una escena tan aterradora que quieres dejar de leer, pero una fuerza oscura te empuja a continuar.

El mundo se ha acabado. Un cataclismo haarrasado con animalesyplantas. Casitodoslos sobrevivientes se han convertido en canibales implacables. Pero no este padre y su pequefio hijo, quienes entran al oscuro s6tano de una mansi6n sureffa en ruinas para buscar comida almacenada. 'Acurrucados junto a la pared del fondo habia hombres y
mujeres desnudos, todos tratando de ocultarse, tapdndose la cara con las manos. En el colch6n yacia un hombre al que le faltaban las dos piernas hasta la cadera, con los muflones quemados y ennegrecidos". Todos ellos eran la comida almacenada. 'Aytidenos, dijeron en voz baja, por favor, aytdenos."
can los canibales que

licula sombria y desoladora s6lo revela una pequefra parte de
lo que contiene la novela. A pesar de su fidelidad al argumento del libro, la cinta no alcanza las profundidades emocionales de la historia postapocaliptica de McCarthy (no hay pelicula que pueda lograr eso), a las que s6lo puede accederse mediante el extraordinario lenguaje del autor. De muchas formas,La carretera representa la obra mis trascendente y conmovedora de McCarthy, un hito dentro
de una carrera literaria que se ha extendido durante 45 aflos

y

Elhombreyelnifio salenhuyendodelacasayvenc6mo se acerlahabitan.;Los habr6nvisto? Se precipitan

1l novelas. En 2002 este libro recibi6 el Premio Pulitzer de Ficci6n, uno de los dos principales reconocimientos literarios de Estados Unidos. EnI992, McCarthy recibi6 el otro premio importante, el National BookAward,por Todos los hermosos caballos (All The Pretty Horses). Si hay algo, ademds de sus novelas, por lo que

hacia los terrenos yermos que la rodean y se acuestan entre las hojas secasylas cenizas. El padre le da a su hijo unapistolavieja

Mccarthy ha
antes que ha-

sido conocido, es porque preferiria hacer cualquier cosa ejemplo, reconstruir el carburador de su

ylerecuerdalo quehayquehacer. "Te lametes enlabocayapuntas hacia arriba. R6pido y con decisi6n. ;Entendido? Deja de llorar. ;Entendido?" El hombre se da cuenta de que el niffo estitan

cami6n-

-por

asustado que ser6 incapaz de dispararse a si mismo. Le quita la

pistolaypiensa: "Ahoraes el momento. Maldice aDiosymuere' que disparar. ;Podrias aplastar 2Y si la pistola no dispara? Tiene ese crdneo amado con una piedra?;Existe dentro de ti un ser que podria hacerlo, y del cual tu no sabes nada? ;Es posible?". Esta escena inolvidable de.L a carretera (The Rocd), la novela de Cormac McCarthy de 2006, lleva en si la semilla de violencia y misterio que ha germinado en uno de los relatos de

blar de su escrifura. Los acad6micos han compensado su silencio hablandoy escribiendo todo lo que pueden sobre sus novelas. Pero,yaque el nombre de McCarthyresurgi6 enelpanoramade la cultura pop con el estreno d eThe Road, quise ofrecer nuevas perspectivas acerca de este hombre y sus libros. Busqu6 a sus amigos y a otros celebrados novelistas estadounidenses que han caido bajo el hechizo de McCarthy. Aquellos que practican un arte siempre pueden detectar qu6 es lo
que hace que una obra destaque. Y vaya que sus colegas escritores han dirigido los reflectores hacia la brutal violencia que caracteriza la obra de McCarthy, situada en el surefto estado de Tenriessee y a lo largo de la frontera entre M6xico y Estados Unidos. Pero estos escritores tambi6n sefralaron una cualidad menos detectable: su magnificaycasi misticavisi6n del exube-

ficci6n mds asombrosos en la historia de Estados Unidos. En estos dias ha llegado a los cines una versi6n cinematogt6fica, comercialmente muy atrevid a, de La carretera, cual si fuera un profeta del caos medioambiental. Una maravilla artisticaper
se, con

una actuaci6n magnifica de Viggo Mortensen, esta pe-

rante mundo natural.

t48 DtC.O9

"McCarthy es precisamente el tipo de escritor por el que me siento atraido, un escritor que pareciera que ha estado en otras dimensiones y ha regresado para hablar de ellas", me dijo Jayne Anne Phillips, cuya novela mds reciente, I ark and Termite, una mirada conmovedora al derrumbe emocional que provoca la guerra de Corea en el seno de una familia del Este de Virginia, fue finalista este afio en los National Book Awards. "Lo que

mdtica suave las que han convertido a McCarthy en el autor de best-sellers que es hoy en dia. Monstruosos asesinatos en poblaciones ruralesy campamentos de personas sin hogar en ciudades que languidecen. Rios contaminados por las fibricas y animales
queyacen atropellados enlas carreteras. El terrorismo que asuela
a las

naciones dejando un rastro de miedo. Durante los riltimos
a

20 affos,los temas de McCarthyhan salido

la superficie, atrave-

siempre me ha encantado de McCarthy", explic6 Phillips, "es que es un autor que s61o sigue sus propias reglas".

sandoladelgadacapade prosperidadyfelicidad de nuestrasociedad y apoderindose de nuestros temerosos corazones.
En el afro 2000, el

actorydirectorBillyBob Thornton hizo un

Con l)ostovt.r'ski v I'tlrllineren l(r sarlql-O
Ha sido un largo camino para que McCarthy lograra ser reconocido. Su primera novela, EI guardidn del v ergel (The Orchard Keeper), publicada en 1965, est6 plagada de influencias de Faulkner

intento fallido de llevar alapantallagrande la crisis romdnticaque subyace al interior deTodosloshermosos cabal/os. Pero los hermanos Coen, cineastas consumados, tuvieron 6xito con el denso

ycontemplativo filmeNo Country forOIdMen (basado en la novelahom6nima), que gan6 el Oscar a MejorPelicula en 2008. La mis sorprendente incursi6n de McCarthy en la cultura pop lle96 ese mismo aflo, cuando lareina del mundo
de

y

(estibien,lareina

Dostoyevski, y gira en torno al asesinato de un hombre que viaja
de avent6n con su desconcertado hijo. Este homicidio, cometido

latelevisi6n diurna), Oprah Winfrey, declar 6 que La carreterd erauna novela de nuestra

por un contrabandista que "hundi6 el pulgar en latr6queay not6
que aquello cedia como unjunco reseco", parece desarrollarse en

6pocay convenci6 al introver-

cdmara lenta, como si McCarthy saboreara su horrorizante impacto. Y 6se s6lo es el comienzo. Violaci6n, suicidio,

infanticidio,

tido McCarthyde ser entrevistado en su programa.
ca

necrofilia; todos estos temas son tratados con la misma pacienciaydetalle en sus novelas. Pero la ficci6n de McCarthy no es un sangriento y dantesco festival, ytampoco utiliza laviolenciapara ofrecer algo tan trivial como un ejemplo mor alizador.
Los personajes de McCarthy (vagabundos, chamanes, asesinos y vaqueros) van siempre en busca de la fuente de la maldad

La versi6n cinematogrdfid,e La carretera es la adap-

JayneArrnePhilllps
Elogiada por su sensual primer libro de cuentos,Black Tickets (1979,y por su retrato de jovencitas atormentadas por el abuso sexualen Shelter (1994, Philips, como McCarthy, es una novelista con poderosas imdgenes con una cua I idad ci nematog rAf ica que brota desu rico lenguaje.

taci6n m{s fiel que se haya realizado de una novela de
McCarthy. Enfundado en una sucia chamarra capitonada, pantalones y zapatos raidos,
con el cabello ylabarba enredados y grasientos, Mortensen

y cualquier camino que se derive de ella. ;Es la violencia la via del mundo que vemos? ;Un plan divino? ;La cruda fuerza de la voluntad humana, despojada de ilusiones con respecto a las costumbres y a la vida en comunidad? McCarthy lleva estos cuestionamientos a extremos desgarradores en Merldiano de sangre (Blood Meridian), que sigue a una banda de soldados estadounidenses y bandidos despiadados, contratados por funcionarios mexicanos, en 1850, para matar indios y cobrar recompensas por sus cabelleras. Sus masacres sonjustificadas por uno de los grandes personajes de la ficci6n, el pilido y calvo Juez. Luego de escenas atroces, en las que mujeres y niflos son golpeados hasta provocarles la muerte, el Juez emite frases trilladas acerca del sangriento papel que juega el

comunica,

a

trav6s de las pro-

)

destino. "Si Dios pretendiera interferir en 1a degeneraci6n del ser humano, ;no Io habria hecho ya?", pregunta. "EI mundo nace y florece y muere, pero en los asuntos de los hombres no hay
mengua y el mediodia de su expresi6n sefrala el inicio de la noche". En otras palabras, y como el Juez declara mis tarde: "Dios
es la

guerra." En 2O08, The New York ?imes nombr6 aMeridia-

no de sangre como una de las cinco mejores obras de ficci6n es-

tadounidense en los riltimos 25 afros.
En 1985, cuand o Meridiano desangre fue publicada, McCarthy tenia suerte si acaso vendia 200 libros en un aflo. Siete affos mds tarde, su editor organiz6 una campafla publicitaria para ?odos /os hermosos caballos, su primera novela con un argumento romintico. La promoci6n fue un 6xito y miles de lectores descubrieron
a

McCarthy. Pero no
EFr

es

una mercadotecnia inteligente ni una te-

Foros: LArtN sf ocK /

y me qued6 anonadado", me confes6 el no-

velista Richard Powers. "Utiliza un l6xico asombrosamente amplio, y una buena parte de esas palabras s6lo las usa una vez, no
se

repite: no

s61o las

palabras prestadas del

espaflol, sino toda una multiplicidad de ex-

Ga*

traflos sustantivos olvidados, de una especificidad microsc6pica. McCarthy es como uno de esos zo6logos aventureros del siglo xrx que se sabian los nombres secretos de todos los seres vivientes y salian a recolectar uno de cada uno". Al igual que McCarthy, Powers recibi6 una beca MacArthur, la llamada "beca de los genios"; su maravillosa nueva novelaGenerosity, explora las misteriosas raices de la felicidady la ficci6n
misma. "Me tom6 algun tiempo descifrar-

(-:,*

lo", dijo Powers, "pero McCarthy se inclina por recrear un estilo como de salmodia biblica que no teme ir de lo tenso a lo brutal
y de lo monumental a 1o sublime".

Flannery O'Connor, la duquesa de la ficci6n violenta surefla, dijo alguna vez de Faulkner: "Nadie quiere que su mula y carret6n se atasquen en el mismo camino por donde baja echando humo el Dixie Limited." Con ello queria advertirle a otros escritores
fundas arrugas que marcan la tristeza en su rostro y de que no imitaran
a

(

Faulkner, so pena de que

unavoz que

a

duras penas logra sobreponerse al des-

su obra quedara destrozada con la compa-

consuelo absoluto, la desgarradora culpa de un padre
que un dia se vio obligado a dejar abandonado a su

hi-

jo en un mundo horrible.
Tan impresionante como la actuaci6n de Mortensen es la al inh6spito paisaje descrito por McCarthy

raci6n. Pero tal y como me dijo el novelista Madison Smartt Bell, McCarthy es el rinico autor estadounidense que ha dominado el atronador estilo de Faulkner y ha logrado apropi6rselo, 1o cual crea un problema para los escritores que llegaron despu6s de McCarthy y quisieron imitarlo.
De acuerdo con Bell, cuando 6l comenzaba

fidelidad que muestra el director John Hillcoat (Hillcoat

film6 la cinta en pueblos mineros fantasma de Pennsylvania y en zonas de Louisiana ain devastadas por el huracin Katrina): "Noches mis tenebrosas que las tinieblas y cada uno de los dias mis gris que el dia anterior. Como el primer sintoma de un glaucoma frio empafiando el mundo." La cinta enrrelve a los espectadores enesaatm6sferaoscuraydesoladaporque de-

