Why I don’t bow before Blood Meridian By Joseph Hirsch

I was recently invited to read at a “Noir at the Bar” event at the Meshuggah Café, in Saint Louis. The reading was hosted and arranged by Jed Ayres, the crime writer, and fellow readers included Scott Phillips, author of The Ice Harvest, which was adapted by Harold Ramis into a film of the same name, starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton.

Being as this was my first time reading one of my books in public, before a crowd, I was quite anxious. I felt that I did reasonably well in my performance (selecting a chapter from one of my earlier, hardboiled crime novels, Rolling Country). After each of the invited writers had read, many books were signed and sold, and then our select group adjourned to the rooftop bar of the Moonrise Hotel, where I was staying during the course of my short visit to Saint Louis.

We discussed many topics that night, but mostly we talked about books, since writing them was our métier. Eventually, during the course of the evening, the subject turned to Cormac McCarthy’s blood-soaked Western magnum opus, Blood Meridian.  For readers not familiar with the work, scholar Dana Phillips offers a more than adequate summary in the opening passages of his study, History and the Ugly Facts of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:

“[Blood Meridian] is only very loosely centered around the character identified to the reader simply as ‘the kid’. Its opening pages offer a summary of the kid’s early life in the Tennessee hills, his flight to Texas in 1848, and his recruitment by a troop of filibusters, most of whom are slaughtered by a force of Comanche as their expedition makes its way into Mexico. The kid then joins up with Captain John Joel Glanton’s band of scalp hunters, who have a contract to provide the Mexicans with the hair of Apache raiders preying on isolated borderland villages and towns. Glanton and his men begin their own bloody campaign of depredations, which lasts for a year or two and several hundred pages. The kid is one of the few survivors of this campaign. The last chapters of the novel offer a compressed account of the final twenty-eight years of his life of wandering, and of his eventual death in an outhouse at the hands of his old comrade-in-arms, the seven-foot tall three-hundred pound hairless albino Judge Holden, a man of incredible savagery and great intellectual facility.” (Evans, 433-434)

Although generally ignored by critics, and selling in unimpressive numbers upon initial publication, the book has gone on to become something of a cause celebre in recent years. Part of the obsessive attention the book draws has something to do with the various interpretations suggested by the text. Phillips hints at the unwieldy, impossible-to-categorize nature of the book in the aforementioned essay:

Blood Meridian is a very complicated book-although complication is not a quality often associated with the label Western…[R]eviewers attempting to map this novel’s outlandish aesthetic and moral territories resorted to striking but desperate oppositions. To them, the novel seemed a blend of Hieronymus Bosch and Sam Peckinpah; of Salvador Dali, Shakespeare, and the Bible; of Faulkner and Fellini; of Gustave Dore, Louis L ‘Amour, Dante, and Goya; of cowboys and nothingness; of Texas and Vietnam.” (434)

My own personal feelings about Blood Meridian are a bit more prosaic: I find the novel to be a pretentious, nearly-unreadable pastiche hybrid of every writer from Ernest Hemingway, to H.P. Lovecraft, to Norman Mailer. I concede this statement is harsh, and would thus like to qualify it by adding two caveats, the first being that I consider Cormac McCarthy to be far superior to me as a writer, and that, secondly, while I find Blood Meridian to be a grim, impenetrable slog, I have enjoyed some of Mr. McCarthy’s other books (including No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses) immensely.

It must also be said that, regardless of what one thinks of the man’s writing, McCarthy belongs to a small corpus of postmodern stylists who have eschewed all of the blandishments of fame, shunning the limelight and remaining publicly indifferent to all the encomiums showered on his work. On the continuum where authors can be plotted, from the most reclusive to the most shamelessly fame-mongering, Cormac McCarthy could perhaps best be contextually situated somewhere between J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon (the latter of whom did actually lent his voice to an episode of The Simpsons, something it would be unfathomable to imagine McCarthy doing). According to Dana Phillips:

“Throughout most of his career, which began in the mid-1960s, McCarthy had worked and published in obscurity. Promotional campaigns meant little to him; he refused the interviews, personal appearances, and academic sinecures that might have made his name more widely known sooner. And for many years his readership was limited to a small group of admirers mostly from the South.” (433)

Decorum alone, however, cannot excuse the stylistic excesses and abysmal lack of narrative fluidity that, in my opinion, comprise the bulk of Blood Meridian. The author Charles Portis, something of a recluse in his own right, not only ignores the praise heaped on him and his work, but the Arkansan also wrote what I consider to be a far superior Western, True Grit (adapted for the screen twice, first in a film starring John Wayne, and then in a later, more faithful adaptation, filmed by the Coen Brothers and starring Jeff Bridges).

Several of my fellow scribes at the rooftop bar that night took umbrage at my strong opinion of Blood Meridian. One, Jed Ayres (author of Fierce Bitches and Peckerwood), arched and eyebrow and said, “You don’t like epics, huh?”

I shook my head. The epic nature of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is not what I find risible about the book. In point of fact, I love epics, and, though the genre is most often associated with works of antiquity, I count at least two modern novels as epics, and number them among my ten all-time favorite reads, the first being Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and the latter of the two being Mitchell Smith’s Stone City.

In To Disenchant and Disintoxicate (sic): Blood Meridian as critical Epic, author Justin Evans categorizes Blood Meridian as an epic, but qualifies this statement by adding that McCarthy subjects (and perhaps subverts) the genre, by giving it the postmodern treatment:

“By analogy with critical theory, we can read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985) as a ‘critical epic.’ It tries to make this most traditional literary form into a self-reflexive and self-critical but idealistic agent, one that respects the ideals of traditional literary forms but radicalizes them in order to criticize modern societies… [s]ince the epic has often been tied to the affirmation of social norms.” (405)

The extreme violence of the book, many have argued, is meant to be read as an allegory or metaphor for every Occidental form of violent dominance and subjugation (often with racist undertones or outright xenophobic justifications), from imperialism to Manifest Destiny, to, as previously mentioned by scholar Dana Phillips, American intervention in Vietnam.

