Sorrowing a Borrowed World

“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.” -- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Since “borrow” is maybe the only verb that rhymes with “sorrow,” repeating “borrow” three times may help an author get away with using “sorrow” as a verb. But this device is hardly needed – McCarthy convinced us of his ability to sorrow the world a long while back.

For a few days after reading The Road, I suspected everyone I passed on the street of wanting to kill and eat me. If a book's impact is this intense, why complain about intellectual inconsistencies? E.g. why are crows extinct? Wouldn't one expect crow populations actually to increase, in a world populated by constantly warring nomadic slave-owning cannibal clans? A science fiction writer, committed to extrapolation, would have to ask such questions, but McCarthy's mission is not to explain the world but to sorrow it.

It's healthy sometimes to make one's autonomic nervous system face the possibility that civilization is the merest of mirages – perhaps this is the justification for all horror writing, the kind of realism that's faithful not to our waking reality, but to that of our worst nightmares.* While The Road is not as good as Blood Meridian – McCarthy must be very tired of comparisons with that book by now – it's more frightening because at least Blood Meridian wasn't set in the near future.

The Road: a man and a boy walk along a road, and everyone they meet wants to kill them. A plot simpler than that of most video games, yet McCarthy's prose pulls you further in than you thought you dared to go.

McCarthy's typewriter is up for auction on Friday.

* There's a scene in Blood Meridian – the one early on where it dawns on the white men that they're completely outnumbered by the approaching Indians hence are all going to be scalped -- that I actually saw in a nightmare before I first read the book.

2 thoughts on “Sorrowing a Borrowed World”

  1. Just saw a trailer for The Road the movie. There's a way that film arts can make visual this action of sorrow that you're writing about, but this movie seems to choose to treat its source novel as straight science fiction.

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