The Gnostic Dark Side of Nature in Herman Melville and Cormac McCarthy: Carrying the Fire out of Arcadia

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The persuasion that Nature is, in Leopardi's words, not a caring mother but a “malign or negligent stepmother” is a central idea of the Gnostic thought that has haunted Western culture for centuries. Herman Melville and Cormac McCarthy stand out, among the American writers, as those who have managed to revive this tradition of thought, and to rearticulate it for their respective times, in the most striking way. In their works they force the readers to renegotiate their ideas of the relationship between man and environment, interior and exterior, ethics and ethos. In Moby-Dick, Melville represents the natural environment as the mere superficial layer of an abyss populated by indifferent and ungraspable forces, overwhelming the human being and ultimately crushing him. McCarthy, in particular in The Road, forces his characters to face a natural world that clearly “was not made for man,” and much less for his happiness. In this paper, I evaluate commonalities and differences in the representation of the Gnostic dark side of Nature offered by the two authors. In particular, I focus on the ethical stance taken by the authors in front of the indifference of Nature – namely, Melville's ironic exercise of devotion without faith and McCarthy's elegiac praise of discipline beyond duty – in order to evaluate their potential purport for contemporary ecocritical debate.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteDark Nature: Anti-Pastoral Essays in American Literature and Culture
EditorRichard J. Schneider
Numero di pagine14
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2016

Serie di pubblicazioni



  • Anti-Pastoral
  • Blood Meridian
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Ecocritica
  • Ecocriticism
  • Etica
  • Gnosticism
  • Gnosticismo
  • Herman Melville
  • McCarthy, Cormac
  • Melville, Herman
  • Moby-Dick
  • Morton, Timothy
  • Timothy Morton


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