The violence of the book is one of my central objections to Blood Meridian, though not because the gore serves as an allegory, criticizing the bloodshed inherent in the maintenance of Western hegemonic supremacy in global affairs. My problem with the violence is that its cumulative effect is to first inure the reader, and then ultimately to bore them, numbing them with the fugue-like repetition of descriptive passages detailing scalpings, hangings, and eviscerations, one after another. Much like Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho or Marquis De Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, the horror is not delivered with the irregularity that gives a suspenseful tale of terror its power to shock. The book is just a narratively slack catalogue of abuses.

According to James Dorson, in his article Demystifying the Judge: Law and Mythical Violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:  “Since its publication in 1985, the extreme scenes of violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian have posed a central problem for critics.” (105). Dorson argues (or rationalizes) the violence not by “…either historicizing it in the context of American imperialism, or by naturalizing it as part and parcel of the human condition…” (IBID), but rather “[t]hrough a reading of Judge Holden’s character as a figure of the law… propos[ing] instead to read its violence as the result of a metaphysical yearning for meaning to brace us against the fear of the unknown.” (IBID)

The problem with the character of the Judge, though (the main antagonist in this fatalist epic) is that while he may be, for Dorson, a symbol for “a metaphysical yearning for meaning to brace us against the fear of the unknown,” he is not believable as a character; he is merely a cipher for the philosophical pontification that Dorson mistakes for profound meaning. Characters can work as symbols, but they must first stand inspection as flesh and blood creatures, as did, for instance Captain Ahab or Mr. Kurtz, in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick or in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, respectively. Both men are violent, and arguably mad, but the creators of Ahab and Kurtz ably show, through slowly unfurling, revelatory passages, how these men arrived at their barbarized states.

Dorson, meanwhile, undercuts his own argument and inadvertently bolsters mine, when he writes, “There is no ‘atavistic egg,’ neither divine nor secular, that can explain or legitimate [the Judge’s] existence. There is no ground to base his rule upon, just ‘the shore of a void’ (111) from which all of his unfathomable malice arises.” (160) The Judge is about as real and complex as the villain in a slasher movie aimed at a teenage audience, although McCarthy is talented enough to cloak his character’s deficiencies in a literary patina that might distract the reader from realizing the Judge is not the creation of the 19th century’s bloody, Westward expansion, but is a boogeyman, created ex nihilo for the sole purpose of killing, like the numerous “baddies” Jason, Freddy, etc., who populate the exploitation genre once derisively referred to as “dead teenager movies.”

Dorson even echoes my sentiments on the subject of the more general violence of the novel, rather than that specific to the judge: “The sheer accumulation of atrocities and their matter-of-fact representation, characteristic of the novel, tend to break down any semblance of plot and make it difficult for readers to cognitively process the violence.” (IBID)

My own writing is quite violent. My latest novel, for instance, the Western, The Dove and the Crow, has already drawn mixed reviews from readers due to its gore and brutality. My previous published Western, Orphan Elixir, has also elicited revulsion in a number of people who have read the work, and have registered their disgust at various critical outlets, like Amazon.com and Goodreads. In defense of my own works, though, I should say that the violence in Orphan Elixir or The Dove and the Crow is leavened with humor and scenes of general tranquility. Blood Meridian, on the other hand, bludgeons the reader with redundant orgies of sadism, a cheerless litany that makes the book a chore to read.

The violence, which I have discussed at length, is not the only aspect of the novel that is desensitizing and renders the book virtually unreadable. It is, at a fundamental level, poorly written, in punishingly tumescent prose that alternates between the baroque and a kind of tone-deaf, affectless turgidity. The book is afflicted with what, after having encountered it many times in print, I have uncharitably dubbed “And-itus” (sic), a kind of writing in which a seemingly numberless stack of coordinating conjunctions denature the prose of any sort of rhythm or cadence. Here is a sample, quoted by Dorson:

“…riding down the unhorsed Saxons and spearing and clubbing them […] and stripping the clothes from the dead and seizing them up by the hair and passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads, gutting the strange white torsos and holding up great handfuls of viscera, genitals, some of the savages so slathered up with gore they might have rolled in it like dogs and some who fell upon the dying and sodomized them with loud cries to their fellows.” (IBID)

I lost count of the number of times the word “and” was used in the above passage, but the diligent (or obsessive-compulsively inclined) reader is welcome to do the tally. McCarthy’s prose, spellbinding when he’s in rare form (as in his post-apocalyptic novel, The Road), can be quite a thing to behold. In the case of Blood Meridian, though, the writing recalls Truman Capote’s pithy (but perhaps apocryphal) assessment of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: “That’s not writing; that’s typing.” Kerouac, at least, had the twin excuses of attempting to create a literary style akin to jazz music, and the effects of an amphetamine bender, to absolve him of his redundancies. McCarthy has fewer excuses.

The only plausible apologia for this kind of excess is offered by the previously-quoted Justin Evans, who, sees such language as innate to the “formal devices of the epic” (406), a parataxis, “…the yoking together of words or phrases or even sentences by simple conjunctions like ‘and,’ rather than the use of subordinate clauses.” (IBID). It is little wonder, then, that the book has drawn comparison not only to the epics of Greek antiquity, but also to the Bible, which, regardless of one’s faith or which translation they prefer, does become quite soporific, especially in its recounting of who begat whom; replace the word “begat” with “scalped,” however, and it becomes even easier to understand why Blood Meridian and the Bible might deserve space on the same shelf.