RtcftardPowers
GanO el National BookAward en 2006 por su novena novela, The

Echo Maker, gue trata acerca de la victima de un accidente automov i I ist ico cu ya g rad ua I recu peraci6n revela nuevos aspectos sobre la ciencia del cerebro y nuestra co-

aescribir, durmi6 durante un aflo conSutfree, la picaresca novela de McCarthy acerca de
un sempiterno solitario que vive en unbarco de pesca en Tennessee y se embarca en una

nexidn con la naturaleza.Su libro rn s reclente es Generosity.

serie de tribulaciones con una pandilla de
vagos de los Apalaches. "No es que mi vida

be hacerlo. S6lo cuando dejan de tener esperanzas en el futuro, ese hombre y su hijo pueden descubrir qu6 significa la

vida ahora, qu6

es

lo que nos brinda razones para seguir vivien-

amorosa fuera m6s normal", brome6 Bell, quien fue finalista del National Book Award en 1995 conAllSouls'Rising, "pero yo leia
ese

do. La pelicula apuesta todo a que la respuesta te humano, pero en irltima instancia palidece

esti en el vinculo
de

libro todo el tiempo. En ese entonces vivia en Brooklyn y fue

de cariflo que los une y resulta un mensaje conmovedoramen-

laforma en que McCarthymanejabael paisaje urbano lo que me
teniatan atrapado, adem6s de la independencia que caracterizaba al personaje. Fue algo que realmente me cal6 hondo".

junto al fuego

la

prosa de McCarthy, que deslumbra al intelecto.

Tanto Bell como Powers subrayaron que lo que primero distin-

t.icei6n crl estilo biblico
Es precisamente el lenguaje de

gui6

McCarthy lo que impresiona

a

otros escritores. "Recuerdo perfectamente quelei Todos los hermosos caballosjusto una semana despu6s de que fuerapublicado

a McCarthycomo uno de los escritores estadounidenses m6s importantes, fue su manifiesta evocaci6n del pais en si mismo. En las d6cadas de los 7o ylos 80, el mundo literario se encontraba en gran parte bajo la influencia de Raymond Carver, cuyos cuentos cortos sobre enfrentamientos dom6sticos se situaban en suburbios anodinos. En contraste, segun Bell, la obra de McCarthy "se )

t50 Dtc.09

FOTOI CORTESIA DE TA DISTRIBUIDORA

(encuentra profundamente arraigada

en el conocimiento y el sa-

bor regional. Los textos de Carver tratan sobre la monotonia del paisaje estadounidense. Y McCarthy no es asi, para nada. Si situa su historia en las montafias de Tennessee, uno sabe donde se encuentra. Casi sientes el sabor de latierra si habla del centro de

Knoxville o de El
coraz6n
de1

Paso. Posee

unatremenda conciencia sensorial

de los lugares". Yesa conciencia sensorial penetra en el

violento

paisaje estadounidense.

"Los paisajes de McCarthy estiin llenos de plagas, profecias y venganza, como si escucharas a

un predicador", asegur6 Powers. "Hay un viejo dicho sobre el drama literario que se deriva de uno de los tres tipos de conflicto: hombre contra hombre, hombre contra si mismo y hombre contralanaturalezacreadapor Dios. Enlavisi6n del universo de McCarthy, estatrinidad se revela como una unidad, ciclica e intrincadamente relacionada entre si. Todas las fuerzas de la creaci6n se juntan en un flujo maligno. La naturaleza no puede ser domesticad4 Dios es mds que indiferente hacia la humanidad, y toda nuestra supuesta civilizaci6n, de la que dependemos para no hundir-

fr6gil capadebarnizenlasuperficiedelarealidad. Para McCarthy, lasociedadylaculturasoncomo querer pintarle las uftas a un oso rabioso".
nos en el remolino universal, es tan s6lo una

De

la pobreza a la bonanza

Intentarque McCarthyexplique su estilo iracundo es inritil. "No creo que sea algo bueno para la mente", le dijo a Oprah. "Si uno se pasa mucho tiempo pensando acerca de c6mo escribir un libro, es probable que no seabueno hablar del asun-

j*\
l"-*q

lr

God

(Hijo de Dios), publicada en 1973 y que trata

acerca de Less Ballard, un tipo solitario y extra-

flamente atractivo que tiene relaciones sexuales con sus victimas asesinadas y las mantiene ocultas en la cueva de una montaffa, McCarthy describe con empatia el bosque donde vive su personaje:

to;lo mejor es ponerse aescribir.";Tiene algo en contra de la prensa? "No", respondi6. "Ustedes trabajan su lado de la calle yyo trabajo el mio". Enlos riltimos 44 afios, McCarthyhaconcedido
cinco breves entrevistas. GPodria convencerlo de hacer una mis?, le pregunt6 a su agente. "Me temo que no", me respondi6 ella). No obstante, sus admiradores pueden obtener de esas entrevistas un esbozo bastante fiel de su pasado.

ltladironSmafitBeU
v i o I enci a,

"Enuna 6pocaenel mundohabiabosques que no pertenecian a nadie y estos eran asi."
New York Times,

Autor de 14 novelas, elogiadas por sus incursionesen la historia y Ia
especi a I mente su fasci-

En una entrevista concedida enl992 paraThe McCarthy subrayaba un rasgo que

nantetrilogla de Iibros sobre Haitl, Este fin de ano, Bell publ lc6 Devil's Dteam, una jornada a traves del oscu ro cora zd n de N atha n Bedfo rd

ba en la escuela

hoy en dia continria defini6ndolo. "Cuando estaprimari4 no habia hobby que yo
no practicara; digame cualquier cos4 no

importa

Forrest, General Confederado y miembro del Ku Klux KIan.

cuan esot6rica sea, yo la habia descubierto y habia incursionado en ella".

Nacido en1933,ytercero de seis hijos, McCarthy creci6 en Knoxville, Tennessee. Su padre era un abogado de la Tennessee Valley Authority, una empresa federal de servicio

McCarthy fue

a la

Universidad de Tennessee,

pero muy pronto la dej6. En la d6cada de los 50 pas6 cuatro aflos
en la FuerzaA6reay durante dos de ellos estuvo en Alaska la tiltima frontera real de Estados Unidos. Luego regres6 alaUniversidad de Tennessee y public6 un par de cuentos en el peri6dico delaescuel4 peronuncalleg6 agraduarse. En1961 secas6 consu

fund6 el mismo affo en que nacieraCormac, para ayudar a Estados Unidos a salir de la Gran Depresi6n. La poderosa empresa construy6 represas y plantas hidroel6ctricas por todo el Sur de Estados Unidos, estimulando el tipo de progreso

pfblico, que

se

que llevaria hasta M6xico

a

los solitarios personajes de McCar-

thy, donde ingenuamente creen que podr6n recobrar una vida independiente enterritorios intactos. El devenir de la modernidad los margin6 de la sociedad estadounidense.EnThe Childof

compaflera de universidad Lee Holleman, unapoeta, ytuvieron un hijo al que llamaron Cullen. No obstante, el matrimonio fue de corta duraci6nyen 1965,luego de terminar suprimeranovela, McCarthy abord6 unbarco con destino a Irlandaparavisitar latierra de sus antepasados. Ahi conoci6 aAnnie Delisle, una cantante!
FOTO: IATIN SfOCK

r52 DrC.09

(

que actuaba en el crucero de lujo. "Cormac bailabacon una rubia preciosa", le dijo Annie al periodista Don Williams. "Nuestras miradas se encontraron, atravesando el sal6n de baile, ynos enamo-

ramos locamente". Se casaron en Inglaterray McCarthycompr6 unviejo Jaguardescapotable. Luego de arreglarlo en Paris, Annie y 6l viajaron en el auto por Franci4 Italia y Espaffa.

El eamino hacia nuestra destrueei6n
Aun cuando Mccarthy evita dar entrevistas, no es un recluso. a la ceremonia de los Oscar en 2008, donde las cdmaras lo captaron cadavez que No Country for OIdMen obtuvo uno de sus cuatro premios, con su amplia sonrisa que fue vista por miles de millones de televidentes en todo el mundo. Y durante los riltimos 20 aflos ha sido uno de los residentes m6s comunicativos y entusiastas del Instituto Santa Fe, un reconociDespu6s de todo, fue

A principios de la d6cada de los 7O, ya de regreso en Estados Unidos, McCarthy y Annie vivieron en una granja lechera a las afueras de Knoxville. 'Viviamos en la pobreza total", le dijo DeLisle al ?imes. "Nosbafidbamos en ellago".Yagreg6: "De repente alguien llamaba para ofrecerle 2 mil d6lares para que fuera a una universidad y hablara sobre sus libros. Y 6l les decia que todo
1o

dothinktankque

es sede de

que tenia que decir estaba en sus novelas. Asi que comiase

po de la fisica, la gen6tica,

1a

cientificos de vanguardia en el camevoluci6n y la tecnologia, quienes

mos frijoles durante otra semana."

McCarthyyDelisle
so, Texas,

separaron en 1976 y 6l se mud6

a El

Pa-

ffa que se destacaba en elvecindario por su maleza

dondevM6yescribi6 durante affos enunaviejacabaincontrolada

se han dedicado a romper con los viejos modelos mecdnicos y a demostrar que el mundo fisico es el resultado de continuos cambios e interacciones. El chico de Tennessee que tuvo todos los

hobbies existentes tiene ahora muchos mis.

TM

&w
q ".*
t

*

rl
I
I

.l

rU

\

"Cormac es el autodidacta por excelencia", me dijo David Krakauer, profesor del Instituto, director de la Facultad y amigo
cercano de McCarthy. "Se interesaentodo.

Hablamos de Melville y de Faulkner, Wittgenstein y Darwin, y de la naturaleza de la

concienciay de las verdades matem6ticas.
Cuando pensamos en el Juez de Meridiano
de

sangrey ensus comentarios, nos damos

y las camionetas estacionadas al frente. Un periodista se enter6
de que el ayrrntamiento de El Paso tenia que pedirle cada

cuenta de que Cormac posee esa misma clase de deseo por acu-

cierto

McCarthy que limpiara su patio. McCarthy, que amenudo eravisto porlas cafeteriasylosbares del pueblo, muchas veces perfeccionando su juego de billar, sotiempo
a

mular y atesorar ideas y luego contarlas. A la hora de la comida, si uno menciona alguna profesi6n inasequible y misteriosa, por lo general 6l se ha pasado seis meses en ella".
so.

brevivia con modestas becas de fundaciones literarias. En 1981, cuando ya tenia 48 aflos, recibi6 la beca MacArthur por 236 mil d6lares. Luego del 6xito conseguido con Todos loshermososcabaIIos enIgg2ylos ingresos obtenidos por derechos de filmaci6n de sus novelas, no haydudade que McCarthy se havuelto unhombre rico. "La ley de probabilidades funciona en todas partes", le dijo a Oprah.'Yo he sido bendecido porque soyuna de las personas con m6s suerte que he conocido en mi vida".

M6s arin, dijo Krakauer, "Cormac es extremadamente generoComo persona, en el plano emocional, hasido increiblemente

amable con nosotros, tanto en un nivel personal como institucio6,1 concede su tiempo a todo el mundo. Se sienta contigo. Es absolutamente todo 1o opuesto a un snob distante". Pero la ciencia es mucho m6s que una fuente de informaci6n para McC arthy. Krakauer dijo que 6l y McC arthy hablaron acer-

nal.

cade Nuestrahorafinal (Our Final
co

lIour),lunlibro del astrofisi-

Hoy en dia, McCarthy y su tercera esposa, la pintora Jennifer Winkley, viven en las afueras de Santa Fe, en Nuevo M6xico, con John, su hijo de 1l afios, a quien le dedic6la carretera.

britdnico Martin Rees, que le otorga a la humanidad el 50-50 de probabilidades de sobrevivir mis all6 del 2100, debido a alguna cat6strofe tecnol6gica. Y el paleont6logo Douglas Edwin, un residente del Instituto Santa Fe y autor de Exfinction, le dijo a la I
FOTO: LAIIN SIOCK

t54 DrC.O9

(

revistaRollingSrone que 6l y McCarthy han discutido el evento de extinci6n ocurrido
en el Cretdceo-Terciario, cuando tos habrian devastado

meteori-

latierra.

Arnque La carretera puede haberse nu-

trido de esos autores, McCarthy no pone la
cienciaenbocade sus personajes para educar alos lectores. En todasu obrade ficci6n, el escritortransforma
a la

ciencia en un len-

guaje po6tico que permite que resplandezca la red de lavida. En este precioso pasaje de

Suttree, el protagonistayace una "silenciosa y desconcertante" tarde de domingo en un catre en su casa flotante del rio: "El coraz6n bombea bajo el estern6n. La sangre en sus recorridos designados. Lavida en espacios pequef,os, estrechas hendiduras. En las hojas, la pulsaci6n del sapo. La delicada guerra celular en una gota de agua."

En esta riltima oraci6n, la palabra extraordinaria es "guerra". En el universo
de McCarthy, la naturaleza es y siempre
ha sido violenta, desde el BigBanghasta el

riltimo 6rbol que cae en un bosque devastado. Krakauer nos ofrece una excelente profundizaci6n acerca de c6mo McCarthy transforma esavisi6n de la naturaleza en sus novelas . "IJnavez que uno conoce el uranio y el plutonio, que son el verdadero poder creativo de la tierra, eso otorga
una sensibilidad totalmente diferente", dijo. "Si uno habla con dos personas con mentes po6ticas y las ubica en el desierto,

hierba estaba hrimeday la llegada del sol no habia deshecho arin
la compleja red de huellas de las criaturas que habian pasado
ese

por

y

una de ellas sabe que esti parada sobre un almac6n de material

lugar la noche anterior. Venados y liebres y palomas y ratas de agua, todos flotando en capas en el aire para su deleite, todas las naciones de un mundo posible dispuesto por Dios, del cual
ella era una de tantos y no un ente separado". Desde su primera novela, E/gtr ardidn delvergel, hasta la m6s

radioactivo capaz de destruir mil veces al mundo, y la otra tan s6lo percibe una especie de polvo inofensivo, ahi habr6 una ar-

ticulaci6n completamente diferente. No se c6mo llamarle a esto. Es algo casi mistico". LanovelistaPhillipstambi6nve aMcCarthycomounaespecie de mistico violento. "En un sentido similar a Cristo, la violencia
en sus libros es muy a menudo generativa", dijo. "Conduce a una

la carretera, McCarthy no se desvia nunca de su fria visi6n de que los humanos construyen un camino hacia su propia destrucci6n. Muy a menudo ese camino se forja a partir de
reciente,
nuestros sueffos nostAlgicos de armonia, en la medida en que desgarramos al mundo para conformarlo de acuerdo
tasias. Pero cuando observamos el coraz6n
a

nuestras fan-

transformaci6n que es lamuerte, pero la energialatente en su lenguaje implica una fuerza que va m6s all6 de la muerte. Asimismo, en sus libros, McCarthy convierte a la violencia en algo muy hermoso. Yo los leo no por lo que sucede en el primer nivel, en la superficie de laprosa, sino porlaformaenlaque 6l creadimensiones sobrepuestas en la pigina. Siento como si la violencia se abriera siempre hacia algo que va mucho mis

violento del mundo

natural, cuando encontramos en 6l nuestra conexi6n, tenemos la oportunidad de percibir la fuente de lavida. En la actualidad, McCarthy, a los 76 afios, continta trabajando en su obra de ficci6n con tanta pasi6n como siempre. Sus nuevas novelas seguramente nos ofrecerdn mds de subelleza devastadora. Pero resulta dudoso que escriba algo que pueda sobrepasar la imagen final en La carretera, d,onde su visi6n de la naturaleza, de 1o que hemos obtenido de ella y lo que hemos perdido, es total. "Una vez hubo truchas en los arroyos de las montafias. Podias verlas en la corriente ambarina, donde los bordes blancos de sus
aletas ondulaban suavemente en el agua. Olian amusgo en las manos. Se

alli

de lo fisico".

Uno percibe ese florecimiento en En Ia frontera (The Crossing), publicado en 1994. En uno de los capitulos mds bellos de todas las novelas de McCarthy, un vaquero adolescente captuinvolucra emocionalmente con una loba prees apresado por policias mexicanos y la loba es herida por unos perros cuando la encadenan en un pozo y la obligan a pelear. Para evitarle el sufrimiento a la loba, el muchacho le dispara en la cabeza y se la lleva a las montaflas para enra en M6xico y
se

flada. El muchacho

retorcian,brufiidasymusculosas. En sus lomos habiadibu-

jos vermiformes que eran mapas del mundo en su devenir. Mapas y laberintos. De una cosa que no teniavuelta atr6s. Ni posibilidad de arreglo. En las profundas cafladas donde vivian todo era mds viejo que el hombre y murmuraba misterio". El

terrarla. Mientras cierralos ojos de lalobamuerta, "podiaverla correr en las montaflas, bajo la luz de las estrellas, ahi donde la

