Finding God in Cormac McCarthy’s Fictional Worlds

Some critics judge the works of Cormac McCarthy—who died on Tuesday, shortly before his ninetieth birthday—to be fundamentally nihilistic. But Alexander Riley argues that, despite its bleak depictions of human capacity for evil, McCarthy’s fiction is in fact pervaded with religious meaning. Riley focuses on the final two of the writer’s twelve novels, the companion works The Passenger and Stella Maris:

Many critics read McCarthy’s novels the way they do so many other art forms: devoid of the possibility of hope, transcendence, and a living God. But this often glosses over the genuinely conflicted character of the art. The Passenger and Stella Maris offer more than just an artistic representation of reality’s inescapable brutality. They forcefully struggle with the greatest questions of human existence. Like any good work of art, these books don’t allow any reader—religious, atheist, materialist, Christian—to walk away feeling perfectly comfortable in their understanding of the world.

McCarthy gives Alicia, [a main character of both The Passenger and Stella Maris], much more complexity than most of the critics have noted. She fiercely struggles with the fallen aspects of her character. A first-rate violinist, she lovingly describes music as sacred. She especially admires Bach, and she knows what (or Who) motivated the great German composer’s music. When she describes having spent her inheritance on a rare Amati violin, she recalls weeping when she played it for the first time. Tears come also when she recalls her pure bliss at the sound of Bach’s Chaconne emerging from her violin. The instrument must have originated in the mind of God, she insinuates, so perfect is its construction.

Amid this discourse on music, Alicia tells Cohen, her psychologist and interlocutor through the entirety of Stella Maris, what she believes to be “the one indispensable gift”: faith.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Literature, Religion

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood