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on tarot in blood meridian.

August 1, 2011

i guess i’m still processing this book. this is the part of reading that i love. even though i’ve moved onto something new – tompson highway’s the rez sisters, which will be a glorious blog post all its own – i’m still thinking about this.


it was suggested that i read j. e. sepich’s essay on the book – the dance of history in cormac mccarthy’s blood meridian. (i’ve linked it, but since it’s a jstor article, you have to have an account. if you’re a student like me, you can use vpn access to log onto campus internet from off campus, and then you will have access to it.)

okay, so i read it. because i’m an english student at heart, and i like reading supplemental articles to better understand a piece, especially a piece i’m invested in. and being an english student, i’m also a critical reader. a critical jerk. i love this side of my brain – this analytical no that doesn’t seem right, no that writer didn’t back that up in any way side. i like to seize things and shake ’em around.


listen, tarot is a weird thing. people can scoff at it because it’s a … i don’t even know what critics would call it. a sham.  or a psuedo-science, or a faulty tool. i’ve talked about tarot before, and tried to explain why i use it for my writing. or for my life. naturally, i was fascinated that mccarthy used tarot in his story.

okay, maybe i’m about to be politically incorrect but tarot has always seemed to me to be a more feminine activity. there is something about scrying and divining that always harks back to the idea of the woman – the oracle at delphi, the sphinx, you know. the more violent aspects of fortune telling (haruspicy… ugh) were left to the men. but tarot has always seemed to me to be female. something about accessing the psyche, which relates to water, which relates to the moon, which relates to menstruation, which relates to women…. forgive me. i’ve always loved freud, and i can’t help it. it’s a loose connection, and i know it is, but that is how i see it. all of the (good) readers i have been to are women. can women better access that part of their brain? who knows and that’s probably a discussion for another time.

but basically, i was kind of surprised that mccarthy used tarot as such a prevalent theme in this book.

this book is masculine. there is no arguing about that.  (there is, perhaps, arguing to be had over whether masculine is so related to the male gender, or whatnot). this story is about many things: war, the claiming of land which is not meant to claimed – which, i suppose, could be related to the idea of rape – guns (phallic?) and most telling of all, there are no female characters. well, there are liminal female characters – the occasional whore, the occasional elderly woman, the madonna-whore paradigm – but there are no female characters that the reader can even try to identify with.

and that was fine, for me. i didn’t read this book for that. and sometimes i can identify more with male characters than female, anyway. it’s all about the style of writing.

but the point of that gender breakdown was that … well, the only female character who actually has more than four friggin’ words is the old female seer who interprets (does not actually READ or touch the cards, as that is done by a man) the tarot cards. so the cards are already related to the female gender for me, and then to have that scene… with a woman – it linked the gender and the deck in my head. and then it made me sort of stop to think.

what the crap?

just like that. mccarthy is pretty obviously writing out a book about a band of brothers. why incorporate a female element like that? why have the entire main theme of the book balance on the idea of a tarot reading? a tarot reading that is kind of bloody incorrect i MIGHT ADD. see that’s the thing about mccarthy. he uses the tarot…


…and he doesn’t quite get it right. or he gets it extremely right. i can’t figure it out. the article that i read was off and on about card interpretations. in that it was extremely black and white. no shades of grey for the meanings. this is the thing about the tarot – nothing is what it seems. death – it’s not death. it’s actually about starting a new portion of life. in fact, i’d pick a low level swords card to be more indicative of death or injury than i would actual death. and the hanged man? sepich claims the the card of the hanged man is represented in the book by a literal man who has been hanged. but that’s not correct, either. the hanged man is about finding a new life through release – that only once we begin to give in to our situation do we find a new lease. think of exhaling a huge sigh, and slipping away – that’s the hanged man. if we take the cards at their literal meaning, then yes, mccarthy’s references to tarot often make sense. but that’s not how a deck is supposed to be read.


and then i flounder on the idea of the fool.

because this is where mccarthy seems to fucking shine when it comes to understanding the tarot.

he uses the fool as a touchstone for the entire story. the card is given a hefty introduction to the readers. and it makes sense, because the fool is the font of the deck. he is card zero. and the major arcana of the tarot is actually supposed to be a story based on the fool – the fool’s journey. so the fool goes through every challenge or reward on each of the subsequent major cards. and because of this the fool is an incredibly complex card. it is the beginning, and kind of the end. and it’s not possible for someone to totally be the fool. the fool is too many things at once. and so i couldn’t figure out who in the book was the fool, which was frustrating for me. maybe i’m just not understand it totally. as i said before, the judge cannot be the fool. there is too much violence there. the fool is not violent. and the kid cannot be the fool, because he does not have enough knowledge, does not draw us enough to him. the fool is not bland and nameless. and black jackson cannot be the fool, even though the card is pulled for him. because the fool is not a liminal character. he is the main character.


so mainly i wonder if mccarthy knew how to read tarot. he drops hints that he can and then does something else so stupid that i think that he cannot. does he have a knowledge of the deck? oh god i dont even know.


here. mull that over and listen to robert plant and alison krauss:


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