156 DtC.O9

Foroi coRTEslA DE !A DrsrRrBUlDoRA / TRADUcctoN: MARTANA GUMA MoNTALvo

Cormac McCarthy Violent Mystic
By Kevin Berger
It is such a terrifying scene you want to stop reading but a dark force pushes you on. The world is over. A cataclysm has wiped out animals and plants. Most remaining humans have become wretched cannibals. Not this father and his young son. Looking for stored food, they creep into the dim basement of a ruined Southern mansion. "Huddled against the back wall were naked people, male and female, all trying to hide, shielding their faces with their hands. On the mattress lay a man with his legs gone to the hip and the stumps of them blackened and burnt." They are the food being stored. "Help us, they whispered. Please help us." The man and boy run from the house and see its dwellers approaching. Have they been spotted? They rush into barren woods and lie in dead leaves and ash. The father gives his son an old pistol and reminds him he knows how to do it. "You put in your mouth and point it up. Do it quick and hard. Do you understand? Stop crying. Do you understand?" The man sees the frightened boy won't be able to pull the trigger on himself. He takes the gun from him and thinks: "Now is the time. Curse God and die. What if it doesn't fire? Could you crush that beloved skull with a rock? Is there such a being within you of which you know nothing? Can there be?" This eternally haunting scene from Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel, The Road, bears the seeds of violence and mystery that have sprouted into one of the most astonishing bodies of fiction in American history. This month, a commercially daring film version of The Road has slipped into theaters like a

prophet of environmental doom. An artistic marvel on its own, with a beautiful performance by Viggo Mortensen, the intensely bleak film still amounts to a trailer for the novel. Despite its faithfulness to the book's plot, the film doesn't reach the emotional depths of McCarthy's post-apocalyptic story—no film could—which can be entered only through the portals of the author's extraordinary language. In many ways, The Road represents McCarthy's deepest and most moving work, a milestone in a literary career that has spanned 45 years and 11 novels. In 2007, The Road was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, one of America's top two literary awards. In 1992, McCarthy received the other top prize, the National Book Award, for All the Pretty Horses. If there is one thing, other than his novels, that McCarthy has been known for throughout his career, it's that he would rather do anything, like rebuild the carburetor in his truck, than talk about writing. Academics have made up for his silence by writing and speaking volumes about his work. But as McCarthy's name surfaces again in pop culture with the film release of The Road, I wanted to offer new and fresh perspectives on the man and his fiction. So I sought out his friends and award-winning American novelists who have fallen under McCarthy's spell. Practitioners of a craft are always the most sensitive to what makes that craft shine. And indeed the writers shone a radiant light on McCarthy and the brutal violence that characterizes his work, which takes place in the southern state of Tennessee and along the United States-Mexico border. But they also illuminated a quality less often seen in his fiction—his magnificent and near mystical vision of the teeming natural world.

"He's just the type of writer I'm attracted to, a writer who seems to have borne witness to other dimensions and returned to speak about it," said Jayne Anne Phillips. Celebrated for her darkly sensuous debut of short stories, Black Tickets, in 1979, and her portrayal of young girls haunted by sexual abuse in 1994's Shelter, Phillips, like McCarthy, is a novelist whose cinematic powers stem from her rich language. Her most recent novel, Lark and Termite, a stirring look at the emotional fallout of the Korean war on a West Virginian family, is a finalist for this year's National Book Awards. "What I have always loved about McCarthy," she said, "is that he a writer who abides by no rules but his own." It's been a long road to recognition for McCarthy. He published his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, in 1965, charged with currents of Dostoevsky and Faulkner, circling around the murder of a hitchhiker and his bewildered son. The murder, committed by a bootlegger, who "dug his thumb into the man's windpipe and felt it collapse like a dried tule," seems to unfold in slow motion, as if McCarthy is savoring its gruesome impact. And that's just the beginning. Rape, suicide, infanticide, necrophilia— they all get the same patiently detailed treatment in his novels. But McCarthy's fiction is not a gruesome festival of gore. Nor does he employ violence to make something so banal as a moral point. McCarthy's characters—drifters, shamans, murderers and cowboys—are forever searching for the source of evil and any path out of it. Is violence the way of the natural world? God's plan? The raw force of human will, shorn of illusions about custom and community? McCarthy drives these themes to heartrending extremes in Blood Meridian,

which follows a band of vicious American soldiers and outlaws, hired by Mexican governors in 1850 to slaughter Indians and collect bounties on their scalps. Their rampages are justified by one of the great characters in fiction, the pale and hairless Judge. Following atrocious scenes, in which women and babies are bashed to death, the Judge launches into learned orations on the bloody role of human fate. "If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now?" he asks. "The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night." In other words, as he later declares, "War is God." In 2008, the New York Times named Blood Meridian one of the five best works of American fiction in the past 25 years. In 1985, when Blood Meridian was published, McCarthy was lucky to be selling a couple hundred books a year. Seven years later, his publisher orchestrated a publicity campaign for All the Pretty Horses, his first book with a romantic storyline and the carnage reined in. The promotion was a success and thousands of readers discovered McCarthy. But it's not clever marketing or a softer touch that has turned McCarthy into the best-selling author he is today. Grotesque murders in rural towns and homeless encampments in dying cities. Rivers polluted by factories and animals mowed down on highways. Terrorism raging across nations and spreading fear in its wake. In the past 20 years, McCarthy's themes have boiled up through the flimsy surfaces of prosperity and happiness and taken hold of our anxious hearts. In 2000, actor and director Billy Bob Thornton tried and failed to bring the

romantic crisis at the heart of All the Pretty Horses alive on the silver screen. But accomplished filmmakers the Coen Brothers succeeded with the savage and meditative No Country for Old Men, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2007. The most surprising outbreak of McCarthy in pop culture came that year when the queen of the world—OK, queen of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey— declared The Road a novel of our times and convinced the private McCarthy to be interviewed on her show. The film version of The Road is indeed the closest adaptation yet of McCarthy's fiction. Outfitted in a filthy down jacket, threadbare pants and shoes, his hair and beard tangled and oily, Mortensen communicates, through deep and sad creases in his face, and a voice that strains to stay one note above futility, the father's heartbreaking guilt for having to one day leave his boy behind in a horrible world. Just as impressive as Mortensen's performance is director John Hillcoat's fidelity to McCarthy's bleak landscape (Hillcoat shot the film in barren Pennsylvania mining towns and Louisiana areas still scarred by Hurricane Katrina): "Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had come before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world." The film shrouds viewers in this hopeless gloom because it has to. It's only without hope for the future that the man and boy can discover what life means now, what there is to keep living for. The film stakes its answer on their tender bond. It's a touchingly humane message. But it ultimately pales next to the intellectual fires burning in McCarthy's prose. Indeed, it's McCarthy's language that leaves other writers in awe. "I can remember picking up All the Pretty

