The archives point to several sources for this metamorphosis into a novel of ideas. Gustave Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anthony was a major influence on the novel. The account of the saint’s temptations in the desert inspired McCarthy to transform his western into a story of spiritual warfare in the deserts of Mexico and America. McCarthy’s reading of Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, which features discussions of Renaissance paintings of the temptations of saints, also informs the narrative. Jacob Boehme’s vision of the devil as a frightening but necessary component of the divine reality at the heart of things also had a significant impact. Indeed, along with McCarthy’s papers for Suttree, the archival material related to Blood Meridian contains numerous cultural reference points that help to locate McCarthy’s creative efforts within a dynamic intellectual network of books, writers, and ideas.
Gladden Pappin in the most recent issue of American Affairs:
Maurice Glasman, a Labour life peer in the United Kingdom, recently outlined the argument for transforming the House of Lords into an institution for corporate representation. Such a transformation would emphasize the importance of corporate and group identity in the population as a whole. The government would then have one body reflecting regional loyalties and another reflecting functional loyalty. In Glasman’s proposal, the House of Lords would represent “vocational democracy” while the House of Commons would be “locational democracy.”41 “There should be people elected from each sector,” Glasman wrote, “whether that be electrical or academic, medical or administrative. . . . It would give an incentive to the organisation of carers, builders and gardeners, who would each select a representative from within their organisation.” Representatives of major religions should also give voice to the concerns of their various confessions, not resulting in a state establishment of religion but rather a corporate recognition of the contributions of major religions. In this way, corporatism aims to relieve some of the pressure felt by today’s “identity politics,” but through formal public expression and negotiation, rather than adversarial competition for scarce political opportunities.
Two modern democracies already employ forms of corporate political representation: Hong Kong through its functional constituency system, and Ireland through its vocational panels. The Senate of Ireland was established in accordance with the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, and consists of eleven senators selected by the Taoiseach, six senators nominated by Irish universities, and forty-three senators elected by five vocational panels. The vocational panels represent the leading corporate interests in Irish society, divided among an Administrative Panel, Agricultural Panel, Cultural and Educational Panel, Industrial and Commercial Panel, and a Labour Panel. Unfortunately, the Senate of Ireland was established with only limited oversight powers, primarily as a sop to the Catholic corporatism promoted by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno (1931) and which was also in vogue across other corporatist countries. In Hong Kong, of the seventy seats in its Legislative Council, thirty are elected by functional constituencies (agriculture, education, medical, etc.) whose constituents include registered members as well as key organizations.
Forms of corporatist economic organization are yet more common. In a typical corporatist economic arrangement, group interests are organized into large associations and those associations are coordinated with and through the state. Corporatist economic arrangements do not necessarily require political representation, and flourish in many major democracies—with Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, and Slovenia all maintaining a high degree of corporatist arrangement in recent decades. Denmark, Luxembourg, Singapore, and Slovakia have all become more corporatist in recent years, while Belgium, Germany, Norway, and South Africa have maintained their high levels of corporatism. The United States, UK, and Canada are outliers from the rest of Western democracies in this respect.42
Yet there are two important things about the pilot that tend to get forgotten over time. One is that Twin Peaks did not start as the cult phenomenon it would become later, as diehard fans clung to the series through diminishing ratings and a 1992 feature, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, that caught the zeitgeist too late. The pilot was a bonafide smash, the highest-rated of the 1989-90 season and the fifth ranked show of the week, and about 35 million Americans tuned into ABC to watch it. For perspective, only two primetime telecasts in 2019 had a higher viewership, and they were both football games. It was an impossible (and fleeting) moment when art infiltrated the mainstream, and the Sunday night mystery that introduced characters such as the Log Lady and Nadine, the eyepatch-wearing housewife with a drape obsession.
The other surprise, revisiting the pilot, is how emotion defines it as much as eccentricity. Twin Peaks is remembered as a strange show, and it would certainly get stranger as its mythology spun out over three seasons and a movie. The death of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) would become a Lynchian mystery box that had no bottom, just an unending series of dark and surreal revelations about a secret, insinuating evil that lurked on the edges of an idyllic north-western town. But in the pilot, it’s treated more simply as a tsunami of grief that crashes over its characters, who have never experienced losing one of their own, which makes it seem like a sudden death in the everyone’s family. It’s not just Laura’s mother, Sarah (Grace Zabriskie), who breaks down in inconsolable anguish, but the high school principal delivering the news over the PA system and poor Andy (Harry Goaz), the crime scene photographer.
Photograph: Allstar/Twin Peaks Productions
Once again, James Hankins kills it:
Ideology is therefore the enemy of reason. By definition an ideology is a system of ideas accepted for reasons other than the intrinsic validity of its claims. One embraces it because one finds it “comfortable”; it suits one’s prejudices, socioeconomic status, gender, race, or tribe. It constitutes a ready-made, holistic worldview, resistant to empirical refutation, that justifies groups in advancing their bid for power over others. Embracing a philosophy, on the other hand, is by definition the act of an individual, a free mind. To stick to a philosophical truth at odds with one’s own interests and background can be supremely uncomfortable. It requires moral strength and a deep commitment to reason. It disables partisanship, but also makes it harder for the philosopher to defend his interests in a political way.
The more tightly you embrace an ideology, the more you cease to be a free moral being. Serious thinkers, people who have coherent philosophical opinions of their own, do not receive them unexamined from groups of persons with an agenda. They read philosophers and scientists, and decide which claims or arguments they can accept. They do this by struggling with the thought of great minds, reconciling it (or not) with their own positions and their own experience and convictions. They know how to restate the opinions they are being expected to embrace as arguments, and to ask whether the premises are true and whether the conclusions follow from the premises. They also study history. They want to know how the beliefs they are tempted to embrace have worked out in practice in the past. They think through the consequences of holding beliefs and in the process find out whether their beliefs align with prudence or practical wisdom, phronesis. They tend to be eclectic. Even if they accept for a while some maître à penser or teacher, that person ultimately shows them how to think, not what to think. He sets them free to choose the true and the good.
