Friday, Sept 27 | 11:10am - 12:15pm

Saying More or Less | Room 210

‘No Other Tale to Tell’: The End of Worldly Narrative in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

This paper examines Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road (2006) and explores the ways in which the diegetic ‘world’ that the novel conjures is marked by an ecological event that fully evacuates its biocentric content and consequently narrates a world without narrative.

Viewed in both, the tradition of American Puritan apocalypse as well as the more recent offspring of eco-apocalypse, both tropes that fundamentally ground on the possibility of narrating and imagining a future, I read McCarthy’s latest novel as a radical counterpoint to this discourse. In interpreting the novel’s apocalypse as an ecological event, thereby relying and extending Alain Badiou’s notion of ontological singularities, I propose that the future the novel imagines is essentially ‘inanimistic.’ By progressively exiling not only human inhabitants but also accompanying practices of an anthropogenic kind, the novel’s bleak waste land ushers into a space beyond human time and investigates an alternative narrative practice that leaves behind the ‘world’— etymologically, the age of men. This is not only achieved by the book’s plain, hypotactical style that recalls an objectivist poetics; on a typographic level, the evasion of dialogic quotation marks or narrative episodes also hints formally at the increasing abandonment of human narrative, and particularly as employed in the narrative art of the novel.

Recalling the essentially American theme of the human struggle against an endangering environment, the novel’s nameless father and son do try to antagonize this “sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality” (The Road 93) by perpetuating a Promethean myth of “carrying the fire” (The Road 87). While this theme represents their struggle to perpetuate narrative acts of human conservation, if viewed from the theoretical perspective of the event and the consequent unmitigated “new present” (Badiou, Logics of Worlds 51) that this singularity evokes, their ethics and existence is fundamentally at odds with the non-narrative, non-human implications of this situation that literally leaves “no other tale to tell” (The Road 32).


Sebastian Huber studied English Literature, American Literature and Philosophy at Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich. Since 2011 he has been a member of the PhD program ProLit at LMU and is pursuing a joint degree from LMU and University of Alberta, Edmonton in 2013/2014. In his doctoral thesis, entitled “Subject of the Event: Reagency in American Fiction after 2000,” he deals with novels such as Thomas Pynchon’s , Against the Day or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in conjunction with Alain Badiou’s notion of subjective creations. Besides a variety of international conference papers, he has published articles on Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Against the Day, on Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Alain Badiou’s ontology, Nelson Goodman’s notion of impossibility, and the biopolitical dimensions of food in the HBO series Treme.

I Can’t Tell You: Namelessness and Narrative

In The American Poetry Reveiw, Reginald Gibbons illuminates an integral aspect of language not often inspected by contemporary literary critics of narrative in all its genres—paths to understanding the significant and perplexing aspects of language in which more is said than can be named. Wisdom in interpreting these functions and limits of language often arises in the address of intense emotion, imagery, and alterity which locate themselves between and beyond word and referent; what literary critic has George Steiner has called “extra-territoriality.” 

Writers of significance struggle to engage the silent spaces of literary power beyond the black script on white pages—metaphors of the inability of language to describe experience while at the same time replicating its ability to evoke it. In doing so, the language of narrative creates aporiae that are neither materially nor virtually existent, lying between the verbal and the visual. 

As a possibility for assessing this power both in praxis and theory, Thomas Merton, a prolific essayist and public intellectual on matters of narrative and aesthetics offers profound entrance into this fecund hermeneutical space.  As demonstrated, for example, by his controversial manifesto “Answers on Art and Freedom,” Merton acknowledges the unspeakable, unnameable silence encompassing all speech—a dilemma that the Hebrew faces when speaking about God whose name can be expressed only in symbols: the obscure, the unexpressed, the mysterious, and the undefined become the symbology of a writer’s language that intimates the capacity of human consciousness to apprehend the limitless or undeterminable.  In this paradigm, logos poesis is the word that never stops speaking.  It is both temporal and in its inevitable deferring of meaning and its ongoing reproduction of response in the reader.  In engaging the hermeneutics of human narratives, Merton ventures into the spaces of contingent meanings that are present even though expressed in absence— the invisible and unnameable in narrative forms.


Lynn R. Szabo, Professor of English at Trinity Western University, is a scholar of the poet, mystic, and peace activist Thomas Merton, an emerging, significant figure in twentieth century literary studies.  She has authored numerous articles on his poetics and is the editor of In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton(2005); she has also recently co-edited Through a Glass Darkly: Suffering, The Sacred, and The Sublime in Literature and Theory (2010). Her current work is focused on narrative theory, the mystery of logos poesis.

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