'A History of the Present': Knowledge as Violence in Cormac McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian'



Foucault, in Discipline and Punish, attempts what he calls a ‘history of the present’ (31): a history that would speak not just to, but of, his own time.  Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian similarly offers the reader not only an account of past-events but also an interpretative account of the ‘power configurations persisting in the present’ (Hoy 138) that perpetuate the commodification and destruction of the environment. The unforgiving landscape of the Southwest described throughout the novel proves analogous to the insensibility of the power structures that are also depicted, but these parallels do not serve to justify the cruelty and injustice demonstrated by the characters in the novel.  Instead, the constant underscoring in Blood Meridian of a greater and ungovernable power – that of nature – points to the short-sightedness of assumed proprietorship of the land, and indicates that such an assumption must necessarily pass out of favour, just as the assumed proprietorship over human life has done.  ‘In wildness is the salvation of the world,’ wrote the American ecologist Aldo Leopold, in 1948. ‘Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men’ (141). Blood Meridian , I argue, perceives and enacts this hidden meaning.  It ‘thinks like a mountain’ (Leopald 140), creating a Foucauldian ‘history of the present’ in  which we may examine the spectacle of both the tortured and the torturer, reflect on our notions of property and power, and explore the manner in which our understanding of these notions have influenced, and continue to influence,  the world in which we live.  ‘It makes no difference what men think of war,’ says the judge in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, ‘War endures.  As well ask men what they think of stone’ (248).  It is by thinking of stone, however, that we may come, in Blood Meridian, to know something of War, and of ourselves, and so come closest to an understanding of the wildness both without and within.   It is becoming increasingly clear that such an understanding will be necessary if there is indeed to be a ‘salvation of the world’ (Leopald 140).


How to Cite: Skibsrud, J. (2014) “'A History of the Present': Knowledge as Violence in Cormac McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian'”, Dandelion: Postgraduate Arts Journal and Research Network. 5(1). doi: