- Today in Tabs
All my pretty hobbyhorses.
Honorable mention to Donna Haraway for “the Chthulucene,” which is a philosophically sophisticated concept hobbled by a name that sounds like a Flying Spaghetti Monster Epic Bacon joke if you grew up on the internet. It’s worth getting past the name, here’s a little taste of Haraway’s flow:
But unfortunately the name is a non-starter for broad adoption. To me the only choice is William Gibson’s “jackpot,” although he didn’t exactly coin the term. In Ploughshares Rachel Nevins excerpted Gibson’s 2014 novel “The Peripheral” where a character describes the jackpot as:
For me what makes “jackpot” rise above options like “the terrible twenties” or the entertaining “assholocene” is its referential ambiguity. I don’t usually think of a jackpot as a negative thing. A jackpot is something you win, right? You pull a slot machine handle, the wheels spin, the cherries line up: jackpot! You scoop up the coins.
But there’s a darker edge to this word. To find yourself ”in a jackpot” means to get in a jam, to be in trouble. In 2018, Deadspin’s Timothy Burke (not sticking to sports) traced that second meaning from a 2016 baseball argument through Baltimore police slang, World War Two era Western novels, and back to Baltimore again where he found it in a 1926 Baltimore Sun article about the practice of gambling on the ownership of slaves; literally putting enslaved people “in the jackpot” of a card game.
According to at least one guy on Reddit1 this sense of jackpot “was common parlance” on cattle ranches. This thread finally reminded me where else I’ve seen “jackpot” used to mean “trouble,” and of course it was Cormac McCarthy. He used it at least twice, in “All the Pretty Horses:”
…and later in “No Country For Old Men:”
Ol’ Cormac has been on my mind since a re-read of Justin Taylor’s Bookforum review of “The Passenger” and “Stella Maris” earlier this week. He’s also been on Heather Havrilesky’s mind—she wrote in Ask Polly today about the difference between trying to get somewhere and just trying to exist where you are:
Gibson may have given us this idea of “the jackpot,” but his novels are strictly concerned with the time before it and the time after it. As he told Joshua Rothman, he struggles to imagine what the jackpot itself looks like:
The actual jackpot is a blank space in Gibson’s chronology. But McCarthy’s books are all jackpot. Rawlins is immediately proven right in “All The Pretty Horses:” what this is is just a jackpot, and that jackpot persists through three novels. “No Country” is a jackpot in both senses: an unexpected fortune and an unfolding disaster. Cornelius Suttree meanders through the varied and baroque jackpots of every other character in his book, as well as his own. The abortive thriller elements in “The Passenger” are a jackpot that Bobby Western can’t even bring himself to care about anymore, he’s so exhausted by a lifetime of it, and the book reflects his indifference. The crashed airplane, the missing passenger, the government agents, it’s all just more jackpot that doesn’t add up to anything.
In all of them, the plot goes “from bad to worse and you never arrive anywhere at all,” but every place along the way is “somehow more alive than ever.” McCarthy lavishes description on his landscapes like a writerly van Gogh. Here, this is from “Outer Dark:”
This is part of a hallucinatory scene where Culla Holme abandons the child of incest he and his sister Rinthy conceived and birthed. It’s yet another jackpot, but the horrors of it unfold in a world where every moment is ravishingly gorgeous, a world that’s “more alive than ever.”
Chayka closes with Adam Tooze wondering “What if the gravitational center is just kind of lost? …There isn’t any longer that anchoring; we drift in a permanent state of being out of equilibrium.” We could do worse than look to McCarthy for clues about how to survive being permanently out of equilibrium, or how not to: Just keep going. Dont stop.
Disney is building a town in North Carolina. Hugh Laurie has fallen on hard times. McDonald’s to compete with Panera in the red hot “fatal lemonade” market. Efforts made “to reassure undergraduates that ‘students who get B pluses at Harvard still do fine in life.’” Patreon just banned Adult baby/diaper lovers en masse, reports Samantha Cole. “I am the mother of dragons, and these are my dragons. I'm collecting galaxy marbles (Men In Black).” —Taylor Swift.
Wired layoffs rumored to be a bloodbath, as Condé continues to extricate itself from the pernicious business of journalism. Scott Nover looked at what’s going on in podcasts right now, where “by just about every metric, podcasts are still gaining popularity with listeners” but no one seems able to make the business work.
Today’s Song: “Badda (Sinais VIP)” by Bianca Oblivion, Onhell and Logan_olm
Thank you for reading Today in Tabs, the online journal of Cormac McCarthy studies. Music Intern Sam chose today’s song with immense and labored wingbeat. I probably should have saved this for tomorrow, but honestly not that much interesting happened in the tabs today so why not take a ride on some of my prettiest hobbyhorses? Please subscribe so Mother doesn’t have to sell the ranch.