The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnThe Violent WestrnThe matador who received top billingrnwas not, as advertised, the most famousrnbullfighter in Spain but rather (wernguessed) his son, or perhaps his nephewrnor second cousin; also, the promised dinnerrnwith this matador, to have been arrangedrnby a (self-identified) associate ofrnthe Plaza Monumental in CiudadrnJuarez, Chihuahua, the evening beforernthe fight failed to materialize. Nevertheless,rnthe afternoon of April 3,1994—rnEaster Sunday—witnessed some of thernbest bullfighting Jim Rauen and I hadrnseen in four seasons, climaxed by a superbrnperformance by an improbablyrnsmall torero, hardly bigger than a dwarf,rnnamed Adrian Flores, previously unknownrnto us but with a fighting stylerncomparable to that of the late Juan Belmonte.rnFlores was particularly brilliantrnwith his first bull, which he passed sornclose to his body that his scarlet-andwhiternsuit was repeatedly smeared withrnblood, and placed the estocada with precisionrnhigh between the shoulders sornthat the:bull collapsed in seconds: elrnpresidente held out one handkerchief atrnthe conclusion, then a second in responsernto the frenzied admonition of therncrowd, and Flores’ men cut two ears. Atrnthe start of his second fight, Flores in arndeparture from custom had the ringrncleared and then, taking a position beforernthe gate marked TORILES, knelt onrnboth knees with his pink-and-yellowrncape spread in the sand before him andrnawaited the charging bull, which hernpassed with aplomb on his right sidernwhile the crowd screamed and huzzaed.rn”I wouldn’t want to be that guy’s insurer,”rnJim said, “He could just as easilyrnhave taken a horn in the chest.”rnA very large billboard, planted in thernNew Mexican desert along Interstate 25rnbetween Albuquerque and El Paso andrnmuch admired by Jim and me for thernpast couple of years, reads “NEVERrnHURT A CHILD. NEVER NEVERrnNEVER” in stark black letters on a whiternbackground. Or a woman. Or a serialrnkiller. Or a bull. So what if the child deservesrna whipping, your wife has betrayedrnyou with your worst enemy, the killer isrnitching to bloody his knife again, and arnfighting bull likes nothing better than arnfight to the death? NEVER NEVERrnNEVER. It is the voice of the Americanrnenlightenment, crying out in what alas isrnno longer a wilderness against postcivilizedrnman’s worst embarrassment, greatestrnhorror, and ultimate scandal:rnviolence. For at least three decades now,rnviolence has been the highest reproachrnflung in the faces of the American peoplernby their severest critics both at homernand abroad. America, its citizens are lecturedrnad nauseam, has the most violentrnrecord in the history of great nations, arntale of bloodshed, mayhem, and destructionrnperpetuated in the presentrntime by the Second Amendment andrnthe survival of a bloody nationalistrnmythology, much of it the product ofrnthe imperialist enterprise that was oncernidentified in children’s school books asrnthe Winning of the West and has latelyrnbeen opposed by a counter-mythologyrnwhose essential weakness is that it is incomplete,rnbeing neither radical enoughrnnor all-encompassing.rnCormac McCarthy’s novel BloodrnMeridian probably gives the grimmestrnpicture of the American West ever written,rnyet it is no indictment of but ratherrna dark paean to the region, its humanrnhistory, and its metaphysical heart. McCarthyrntakes no sides and indulges no favorites:rnall his characters—^Anglo, Mexican,rnand Indian—are not merely agentsrnbut angels of violence, adjunct andrnexpression of a land itself violent andrnpitiless, over which the spirit of violentrndeath incessantly broods. What preservesrnBlood Meridian from nihilism isrnthe profound naturalness of even itsrnmost horrific action, the postulation ofrnviolence as an aspect of metaphysicalrntruth. Violence in Blood Meridian mayrnnot be cleansing but, despite its bizarrernterrors, it is clean: clean as the sharplyrneroded landforms, the rock piles, andrnthe crystalline air that form the setting ofrnthe novel.rnThe secret behind the heartbreaking,rnineffable beauty of the Western landscapernis death, its most obvious symbolsrnbeing the limitless vistas of light andrnshadow and the circling turkey buzzardrninto whose black greasy form, surmountedrnby the fleshy red head, EdwardrnAbbey professed to hope his soul mightrntransmigrate. As Cactus Ed never failedrnto insist, the West—the desert Westrnespecially—is no place for the timid andrnthe squeamish. Terrible things easilyrnbefall man or woman in a country thatrnappears to have been designed for a racernof giants and heroes, not for puny humanrnbeings; here sheer precipices more thanrnhalf a mile in height yawn suddenly underrnone’s feet, blizzards arise in minutesrnfrom which the unprepared neverrnemerge, violent electrical storms breakrnfrom a cloud that an hour earlier was nornlarger than a walnut, deceptive distancesrncall the unwary to deposit their bonesrnfor discovery a quarter-century hence,rnor never. Flash floods, forest fires,rnhailstorms; disorientation, hypothermia,rnheatstroke; snakebite, bear attack,rnavalanche. Almost the only danger tornhave been eliminated from those partsrnsince the last century is the Indians, whornare nowadays a menace mostly to themselves.rnThe Navajo reservation whose easternrnend, lapsing over the northeastern Arizonarnborder into northwestern NewrnMexico, lies athwart my route of travelrnbetween Kemmerer and Juarez offers, asrndo most of the Western Indian impoundments,rna depressing example of arnculture in which honest violence hasrnbeen replaced by something muchrnworse. The Navajo, like their cousinsrnthe Apache, are an Athabascan peoplernwho drifted down to the Southwest fromrnAlaska between 600 and 800 years ago;rnby the time Kit Carson arrived with anrnAmerican army in the 1860’s to subduernthem, their reputation for fierceness wasrnso great among the neighboring tribesrnthat warriors belonging to the Utes andrnPueblos eagedy joined the campaign.rnNavajo regularly engaged in casual killsrnJULY 1994/49rnrnrn