AMERICAN POSTMODERNITY: Essays on the Recent Fiction of Thomas Pynchon

Ian D. Copestake Editor



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ian d. copestake (ed.)

essays on the recent fiction of thomas pynchon


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Pynchonian Space and the Snovian Disjunction MARTIN SAAR AND CHRISTIAN SKIRKE “The Realm of Velocity and Spleen”: Reading Hybrid Life in Mason & Dixon 7 15 35 49 71 83 129 . MILLARD Delineations of Madness and Science: Mason & Dixon. Historiographic Metafiction and the Unstable Reconciliation of Opposites WILLIAM B. COPESTAKE Introduction Postmodern Reflections: The Image of an Absent Author DAVID SEED Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 DAVID DICKSON Pynchon’s Vineland and “That Fundamental Agreement in What is Good and Proper”: What Happens when we Need to Change it? DAVID THOREEN In which “Acts Have Consequences”: Ideas of Moral Order in the Qualified Postmodernism of Pynchon’s Recent Fiction FRANCISCO COLLADO RODRÍGUEZ Mason & Dixon.Contents IAN D.

COPESTAKE “Off the Deep End Again”: Sea-Consciousness and Insanity in The Crying of Lot 49 and Mason & Dixon Notes on Contributors Index Contents 147 173 193 217 221 . MCLAUGHLIN Surveying.6 JOHN HEON Surveying the Punch Line: Jokes and their Relation to the American Racial Unconscious/Conscience in Mason & Dixon and the Liner Notes to Spiked! ROBERT L. Mapmaking and Representation in Mason & Dixon IAN D.

Newark: U of Delaware P.1 Furthermore his work’s relationship to postmodernism was especially helpful in bringing to light these perceived developments in Pynchon’s work not least because they appeared to mirror shifts in the currency and character of postmodernism itself. defines changes in the nature of the postmodern within the literary field from the 1960s to the present day which have led. to the emergence of two postmodernisms: 1 Recent book-length studies and collections of essays which have also surveyed these lines in Pynchon’s work include Joakim Sigvardson’s Immanence and Transcendence in Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon: A Phenomenological Study. Gathered here are nine essays which. Pynchon and Mason & Dixon. Eds. The publication in 1997 of Mason & Dixon provided an opportunity for assessing critical lines of connection with Pynchon’s past work at a time when possible shifts in direction had been perceived. 2000. . for instance. Niran Abbas. 2002. Blissful Bewilderment: Studies in the Fiction of Thomas Pynchon. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell. both directly and indirectly.IAN D. strive to make sense of that relationship and so give substance to that absent question mark. historical and cultural concerns is not in doubt. 2002. “postmodernism. COPESTAKE Introduction Postmodern Reflections: The Image of an Absent Author The title of this collection of essays could well have contained a question mark after its first phrase. Anne Mangen and Rolf Gaasland. he argues.” continues to be. Mason & Dixon & Pynchon. the terms of his relationship to that most nebulous of categories. Lanham. NJ: Farleigh Dickinson. for although the American context of Thomas Pynchon’s fictional. Thomas Pynchon: Reading from the Margins. Madison. 2002. Ed. MD: UP of America. Eds. Hans Bertens. 2000. Oslo: Novus Press. Charles Clerc. Brooke Horvath and Irving Malin.

seventies.8 Ian D.” (10) which reflects the impact of French postructuralist thinking within the academic confines to which postmodernism had retreated by the 1980s. Frank Palmeri. an interest in the layering of historical interpretations. yet depart from. 2) The shift to an “other than postmodern” which Pynchon’s most recent fiction helps him elucidate is signified by a move “away from the representation of extreme paranoia. of these features have been prominent. 5). and go into decline after the mid-1980s. Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow [1973]. seemed to confirm through its more overtly “realistic” and political style and content. whereby a moment of high postmodernism dominant in the sixties. and eighties has been succeeded by two forms of cultural expression that have continuities with. In this we come back to an earlier . by contrast with a late postmodernism that has been the dominant form of production in the nineties and the first years of the new century. (10) Bertens identifies a second postmodernism as “the postmodernism of difference. The key point here is that Pynchon’s work is central to the marking out of such shifts and continues to be so in the wake of the sense of change which Vineland (1990). and pastiche. also positions Pynchon (along with Foucault) as central to his sense of a movement. his novel of eighties America. 1) For Palmeri postmodernism encompasses A set of concerns and formal operations – including a frequent use of irony. this cultural mode and stand in contrast to each other. satire. for instance. Carlos Fuentes’ Terra Nostra [1975]. Another critic with an eye on the changing nature of postmodernity. (para. (para. Robert Coover’s The Public Burning [1976] and George Perec’s La Vie: mode d’emploi [1978]). but not necessarily all. Copestake The first postmodernism is the familiar one: in this sense the term refers to a set of loosely connected artistic innovations and strategies that begin to manifest themselves in the early 1960s (Thomas Pynchon’s V. and a strong paranoid strand – while also signifying the period from the mid-sixties until perhaps the present when most. toward a vision of local ethicopolitical possibilities” (para. [1963]). A new structure of thought and expression that I call other than postmodern remains the less prominent and popular mode. reach their highwater mark in the course of the 1970s (with.

however. is not. The aim of such categorical assumptions. as Bertens reminds us. However. Reinstated is an awareness of Pynchon’s acute sense of the ethical possibilities inherent in individual human action. over and against the passive acceptance of a sterile relativism. by Linda Hutcheon in The Politics of Postmodernism (1989): [Hutcheon] tells us that “postmodernism is a phenomenon whose mode is resolutely contradictory as well as unavoidably political” (1).Postmodern Reflections 9 definition of literary postmodernism put forward. That he chooses publicly to do neither allows his work to flow freely across the boundaries and borders which such definitions place upon it. the postmodern art that is Hutcheon’s subject here is simultaneously referential and non-referential. It “ultimately manages to install and reinforce as much as undermine and subvert the conventions and presuppositions it appears to challenge” (1–2) and it can do so because in a further contradiction it “juxtaposes and gives equal value to the self-reflexive and the historically-grounded” (2). Pynchon can thus claim to be as far removed from any adherence to critical assertions of literary postmodernism’s identity as he can equally claim to be one of its foremost practitioners. strategies and questions which postmodernism embodies is one that he has had no responsibility for directly determining other than to have produced a body of work which for a generation of critics has resounded with significance with postmodernism’s perceived characteristics. (7) What the essays in this collection also argue for is the continued importance to Pynchon’s work of its political and ethical seriousness. argued for by Palmeri and Bertens. to kill the work by pinning it down. of Pynchon as postmodern writer. The relationship between Pynchon’s fiction and the array of styles. as the essays in this collection also reflect such lines of connection between Pynchon and postmodernism must be informed by an awareness of the author’s own positioning in relation to this and other forms of definition. political (because of its referentiality) and apolitical (because of its self-reflexivity). but to hold it stationary for long enough that its possibilities can . which reinstate or reconfirms the relationship between the political and the postmodern. Reflected in Pynchon’s work is the movement which is seen to be occurring in perceptions of postmodernism. In other words.

London between 10 and 13 June 1998. The irony is. moreover. of course. which. David Seed’s essay “Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49. a conference which will live long in the collective memory of all who attended it. The constant deferral of meaning which both Oedipa Maas and the reader experience in the course of the novel point towards the need to re-evaluate the relationship between media and meaning which McLuhan had been amongst the first to foreground. and examines the particular relationship between The Crying of Lot 49 and the work of Marshall McLuhan. Pynchon’s most recent fiction is once again an open invitation for the exploration of such parallels. that it is precisely that slipperiness which makes him for many the embodiment of a postmodernism which seeks to “install and reinforce as much as undermine and subvert the conventions and presuppositions it appears to challenge. Copestake be viewed and communicated for others to argue and agree with as they see fit. The remaining four offer connecting perspectives with Pynchon’s previous work through contexts which aid our understanding of his fiction in relation to evolving notions of American postmodernism. chose for its historical setting the impact of Enlightenment thought on the divisions and definitions which constitute America’s achievement of national self-identity. Of the nine essays which follow five look closely at Mason & Dixon. David Dickson writes on “Pynchon’s Vineland and ‘That Fundamental Agreement in What is Good and Proper’: What Happens when We Need to Change it?” Central to Dickson’s discussion of . The work itself.10 Ian D. and these first cut their teeth as papers presented at King’s College. reflecting Pynchon’s reclusive detachment from any conventional identification of himself with authorship and fame. film. The tension between means of information transfer and the message conveyed is underlined by Seed’s focus on the role of such media in the novel as the telephone. is free from any obligations laid down by such definitions.” underlines the importance of cultural mediation to Pynchon’s fiction in general. visual and cultural spaces and finally fiction itself. Postmodernity of course continues to gain both its impetus and identity from a reaction to (and hence an intimate relationship with) the same intellectual heritage.” With Mason & Dixon came a novel about line-drawing and boundary-making.

categorisation and difference.Postmodern Reflections 11 Vineland is the question of the viability of individual action when measured against the pressures of historical and cultural conceptions of social value and meaning.” With the following essays we cross a boundary-line into considerations of Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. Pynchon is positioned as a postmodernist for whom not all is indeterminacy in action or knowledge but rather the need to know and act are vital determining factors in the critical relationship to history which Pynchon’s fiction promotes. In “Mason & Dixon. P.” Thoreen refutes the critical suggestion that Pynchon’s oeuvre embraces postmodern challenges to historiography to the extent that he rejects ideas of cause and effect. the author suggests that Pynchon’s novel offers a critique of the hermeneutic theory of experience while holding out the possibility for the renegotiation of value within specific historical moments. Pynchonian Space and the Snovian Disjunction. This is highlighted with regard to American history in particular through Thoreen’s subsequent reading of Vineland in relation to Washington Irving’s political parable “Rip Van Winkle. William B. Snow’s . Mason & Dixon is a novel in which historical knowledge and the art of the fiction-maker fuse. “In Which ‘Acts Have Consequences’: Ideas of Moral Order in the Qualified Postmodernism of Pynchon’s Recent Fiction. Millard’s argues in his essay “Delineations of Madness and Science: Mason & Dixon.” that Mason & Dixon is both a novel of science and anti-science which confirms Pynchon’s continued desire to run the line between debates on this issue. The relationship between individual action and history is also a vital concern in David Thoreen’s essay. Historiographic Metafiction and the Unstable Reconcilliation of Opposites. For Collado.” Francisco Collado Rodríguez highlights the subversive character of Pynchon’s use of metafictional devices to disrupt objectives notions of history. what results is Pynchon’s attempt to negotiate the paradox whereby the human need to give order and meaning to reality through narratives is both a barrier to historical knowledge and a vital means by which individuals can empower themselves against the despotic imposition of lines of demarcation. By referring to the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer’s views on history and cultural change. including C.

In Mason & Dixon European and American history abounds with such creations. and it is the memorable figure of the “automatic Duck” which Skirke and Saar highlight in this essay in order to read notions of hybridity in Pynchon’s novel. Their complicity in serving interests beyond the initially . by focusing on the importance to his work of comic traditions exemplified by the work and career of Spike Jones. Throughout Pynchon’s work notions of progress and rationality have given rise to monstrous imaginings which combine the unreal with the historically all too real. Instead Pynchon continues not only to resist and problematize the drawing of lines between notions of modern and postmodern. McLaughlin argues that a vital part of the drama of Mason & Dixon is the protagonists’ dawning realisation of their position as victims of the maps they are employed to draw. and Millard argues that Pynchon’s latest work confirms his distance from perspectives which are politically fatalistic or reliant solely on relativism. Mapmaking and Representation in Mason & Dixon” sees Robert L. McLaughlin read Pynchon’s novel in relation to conceptions of mapmaking which reflect Pynchon’s own efforts to lay bare the power and prevalence of non-neutral and ideologically weighted processes of meaning-making.12 Ian D. “Surveying. “Surveying the Punch Line: Jokes and their Relation to the American Racial Unconscious/Conscience in Mason & Dixon and the Liner Notes to Spiked!” sees Heon elucidate Pynchon’s project by analysing the role of laughter and the masking joker in giving credence to the shared seriousness of Pynchon’s and Jones’s “minstrelizing” of American history. Copestake influential 1959 lecture “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. but that this provides the impetus for his own project of illumination. John Heon also looks at Pynchon’s utilisation of hybrid forms to disrupt categories of thought and convention. The essay co-authored by Christian Skirke and Martin Saar. “‘The Realm of Velocity and Spleen’: Reading Hybrid Life in Mason & Dixon.” underlines the central role of notions of hybridity in a novel which presents a typology of unreal creatures and composite creations. science and scientific Luddism.” As a writer Pynchon is acutely concerned at the antagonism between non-secular systems of belief and secular scientific reason. both humane and inhumane.

