Throughout his rich literary career, Cormac McCarthy has consistently explored the intersections of different modes of thinking and creative practices. Reflecting his stated view that the novel can “encompass all the various disciplines and interests of humanity” (Woodward 1992), McCarthy’s work navigates between artistic and scientific discourses as readily as it interweaves various fields of knowledge and genres from chaos theory and legal history to English poetry and the Western. His fiction mediates between different worlds insofar as the stylistic and thematic trajectories of his fiction can be considered a narrative negotiation of opposed discourses and perspectives on the world, such as cognitive science and religious experience, realism and romanticism, or ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. While much has been said about spatial border crossings in McCarthy’s work, this conference invites readers and scholars to consider McCarthy’s other crossings, from the intersections of literature and science to his stylistic and generic crossovers.
Among the prevalent intersections between oppositional perspectives on the world in McCarthy’s corpus is the space between mind and matter, and, more specifically, the liminal zone between the interiority of character psychology and the exteriority of the American wilderness. With a special nod to the ten-year anniversary of The Road and its reception, there are the precarious boundaries between order and disorder, life and death, meaning and nothing, but also McCarthy’s transition—to many the most scandalous—from writer’s writer to Oprah elect and Hollywood insider. These spaces between worlds—whether disciplinary, institutional, aesthetic, or existential—can be described in many ways. Chief among them are the typical McCarthian notions of ‘crossroads’—connoting at once a convergence and the place of choice between alternatives, that is, the ideal (or illusion) of deciding on one’s own fate—and of ‘transgression’—the crossing of a normative boundary, as many of his maladjusted characters do, but also the place of choice in the making. McCarthy’s work is a continuous engagement with the former notion of a crossroads, the conflict between agency and determinism, and since the 1990s he has increasingly blurred the boundaries between literary and genre fiction. We could also say, he has transgressed these boundaries as part of the constant re-invention of his unique style as a novelist.
The conference especially seeks contributions that explore productive tensions, clashes, crossovers, thresholds, transitions, and transgressions in Cormac McCarthy’s work, but other approaches to McCarthy will also be considered.