Cormac McCarthy once said: “I am a pessimist,”
which is as good a reason to be just as gloomy
as, if you have a nasal problem, you are rheumy
because you’re snotty about all placebos you resist.
On placebos I, too, do not place reliance,
unwilling to take them unless you my arm twist,
not just because, emeritously, I’m a man of science
but, since clueless, I’m a hopeful in-the-closet optimist.
My optimism’s based upon a faith that’s called
Judaism, Orthodox with a big Modern twist,
a faith that can’t be by big twists of pessimism galled,
though my performance on this fiddle may by God be dissed.
In “Cormac McCarthy Was a Man of Science,” WSJ, 6/15/23. Lawrence Krauss, an American theoretical physicist and cosmologist, writes:
I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of my friend Cormac McCarthy. What many may not be aware of was that while he was a superstar in the writing world, he often said his chief interest was science.
….. I met Cormac in the lunch room of the Santa Fe Institute. After some initial niceties, I asked him how, as a writer of such dark fiction, he maintained a chipper demeanor. His answer has stayed with me ever since: “I’m a pessimist, but that is no reason to be gloomy!” That sentence has helped me through many times since then, and I now take it as something of a mantra.
In “Cormac McCarthy and the Possibility of Faith,” thepublicdiscourse.com, 6/13/23, Alexander Riley writes:
Cormac McCarthy, who passed away today, gives readers reason to suspect that he did not shut the door on God before his life ended. His last two novels, The Passenger and Stella Maris, offer more than just an artistic representation of reality’s inescapable brutality. They forcefully struggle with the greatest questions of human existence. Like any good work of art, these books don’t allow any reader—religious, atheist, materialist, Christian—to walk away feeling perfectly comfortable in their understanding of the world…..
These books do contain brutality, and meaninglessness haunts their pages. But they offer much more than the total bleakness that professional critics often perceive in them. To be fair, Alicia Western, whose account of reality is detailed in Stella Maris, provides evidence to support Miller’s reading. She is a solipsist who, when a young girl, read George Berkeley on the physiology of vision and concluded that the world existed only in her youthful head. Alicia often appears unrelentingly pessimistic….
Yet McCarthy gives Alicia much more complexity than most of the critics have noted. She fiercely struggles with the fallen aspects of her character. A first-rate violinist, she lovingly describes music as sacred. …. When she describes having spent her inheritance on a rare Amati violin, she recalls weeping when she played it for the first time. Tears come also when she recalls her pure bliss at the sound of Bach’s Chaconne emerging from her violin. The instrument must have originated in the mind of God, she insinuates, so perfect is its construction.
Amid this discourse on music, Alicia tells Cohen, her psychologist and interlocutor through the entirety of Stella Maris, what she believes to be “the one indispensable gift”: faith.
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored “Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.