Partisan ideologues do the opposite. Their mental processes are tribal. Their minds repose in their ideologies like a child in the arms of its mother. They resist being challenged. The manufacturers of ideology bid them show their loyalty by believing three impossible things before breakfast, and they will believe six. They are incapable of the independence of mind and strong character needed for philosophy, but that does not make them prepared to engage in a healthy democratic politics instead. The hyperpartisan has contempt for the type of sound politics in which citizens confront the beliefs and needs of others and find compromises or solutions that respect the common good. They are unaware of, or deny, the selfish interests driving their own embrace of political ideals, and so are incapable of taking part in political transactions.
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy’s fifth book, was first published in 1985 to lukewarm critical and commercial reception. It’s gone on, of course, to become recognized as McCarthy’s masterpiece and among the greatest American novels of all-time.
All the while, it’s been the source of one troubled, incomplete or unsuccessful Hollywood adaptation after another. (It’s about a teenager referred to only as “The Kid,” who joins a gang of scalp-hunters in the Southwest and becomes embroiled in a battle of wills with the bald, erudite, imposing Judge Holden.) Steve Tesich (Breaking Away and The World According to Garp) first attempted to translate it to the big screen in 1995, followed in subsequent decades by efforts that stalled at various stages from Tommy Lee Jones; the Kingdom of Heaven pairing of William Monahan and Ridley Scott; James Franco; Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford); John Hillcoat (The Road); Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon); and Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin). Meanwhile, producer Scott Rudin has owned the rights to the novel since at least 2004, but thus far hasn’t found the right collaborator — or right take — to move forward with any of them.
The history of lying makes us believe that where there are lies there must be a liar. But fiction can, and perhaps should, educate its readers to question their grounds for wanting to believe things. The reason it’s so tempting to embody the age of lies in individuals is that the cultural history of lying has taught us to see lying principally as a matter of one person misleading another. But that may be less true than it once was. Political lies now tend to be something more than statements by individuals that are designed to mislead: they are partly generated by the desires and beliefs of the lie-ee. They can be algorithmically created to elicit a particular response from an audience that has been microtargeted, and is fed little drips of misinformation it is predisposed to believe. The guiding presumption of algo-lying is that human beings are as manipulable as white mice. The object is to develop a stimulus that provokes the desired behaviour. Send out the stimulus, irrespective of its truth or falsehood; keep sending. Provided the white mice are in a majority and they all head for the cheese it’s a victory. It doesn’t matter if the stimulus is a lie that generates unpredictable side effects, like a loss of trust in institutions, or if the lies designed to appeal to the white mice so enrage the piebald mice that they start a civil war. It’s short-term outcomes that count.
The algo-lie may seem to be a counterexample to my paradoxical claim that the truth has changed more than lies. The algo-lie is indeed new, but it has two genealogical features in common with earlier forms of lying. The first is that it’s generated by feedback between liar and lie-ee, just as Wickham fashions his lies from Lizzy’s prejudices. Another reason the algorithmically generated lie is like Wickham’s – or indeed Zeus’ – lie, is that it elicits emotions in those lied to of a kind that those who fashion the lie hadn’t predicted. And that’s why the algo-lie is proving so hard for democracies to cope with. It may produce the electoral results the algo-liars want, but it also generates wild emotional by-products. ‘Evidence’ or vividness, as Quintilian knew, creates a direct pathway to the emotions of an audience, even if the evidence is false. The spread of the algo-lie makes us want to transform our politicians into Pinocchios and ourselves into Othellos of towering rage and confusion. We want someone in whom to embody the lie, but the absence of a liar from the algo-lie means the rage of the lie-ee loses its proper object. It turns into rage against our collective gullibility, or a more selective proxy rage against the nameless others who are sufficiently credulous not to see that they have been played. Being lied to can make us hate ourselves for being manipulable; but it can also make us hate other people who, we judge, are being jerked around by irrational appetites and ill-grounded opinions. Like Agamemnon’s audience, we are roiled into motion ‘like the long sea rollers/of the Ikarian deep’, whipped up by the wind.
In the view of the future to which progressive thinkers cling, the future is an embellished version of the recent past. No doubt this helps them preserve some semblance of sanity. It also undermines what is now our most vital attribute: the ability to adapt and fashion different ways of life. The task ahead is to build economies and societies that are more durable, and more humanly habitable, than those that were exposed to the anarchy of the global market.
Mediated electronic interactions also create forms of what could be called acquired social autism. Any experienced high-school guidance counselor can attest that most of their students do not have the social skills necessary to, for example, speak to college-admissions personnel one on one. There is also growing empirical evidence of social-media fatigue. Our gadgets create exhaustion, isolation, loneliness, and depression, which track with the rise of suicide rates in younger age cohorts. In a few extreme cases, when isolation sharply diminishes the influence of peer standards of acceptable conduct, it can lead to violent anti-social behavior.
In science fiction, the typical worry is that machines will become human-like; the more pressing problem now is that, through the thinning out of our interactions, humans are becoming machine-like. That raises the possibility that the more time we spend with machines and the more dependent on them we become, the dumber we tend to get since machines cannot determine their own purposes — at least until the lines cross between ever smarter AI-infused machines and ever less cognitively adept humans. More troubling are the moral issues that could potentially arise: mainly ceding to machines programmed by others the right to make moral choices that ought to be ours.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor