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Cormac McCarthy’s Love for Science and Mathematics

His interest in science and mathematics were not extraneous hobbies but performed a strong role in the fiction he wrote

The late novelist Cormac McCarthy passed away on June 13th in Santa Fe, leaving a legacy of fictional works grappling with fate, masculine alienation, and the possibility of a transcendent reality. McCarthy’s two last books, The Passenger and Stella Maris, which are intended to be read together, are about a brother and sister who are both brilliant mathematicians, and whose father helped craft the atomic bomb with the Manhattan Project. McCarthy’s work is haunted both by a bleak fatalism and glimpses of an enduring reality beyond the merely physical. His interest in science and mathematics were not extraneous hobbies; they performed a strong role in the fiction he wrote. Nick Romeo writes at Scientific American,

Science is also a source of both the bleak fatalism and the Platonic idealism that run through his fiction. The study of deep history and geologic time informs the quintessential McCarthy conviction that, as the brilliant heroine of Stella Maris says, “The world has created no living thing that it does not intend to destroy.” Yet almost as certain as the triumph of death is the presence of a partially discernible reality that transcends matter. Describing an early mathematical epiphany, the same character says of equations: “They were in the paper, the ink, in me. The universe. Their invisibility could never speak against them or their being.” Though mortal and limited, humans have some access to abiding truths. We can perceive some of reality’s deep, invisible structure. McCarthy spent roughly six decades crafting fiction that hovers on the verge of transcendent insight. He always strove to disclose a more perfect approximation of something true.

-Nick Romeo, Cormac McCarthy’s Work Is Rooted in Science – Scientific American

Romeo also talks about how McCarthy was against the tidy partitions of disciplines so common in academia. He was interested in everything, from biology to boats, from Faulkner to physics. A body of meticulous, perceptive, and mysteriously beautiful prose resulted.

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is the Writer and Editor for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Cormac McCarthy’s Love for Science and Mathematics