The Politics of Postmodernism. Hans. .1palmeri.” Postmodernism and the Fin de Siècle. Copestake’s essay “‘Off the Deep End Again’: SeaConsciousness and Insanity in The Crying of Lot 49 and Mason & Dixon. and also John Krafft and Niran Abbas for their advice and encouragement.Postmodern Reflections 13 undoubted objectivity of scientific line-drawing.” highlights Pynchon’s fictional preoccupation with forms of insanity throughout his career. 2002: 1–11. Hutcheon. currency and nature of American postmodernity at the end of that country’s century.virginia. Ian D. The history of delusion and its medical treatment is seen as central to this novel’s continuation of Pynchon’s career-long project of exposing the contradictions inherent in the human need for definitions and the insanity which results from their imposition across the globe. Every publication carries with it an untold story of the struggle it has gone through to see the light of day and this is no exception. “In Defense of the Bourgeois Postmodern. This book will also appeal to those who are interested in Pynchon’s relationship to the ongoing debate over the status. Linda. 1989. Frank. “Other than Postmodern? Foucault. 02 December 2002 <http:// Jefferson. Gerhard Hoffmann and Alfred Hornung. provides a spur towards moral action and resistance. Hybridity. Eds. Pynchon. 2 The editor wishes to thank Graham Speake and David Edmonds for their assistance in the production of this volume. New York: Routledge.2 Works Cited Bertens. and through his analysis of Mason & Dixon charts its relationship to Pynchon’s entry into an American tradition of sea-writing. Heidelburg: Winter.” Postmodern Culture 12. Taken together these essays constitute a further step towards understanding Pynchon’s evolving and ever-challenging oeuvre and offer a variety of perspectives which reflect the fascination he continues to hold for so many readers.txt>. Final heartfelt thanks go to Rocío Montoro and Diederik Oostdijk for their editorial expertise and support.village. 1 (2001): 39 pars. Palmeri.

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arguing: It is not a feature created by the ad men. See Marwick 310. but it seems rather to be born of a hungry curiosity to explore and enlarge the domain of sex by mechanical technique on one hand. on the other. to high-speed cars and Pynchon’s juxtaposition of human actions to mechanisms reflect a process similar to that diagnosed by McLuhan where the self becomes extended into its own technology. The Mechanical Bride (1951). Roth 177. for instance.DAVID SEED Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 To say that the sixties was the decade of the mass media is scarcely an exaggeration. Such extensions had already been described in the near-future world of Bernard Wolfe’s Limbo (1952) where prosthetic limbs are designed to substitute a rational means of 1 2 Friedman x. explores the “interfusion of sex and technology” promoted by advertising and the popular press.2 McLuhan’s writings open up a productive line of inquiry specifically into Pynchon’s fiction since they help explain the latter’s concern with cultural mediation. . American novelists complained repeatedly of being displaced. to possess machines in a sexually gratifying way. Bruce Jay Friedman introduced his 1965 anthology of black humour by declaring that “the satirist has had his ground usurped by the newspaper reporter” and in his 1960 essay “Writing American Fiction” Philip Roth described a related media-induced estrangement which brought the “writer of fiction to feel that he does not really live in his own country. McLuhan’s emphasis) The erotic attachment of characters in V. and. (94A.”1 The writings of Marshall McLuhan pioneered the study of the media which were bringing about such perceptions and also provided an account of the “decentring of the subject” which Arthur Marwick has compared to the French neo-Marxists.

Pynchon’s obsessive V-searcher Stencil imagines the latest embodiment of V as a designer construct where technology has achieved a new kind of beauty by displacing the body: skin radiant with the bloom of some new plastic.16 David Seed control over “natural” human aggression. “arms” in both senses. he describes the latter as the only viable approach to examining the contemporary cultural situation: The present book develops a mosaic or field approach to its problems. connected by silver electrodes to optic nerves of purest copper wire and leading to a brain exquisitely wrought as a diode matrix could ever be. than their originals. hydraulic fluid be sent by a platinum heart-pump through butyrate veins and arteries. (1) McLuhan admitted in an interview that he was a compulsive “pattern watcher” and he weaves his concern with pattern into a series of works which develop Modernist collage into a medium of inquiry (Letters 117). the attempt fails when the prosthetics emerge as even more powerful weapons. Solenoid relays would be her ganglia. In The Mechanical Bride McLuhan still retains the concept of an autonomous self gradually being invaded or displaced by technology. a visual speculation on a technological possibility. His sixties writings on the media move away from this by privileging the figure of the mosaic.” The dramatization of such a figure in action had to wait for the cyberpunk fiction of the 1980s and after. Introducing The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962). emphases added) The value terms here suggest not only an ideal simulation of body functions but also a female construct to be enjoyed by male “operators. Such a mosaic image of numerous data and quotations in evidence offers the only practical means of revealing causal operations in history. both eyes glass but now containing photoelectric cells. Ironically. (411. here it remains a static image. In 1964 he was asked to write an essay on William Burroughs’s fiction and responded with enthusiasm to the “cut-up” method of Naked Lunch and Nova Express because they seemed to be using discontinuity to imitate the processes whereby the environment is perceived: . Wolfe describes designer limbs. servo-actuators move her flawless nylon limbs.

as we shall see. generating both its comedy and its darker side. but in the meantime. McLuhan stresses how the media have extended – his key word – the human consciousness into the environment. Burroughs is unique only in that he is attempting to reproduce in prose what we accommodate every day as a commonplace aspect of life in the electric age. metal extensions” (8) of their owners. the work that bears most directly on The Crying of Lot 49. McLuhan for his part in Understanding Media glimpses a utopian end-point of totally shared knowing. The startling originality of his approach was firstly to draw scholarly attention to the mass media themselves and secondly to project a cultural model of interlocking systems for information transfer. Pynchon too in The Crying of Lot 49 describes motor cars as “motorized. Predictably this conviction leads McLuhan to privilege information in human life: “Under electric technology the entire business of man becomes learning and knowing. we have to negotiate the solicitations of the . has nothing to do with the content of messages through the respective media. an evening watching television programmes is an experience in a corporate form – an endless succession of impressions and snatches of narrative. moving toward the technological extension of consciousness” (Understanding Media 57). Throughout Understanding Media (1964). Pynchon draws on the detective genre in The Crying of Lot 49 since this is a literary mode which revolves around the gathering and processing of information.” (Understanding Media 58) This proposition helps to explain why. as several critics have noted. Similarly.Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 17 To read the daily newspaper in its entirety is to encounter the method in all its purity. he stresses. This field of systems finds expression in The Crying of Lot 49. McLuhan’s famous division between “hot” and “cool” media is drawn according to the information of each medium. McLuhan’s new emphasis comes with his insistence that the media are means above all of information transfer. which. (“Notes on Burroughs” 69) In Burroughs McLuhan found a confirmation of his own awareness of “media as environment” (Letters 312) and of the following process of externalisation: “In this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information. The final phase of the extension of man will come “when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society”.

is only a focal object within a vast complex of networks and his sense of inter-connection leads McLuhan to stress again and again that we cannot understand one medium without considering its relation to others. in Gravity’s Rainbow the bomb is the ultimate in a series of devices produced by a death-haunted technology. he explores the cultural polarities which culminate in the super-power confrontations of that period. quite regardless of any ‘point of view’” (3–4). If this makes the present age sound like science fiction. In V. The Crying of Lot 49 presents in Yoyodyne an instance of the aerospace corporations supporting military technology. etc.18 David Seed media: “This is the Age of Anxiety for the reason of the electric implosion that compels commitment and participation. for effect involves the whole situation. McLuhan’s emphases). Already it should be clear how McLuhan’s theories are beginning to approach a version of postmodernism. .4 Apart from the proliferation of signifying systems. McLuhan denies any referential ground in the media by arguing that 3 4 McLuhan described his own Mechanical Bride as “really a new form of science fiction” (Letters 217). so be it. In his “Notes on Burroughs” he recognises the contemporary threat of the most ominous technological form of the Cold War: “We live science fiction.3 For Pynchon too the bomb defines the Cold War situation. he declares: Concern with effect rather than meaning is a basic change of our electric time. The bomb. among other things for Boulding’s notion of boundary breaking where systems merge into other systems. similar to Boeing in Seattle where Pynchon himself worked for a year. In developing his unified field theory of the media McLuhan drew on Kenneth Boulding’s 1956 study The Image. By “image” Boulding means the locatedness of an individual in organisations. and not a single level of information movement (Understanding Media 26.. McLuhan would say. Even the concept of understanding needs revision in the light of contemporary technology since. however. The bomb is our environment” (73). As befits its emphasis on media processes.

have not befogged the simplest old everyday distinctions. Boorstin’s The Image (1962).” and so anachronistic. despite the proximity of Boorstin’s material to McLuhan’s. We can only approach meaning. he suggests. 5 McLuhan’s notion of content is problematic.5 He made sharply ironic comments on Daniel J. interpretation of what was happening. the products and by-products of the Graphic Revolution.Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 19 the only way to understand one medium is in terms of another. but even more importantly. (228–29) Boorstin’s use of the term “image” awkwardly focuses on the vocabulary of the media whereas McLuhan insistently stays with their syntax. Boorstin explains that The Image considers a CENTRAL PARADOX – that the rise of images and of our power over the world blurs rather than sharpens the outlines of reality […]. It is appropriate that the protagonist of The Crying of Lot 49 should be a figure with a minimal past and social context since the narrative takes her through an extended present where she is constantly trying to decipher the cultural signs which bombard her. from at least 1959 (Time Out of Joint) onwards in works such as The Penultimate Truth (1964) and Dr Bloodmoney (1965). There is hardly a corner of our daily behaviour where the multiplication of images. accusing the other of giving a “literary. though he never quite reaches the extreme position of Jean Baudrillard who extends McLuhan’s theories to justify a reading of cultural forms as simulations endlessly re-imaging each other. Boorstin implies an accessible reality against which commercialised representations can be measured. Dick had been dramatising how the media were being used for reality management. McLuhan too argues that the media have always had such problematic effects as those Boorstin describes – and so therefore they cannot be unique to the present age – but then by minimising content he appears to make it impossible to recuperate meaning in any way other than transfer. . For example. Philip K. In Dick’s writings the media are used again and again to promote political deception and commercial exploitation. by moving laterally across an endless sequence of media. This assumption was being brought into question by US novelists in the sixties.

In Dr Strangelove there is a mismatch between the comic familiarity of the difficulties of using the telephone and the scale of the mounting crisis. In the film the President is told to try “Omsk information” for the premier’s number and. the telephone. turns the limitations of the medium to political advantage in its abstraction of discourse into isolated verbal utterances. once he does get through. So one means of communication is used to counter the failure of another. there is more comic business when he almost fails to call the President from a pay telephone.” the “hot line” as it became known. Here the telephone supplies a means of communication between different sections of Strategic Air Command but. Dr Strangelove subverts the decorum of political negotiation by opening up a grotesque gap of scale between the prosaic difficulties the US President has in communicating between his Soviet opposite number. more importantly. between the American and Soviet premiers. Later when an officer discovers the recall code for the bombers. that of the so-called fail-safe mechanism which would order the bombers back to base. had already been used in Burdick and Wheeler’s 1962 political thriller Fail-Safe which describes how the world moves to the brink of nuclear holocaust when a squadron of American bombers erroneously flies into Soviet air space with instructions to attack designated targets. Ironically. It is also a double means of communication in the sense that the US President’s translator has to examine Krushchev’s tone and style for meta-messages which authenticate his spoken words. Such problems of connecting recur repeatedly in William Gaddis’s 1976 dialogue novel JR where the telephone becomes the means by which the protagonist builds up his paper “empire” of companies. The new “conference line. he discovers that the latter is drunk and almost inaudible over loud music.20 David Seed The first medium which Pynchon foregrounds in the novel. but this time one where communications break down and technology slips out of human control. A year after Fail-Safe. the crisis is brought about by technological failure. For Burdick and Wheeler the line frees the premiers from the scrutiny of public spectacle and hence from the need to adopt obligatory postures. Every telephone conversation in that novel falls victim to distortion. . the telephone figured once again in a nuclear drama.

“Crying” then suggests a process similar to Althusser’s interpellation where Oedipa is constantly being offered gobbets of information and being drawn into the possible systems which make this information meaningful. “so out of nothing did it come. As N. looking for an escaped bat.) give way to metaphors of exposure and entrapment (102–5). hence the “screaming. The comic game of Strip Botticelli she plays in the Echo Courts motel mimes out this shift as an opening up of the self to the media. secondly. full of chingas and maricones. that of Oedipa’s caller is screened through a series of guises which range from comic pastiche through different degrees of (simulated) aggression. then a Gestapo asking her in shrieks did she have relatives in Germany and finally his Lamont Cranston voice (6).Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 21 interruption and misconception – so much so that the medium becomes an entropic channel of disorder. When Oedipa receives a call early one morning it induces horror. Neither Pynchon nor McLuhan consider the variations in volume. “call” being one of the synonyms for the verbal noun in the novel’s title. modulated to comicNegro. the instrument one second inert. from where she would never know […] by a voice beginning in heavy Slavic tones as a second secretary at the Transylvanian Consulate. And just as it blanks out the physicality of the communicator. then on into hostile Pachuco dialect. Although voice is the only way identity can be established on the telephone. tower. The “call” is only one of the many instances where the media solicit Oedipa’s attention. the next screaming” (10). it is an “irresistible intruder in time or place”. it “demands complete participation” (Understanding Media 271. etc. McLuhan describes clothes as offering a “means of defining the self socially” (Understanding Media . so it technologically stylises the voice. the phone is either ringing or not. indeed becomes a substitute voice. Pynchon similarly shows the telephone to be a disruptive force. the initial figures of enclosure (room. taking a lead from two perceptions from McLuhan. 267).” The ghost in Oedipa Maas’s machine is Pierce Inverarity who is perceived primarily as a remembered voice doing a performance over the phone which compels participation from Oedipa: there had come this long-distance call. Firstly. Katherine Hayles has shown.

Throughout the novel she is shown to be surrounded by a dynamic environment which bombards her with information. was revived in 1963 as paperback novels. we have the case of Pierce simulating an artist of simulations. One commentator on McLuhan notes that “the spectator becomes part of the system or process and must supply the connections” (Johansen 263) and this is exactly what happens to Oedipa. Pynchon knew of Jane Jacobs’s 1961 analysis of town planning The Death and Life of Great American Cities which. and which also were broadcast over the radio. In other words. as a number of commentators have pointed out. is taken from Maxwell Grant’s Shadow stories which ran from 1930 to 1949 in magazine form. The urban cultural spaces are opened up for Oedipa by the fact that she steps outside her rented car and thereby places herself within fields of cultural data. Pynchon is far too sceptical not to question the traditional use of the car as a means of liberating discovery and presents it instead as an initial buffering of Oedipa against experience. she is removing her assumptions of stable individuality and entering a network of relations which will disorient her more and more severely as the novel progresses. Accordingly when Oedipa sheds her clothes. (11) The Shadow is figured iconically as a dark shape which can flit from place to place with limitless versatility. Similarly the freeways described in the novel are abstracted into information highways where she speculates on connections or seeks new ones.22 David Seed 119). as one commentator suggests. The final guise in Pierce’s quoted series. The city replaces her initial familiar setting of Kinneret as the site for new and complex perceptions. “shows that what makes American cities so unbearable is that one must live in . one of the earliest instances of recessive layering in The Crying of Lot 49. Lamont Cranston is a successful business entrepreneur heading a large organisation with a female side-kick named Margo (the role opened up for Oedipa in the performance quoted above) and described as follows: The guise of Lamont Cranston was the major alter-ego the black-cloaked Avenger presented to the world to disguise his activities in the never-ending war against all evil.

” he comments. Harrington points to a fragmentation of the USA into isolated regions of poverty which are sometimes visited by internal tourists. cable cars) it had not been before: she had safepassage tonight to its far blood’s branchings. appropriating the city to herself without the usual insulation of tourism: The city was hers. those people never seen by the more prosperous “tourists.” In his 1962 study of American poverty with that title he discusses the invisible poor. as we shall see in a moment. Oedipa comes to experience what Michael Harrington designated the “other America. children. or vessels mashed together in shameful municipal hickeys. The shifting metaphors – typical of the novel’s discourse – destabilise her terrain while at the same time tantalizing her (and the reader) with its interconnections.” “Middle-class women coming in from Suburbia. immobilizing isolation where irreconcilable interpretations of her experience paralyse her. (81) This sounds like an exhilarating sequence but her passage lies through an “infected city” whose operative codes she still has not quite penetrated.e. At one point. as. Oedipa’s urban experience also oscillates between these poles. i. the commercial simulations of social events. at another. out on the skin for all but tourists to see. she experiences a stream of encounters with city-dwellers. made up and sleeked so with customary words and images (cosmopolitan. In The Gutenberg Galaxy McLuhan lays down the general proposition that “every technology contrived and outered by man has . culture. During her pivotal experience of San Francisco by night she enters the spaces of homosexuals. she registers an ultimate. but it will remain just that – a glimpse. Here Pynchon conflates labyrinth with organism as if Oedipa is making her way through a single body. She responds to different urban scenes as if she is entering unknown cultural areas. Oedipa too describes herself several times as a tourist. Chinatown and others. Oedipa is introduced to the reader as the very type of the suburban housewife attending Tupperware parties.Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 23 complete isolation or in an intolerable promiscuity” (Dupuy 5). “may catch the merest glimpse of the other America on the way to an evening at the theatre” (12). be they capillaries too small for more than peering into.

in front of any jury. impersonating a lawyer. . and the episode in the motel becomes a test case of how the media can penetrate her. who in front of a jury becomes an actor. our beauty lies […] in this extended capacity for involution. These closed cycles of roles undermine Oedipa’s common-sense assumption of a stable distinction between what happens on and off the screen. right? Raymond Burr is an actor. San Narciso firstly is described abstractly as a “group of concepts” (14) and embodied metonymically in the motel Echo Courts which has a “representation in painted sheet metal of a nymph” (16). and also electronically by synchronizing her sexual climax with that of a pop group playing in the motel. As Linda Hutcheon explains. he could have added. which is what happens to Oedipa. Who in court becomes an actor once again. Here the doubling gets more and more intricate. McLuhan was convinced that American culture reflected a “commitment to visual space and organization” (Letters 300).24 David Seed the power to numb human awareness during the period of its first interiorization” (153). becomes an actor. In The Crying of Lot 49 San Narciso becomes the site for Oedipa’s encounter with the film medium and with the reflected gaze. This depthless simulation carries the expression of a “hooker” which complicates Oedipa’s recognition of herself in the figure. I’m a former actor who becomes a lawyer (21). Questioning the reliability of the visual. Once inside the motel she is joined by her lawyer Metzger who invites her to watch him act in a movie on the television. therefore. As Metzger explains. A lawyer in a court-room. pierced her” (27) where the gaze of the other functions phallically and as a transformation into process of Pierce Inverarity. This is expressed sexually (Metzger’s “radiant eyes flew open. This episode at Echo Courts opens up the postmodern dimension of The Crying of Lot 49 by problematizing the nature of representation and the authenticity of social behaviour. would be tantamount to questioning the nature of reality. Me. The resulting state of narcosis can be linked etymologically with the myth of Narcissus which in turn can be read as a parable of the following appeal: “men at once become fascinated by extensions of themselves in any material other than themselves” (Understanding Media 41).

The verb “connects” is the key term here since it signals to the reader an expansive mapping out of information which never concludes. she looks across a Californian cityscape and identifies a resemblance with the printed circuit of a transistor radio. Although Oedipa’s search might seem superficially to follow a linear trajectory. The recurrence of the term “lot” (unavoidably foregrounded by the title) in semantic contexts suggesting marketable property. throughout the novel he strikes a balance between the “abstractifying” tendencies of the media and the materiality of their functioning and occurrence. By this stage in the novel every person she meets is viewed as a potential information source but here the key communicative faculty of speech is blocked for her. fate.Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 25 hostile commentators on postmodernism have accused its practitioners of a “narcissistic and ironic appropriation of existing images. Indeed. More typically. Thus Oedipa’s experience is compared to film or. in another more famous example. Instead he uses metaphor as a means of mapping out cultural connections.” asserting that it is a metaphor which “connects the world of thermodynamics to the world of information flow” (72–73).” whereas “postmodernism works to ‘de-doxify’ our cultural representations and their undeniable political import” (3). but always an aspect of another image or process. In these metaphors Pynchon avoids contrasting the “natural” with the constructed in a way that might give priority to the former. This is made explicit when a scientist explains to the bemused Oedipa two meanings to the term “entropy. the discourse of the novel characteristically makes lateral moves where resemblances proliferate. the figure of the muted horn (tantalizingly promising and witholding information) is repeated when Oedipa stumbles on an assembly of deaf mutes. Pynchon deploys figurative language throughout The Crying of Lot 49 to suggest that no image or process is autonomous. an item in a series. The most explicit commentary on metaphor in The Crying of Lot 49 comes when Oedipa encounters an ex-sailor sunk in alcoholism . Pynchon avoids vulnerability to the first charge by showing the materiality of the images and processes which bewilder Oedipa. and so on. is a lexical instance of this process. Similarly McLuhan argues in The Gutenberg Galaxy that “language is metaphor in the sense that it not only stores but translates experience from one mode into another” (5).

so the Latin phrase contains an embedded figure from ploughing which Pynchon makes explicit. a notion which Pynchon parodies through ironic and ambiguous Pentecostal allusions to revelation. lost” (89). and a linear movement along the determined grooves of her life which will probably not produce meaning but which will at least be safe. Meaning is then spatialised as an ambiguity of metaphor itself: “The act of metaphor then was a thrust at truth and a lie. McLuhan’s attitude to the media oscillates between positive and negative positions. This figure of transition through remembered time revises the polarity of inside/outside into an opposition between a lateral shift which might produce meaning but which might equally be disorienting on the one hand. At one point he waxes enthusiastic over the possibilities of the computer which promises a “Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity” (Understanding Media 80). through recall by association. the displacement from a furrow) from plough to record player in order to articulate how Oedipa can share a common figure and therefore a common predicament with the sailor. screeching back across grooves of years” (89). depending where you were: inside. Oedipa’s disorientation has become so severe that she too feels lost. Pynchon here updates the root metaphor in “delirium” (in Latin. For him advertisements are hidden persuaders working “quite in accord with the procedures of brainwashing. safe. a trembling unfurrowing of the mind’s plowshare” (89). the DTs remind Oedipa of dt’s in calculus from her university days and once again Oedipa experiences a kind of displacement: “Trembling. Just as “metaphor” connotes a moving across. a delirium tremens. Then. unfurrowed. At other points McLuhan shows a much darker side to the media. hence her identification with the old man.26 David Seed and suffering from the DTs. In his conclusion to Understanding Media McLuhan generalises this point to include all contemporary media: . Needless to say. She realises: “Behind the initials was a metaphor. she slipped sidewise. The paratactic sequence of this sentence assembles a series where each phrase extends the preceding one. or outside. The depth principle of onslaught on the unconscious may be the reason why” (227).

Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 27 The electric changes associated with automation have nothing to do with ideologies or social programmes. more lurid and dramatic than happens in The Crying of Lot 49. If they had. but having a comparable effect of disturbing estrangement. At no period in human culture have men understood the psychic mechanisms involved in invention and technology. for instance. Pynchon characteristically deploys quieter instances where discrepancies and discontinuities defamiliarise every aspect of Oedipa’s environment.] a mirage of electronic mass-hypnosis” (Deliberate Prose 6). Ginsberg described the myth of American prosperity as a “great psychic hoax[. In 1964. Malcolm X and Allen Ginsberg all described the workings of American society as a form of indoctrination to norms which was not even being understood. Writers as diverse as Sylvia Plath. one by one. Instead. At one point a figure named the “Subliminal Kid” plants microphones and transmitters in bars so that their environmental noise itself becomes a bizarre message. Like Burroughs. Subliminal have been the effects. they could be delayed or controlled. the technological extension of our central nervous system that we call the electric media began more than a century ago. subliminally. Subliminal they remain.” a phrase used by Timothy Melley in a recent study to designate a paranoid . (352) By the early sixties the term “brainwashing” had become routinely employed to describe the ideological pressures exerted on the individual by cultural processes. William Burroughs chose a different medium to articulate his comparable sense of social manipulation. In Nova Express (1964) conditions of total emergency operate as his subversives try to undermine the repressive processes of society. Pynchon describes a state of “agency panic. my men” (105). Because such processes do seem covert. One of his figures “breaks out all the ugliest pictures in the image bank and puts it out on the subliminal so one crisis piles up after the other right on schedule” (18). let alone resisted. Oedipa starts rationalizing her experience through an anonymous agency: late in the novel she suspects: “they are stripping away. Burroughs again and again describes a distortion of expected signals. The misprints on stamps described in chapter 3 whose main medium is that of postal systems draws her startled attention to the possibility that an underground organisation might be covertly using the national monopoly to send messages to each other.

“The media’s chief function. 7–16). At first Oedipa’s paranoia is thematised comically as belonging to others: the name of a pop group. a point which Pynchon dramatises by accelerating the mortality of her human sources of information. We should remember that The Crying of Lot 49 begins with a death and rehearses a series of narratives where death figures prominently. the auctioneer with spread arms at the end of the novel) which reflect her new attention to style. the different religious allusions in the novel support this drama of perception. The routine indoctrination of American society by its media is pointed out to her by Mike Fallopian who says of the Yoyodyne engineers: “In school they got brainwashed.28 David Seed suspicion of a “whole system of communications” being covertly at work (2. The recycling of dead GIs’ bones in cigarette filters grotesquely exemplifies this process. The religious analogies have the further effect of stylizing characters in ritualistic postures (her husband in his radio studio. and so on. A kind of negative insight emerges into the “importance of death in the economy of her world” (16). functioning as a “foil to the inverted. As Thomas Schaub has argued. Only one man per invention” (61). like all of us. Oedipa herself experiences an “onslaught” of cultural signals throughout the novel which induces a mounting paranoia over her inability to verify or make final sense of this data. Maurice Couturier has argued that Oedipa’s search for “truth” is doomed since her experience repeatedly alerts her to how such a truth might be mediated culturally in endless deferral. the delusions of persecution by her therapist. The references to imminent revelation thus become the signs of semantic inadequacy. this is because her medium and its message are identical. Schaub continues: As the world about her takes on more and more the character of information. This process is explicitly questioned by the way corporations like Yoyodyne buy up . “is not so much to facilitate communication as to create an unfulfillable need for it” (7). into believing the Myth of the American Inventor […]. Oedipa’s evidence seems less like truth than clue to something beyond it. (48) All media for her are subject to decay. profane culture it describes” (49).” he argues.

2 November 1961. largely on the strength of a detailed examination of its names. Probably unknown to Hollander. a number of readings have emerged which stress the secrecy of text. Earlier in the novel. (37) The use of the hypothetical second person leaves it open and ambiguous how far Oedipa is registering this awareness. For instance. Her name at the same time functions as a cryptic sign which the reader tries to decode.Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 29 patents so that potential inventors find themselves reduced to minor functionaries in a commercial system. It is only when Pynchon describes Yoyodyne in more detail that we realise the twist in the reference to a microelectrode for this is exactly the kind of object the company would manufacture. Possibly Pynchon took a lead in this from Catch-22 which he described in 1961 as “close to the finest novel I’ve ever read. a metaphor of subliminal perception draws on the technology of a company which would have a vested interest in manipulating the public so as to promote its own ends. . Ironically. Nor can the human be separated from the technological. something tidal began to reach feelers in past eyes and eardrums. there is some justification for this view from Pynchon himself who in 1964 wrote to his then agent Candida Donadio that the shootings of Kennedy and 6 Letter to Candida Donadio. As Tony Tanner notes. perhaps to arouse fractions of brain current your most gossamer microelectrode is yet too gross for finding. Not surprisingly. Charles Hollander has described The Crying of Lot 49 as “encrypted meditation” (61) on the Kennedy assassination. Pynchon attempts to articulate the subliminal pull of the Pacific as a stimulusand-response just below conventional sensation: you could not hear or even smell this but it was there. The one medium not considered so far is that of the novel itself.”6 Here and in The Crying of Lot 49 characters’ names often link them to systems within the novels and Oedipa suggests at once a pathology and the confronting of enigmas. Pynchon closely identifies Oedipa’s quest with the reader’s processing of the novel’s text. the very choice of the protagonist’s name estranges us from the text and blocks off a “transparent” realist reading (60).

30 David Seed Oswald filled him with gloom about “language as a medium for improving things. In other words. this might help explain his projection of language as a manipulable medium operating within systems of control and surveillance. It is therefore a means 7 Letter to Candida Donadio. but. and Oedipa. misleadingly suggests that the novel belongs in the detective or whodunit genres and this effect is strengthened by the allusions to the Perry Mason television series which was running in the sixties. Oedipa tries futilely to locate a version of the text which will verify her suspicions about the operations of the Trystero network. A bookstore burns down. like the reader. 6 April 1964. a version of the play proves to be locked away in the Vatican Library. Tzvetan Todorov has argued that the latter is defined formally by its double narrative: the “story of the crime and the story of the investigation.” as a number of critics have noted. But we do not need to go far into the novel to realise that the generic category does not fit. the reader gets no direct access to a pastiche text such as s/he might encounter in Nabokov other than through a few brief quotations which might remembered by another play-goer or reader. is left juggling disparate fragments of information. recession is always at work in the second half of the novel. nothing daunted. Indeed Oedipa herself quotes a passage later in the novel.” The second is structured so as to give the reader gradual access to the first. Pynchon dramatises the reader’s struggles with his own novel through Oedipa’s attempts to stabilise the text of The Courier’s Tragedy. However. Originally she experiences the play as performance but for the reader it is textualized from the start as a summary containing many incongruous formulations in colloquial American English. . Pynchon’s constant use of the term “clues.”7 If these events had such a linguistic impact on Pynchon. The producer of the play Randolph Driblette articulates a kind of warning to the reader that the text is after all a script which can be altered in every performance.

with a discourse so rich in metaphor.Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 31 to an end and the style of the investigative narrative should be “kept neutral and plain to stop becoming opaque” (44. that the style becomes “opaque” with a vengeance. and the reversals in the gaze which repeatedly take place in the novel all problematise the act of seeing and therefore of understanding the novel’s text and narrative. (52) The agency of the gaze itself becomes the object of her gaze. the eye repeatedly emerges as an object to be looked at or to be obscured. One of the most striking instances occurs with Driblette: She couldn’t stop watching his eyes. the very first occurrence of this motif is the “greenish dead eye of the TV tube” (5) in Oedipa’s living room which displaces the human faculty on to technology. shades which she herself wears to make her way through the Kafkaesque labyrinth of the Yoyodyne buildings. This deferral is the last in a series of strategies which direct the reader to pay more attention to the means of information transfer than the content of individual messages. Instead of being an organ through which things are perceived.8 This is exactly what happens in The Crying of Lot 49. The proliferation of references to the visual media and to mirrors. From the very first page the reader is confronted with a narrative packed with so much descriptive detail. The smog or haze of the southern Californian cities which Oedipa traverses is a variation of a traditional metaphor of obscurity. The reader and Oedipa alike await a final revelation which is deferred beyond the end of The Crying of Lot 49. Then this effect is reversed as Oedipa projects a knowingness on to Driblette which is never confirmed. 8 The generic contrast between The Crying of Lot 49 and traditional detective fiction is noted in Tanner 56.” Typically. They seemed to know what she wanted. They were bright black. surrounded by an incredible network of lines. Oedipa’s paranoia grows when she sees more and more characters wearing shades. 47). Pynchon’s references to eyes fill out this motif in the novel and play repeatedly on the ways in which Oedipa is herself a “private eye. . momentarily reified into an image of scientific investigation. even if she didn’t. to technological devices like a scope. like a laboratory maze for studying intelligence in tears.

