Carrying the Fire
Individuation Toward the Mature Masculine and Telos of Cultural Myth in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and The Road maggie bortz So everything is necessary. Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised. Because the seams are hid from us, you see. The joinery. The way in which the world is made. (McCarthy, 1999b, 143) It was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all. (McCarthy 1999a, 284)
Although many critics consider Cormac McCarthy to be the greatest living novelist in America, his dark, compelling vision did not reach a mass audience until the film adaptation of his novel No Country for Old Men (2005) was released in 2007. The film, directed by Ethan and Joel Coen (2007), won the Academy Award for Best Picture. A film adaptation of his latest novel, The Road (2006), which won the Pulitzer Prize, was released in late 2009. McCarthy now has the public’s rapt attention. McCarthy’s visionary works can be read as dreams of our contemporary culture. Great works of art, like dreams, perform a compensatory function to the conscious attitudes of a society and may carry teleological implications. Jung viewed great art as an aperture to the collective unconscious, through which the role of the archetypes in shaping the psychological development of individuals and societies might be discerned (1930/1966, CW 15, ¶¶157, 161). McCarthy’s later novels, speaking in image and myth, the language of the unconscious, frame the collective psychic dissociation that prevents us, individually and collectively, from growing up. The final, transcendent image in No Country for Old Men, which appears in an old man’s dream, and the father-son imagery in The Road suggest that a reunion and recalibration of the inner Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, Volume 5, Number 4, pp. 28–42, ISSN 1934-2039, e-ISSN 1934-2047. © 2011 Virginia Allan Detloff Library, C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website at www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintinfo/asp. DOI: 10.1525/jung.2011.5.4.28.
Maggie Bortz, Telos in No Country for Old Men and The Road
father and son, representing a “union of sames” in the split masculine archetype, constitute the requisite path of healing and maturation. This imagery may prefigure the emergence of a new cultural myth. Jungian analyst Joseph Henderson identified specific thresholds of initiation or psychological rites of passage “which make possible the transition from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to early maturity, and from maturity to the experience of individuation” (2005, 11). Our culture, however, remains dominated by male adolescent energy, seemingly arrested in anachronistic identification with the uninitiated hero, still living out a negative mother complex: a myth of male regeneration through escalating violence inflicted on a feminine earth and on humanity. This entrenched cultural complex manifests in and is reinforced by social constructs of what it means to be male in modern America, including the myth of the self-made man and the ethic of individualism. This complex also bears “a revolutionary unattached shadow that would smash all fetters” (Hillman 2005, 56–57). To give a clinical example, some of my clients, on parole from the Oregon Youth Authority, are very likable boys for the most part who, at 14 or 15, have already spent a year behind bars in the state’s “baby” prison system. Their yearnings for identity are shaped by a culture of outer action devoid of inner meaning. The lack of connection to an inner life also appears in adult male populations in presenting symptoms like workaholism, anger issues, substance abuse, relationship problems, and sexual obsession. In older...
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