When McCarthy isn’t stringing coordinating conjunctions together like a washerwoman hanging up laundry on a clothesline, he seems to be doing a pastiche of H.P. Lovecraft at his most misanthropically byzantine and eldritch. Dorson highlights this nearly-saurian stylistic tic in his essay, by singling out the following passage, which serves our purpose here nicely: “In that sleep and in sleeps to follow the judge did visit. Who would come other? A great shambling mutant, silent and serene. Whatever his antecedents he was something wholly other than their sum, nor was there system by which to divide him back into his origins for he would not go. Whoever would seek out his history through what unraveling of loins and ledgerbooks must stand at last darkened and dumb at the shore of a void without terminus or origin and whatever science he might bring to bear upon the dusty primal matter blowing down out of the millennia will discover no trace of any ultimate atavistic egg by which to reckon his commencing.” (310)

This sort of writing can be effective in small doses, as in the case of Lovecraft’s short stories. Over the course of a novel of epic length, however, attempting to decipher the meaning of McCarthy’s words merely becomes a psychic endurance test. Along with Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, I read Blood Meridian cover to cover, not because I enjoyed it, but because I hated it, and felt that by finishing the book I was somehow defeating an unseen, unfathomably alien intelligence that had lured me into a masochistic test of wills, from which I could only emerge victorious after reading my way through the gauntlet of senseless words laid across the page.

The hands on the clock seemed to draw to a standstill as I read the book, as “time [was] often slowed down to a repetitive and homogenous grind, where the action seem[ed] frozen into a gaudy fresco of massacres and mutilation.” (Dorson, 110)

And now, having read the book and written of it, I hope to never speak of it again. I will say, though, that in spite of my genuine loathing for Blood Meridian, I was somewhat excited to learn that it was being considered for film adaptation by two men, first Ridley Scott, and then later by Andrew Dominik. Both men eventually dropped out of the project for different reasons, Scott to pursue a then-unspecified project, and Andrew Dominik to helm an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel about the ill-fated starlet Marilyn Monroe, Blonde, tentatively scheduled for a 2016 release and starring the lovely Naomi Watts, of Mulholland Drive fame.

How, the reader may wonder, after this scathing essay, could I be looking forward to a film adaptation of a book I despise? The answer is simple: My issue lies with the prose of McCarthy’s work, which, when converted into visual poetry (preferably by Aussie Andrew Dominik, who helmed the masterful adaptation of Ron Hansen’s Western, The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) might become a thing entirely separate from, and wholly superior to, the novel that serves as its source material.

It has been said that mediocre books make great films, and both Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and Francis Coppola’s The Godfather, based respectively on inferior works by Peter Benchley and Mario Puzzo, lend more than a modicum of credence to this theory. It is, then, perhaps more than plausible that a great film can be salvaged from the wreckage of Cormac McCarthy’s bloated Western.

I would like to close this essay by saying that, despite the sometimes snarky, sometimes exasperated tone of this work, I by no means meant the assessment in the sulfurous spirit of, for instance, Mark Twain’s condemnation of James Fenimore Cooper’s writing, Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses. When Twain vented his spleen (with, it should be added, a satiric scalpel far finer than mine), he meant to encompass the whole corpus of Cooper’s body of work. I, on the other hand, can only reiterate that, with the exception of Blood Meridian, I have enjoyed most of what I’ve read by McCarthy, that I consider him to be a far superior writer to me, and that, long after the three Westerns I’ve written have faded into the ether of memory, or sit stored and cached on some seldom-frequented server at the corner of the internet, people will be still talking about Blood Meridian, and Cormac McCarthy.


Dorson, James. Demystifying the Judge: Law and Mythical Violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Journal of Modern Literature. Vol. 36, Aesthetic Politics-Revolutionary and Counter-Revolutionary (Winter 2013), pp. 105-121. Indiana University Press. Print.

Evans, Justin. To Disenchant and Disintoxicate (sic): Blood Meridian as Critical Epic. Modern Philology, Vol. 112, No. 2 (November 2014), pp. 405-426. University of Chicago Press. Print.

Phillips, Dana. History and the Ugly Facts of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. American Literature, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Jun., 1996), pp. 433-460. Duke University Press. Print.

Joseph Hirsch is the author of The Dove and the Crow, a weird western.

Get Bent by Joseph Hirsch

I like “genre-bending,” as Rory Costello once called what I do. Sometimes I get carried away with myself and piss readers off with my experimentation. My novel Kentucky Bestiary (available from Paragraph Line, buy ten copies now, thank you) was, much like the alter-ego of scribe John Fante “neither fish nor fowl.” The first half of the book was a police procedural, while the second half was a supernatural horror story.

There are at least two “three-star” reviews on Amazon for Kentucky Bestiary. A three-star review, according to the Great Satan Jeff Bezos, means the readers thought the book was just okay, not good. One of the readers said, in essence, “Hirsch was on a roll with the police procedural, but all of a sudden the story dovetailed into this absurd horror and fantasy yarn.” Another three-star reviewer said, basically, “The first half of the book was so boring, and was just another humdrum cop yarn. But the second half, the horror half, was great.”

The comedian Mitch Hedberg (RIP) once said, “You can’t please everybody. And last night, all of those people were at my show.” I guess you could say that, as a writer, I can’t please everybody, and all those people read Kentucky Bestiary. But I wrote it, and I like it, and whether it is selfish of me to say this or not, I feel like that is all a writer need say to feel (s)he accomplished his/her goals.

Melville and Fitzgerald died believing themselves to be mediocrities. Their books get a lot of “five-star” reviews these days, but if Amazon existed in the American Renaissance or Roaring Twenties period, I’ll bet you Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby would not have been treated as classics, but as puzzling failures.

Not that I’m comparing myself to either one of those men. The bottom line is that I will have to be dead for fifty years or so before I get to find out whether or not I’m worth a shit as a writer, at least as far as history is concerned.

Editor’s note: Joseph Hirsch is the author of The Dove and the Crow.

