I have been listening to a fine reading (by Alexander Adams) of Cormac McCarthy‘s “The Crossing.” In it the Author uses different voices to comment on the nature of storytelling, good and evil, life and death, the value of art etc. This is all intertwined with the story of teenage boy who piece by piece loses his family and his place in the world. It is an amazing story, but you have to be patient and listen carefully for the voices of the storyteller inside the story. His use of language and voice and evocation of culture and philosophy are visceral and plant you firmly in the larger story.
I have been listening on my way to work and home, about an hour each way. By the time I got where I was going I was thoroughly lost in the language and culture of the story.
Here are some examples of commentary made by storytellers inside the story that made me think about my life and world more closely.
The Priest in the Ruined Church
” Yet even so there is but one world and everything that is imaginable is necessary to it. For this world also which seems to us a thing of stone and flower and blood is not a thing at all but a tale. And all in it is a tale and each tale the sum of all lesser tales and yet these are the selfsame tale and contain as well all within them. So everything is necessary. Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised. Because the seams are hid from us, you see. The joinery. The way in which the world is made. We have no way to know what could be taken away. What omitted. We have no way to tell what might stand and what might fall. And those seams that are hid form us are of course the tale itself and the tale has no abode or place of being except in the telling only and there it lives and makes its home and therefore we can never be done with the telling. Of the telling there is no end. All tales are one. Rightly heard all tales are one.”
“Nor does God whisper through the trees. His voice is not to be mistaken. When men hear it they fall to their knees and their souls are riven and they cry out to Him and there is no fear in them but only that wildness of heart that springs from such longing and they cry out to stay his presence for they know at once that while godless men may live well enough in their exile those to whom He has spoken can contemplate no life without Him but only darkness and despair. Trees and stones stood in mortal peril and knew it not. “
” To see God everywhere is to see Him nowhere. We go from day to day, one day like the next, and then on a certain day all unannounced we come upon a man or we see this man who is perhaps already known to us and is a man like all men but who makes a certain gesture of himself that is life the piling of one’s goods upon an altar and in this gesture we recognize that which is buried in our hearts and is never truly lost to us nor ever can be and it is this moment which we long for and are afraid to seek and which alone can save us.”
” The task of the narrator is not an easy one. He appears to be required to choose his tale from among the many that are possible. but of course that is not the case. The case is rather to make many of the one. Always the teller must be at pains to devise against his listener’s claim — perhaps spoken, perhaps not — that he has heard the tale before. He sets forth the categories into which the listener will wish to fit the narrative as he hears it. But he understands that the narative is itself in fact no category but is rather the category of all categories for there is nothing which falls outside its purview. All is telling. Do not doubt it.”
“. . . the lesson of a life can never be its own. Only the witness has power to take its measure. It is lived for the other only. The priest therefore saw what the anchorite could not. That God needs no witness. Neither to Himself or against. The truth is rather that if there were no God then there could be no witness for there could be no identity to the world but only each man’s opinion of it. “
“There is no man who is elect because there is no man who is not. To God every man is a heretic. The heretic’s first act is to name his brother. So that he may step free of him. Every word we speak is a vanity. Every breath taken that does not bless is an affront.”
“Stones themselves are made of air. What they have power to crush never lived. In the end we shall all of us be only what we have made of God.”
The Blind Man
“Every tale is a tale of dark and light. Yet there was a further order to the narrative and it was a thing of which men do not speak. The wicked know that if the ill they do be of sufficient horror men will not speak against it. That men have just enough stomach for small evils and only these will they oppose. True evil has power to sober the smalldoer against his own deeds and in the contemplation of that evil he may find the path of righteousness which has been foreign to his feet and may have no power but to go upon it. Even this man may be appalled at what is revealed to him and seek some order to stand against it. Yet in all of this there are two things which perhaps he will not know. He will not know that while the order which the righteous seek in never righteousness itself but is only order, the disorder of evil is in fact a thing in itself. Nor will he know that while the righteous are hampered at every turn by their ignorance of evil to the evil all is plain, light and dark alike.”
“. . . words pale, and lose their savor while pain is always new.”