Horses a week after it was published and being transfixed," novelist Richard Powers told me. "He uses a staggering number of words, and a big fraction of those are words that could only occur once: not just the Spanish borrowings, but all kinds of weird and lost nounhordes of microscopic specificity. He’s like one of those 19th century adventurer zoologists who knew the secret names of every living thing and were out to collect one of each." Like McCarthy, Powers has received a MacArthur Fellowship, the socalled "genius" grant. In 2006, Powers won the National Book Award for his ninth novel, The Echo Maker, about a car-accident victim whose gradual recovery sheds light on brain science and our connection to nature. His wondrous new novel, Generosity, explores the mysterious roots of happiness and fiction itself. "I took some time to figure it out," Powers said, "but McCarthy is bent on recreating a kind of incantatory biblical style that wasn’t afraid to range from fraught to brutal to monumental to sublime." The duchess of violent Southern fiction, Flannery O'Connor, once said of Faulkner, "Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down." She was warning other writers not to imitate Faulkner for fear of having their work flattened in comparison. But as novelist Madison Smartt Bell said to me, McCarthy is the one and only American author who has mastered Faulkner's roaring style and made it his own. Which created a problem for writers who came after McCarthy: They wanted to imitate his style. When he was starting out as a novelist, Bell said, he slept for a year with Suttree, McCarthy's ribald novel about perennial loner Suttree who lives on a fishing boat in Tennessee and embarks

on a carnival of travails with Appalachian outcasts. "Not that I didn't have a more normative love life," Bell joked. "But I read the book continuously. I was living in Brooklyn and it was the way he handled an urban landscape that got me so hooked, plus the unattached quality of the character. It really seeped into me." Bell found his own voice and went to write fourteen novels, praised for their own excavations of history and violence, notably his riveting trilogy of books about Haiti, the first of which, All Souls' Rising, was a finalist for a National Book Award in 1995. This month, Bell released Devil's Dream, a journey through the dark heart of Confederate general and Ku Klux member, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Both Bell and Powers remarked that what first distinguished McCarthy as one of America's most important writers was his palpable evocation of the country itself. In the 1970s and '80s, the literary world was largely under the influence of Raymond Carver, whose short stories of domestic frictions were set in faceless suburbs. But McCarthy's fiction, said Bell, "is steeped in regional knowledge and flavor. Carveresque works are about the sameness of American landscape. McCarthy's not like that. If he's in the Tennessee hills, you know where you're at. You can taste the dirt if he goes to downtown Knoxville or El Paso. He has a tremendous sensory awareness of a location." And that sensory awareness penetrates into the violent heart of the American landscape. "McCarthy’s landscapes fill with plagues and prophecies and vengeance on a psalmist’s scale," Powers said. "There is an old saw about literary drama deriving from one of three kinds of conflicts: Man against man, man against himself, and Man against God’s elements. In McCarthy’s vision of the

universe, this trinity is revealed to be one constantly cycling, inextricable single thing. All the forces of creation accrete into one malevolent flux. Nature can’t be tamed, God isn’t even indifferent to us, and all the pretense of civilization that we depend upon to separate ourselves from the maelstrom is less than the thinnest counterfeit. To McCarthy, society and culture are like toenail polish on a rabid bear." Getting McCarthy to explain his rabid style is futile. "I don't think it's good for your head," he told Winfrey. "If you spend a lot of time thinking about how to write book, you probably shouldn't be talking about it, you should be doing it." Did he have anything against the press. "No," he said. "You work your side of the street and I'll work mine." In the past 44 years, McCarthy has submitted to five short interviews. (Could I convince him to do one more? I asked his agent. "I'm afraid not," she said.) Still, out of those interviews, fans can draw a fair sketch of his past. Born in 1933, McCarthy grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, the third of six kids. His father was a lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal utility company, launched the same year McCarthy was born to help lift America out the Great Depression. The powerful company constructed dams and hydroelectric plants across the South, spurring the kind of progress that would drive McCarthy's lone-wolf characters to Mexico, where, naively, they believed they could revive a self-reliant life in an unspoiled land. The march of modernity also drove them to the fringes of American society. In The Child of God, published in 1973, about strangely compelling loner Lester Ballard, who has sex with murder victims and keeps them

in a mountain cave, McCarthy sympathetically describes the woods where Ballard lives: "At one time in the world there were woods that no one owned and these were like them." In an interview the New York Times in 1992, McCarthy underlined a trait that continues to define him today. When he was in grammar school, he said, "There was no hobby I didn't have, name anything, no matter how esoteric, I had found it and dabbled in it." He attended the University of Tennessee but soon dropped out. In the 1950s, he spent four years in the Air Force, and for two of them was stationed in Alaska, America's last true frontier. Afterward he returned to the University of Tennessee, published a couple of short stories in the school paper, but never graduated. In 1961, he married fellow student Lee Holleman, a poet, and they had a son, Cullen. The marriage though, was short lived, and in 1965, after completing his first novel, McCarthy boarded a passenger ship for Ireland to visit the home of his ancestors. There he met Annie DeLisle, a singer, who was performing on the luxury liner. "He was dancing with a beautiful blond," DeLisle told journalist Don Williams. "We saw each other across the ballroom and fell madly in love." They got married in England and McCarthy bought an old Jaguar with no roof on it. After fixing it up in Paris, he and DeLisle drove it across France, Italy and Spain. In the early '70s, back in the United States, McCarthy and DeLisle lived in a dairy barn in a small town outside of Knoxville. "We lived in total poverty," she told the Times. "We were bathing in the lake." She added, "Someone would call up and offer him $2,000 to come speak at a university about his books. And he would tell them that everything he had to