Why do we have to wait so long for Westerns that are worth a shit? By Joseph Hirsch

Joseph Hirsch is the author of The Dove and the Crow from Paragraph Line Books.

gun, fight, gunfighter, cowboy, west, wild, danger, adventure, blur, abstract, group, team, posse, justice, law, police, marshall, western,


Roger Ebert (RIP), in his review of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, observed that “[t]he Western has been mostly in hibernation since the 1970s, but now I sense it stirring in rebirth. We have a program to register the most-read reviews on my Web site, and for the month of September the overwhelming leader was not Eastern Promises, not Shoot ’em up, not The Brave One, but 3:10 to Yuma. Now here is another Western in the classical tradition.”

Ebert was right, of course, but his musings beg the question: how many genres go into “hibernation?” Jesse James was the first great Western since Unforgiven, in my opinion (1992). Jesse James was made in 2007. Fifteen years is a long time to wait, for anything.

It doesn’t seem to me like other genres (from crime pictures to romantic comedies) “hibernate” or are even held to the same standard as the Western. The genre (both in print and film) is always, according to some, on its deathbed. I never hear people proclaim that “SF is dead,” probably because it is, by nature, future and idea-oriented, whereas the Western (excluding subgenres) is concerned with the past, which is fixed in place.

Just thinking out loud.

PTSD as permanent pubescence by Joseph Hirsch

Editor’s note: Joseph Hirsch wrote Kentucky Bestiary and The Dove and the Crow.


What is PTSD? According to Wikipedia, the only source worth quoting aside from the King James Bible, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as major stress, sexual assault, terrorism, or other threats on a person’s life. The diagnosis may be given when a group of symptoms, such as disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyperarousal, continue for more than a month after the occurrence of a traumatic event.”

For every person it’s different, I suppose. A woman who was sexually assaulted is likely to experience her PTSD differently than me, a veteran of the war in Iraq.

Portrayals of the disorder range from the highly memorable (Travis Bickle, in Taxi Driver), to high parody (John Rambo, as played by Sylvester Stallone in the Rambo series). The Great War vet and author Ernst Junger once said something to the effect that war was a schooling of the heart, a fire that could temper a man like steel in the forge, or melt him if he was not up to the challenge. What’s so absurd about the fictional character of John Rambo is not so much that he is tempered by his experiences in Indochina; he is given a steroid injection by the Vietnam war, which is a silly bit of farce that Gus Hasford called “bullshit,” shouting it from the rooftops (Gus was a marine who wrote The Short-Timers, which was turned into the Stanley Kubrick film, Full Metal Jacket). I think Sly Stallone actually spent the Vietnam War coaching soccer at a boarding school for young girls in Sweden, but I’m too lazy to consult the oracular vulgate of Wikipedian truths to find out right now.

The most even-handed treatment of the illness, for my money, is John Sheppard’s Alpha Mike Foxtrot. Read it if you haven’t (I may read it again here, soon).

For me, PTSD is like a second, permanent pubescence. My nerves are a mess, and I never truly feel calm. I try to limit my interaction with women to my professional life (writing and pursuing my Master’s) degree. It’s not that I’m a misogynist; it’s just that women are biologically trained, for solid evolutionary reasons, to despise weak men.

I remember a female comedian a long time ago (maybe Judy Tenuta) having a bit about how she had to fart really badly on a date, held it in, and then exploded like a balloon releasing helium the moment she got home.

I feel a psychic pressure akin to Judy’s gas, building in me constantly, making my hands tremble and my voice quake. Frankly, the act of trying to conceal how weak I am (how I was melted by the fire to which Junger alluded), is just too taxing, and I prefer to stay home, listen to music, write, and walk my dog.

Another comic (this time I’m sure it was Bill Hicks) once said that the show Blind Date made masturbation look like a spiritual quest. I have to concur, and I think I’m retired from the dating game, permanently now.

My only hope for love or companionship at this point is going the Bukowski route, using what I think he called the dim flame of his literary talent to draw butterflies.


How far are Furries from Zooeys? by Joseph Hirsch

Joseph Hirsch is the author of The Dove and the Crow, now available from Paragraph Line Books. 

Sex is strange, and, while it’s not my place to judge, “furries” strike me as rather odd fetishists. A furry, according to Wikipedia, the only source that can be quoted according to the latest MLA regulations, states that “…furry fandom is a subculture interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics. Examples of anthropomorphic attributes include exhibiting human intelligence and facial expressions, the ability to speak, walk on two legs, and wear clothes. Furry fandom is also used to refer to the community of people who gather on the Internet and at furry conventions.”

Furries needn’t extend their interest to the bedroom, but I’m a pervert, so I’m only interested in the salacious aspects of their lifestyle.

An even more bizarre (and, as of now, entirely fictional) subculture, is that of the “Zooeys.” Zooeys are the creation of  Jon Konrath, and they inhabit the dystopian alternative present day presented in his cyberpunk opus, The Memory Hunter. Zooeys, to put it bluntly, are humans who take advantage of surgical enhancements, implants, and alterations, in order to turn themselves into “transhuman” creatures, if you will, half-human and half bull hybrids, for instance, resembling Minotaurs of mythology. These are men and women who pay beacoup bucks to acquire tails, snouts, fur, etcetera.

My question is how far are we from this fictional creation of Konrath’s becoming a reality?

I read quite a few blogs, from the far right View from the Right (hosted by the now-deceased culture warrior Lawrence Auster), to the far left-leaning Beyond High Brow, run by Robert Lindsay, a linguist and diehard communist. Both Lindsay and Auster were adherents of what Margaret Thatcher (channeling Austrian school economist Robert Higgs, I believe) once called the “ratchet effect,” the idea that when the Left has cultural (or economic, or political) power, they can continue to turn the wheel to their advantage, but all conservatives can hope to do is not to turn back the wheel, but rather just to hold it in place and stave off further leftist gains.

