Nostalgia and the Sublime in Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy

Mahshid Younesi, Hossein Pirnajmuddin


This article discusses the way Cormac McCarthy (1933-) represents the “natural sublime” in The Border Trilogy (1992-1998), where the notion is by and large distinguished as a kind of nostalgic experience on the part of characters insofar as the writer foregrounds the unattainable “natural sublimity” of the Wild West as well as its charming pastoral scenes. Drawing on theories of the sublime, particularly those of Edmund Burke (1757), an attempt is made to shed light on the modality of the merging of the sublime with an inconsolable sense of pastoral loss. Foregrounding the characters’ desire to live a bucolic life, McCarthy dramatizes the very process of experiencing the sublime on their part. The modality of the protagonists’ response to this experience, it is argued, becomes an index of character. The essay also reveals the importance of style in representing the “natural sublime” in these novels, arguing that stylistically their rendering of the “natural sublime” approaches what could be called the “artistic sublime.” In this sense, the artistic representation of the object is no longer  distinguished from the nature of the object in one’s sensation. The sublime, therefore, grounds consciousness in the subject, making that subject believe that sublimity is concerned with the way one apprehends the world or, simply put, the quality of a person’s experience. In The Border Trilogy, the writer foregrounds the “artistic sublime” by focusing on the loss of the pastoral vision. In this way, McCarthy presents wilderness as the ideal pastoral space of nature.

Keywords: Cormac McCarthy; The Border Trilogy; pastoral nostalgia; the “natural sublime”; the frontier; the Wild West

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