say was there on the page. So we would eat beans for another week." McCarthy and DeLisle separated in 1976 and he moved to El Paso, Texas, where he lived and wrote for years in an old bungalow that stood out in the neighborhood for its unruly weeds and pickups parked out front. One Texas journalist learned the city of El Paso had to periodically tell McCarthy to clean up his yard. Seen around town in diners and bars, often perfecting his pool game, McCarthy continued to scrape by on small grants from literary foundations. In 1981, when was 48, he received the MacArthur grant for $236,000, distributed over five years. Following the success of All the Pretty Horses in 1992, and income from film rights to his novels, he has no doubt become wealthy. "The laws of probability operate everywhere," he told Winfrey. "I am blessed because I'm one of the luckiest people I've ever known." Today he and his third wife, Jennifer Winkley, a painter, live outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, with their 11year-old son, John, to whom The Road is dedicated. Although McCarthy avoids interviews, he is not a recluse. After all, he attended the Academy Awards ceremony in 2008 and was caught on camera each time No Country for Old Men won one of its four Oscars, his smile beamed to billions of viewers across the world. And for the past two decades he has been one of the most vocal and enthusiastic residents at the Santa Fe Institute, a renowned think tank that is home to vanguard scientists in physics, genetics, evolution and technology, who are breaking down the old mechanical models and demonstrating the physical world is the result of constant interactions and change. The Tennessee kid who had

every hobby under the sun now has even more. "Cormac is the ultimate autodidact," David Krakauer, the Institute's Professor and Chair of Faculty, and one of McCarthy's close friends, told me. "He's just interested in everything. We talk about Melville and Faulkner, Wittgenstein and Darwin, and the nature of consciousness and mathematical truth. When you think about the Judge in Blood Meridian, and his remarks, you realize Cormac has that same kind of desire to accumulate and store ideas and relate them. At lunch time, if you mention some abstruse, arcane profession, he's usually spent six months in it." What's more, Krakauer said, "Cormac is extremely generous. As a person, emotionally, he's been unbelievably nice to us, both on a personal level and institutionally. He gives anyone time. He'll sit down with you. He is absolutely the opposite of the aloof snob." But science provides more than a source for McCarthy. Krakauer said he and McCarthy talked about Our Final Hour, a book by British astrophysicist Martin Rees, which gives humanity a 5050 chance of making it past 2100, due to some technological catastrophe. And paleontologist Douglas Erwin, a resident at the Santa Fe Institute, and author of Extinction, told Rolling Stone that he and McCarthy often discussed chilling scenarios of how life on earth may end. But while The Road may be informed by these authors, McCarthy doesn't put science in the mouths of his characters to educate readers. In all of his fiction, he transforms science into poetic language that allows the web of life to glow. In this gemlike passage in Suttree, the protagonist, on a "hushed and mazy" Sunday afternoon, lies down on a cot in his houseboat on the river: "The heart

beneath the breastbone pumping. The blood on its appointed rounds. Life in small places, narrow cranies. In the leaves, the toad's pulse. The delicate cellular warfare in a waterdrop." The extraordinary word in that last sentence is "warfare." In McCarthy's universe, nature is and always has been violent, from the Big Bang to the last tree falling in a dead forest. Krakauer offered a sterling insight into how McCarthy transforms that view of nature in his fiction. "Once you know about uranium and plutonium, which is the true creative power of the earth, it gives you a totally different sensibility," he said. "If you talk to two poetically minded people and place them in the desert, one of whom knew he was standing on stores of radioactive material, capable of destroying the world a thousand times over, and another who just saw a kind of benign dust, there would be a totally different articulation. I don't know what to call it. It's almost mystical." Novelist Phillips also sees McCarthy as a kind of violent mystic. "In a Christ-like sense, the violence in his books is often generative," she said. "It leads to a transformation that is death, but the energy inside the language implies an energy beyond death. He also makes the violence so beautiful in his books. I'm reading them not for what's happening at that first level, the surface of the prose, but for the way in which he's creating layered dimensions on the page. I feel as though the violence always opens out into something beyond the physical." You feel that flowering in The Crossing, published in 1994. In one of the most beautiful chapters in all of McCarthy's novels, a teenage cowboy traps and becomes emotionally attached to a pregnant wolf in Mexico. The boy is

briefly arrested by Mexican deputies and the wolf is mauled by dogs when it's chained in a pit and forced to fight. To put the wolf out of its misery, the boy shoots it in the head and carries it to the mountains to bury it. As he closes the wolf's dead eyes, he "could see her running in the mountains, running the starlight where the grass was wet and the sun's coming as yet had not undone the rich matrix of creatures passed in the night before. Deer and hare and dove and groundvole all richly empaneled on the air for her delight, all nations of the possible world ordained by God of which she was one among and not separate from." From his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, to his most recent, The Road, McCarthy never veers from his cold vision that humans are beating a path to their own destruction. That path is often carved by our sentimental dreams of harmony, as we wrench the world into the shape of our fantasies. But when we see into the violent heart of the natural world, find our connection there, we stand a chance of feeling the source of life. Today, the 76-year-old McCarthy continues to work as passionately as ever on fiction. His new novels will surely offer more devastating beauties. But it's doubtful he will write anything that will surpass the final image in The Road, where his vision of nature, what we have gained from it, and what we have lost, is complete. "Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps

of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and hummed of mystery."

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