Meeting Cormac McCarthy (Garry Wallace)

» July 25th, 2019

Cormac said that education often got in the way of understanding.

One of the finer pleasures of being a book hunter is that, if you hound around used/rare bookstores enough, you sometimes find wedged into a wayward shelf a book you have never heard of by a writer you have never heard of, and, for whatever weird intuitive reason, you pick it up (in this case, for $8.00) and end up enthralled.

Meeting Cormac McCarthy, by Garry Wallace, is a self-published volume I spotted at Crescent City Books, in New Orleans (a great city for bookstores). The first essay, and the title of the book, contained the quote cited above, one that Wallace paraphrased after getting to spend a few days with the notoriously elusive author of the finest literature being written today. (Suttree, for my money, is unsurpassed in the canon of American Lit, except perhaps by Moby Dick and Invisible Man.) 

I love the quote. I’m a university professor but I’ve never been much convinced by the pedagogical mission underscoring my professional existence. If nothing else, I think my decision to model a passion for literature and the kinds of experience that makes literature stick might inspire a Quixotic student or two. But I honestly think the vast majority of my students would be better off chucking the best four years of their life for an unconventional experience in the “real world.” (See my posts on Fermor.)

Cormac can’t stand academic horseshit–and most academic writing is total horseshit–and I agree that the best writing is free of such nonsense. Anyway, Cormac’s literature thrives by exploring those who have gone into the world and lived close to the bone of experience. Nobody in his novels has a degree. Mind you, I love the pursuit of esoterica and obscurity. Hell, I’m writing a book about a poet nobody knows. But I think what this guy Wallace does so well is channel Cormac’s understanding of a truth that’s totally lost on the vast majority of college students grinding away for a degree: You’re missing out on something you lack the ability to imagine.

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