So, how many more turns of the wheel must we wait before these man-beast hybrids who give reactionaries nightmares are copulating in our streets? I give it six months. Oh, and check out The Memory Hunter, if you haven’t read it yet.

Vaginal Cosmogony by Joseph Hirsch

Editor’s Note: Joseph Hirsch is the author of the recently released The Dove and the Crow


Awhile back I was doing research for a project about a goddess who assumes human form, a woman may, in fact, have been responsible for the creation of the entire universe unbeknownst to the people in whose midst she walked.

One of the books I read in preparation for the project was The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religions of the Earth by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor. One of the images in the book, painted by Sjoo, was very striking, and was entitled “God Giving Birth.” It featured a hairless woman squatting, her bald head surrounded by celestial bodies, a child emerging from her womb.

As I read the book, and even as I wrote the “Goddess,” project previously mentioned, a question that some might regard as ridiculous kept springing to mind. Was there a woman whose beauty was powerful enough for me to realistically imagine not just a child, but the entire universe, emanating from her body?

I’ve asked myself the question repeatedly, and, scouring everything from personal experience to popular culture, two likely candidates spring to mind. One is a woman personally known to me, who I won’t embarrass by naming; the other is Anjelica Huston.

In her prime (or at least the beginning of my pubescence) she presented a beauty, power, and intelligence that was not just attractive, but somewhat terrifying. I remember watching her in the filmic adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel, The Witches. I especially remember the scene wherein she turned a boy into a mouse, and I remember wishing she’d turn me into her personal mouse.

Hers was (and is) a beauty which recalls the immortal words of the French poet Charles Baudelaire: “There are women who inspire you with the desire to conquer them and to take your pleasure of them; but this one fills you only with the desire to die slowly beneath her gaze.”

Weird Acid or Acidic Weirdness? By Joseph Hirsch


gun, fight, gunfighter, cowboy, west, wild, danger, adventure, blur, abstract, group, team, posse, justice, law, police, marshall, western,


I’ve written three Westerns now. The first was Orphan Elixir, a novella about a demolitions expert who heads to California after the Civil War and does battle with a cannibal lurking in the countryside. That book was published by The Western Online Press LLC, after being serialized on their site in six monthly installments. They paid a maximum of five dollars per story installation at the time I solicited the piece, and they split the 30,000 word piece up into six monthly installments. In other words, I got $30 for 30,000 words, or approximately $1 per thousand words that I wrote. There are, it seems, more lucrative professions than that of an independent writer, like, for example, panhandling.

My next Western was a decent novel called War-Crossed Eyes, whose presentation was botched by a shitty cover that looked like it was shat out of Fabio Lanzoni’s ass during his tenure as a cover model for Harlequin romance novels. Don’t believe me? Google “War-Crossed Eyes,” by Joseph Hirsch. I hate to talk shit about a publisher, but goddamn!

My third (and best) Western is a little book called The Dove and the Crow. This book concerns a whore in the Old West who is blessed with an abundance of magical powers.

Orphan Elixir has been classified as a “weird Western” by readers, while War-Crossed Eyes has not been classified as anything by anyone, because no one other than me and the editor have read the goddamn thing (except maybe John Sheppard, thanks again, man).

I’m having a hard time classifying The Dove and the Crow. One oughtn’t to always feel compelled to categorize things, but I’m bored and I have a little time on my hands right now, so let me give the matter a bit of thought.

The Dove and the Crow is either a) a weird Western or b) an acid Western, or c) some combination thereof, or something else entirely, perhaps.

In brief, an acid Western was defined by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum as, “conjur[ing] up a crazed version of autodestructive (sic) white America at its most solipsistic, hankering after its own lost origins.”

I’m phenotypically white, and probably somewhat “autodestructive”; I mean, I have to stress the somewhat, since, while I did something dumb like volunteering for a war that didn’t have to be fought (which marks me as self-destructive), I’ve never had anything larger than a finger in my ass (and it was my own experimental probing at the age of sixteen). I mention this prurient detail not to debase myself or the reader, but to make the point that if one isn’t even willing to indulge in more than mildly masochistic tendencies, they’re probably not all that self-destructive.

I am somewhat solipsistic, because I’m a writer, and writing is navel-gazing, even when a writer observing the outside world, since that appraisal is being filtered through the writer’s own biases and sensibilities. I am definitely “crazed,” and so must concede that, since I personally bear the traits or hallmarks, in part or in toto, that Rosenbaum describes in defining the genre of the acid Western, my work will probably also reflect my personality, to an extent.

As for the weird Western, Wikipedia says, the “…Weird Western is a literary subgenre that combines elements of the Western with another literary genre, usually horror, occult, or fantasy.” Wikipedia is never wrong, and my book contains horror (skinning and scalping), the occult (a medicine man who summons beaver to devour his hated enemy, the white man), and fantasy (a goddess figure with the power to heal wounds at the merest snap of her fingers).

So…The Dove and the Crow: Weird Western or acid Western? I think Grandpa Simpson said it best, when the authorities asked him if his ranting was meant to stop them from pursuing Homer while the Simpson patriarch was off on a lark, or if, in fact, he was just senile. “A little bit from column a, and a little bit from column b.”

Readers who want a free copy of the book are invited to go to www.storycartel.com , or to contact the author directly at joehirs123@aol.com  Feel free to read the book and make up your own mind, about which genre it may or may not belong to, or the more prosaic matter of whether or not the book is any damn good, in your opinion.

Peace and soul, as Soul Train’s Don Cornelius once signed off…


P.S. To all potential female correspondents, no “pegging” requests, despite my former allusion to previous anal exploration. I am saving my rectal virginity for my fortieth birthday, which is still some years off. At that time, if you wish to anally wreck me, direct all correspondence to the aforementioned email address.

