthy uses simplistic semiotics and complex stylistics to vivify these crises, an approach that illuminates not only the significant achievements of this author but also the possibilities of American literature in the twenty-first century—as George Monbiot notes. Finally, it offers a brief overview of the two distinct movements of the book: first, an examination of McCarthy’s critique of the world as it is (the section focused on McCarthy’s critique of dominant capitalist economic philosophies in the United States) and, second, a study of his vision of the world as it should be (turning to his depictions of art and of a nomadic economic system).
Nomadism and the making and unmaking of the world in the Border Trilogy
Lydia R. Cooper
The second movement of the book turns to examinations of complex systems—what McCarthy terms ‘matrices’ or webs of being. Chapter 5 examines the problem of pain—why bodily pain is such a powerful act of unmaking in individuals and whole systems. It specifically looks at images of suffering bodies in the Border Trilogy and proposes the need for a non-anthropocentric embodied ethics of care, which is described here as a nomadic ethics, a worldview characterized by adaptation and care for human and nonhuman others.
Late capitalism and the illegal drug trade in No Country for Old Men and The Counselor
Lydia R. Cooper
This chapter looks at the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries’ global market economy, reflected in the shadow economy of the illegal drug trade along the Texas–Mexico border in No Country for Old Men and The Counselor. Specifically, it examines the sicario narrative in No Country and The Counselor in light of the narratives’ elision of a critical moment of choice on the part of their antagonists and protagonists. These narratological structures draw attention to the myth of inevitability that perpetuates global capitalism and its most egregious violations of human rights.
Turning a retrospective gaze on the United States’ consumer economy in the post-Anthropocene wasteland of The Road, this chapter studies The Road’s evocation of the Anglo-Irish gothic and its use of fractal images and fractured syntax to exemplify the fear driving the novel’s gothic mood. It then lays out the text’s aesthetic evocations of the role of narrative in creating imaginative responses that affirm pro-social and pro-environmental ethics.
Chapter 2 looks at the rise of a military industrial economy and the turn toward global capitalism, beginning with westward expansion during the era of Manifest Destiny in Blood Meridian. This chapter analyzes complex and contrasting uses of Homeric and biblical stylistic modes in Blood Meridian in order to illustrate how the book’s narrative structure draws readers into the action of the text by placing the empathetic focal point of the narrative in the perspective of the natural world.
Howitt’s Journal and Douglas Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine
The final chapter examines a number of reformist periodicals of popular progress and improvement that were concomitant with both the heyday of the popular and the Chartist press. In competition with those presses for working-class audiences, they tended to reject the image of their audience that emerges in them as interested in either cultural or political confrontations, or both. Focusing on Mary and William Howitt’s Howitt’s Journal (1847–48) and Douglas Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine (1845–48), the chapter looks at the way they cautiously responded to the radical canon but flat out rejected popular or ‘low-life’ literatures. The chapter makes clear that what the liberal periodical press feared most was the slippage of cultural and political confrontation between popular and radical genres. The acceptance of radical, and specifically Chartist, grievances by these papers, however reluctant, was contingent on the rejection of cultural challenges, as if the conflation of the radical and popular too dangerously offered a model for the conflation of moral- and physical-force Chartism.