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Though his ideal dance of war is both ideological and physical, in that physical action is carried out as a result of an ideological impetus, the Judge's struggle with men-of-the-cloth represents a combative dance in itself. Indeed, the first time we see the Judge and the Kid together is during the Judge's verbal assault on a man named Reverend Green, who gives a heartfelt sermon to a group of Nagadoches residents in a canvas tent The Judge disrupts the proceedings by telling the churchgoers that Green is an impostor and criminal wanted in several states, who sexually violated an eleven year old girl while "clothed in the livery of his God" 7.

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The reverend attempts to discredit the judge by calling him "the devil" 7 , but he is met only with moans of outrage and shock. To cap off his accusations, the Judge also claims that he observed the reverend have "congress with a goat" in Fort Smith, making sure to repeat the word "goat" to a nearby woman for emphasis 7. As I detail later, the Judge identifies the most Apollonian aspect of his surroundings and imbues it with his Dionysian touch, thus setting off his frenzied dance of war against the hated ideology.

Here, Green serves as that symbol of composure and order, yet this veneer is quickly and easily disrupted with gunfire and explosions of violence 7.

Thus, the dance of war eventually causes the physical collapse of two already flimsy, tenuous structures: The tent and the Apollonian illusion The Judge reveals in the bar afterward, to great hilarity, that he had not only never been to Fort Smith, but he had "never laid eyes on the man before" that day, and had "never even heard of him" 8. The Judge's only goal was to generate his Dionysian dance of war and combat the preacher of otherworldly values, not to carry out a personal vendetta.

Besides combating otherworldly values, the Judge's other major priority is to persuade the occasionally reluctant Glanton gang to adopt his love of the earth. Through this, he challenges their occasional demonstrations of Christian belief in an afterlife. In an impromptu lecture on geology, in which the Judge claims to "read news of the earth's origins" , one of his more reluctant students challenges the Judge's notions by quoting him scripture. The Judge, using the situation to his advantage, agrees and holds a rock up in the air, stating, "He does not. And these are his words" The true dance of war is not only about dominating other people and ideas, but about embracing Dionysian amor fati as well, albeit Holden's specific version of it.

Holden equates warfare with a mysterious deity, persuading the gang members of its incomprehensible omnipotence, but ultimately he needs to equate the deity with natural objects as well. The Judge once again relies upon his rhetoric and ethos, and successful persuades his benighted students to nod amongst themselves, "reckoning [the Judge] correct, this man of learning" The Judge, recognizing his success, "encouraged [them] until they were right proselytes of the new order whereupon he laughed at them for fools" They are fools, of course, because no such deity exists.

They merely worship Holden's Zarathustrian construction of meaning by helping him dominate the earth with Dionysian values. He imbues his ideas with a magical presence, correlating them with the will of a deity, merely to persuade the other Glanton gang members to dance to his tune.

The Judge's interest in nature initially seems peaceful and scholarly, scratching notes and making observations like a scrupulous biologist, but it soon becomes apparent that such activities are another way for him to construct meaning through complete domination of other autonomous subjects. The Judge watches bats in flight and makes notes in a small book that accompanies him at every moment. He also stops to "botanize" various plants, "pressing leaves" into this ledger.


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Holden also scrapes off ancient etchings found on a cave wall, depicting various animals and maps, after he faithfully sketches them into his book The Judge later explains the purpose of his scrupulous notations and subsequent destruction of the material: "Whatever exists in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent" Much like his desire to make devout acolytes of his fellow Glanton gang members, he wishes to make detailed notes about all the unknown things within the world and then destroy them, since they exist independent of his instruction.

His cataloging ultimately constitutes a more vulgar form of nature examination than the Zarathustrian kind. His war with meaninglessness does not end in ideological domination, but increases by discovering and lording over nature's unquantifiable mysteries. He denies that human beings may never know everything contained within the world—they must know everything in order to become a true Dionysian lover of life.

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The objects he collects in his ledger, he notes, "may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men's knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth" If nature is the only physical realm left in the wake of God's absence, and there is no hope for an otherworldly plane, all that is meaningful is contained within the earth.

In order for humans to glean meaning in their life, to construct a sort of penultimate amor fati, Holden believes that humans must dominate the earth and become suzerains.


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  • The suzerain, the Judge explains further, "rules even when there are other rulers. His authority countermands local judgments" In order to become suzerain, the Judge must find "autonomous" life that exists without his consent Indeed, his mastery of nature also informs his dance of war—an act of meaning by imposing on the environment itself. When asked how his collection and destruction of biological and geological specimens fits in with his love of war as his principle "trade," he declares that "all other trades are contained within that of war" All acts of valuing simultaneously articulate his desire for power and domination.

    Glanton, responding to Holden's declarations, deems it impossible for a single man to know everything in existence. Holden's response sums up his unique version of Dionysian amorfati: The man who believes the secrets of this world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

    While immersed in a cocooned life, sheltered from the feral world of conflict and aggression, they fail to explore the depths of the earth, which, Holden argues, is more powerful than mere belief, for the consuming elements can wash away the ephemeral markings of mortal men. God is dead, but the earth remains.

    Holden's dogmatic quest for meaning ultimately depends on such a working epistemological framework. It is, however, another argument altogether to proclaim that an apprehension of such natural elements, by dutiful recording them in his book, constitutes a full "knowledge" of them, or merely an act of arbitrary designation or signification by mortal men. He seems aware, in a more Zarathustrian way, of the unquantifiable, filtered nature of historical storytelling and the self-serving impetus behind moral proclamations, for instance.

    It is therefore quite likely that he recognizes that his own recordings do not, actually, constitute a full awareness or apprehension of the object beyond human perception, but rather his own "labeling" and thus interpretation of their materiality. A labeling of all autonomous subjects, is ultimately a bittersweet action for Holden, because he may ultimately realize the failure of his own apprehension.

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    It is for this reason that he destroys them—accounting for his own linguistic failures to epistemologically apprehend them, he would rather not have the objects "exist" at all. Besides combating Apollonian elements, both Holden and Zarathustra embrace eternal return as a fundamental component of their respective dances of war. To reiterate, eternal return emphasizes a cyclical temporal structure, thereby working to pose a Dionysian alternative to the Apollonian, linear version of time. As a figurehead for the eternally recurring dance of war, Holden himself defies the parameters of linear time that Christianity uses as its basis for otherworldly concentration, since past deeds determine future punishment or reward for the dutiful ascetic.

    He then illustrates his point through magic tricks with a coin and a string, tossing a coin out into the darkness, letting it circle the firelight and come back to his hand again After this, he chucks another coin out beyond the firelight, this one much farther, and it too eventually comes back through the flame after a longer pause, emitting a "faint high droning" noise, slapping the judge's hand when it reaches it While some in his audience doubt the veracity of the trick, claiming he secretly palmed another coin in his palm, they are unable to find the thrown coin on the ground the next morning The point of his demonstration, of course, is to give his audience the impression that the coin will return to him no matter how far it is tossed.

    His magic tricks, like his erudite speeches, serve to coax the Glanton gang under his control and disorient their preconceived notions about the cosmological nature of the universe and its temporality. Ultimately, the elimination of the outward looking, consequence-driven temporality that Christian mentality engenders is his goal.

    Consequences may still exist, but they are no longer an object of concern in a world without God, or a world without a post-life paradise. Holden's eternally recurring dance of war transcends those limitations, he implies to the rest of the gang, and allows him to destructively embrace his current moment in accordance with his unique amorfati. While Holden verbally advocates eternal return, he also seems to embody it. He is physically beyond the ravages of time, displaying the same, wrinkle-less, "strangely child-like" countenance throughout the novel 6.

    Indeed, even when the Kid encounters the Judge twenty-eight years after the Glanton gang ended their rampage, the Kid notices "little change or none" in his countenance H In Zarathustra's conception, there are three stages that one's spirit goes through on the path to true amorfati: the camel, the lion, and at last the child As the final stage, the stage of childlike innocence results after a declarative "Yea- Saying" to the eternal recurrence of life, resulting in a temporal shift to a concentration on the present moment Lampert The symbolic stages on the path to life-affirmation are arduous journeys, but Holden, like Zarathustra, seems to have met the child stage by embracing eternal recurrence, physically and mentally.

    Thus he is in an eternally youthful, ageless frame of existence in his affirmation of his present moment, seemingly unconcerned with the events of the past, as he makes clear in another saloon soliloquy regarding the arbitrary, insignificant nature of historical interpretation In the absence of temporal boundaries, where events of the past recur in the present, the past holds no concern for him.

    The members of the Glanton gang also seem to notice Holden's eternally recurring presence.


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    • When the Kid mentions to the ex-priest Tobin that he saw the Judge in Nacogoches, Tobin smiles and says that "every man in the company claims to have encountered that sootysouled rascal in some other place" Everyone in the gang claims to have seen the Judge somewhere in their past. When the gang meets Holden for the first time, he is perched upon the rock in the middle of the desert with little supplies, looking as if "he'd been excpectinfg]" them all to come by at that moment He preternaturally seems to expect their arrival at the middle of nowhere, as if the event had already occurred to the Judge before, and each individual Glanton gang member likewise claims to be encountering the Judge for at least the second time.

      Like the dance of war he lives for, and the Dionysian chaos it generates, Holden himself seems to recur over time throughout the Blood Meridian universe.

      Holden's Dance of War As mentioned, the Judge's persuasive skills are largely successful, at least in the eyes of the vast majority of the Glanton gang. Similar to his previous pontifications, the Judge gives the gang a "sermon" , persuading the gang to join his personal version of amor fati, successfully planting the seed for his Dionysian dance of war.

      Like the end result of many of his speeches, his loyal comrades ride behind him "like the disciples of a new faith" , a religious labeling which recalls the earlier description of the group as "proselytes" of his new order Thus fully entranced, the Glanton gang enact Holden's dance of war from city to city as a destructive collective. They are described as "Spectre horsemen, pale with dust, anonymous in the crenellated heat. Above all else they appeared wholly at venture, primal, provisional, devoid of order. Like beings provoked out of the absolute rock" Thus, after their successful "conversion" to the Judge's personal war for meaning, Holden's unified acolytes ooze Dionysian energy.

      Eager to unleash it, the Glanton Gang rides into a series of towns—which are initially peaceful, ordered and therefore Apollonian—and begin their destructive dance of war, following Holden's instigation by utilizing Nietzsche's pinnacle Dionysian art: Music. The Glanton gang's dance of war in Blood Meridian follows a relatively predictable pattern: 1 The Judge and the rest of the gang ride into a town, which initially embodies Apollonian restraint and order, and typically find and destabilize the authority of the principle source of this order such as a governor, law enforcement, or religious figure ; 2 Holden finds a town musician, or takes up the musical role himself, which serves as a Pavlovian cue for his faithful adherents to begin an initially peaceful dance and then veer into the Dionysian dance of war; 3 the violence or the "spilling of blood" that the Judge requires and Bacchic revelry of the dance of war transforms the initially orderly town into a lawless chaos, usually destabilizing a linear temporal structure by emphasizing the inevitable "return" of such events, leaving the town in a state of ruined emptiness upon their departure.

      The gang's first Dionysian encounter occurs after the gang is invited to a feast and ball in their honor by the citizens of Chihuahua, celebrating their accumulation of Apache scalps. The Judge hears a band begins to play while in the midst of chatting with an educated governor, and quickly escorts the musicians into an adjoining ballroom, where his fellow scalp-hunters sit "grinning" at a group of ladies Striking the cue, Holden and others begin dancing, and the display is initially mundane and peaceful.

      When the governor, serving as the principle embodiment of Apollonian order, excuses himself after midnight, the situation quickly collapses into chaos: Fights broke out. Furniture was disassembeled, men waving chairlegs, candlestands. Two whores grappeled and pitched into a slideboard and went to the floor in a crash of brandyglasses. Jackson, pistols drawn, lurched into the street vowing to Shoot the ass off Jesus Christ, the longlegged white son of a bitch. At dawn the shapes of insensate topers lay snoring about the floor among dark patches of drying blood.

      Bathcat and the harpist lay asleep upon the banquet table in one another's arms. Jackson's aimless, drunken threat against Christ, and the disassembling of objects, as if to destroy their unity, indicates that at least some of the members seem privy to their overall objective to destroy the town's sense of order.

      Though we are spared further depictions of violence, the fact that the members awaken to patches of drying blood indicates that they have successfully performed the Judge's all-important bloodletting aspect of the dance ritual The dance, however, does not end with the dawn, as the group decides to stay in the town and cement their dominance: "These scenes and scenes like them were repeated night after night" , we are told.

      Past indiscretions are not met with future consequences—the Bacchic revelry merely recurs again and again without response from the law—thus eroding the town's sense of linear Apollonian temporality. Even the governor, assaulted by pleas from the citizenry to stop the madness, is powerless to control the mob. The principle Apollonian symbol thus fully eliminated, the once normal town structures become transformed: "The baths had become bordellos, the attendants driven off. The white stone fountain in the plaza was filled at night with naked and drunken men" Likewise, cantinas are evacuated by a single hint of the Americans' presence, and entire businesses are closed down.

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      Holden's dance of war thus not only destroys an initially peaceful celebration, but the entire town in which it was held. The structures within it are transformed into their Dionysian equivalent.

      A Dead God Dancing

      When the gang eventually rides out, the streets are "empty," a stark contrast to their initially enthusiastic reception by the townsfolk Similar versions of the dance of war recur at every town that the gang enters. When they ride into Coyame, the citizens initially welcome them with a celebration, just like in Chihuahua, but when they leave just three days later, "the streets stood empty, not even a dog followed them to the gates" Likewise, a fight breaks out in a cantina as soon as the gang enters the town of Nacori.

      The fight, generated quickly amongst the citizens of the town and the Americans, spills out into the streets, and the Judge follows, initially uninvolved. The presence of music, however, quickly changes the scenario once again. A knife is sunk into the back of one man, and no one sees it but the Judge.

      When the man says "I'm killed," the Judge quickly pulls out his own pistol and finishes the man off Chaos then ensues, and the fighting and bloodletting continues more rampantly. Soon, the doorway of the cantina is "jammed with the dead and dying" Just like in Chihuahua and Coyame, the Apollonian order of Nacori is destroyed and the dance of war once again renders "the streets deserted" The music once again serves as the impetus for the dance of war, which is, of course, a much more violent one than the previous.

      The bloodletting ritual thus complete and the normal, everyday routine destroyed, the gang exits. The dance of war's intensity steadily increases as the novel progresses, and the acts are occasionally met with more direct, but ultimately unsuccessful, responses from various Apollonian elements within the towns.

      In Jesus Maria, for instance, the residents are, for once, already leery of the Americans' presence. Soon after the gang arrives, however, a fiddler again appears, as if out of nowhere, and begins playing in the street. Of course, the presence of music alone is not enough to begin the dance of war. It needs specific authorization from Holden. The Judge flips a coin at the fiddler to strike up a tune and then proceeds to execute "upon the stones a series of steps with a strange precision" The Judge himself performs the first component of the dance, which is initially peaceful, and the rest soon join.