Signing off for real this time,

Joseph Sullivan Hirsch

Horses in Space by Joseph Hirsch

Editor’s note: Joseph Hirsch is the author of The Dove and the Crow. Read it, won’t you?


Awhile back I wrote a book about two boys who grew up in the 80s, and, while researching 80s ephemera for the novel, I kept asking myself, Wasn’t there a cartoon about some cowboys in space? I did a little bit of internet sleuthing, and it turns out, there was.

According to Wikipedia, the most reliable source not just on the internet, but in the entire universe, “BraveStarr is an American Space Western animated television series. The original episodes aired from September 1987 to February 1988 in syndication.” I didn’t even know there was such a subgenre as the “space Western,” but Wikipedia tends to broaden one’s horizons while simultaneously dumbing them down, sort of like the internet as a whole, and apparently the subgenre’s antecedents date back to the early Flash Gordon serials and also informed the décor of the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars (note: the fact that I wrote the previous sentence with a straight face probably suggests I don’t know what I vagina is, but I can assure the reader that at one point, I was, in fact, sexually active).

I took the plunge and watched a full episode on YouTube. It was the pilot episode, so one has to make allowances and not judge too harshly, since any show needs some breathing room, before it is retooled and perfected. This episode in question dealt with Bravestarr, a native American lawman in outer space, and his faithful companion, 30-30, a talking anthropomorphic horse with opposable thumbs who stands upright on two legs, and reminded me quite a bit of the Zooey creatures in Jon Konrath’s brilliant, The Memory Hunter.

Bravestarr sort of looks like a cross between John Redcorn (the Native American who cuckolds Dale Gribble on the cartoon King of the Hill) and the character of Shep Proudfoot in Fargo, the Native American who belt-whips  Steve Buscemi’s ass after Buscemi tells him to “go smoke a fucking piece pipe.”

It’s hard to describe the show conceptually, but I’ll try. It’s basically a cross between Blade Runner and My Little Pony, or perhaps a mashup of Rainbow Brite and William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk masterwork, Neuromancer, except for kids. The show’s heavy on the moralizing (the moral is delivered at the tail-end of each show, a la G.I. Joe ((kids, don’t do “spin,” a hallucinogenic drug featured on the show whose effects are akin to those of LSD))),and the whole affair is surprisingly multicultural for a Reagan-era relic.

Parts of the show I didn’t understand. For instance, why is the anthropomorphic, gun-toting horse known as “30-30″ when that laser cannon he’s packing is obviously a smoothbore that couldn’t fire Winchester rifle rounds (30-30s) if Bravestarr’s life depended on it? I would also like to know more about the misnamed bipedal horse’s homeland, which is called…wait for it…the Equestroids.

All in all, I didn’t mind wasting eighteen minutes (no commercials on YouTube) watching this thing. In conclusion, let me add that, while this show was nowhere near as good as Sergio Leone’s sweeping hymn to the Western genre, Once Upon a Time in the West, I did actually enjoy watching Bravestarr more than, say, slamming my penis in a car door.

Won’t you take me to Flavor Town: A romance in one act by Joseph Hirsch


Editor’s note: Joseph Hirsch is the author of the Paragraph Line Books release The Dove and the Crow.

Guy Fieri, with his iced blond spikey hair and bowling shirt curling with licking flames, looked like a walking time capsule from the year 1994. His arms and neck were lobster-red, on account of his having made the trip in his ’68 ragtop Chevy with the top down. The sweltering Savannah sun dripped humidity as oppressive as thick molasses, and sphagnum dripped from the weeping trees that lined the gravel path leading to the plantation house.

A black woman, melanin deepened almost to cobalt by the sun, bowed as Mr. Fieri parked his car. She wore a French maid’s outfit. “Ma name is Delilah,” she said.

Guy smiled, and turned redder. He pointed a beefy forearm toward the woman and said, “I love that Georgia accent!”

“Thank ya, Mr. Ferry,” she said, mangling his last name, but charming him all the same. He was famous, the most popular chef with male viewers over at the Food Network, but sometimes people still screwed up his Italian surname when they tried it on for size. He slammed the car door on his ragtop, whose metallic black body was hot enough to hum from the force of the sun.

Another member of the staff appeared. This one was a liveried black man who resembled Uncle Ben, with a wide grin and shock of snowy hair. He stood next to one of the ionic columns fronting the estate, and said, “Ms. Deen will see you now, boss man.” His voice had as much twang to it as a finely-tuned banjo.

Guy stifled a bit of uneasiness, acrid bile swimming in his stomach, and managed a smile. Maybe it was those Extreme Fajita Flingers drenched in Ranch dressing that he ate earlier that were making his gut hurt right now, or it could have been the fact that he hadn’t had a chance to write down his Zing Zang Flank Steak slathered in Donkey Sauce recipe for Ms. Deen, but something was bothering him, deep within the clogged arteries of his heart.

He walked toward the front of the building, tweaked his diamond-studded shades, and said, “Let’s go to Flavor Town!”

The maid and the butler shared a conspiratorial laugh, before the butler said, “That’s what Miss Dean be intending to do, boss.” He opened the front door of the mansion with a white-gloved hand. “She’s about to take you to Flavor Town.”

“I’m ready,” Guy said, his voice gravelly as always, as if he was gargling rubbing alcohol and his glottis was on fire.

“Right this way.” The butler pointed a white glove toward the kitchen, where the rich smell of egg and frying cheese drew him, luring him into the trap that celebrity chef Paula Deen had set for him when she first extended him this invitation to her Savannah mansion.

Guy crossed the kitchen’s threshold, and what he saw horrified him, but it was too late to turn back. The door slammed shut behind him, and he heard the turn of a key whose click echoed as if this room of vulcanized counters, rosined wood, and marble were to be his tomb.

