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Reading the World
Cormac McCarthy's Tennessee Period

Dianne C. Luce

An investigation into the aesthetic and philosophical ends of McCarthy's southern novels

In Reading the World Dianne C. Luce explores the historical and philosophical contexts of Cormac McCarthy's early works crafted during his Tennessee period from 1959 to 1979 to demonstrate how McCarthy integrates literary realism with the imagery and myths of Platonic, gnostic, and existentialist philosophies to create his unique vision of the world.

Luce begins with a substantial treatment of the east Tennessee context from which McCarthy's fiction emerges, sketching an Appalachian culture and environment in flux. Against this backdrop Luce examines, novel by novel, McCarthy's distinctive rendering of character through mixed narrative techniques of flashbacks, shifts in vantage point, and dream sequences. Luce shows how McCarthy's fragmented narration and lyrical style combine to create a rich portrayal of the philosophical and religious elements at play in human consciousness as it confronts a world rife with isolation and violence.

As she explores the developing gnosticism in Outer Dark and Child of God, Luce notes the introduction of Platonic myths and symbols, creating dialogic tensions. She finds McCarthy blending these elements with the neo-gnosticism of Camus's existentialism in The Gardener's Son, and she concludes by illustrating how McCarthy's ambitious Suttree is a culmination of the Tennessee period as she unravels the novel's complexly interwoven texture of philosophical and mythic strains introduced in the earlier works.

Through Luce's richly nuanced approaches to McCarthy's early works, she highlights the poetic and philosophic qualities of these novels, the subtlety of McCarthy's strategies to represent the inner lives of his characters, his themes of antinomianism and antimaterialism, spirituality and ecocentrism, and the syncretic quality of his mind and narrative methods during this influential and important period in his literary development.

Dianne C. Luce is president of the Cormac McCarthy Society and serves on the editorial board of the Cormac McCarthy Journal. A McCarthy scholar for thirty years, she is coeditor with Edwin T. Arnold of Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy and A Cormac McCarthy Companion: The Border Trilogy. Luce retired from Midlands Technical College in Columbia, South Carolina, where she served as an English instructor, department chair, and associate dean of arts and sciences.

"In Reading the World, Dianne C. Luce offers an extensive treatment of the southern novels of the National Book Award—and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Cormac McCarthy. Luce's study is as valuable as it is ambitious, blending with precision the local and historical with the universal and philosophical—and thus charting the process by which the literal content of individual experience is employed in McCarthy's fiction to both aesthetic and philosophical ends."—Steven Frye, California State University, Bakersfield, and author of Understanding Cormac McCarthy

"The president of the Cormac McCarthy Society examines the historical-philosophical contexts of McCarthy's early fiction crafted during his Tennessee period (1959 to 1979), toward understanding his integration of realism and mysticism in portrayals of a changing Appalachian world. In reading how he presents characters' inner lives and spiritual/ecological theme… Luce traces his developing gnosticism in drawing on mythic imagery and existentialism."—Book News 



book jacket for Reading the World


6 x 9
336 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-824-2
cloth, $49.95s
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