What is it about?

Cormac McCarthy's Cities of the Plain displays the author's awareness that his own style of writing—often referred to as "optical democracy"—is ethically double-edged. It may humble readers by helping them recognize that humanity is a mere part of a vast ecology, but it may also blind them to the ills that tend to be committed exclusively by humans.

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Why is it important?

While acknowledging the merits of previous scholarly work on McCarthy's authorship, the article also moves beyond some of the disagreements of previous criticism by showing that, ultimately, it is asking the wrong questions. McCarthy represents humans as both uniquely destructive and cosmically insignificant, and the fact that this indeterminacy is never resolved illuminates the double nature of the capitalist subject: its agency (that lets capitalism continue to expand) and its insignificance (that lets capitalism off the hook whenever the system causes damage)


I had a great time writing this article, and I hope the reader, too, finds the results meaningful.

Fredrik Svensson
Hogskolan i Gavle

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: “He forgot the pain of his life”: Cormac McCarthy’s Cities of the Plain and the Affordances of Optical Democracy, Studies in American Naturalism, January 2020, Project Muse,
DOI: 10.1353/san.2020.0006.
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