“Hey ya’ll!” Paula Deen’s rubbery double-chin jittered like a turkey waddle. The rest of her flesh, he saw, was not quite as sunburnt. Paula was naked, except for some strange device harnessed around her waist, which was cinched tightly and concealed the vast majority of her stretchmark-scarred, southern fried cellulite.

“Wait a minute,” Guy said, trying the knob of the door behind him again, to no avail. “This isn’t Flavor Town!” Celebrity Chef Paula Deen smiled, and she savored his fear like the sadistic mistress she was. She could smell the terror in the sweat that dripped from the gelled liberty spikes jutting from the chef’s platinum blonde cockscomb.

Paula turned so that she was facing him now directly now. Some sort of a confectionary phallus, a strap-on made from a frozen wedge of cheesecake, jutted from the leather and brass studded harness she wore around her waist.

“Sugar,” she said, accent dripping Georgia pride and hospitality. “I don’t know if you got taste buds in that sweet little ass of yours, but if so…” She walked until she was behind him, and shoved him up against the vulcanized kitchen range. “You’re going to Flavor Town. You’re going to Flavor Town, long and hard.”

“Wait a minute!” He held up a hand in protest, but Paula gripped his right forearm, and his other arm, and pinned both limbs against the tiled countertop.

The Georgian chef undid Guy’s belt in one swift motion, and his pants dropped to the floor. “Ain’t no ‘wait a minute,’ sugar.” She leaned closely into his right ear, bit the fleshy lobe, and her hot breath came in minty gusts that smelled like chilled Georgian julep.

“Rachael Ray’s more of a man than you are.” She wended her right hand beneath the fabric of his boxer shorts, which were patterned with licking tendrils of red flame, just like his trademark bowling shirt. “Ain’t gonna be no problem, is it, sugar?” She now licked the ear into which she spoke, and Guy, against his will, noticed his prostate slicking with volutes of ass milk, nature’s donkey sauce.

Paula slowly slid the middle finger of her right hand into Guy Fieri’s puckered sphincter. Guy let out his trademark growl, followed by a high pitched squeal counterpointed by the reflexive contraction of his anal muscles, as he accommodated Ms. Deen’s finger to the last knuckle.

“That’s it, sugar. Let Mama bring out the bitch in you.”

Guy leaned forward on the table, fanning his arms on the countertop, forming the wings of an invisible angel with his breaststroke, as Paula wriggled and writhed her finger in his ass until the wedge of frozen cheesecake slid into his sphincter, widening the orifice until the leather harness was flush against the flabby celebrity chef’s pimply ass.

She massaged his shoulders and whispered a compliment in his saliva-slicked ear. “You give up the balloon knot like a pro.”

“Dick me down!” Guy Fieri shouted, bucking up against the wedge of cheese, taking it like a newly-inducted catamite. “Take me to Flavor Town!”

“You know,” Paula said, casually as she bucked against him, the frozen cheesecake propagator moving on a trajectory smooth as Astroglide on eiderdown, now that Guy’s prostate was pumping like a newly-discovered oil patch.

“That bitch Barbara Walters said my Cookbook for the Lunch Box Set was something I should be ashamed of.” Paula worked her hips as if she was a schoolgirl hoola-hooping on a hot spring day. Her hips swept left and right, a loving orbit that made Guy insensate with pleasure and made it all the more difficult to hear the words she spoke as she sodomized him. “She wanted to know who was I to tell kids to have cheesecake for breakfast, chocolate cake and meat loaf for lunch.”

Paula pulled the wedge of frozen cheesecake from Guy’s ass, and there was a suctioning pop as the gourmet strap-on came free of the now-widened rectum. Guy reached his hands behind his back, pulled his ass cheeks apart in order to make it easier for Paula Deen to reenter him, at the moment of her choosing.

“I say better fat and happy than thin and sad.”

“Please!” Guy moaned. He wriggled his ass from left to right, one-half of an unfulfilled mating ritual, begging for that sweet cheesecake cock to couple with his rectum again.

“‘Please’ what, sugar?”

“Bang me till I have type two diabetes in my asshole!”

“You want that Diabetus?” She said, pronouncing the word like TV spokesman Wilford Brimley.

“I got to have that diabetes in my asshole!”

Paula grabbed a fistful of Guy’s liberty hair spikes, caked with gel and hard as dry spaghetti. She guided his face toward a saucepan of heavy chocolate syrup that was untouched on the countertop until now. She spoke derisively. “That uppity Negress Michelle Obama wants kids doing jumping jacks twenty-four hours a day. Southern kids is meant to be fat.”

She slammed Guy’s face into the saucepan, until it was coated in a thick layer of chocolate. “We do things different down here under the banner of the Stars and Bars.”

Guy attempted to speak, with his face submerged in the chocolate. Ebony bubbles exploded as he struggled to breathe. Paula pulled his head from the pan where he’d just endured the chocolate waterboarding. His face was now covered in thick candied chocolate, and, though the confection was far tastier than burnt cork, she thought this delectable blackface looked a site better than that of the famed minstrel, Al Jolson.

She licked the face of her newly-christened darkie, and as the Food Network‘s Guy Fieri experienced an earthshaking orgasm in his quaking prostate, which put him up in his tiptoes like a ballerina, he knew he was not only Paula Deen’s bitch, but her total and absolute slave now.

1882: A James Odyssey by Joseph Hirsch


Editor’s note: Joseph Hirsch is the author of The Dove and the Crow, the latest release from Paragraph Line Books.

I’ve read far more books than I’ve seen films, which means that after I’ve read a book, I tend to know whether or not I’ve encountered greatness. This isn’t always the case with movies, since, as mentioned, I’m not as familiar with movies as I am with books. The first time I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, I didn’t say to myself, “That was great!” as I would after reading a great book. I said to myself “What the hell was that?”

