- "el brujo es un coyote": Taxonomies of Trauma in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian
And as the Calamity which is come upon us is general . . . whilst the sheep have been contending on with another, God hath let loose Wolves upon us.Increase Mather, 1676
The gradual extension of our Settlements will as certainly Cause the Savage as the Wolf to retire; both being beasts of Prey tho' they differ in shape.George Washington, 1783
Once there were wolves in the mountains, and the old hunters remember them. It is said that they were many, and they came to the hunters' fires at night and sat around in the dark timber like old men wanting to smoke. But they were killed out for bounty, and no one will remember them in a little while.N. Scott Momaday, 1968
In september 1835, responding to the intensification of Apache raiding and depredation, the government of Sonora, Mexico enacted a law establishing a bounty system of one hundred pesos for the scalp of each Apache warrior, fifty pesos for the scalp of each Apache woman, and twenty-five for that of each child. Two years later the governor of the state of Chihuahua instituted a similar measure known as the Proyecto de Guerro, which together according to historian Edward Spicer, marked the commencement of a "war of extermination" against the Apache that would continue unabated for well over forty years (240). The internecine conflict resulting from these policies, which forms the basis of Cormac McCarthy's 1985 [End Page 151] novel Blood Meridian, inaugurates what Richard Maxwell Brown has described as the "Western Civil War of Incorporation," which led to one of the most traumatic periods in the history of North America (5). The extreme violence perpetrated through the bounty system presents a formidable specter for historians grappling with the dilemma of how such deeply traumatic experiences can be represented in the historical record. Walter Benjamin has asserted, "every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably" and by failing to acknowledge narratives of American Indian trauma in American history we run the risk of confirming Benjamin's charge (255).
In her analysis of the representation of historical trauma, Kali Tal suggests one of the most common ways that traumatic events are incorporated into conventional historical texts is through the process of "mythologization," which "works by reducing a traumatic event to a set of standardized narratives turning it from a frightening and uncontrollable event into a contained and predictable narrative" (6). The unspeakable is rendered as such not simply because it is beyond representation, but because it challenges and threatens to transgress deeply entrenched conceptions of being and truth. Georges Bataille confronted the difficulties inherent in the representation of historical trauma suggesting that the associated limit-experience exists "in a sort of silence which, it seem[s], only literature could disrupt" (15). In McCarthy's Blood Meridian, the oppressive silence that Bataille speaks of is shattered by the stark representation of deeply traumatic events and experiences.
Critics such as Inger-Anne Softing have argued that due its graphic subject matter Blood Meridian is prone to being interpreted as an "unethical" novel since it "takes no stand against the violence" which "has repelled many of McCarthy's readers" (19). Writing in a similar vein, Steven Shaviro goes further, suggesting that Blood Meridian "sings hymns of violence," producing in its readers, "vertiginous, nauseous exhilaration" (145-46). Shaviro's reader-response criticism notwithstanding, the "incomprehensible" violence depicted in Blood Meridian can be better understood by examining the way McCarthy deals with and redefines the representation of traumatic experience and the longstanding philosophical distinctions concerning the nature of good and evil, and civil and savage. In his treatment of these emblematic mythico-historical themes, McCarthy deconstructs the conventional [End Page 152] narrative of the Western adventure novel that Blood Meridian initially seems modeled after. This is accomplished through McCarthy's gripping depictions of the abject nature of frontier history, which are suggestive of Julia Kristeva's view that "abjection preserves what existed in the archaism of pre-objectal relationship, in the...