Most movies just don’t work for me. I think a small handful are great, and I watch them repeatedly, because they never get old to me. These films include Dawn of the Dead (the George A Romero 1979 version), Once Upon a Time in America, 2001: A Space Odyssey (as I mentioned before), and now, most recently The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It is, as I think John Lennon once observed about 2001: A Space Odyssey, the kind of thing a fellow can watch once a week.

Even a good movie is one I don’t want to see twice, but with the great ones, no matter how many times I see them, it’s always a new experience. Something changes, and it always feels like the first viewing. So what, I keep asking myself, keeps bringing me back to Jesse James (forgive the truncation of the long title, which was a point of contention with a lot of critics, who thought it, and the film, too languorous)?

People who love the movie (and it has quite a few devotees) cite things like the wonderful cinematography and the lush score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, along with meticulous period detail and Oscar-worthy performances. These people are all correct, to one degree or another, but talent and production values alone don’t bear obsessive repeat viewings that still don’t begin to unlock the mystery contained in a great film.

It seems strange to compare a period Western to a great science fiction classic, but I believe both 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Assassination of Jesse James produced the same reaction in me upon initial viewing, made me scratch my head and say to myself What the hell was that?

Awhile back I was watching a documentary about the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, and,  as the subject invariably turned to his SF masterpiece, someone (I forget who and I’m too lazy to check) observed that “the pieces don’t quite fit, and this gives the film its mysterious structure,” or words to that effect. Whoever made this observation is right, both about the structure of 2001, and about how this disjointedness is an asset rather than a liability.

I won’t recap the plot of 2001 for the reader at this point. Anyone crazy enough to follow my logic this far has already seen both movies. Suffice it to say that Jesse James jumps all over the place in narrative terms, just like 2001. It starts out being about Jesse and his brother and a gang of petty thieves, with the Coward Robert Ford orbiting them as a hanger-on.

Then there is a subplot involving Jessie’s cousin, Wood Hite, played Jeremy Renar, who becomes insulted when another James Gang member sleeps with “his daddy’s wife.” The movie at this point does a brilliant job of conveying Jesse’s paranoia, as he rides around visiting various members of his gang, trying to ferret out their degree of loyalty or treachery, in conversations that take quite a while to unfold.

Eventually, brothers Bob and Charlie Ford conspire to either kill or apprehend Jesse James in order to claim the reward offered for the outlaw’s hide. There are very few shootouts, no Indians raids or whooping war parties in the movie, and there is quite a bit of back-shooting; the only face-to-face gunfights are clumsy affairs.

I heard that Rock Hudson walked out of the premier screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, muttering to himself “Can someone tell me what the hell that was all about?”

I could imagine John Wayne having a similar reaction to the almost anti-Western demystification that is Jesse James. But here’s the thing: as the movie deconstructs the myth of Jesse James, it constructs an entirely new puzzle, not the sort of deliberately enigmatic structure of a David Lynch movie (sorry David), but something arrived at more organically.

At some point, as the title of the film makes clear, Bob Ford shoots Jesse James, and just as 2001’s Astronaut Bowman races helplessly through a tunnel of light and arrives to face his death in the form of a black monolith, Bob Ford is pushed forward, propelled through train rides and saloons toward the final moment where Edward O’Kelly shouts “Hello, Bob!” before discharging his shotgun into the Coward’s brain.

I have watched the following sequence hundreds, if not thousands of times:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHKE_L76JG4

I have watched it and thought about the year I spent in Iraq, my own false bravado as a young man serving in an occupying Army, my own “pretensions of ruthlessness,” cold-bloodedness,” and “dispassion.” I have watched the sequence on nights when I stayed up wondering if there was a kernel of truth contained at the heart of Christianity, if in fact there is an afterlife, and I have watched the sequence on days when thoughts of suicide flittered through my mind like moths trapped beneath lampshades.

Forget that scene, though. Take another. Try this one:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFaCvyT8Mpw) So many scenes in the movie already have the mythopoetic feel of having existed forever on celluloid, like the backseat car scene in On the Waterfront, or any immortal scene in Casablanca or The Godfather that you care to name. I don’t care much for Brad Pitt outside of this performance, and, since I watch the same four or five movies over and over again, I’ll probably never ever watch another movie with Casey Affleck in it. But they (and the entire supporting cast) are men possessed in this movie. The performances feel haunted, as if the men we’re watching on-screen are like Bela Lugosi or Rudolph Valentino, and have been dead for a long time already. Much ink has been spilled damning and praising this film, but my favorite observation is from film critic Stephen Whitty, who said the movie was an “epic film that’s part literary treatise, part mournful ballad, and completely a portrait of our world, as seen in a distant mirror.” So many period dramas feel like forced affairs, where modern actors play dress up and fail to really give the viewer the sense that they are inhabiting the past. Jesse James, along with Once Upon a Time in America and Barry Lyndon, is a rare bird, a period piece that pulls off the impossible trick of making the viewer feel as if they are seeing a movie filmed in the distant past.  Watch this scene with Sam Rockwell, portraying Robert’s brother, Charley Ford:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fi5orKhETo

Think of a man you know or knew from real life, guilt-stricken, broken, an alcoholic uncle perhaps, or cousin who committed suicide. Tell me that’s not him.

I’ll put this piece to bed before I make a claim too wild for even the most indulgent reader to countenance. I’ll close, though, by saying that, having watched this movie a few hundred times, and preparing to watch it a few hundred more, there is an adjective I would use to describe it that I’ve never used to describe a movie (and probably never will use again): It is a wise film, a movie that knows things, about youth, aging, regret, shame, and guilt.

Jack Nicholson once observed that, whatever one thought about Kubrick’s films, one had to acknowledge that his movies were conscious. That’s a strange way to refer to a film, as if it was a sentient entity, but that’s the way I feel about The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It is, like 2001, a movie that laughs at me and beats me every time I try to unriddle it.