Marwick. “Pynchon. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Allen.” Pynchon Notes 40–41 (Spring–Fall 1997): 61–106. and William Toye. The Crying of Lot 49. Eds. Kathleen Woodward. The Sixties. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP. Maxwell. Johansen. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Boulding. Couturier. Ed. Burroughs. 1965. Thomas. Jennie Skerl and Robin Lydenberg. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP. London: Pan Books. —— “Notes on Burroughs. Katherine Hayles. William. Molinaro. Black Humor. 1987. JFK and the CIA: Magic Eye Views of The Crying of Lot 49. 1965.” The Myths of Information: Technology and Postindustrial Culture. William S. Ginsberg. Ed. . Bruce Jay. Gerald Emanual Stearn. Bill Morgan. 2000. Baltimore: Penguin. 1956. Ithaca: Cornell UP. Ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP. 1963. Dupuy. Matie. “The Experience We Derive. N. The Other America: Poverty in the United States. The Politics of Postmodernism. Hollander. Letters of Marshall McLuhan. 1952–1995. Nova Express. 1991: 69–73. Toronto. New York: Bantam. Pynchon. Melley. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Harmondsworth: Penguin. New York: Grove Press. Charles. Harrington. 1964. Hutcheon. London and New York: Routledge. Ed. “‘A Metaphor of God Knew How Many Parts’: The Engine that Drives The Crying of Lot 49. Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America. Patrick O’ Donnell: Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception. Michael. 1989. Friedman.” Eds. 1962. “The Death of the Real in The Crying of Lot 49. 1959-1989. Arthur. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Kenneth E. 1967. John M. “Myths of the Information Society.” McLuhan Hot and Cool. Daniel J. New York: Harper and Row. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P. 1968: 258–67. Jean-Pierre. Grant. Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays. Marshall. 1967.32 David Seed Works Cited Boorstin. Timothy. —— Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. 1998. McLuhan. The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. Maurice. The Shadow. The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society. Ed. —— The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man.” New Essays on The Crying of Lot 49. 1966. Linda. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. New York: Belmont. 1979.” Pynchon Notes 20–21 (Spring–Fall 1987): 5–29. 1991: 102–5. Corinne McLuhan. 1980: 3–17. Destination: Moon. 2000. 1964.

Trans. Richard Howard. Schaub. London: Picador. 1981. Tanner. Jonathan Cape collection. 1977. —— Letter to Candida Donadio. New York and Harmondsworth: Penguin. 6 April 1964. Todorov. Oxford: Blackwell. Reading Myself and Others. Roth.Media Systems in The Crying of Lot 49 33 —— V. Tzvetan. The Poetics of Prose. 1982. 2 November 1961. Heller Collection. Reading University. 1975. . Publishers Association Archive. Thomas H. Philip. Tony. Pynchon: The Voice of Ambiguity. 1985. Book File for V. London and New York: Methuen. Urbana: U of Illinois P. —— Letter to Candida Donadio. Brandeis University. Thomas Pynchon.

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it raises the question about the individual’s freedom in-between the coercions of culturally conceived historical designs. As discussed in this essay. I am aware that this might easily reduce the view of history either to simplistic messianism or to a no less simplistic vision of social and historical engineering. However. although they are inspired. it asks whether these historical designs are eternally given. . On a level of ethics. they are the acts of everyday crises – acts of whose import in a larger perspective the individual is largely unaware. the designs by which cultures shape people’s lives.DAVID DICKSON Pynchon’s Vineland and “That Fundamental Agreement in What is Good and Proper”: What Happens when we Need to Change it? What does it take for a person in the western world today to understand his or her own background? Although it has been claimed that Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland is a comparatively straightforward narrative. In acknowledging the fundamental role of culturally conceived pre-understandings and prejudgements. more specifically. or if the acts of individuals can subject them to change. and in so doing suggests that the individual act can be instrumental in changing not only the course of history but. mystical and even transcendental in the sense that they do succeed in setting aside the predesigned understandings that a culture offers. with Vineland these acts. it highlights the part played by the individual. On the level of philosophy of history. Vineland poses questions to its readers on two philosophical levels. In this essay I argue that Vineland begins a rethinking of the hermeneutic view of history. the way in which this question is given focus in the novel indicates a complexity in the scope of its understanding of history that needs to be recognized in criticism.

however. and that the novel marks Pynchon’s return to the traditional aesthetics of the beautiful. in Pynchon’s work. At the same time. While Pynchon’s strategies in Vineland acknowledge the need to stop the eternal deferral of meaning that the “landlessness” of poststructuralism would suggest. I have rejected this. he says is a diver in the vein of Emerson. suggesting instead that the novel marks the beginning. 1976: 594. as Melville would suggest. this was the point made by Marc Conner. be “a way back” (134) – a way back. to “a weakly Messianic. he asks.1 With reference to Barthes. and Roland Barthes.” For instance. of an innovation in the strategies of narration that points forward to a fundamentally new conception of beauty and new strategies by which this new sense of beauty is transmitted.36 David Dickson A critical perspective on Pynchon’s writing is that of Heikki Raudaskoski who discusses it as a kind of transcendental “diving. In my own analyses of Vineland. possibility” paving the way “for new […] constellations and matrices in which the other could be heard by displacing the logic of the Same?” (134).or even anti-poststructuralist question about Pynchon’s writing from the zones of landlessness. sometimes with transcendental “oracular gibberish. not to the security of the lisibility of the settled “intertextual code” (125). This is a vein of writing in which “thought-divers […] have been diving & coming up again with blood-shot eyes since the world began” – coming up. It is true that Vineland has at times been discussed in terms that would suggest it as a “way back. Raudaskoski asks an interesting and perhaps non. .” Pynchon. at the same time they succeed in breaking the cultural transmission of that “hatred of anything new” 1 Raudaskoski quotes here from Melville. Could there. who claimed in 1996 that Vineland announces a major shift back to “the traditional domain of the beautiful” (70).” sometimes with intimations of “landlessness” as “the highest truth” (124). Letters 79. as Raudaskoski puts it. and from Moby-Dick Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Raudaskoski asks whether Pynchon’s texts are “writerly” – suggesting that they hilariously “leave behind the world of conventions” (124). Melville. abandoning the “lisible” or “readerly” as a writing which is “afraid of diving into anything new and unexpected” (125). but.

Prairie’s own previous knowledge of her mother’s personal history does not predispose her for taking in much of what DL has to say. I shall outline Vineland’s conception of change against the background of the hermeneutic view of history and cultural change as defined by Hans-Georg Gadamer. the question how to fill the needs of the present moment in-between the conventions of cultural transmission turns into one of the novel’s main themes. The transmission of historical knowledge is one of the great issues in the world portrayed in Vineland. however. As an image of the class struggles in the Western states between US socialist revolutionaries and the reactionary thugs of roughshod Capitalism. the Union struggles among Californian farm hands and film industry workers up to the anti-war movements in the 30s and 60s – as to find ways of telling about these parts of American history and to tell about them in ways that bring out their relevance in the present. I want to demonstrate how Vineland engages with the discussion on cultural change that I have mentioned above – a discussion that involves a critical view of poststructuralist thinking and traditionalist intertextualism alike. When fourteen-year-old Prairie compels the former revolutionary activist Darryl Louise Chastain (also called DL) to comply with her yearning for her absent mother Frenesi and tell all she knows about her.“That Fundamental Agreement in What Is Good and Proper” 37 (Vineland 273) that characterizes the settled intertextual code of those American cultures that Vineland portrays. it is true that he gives us this history through the perspective of the leftists – a somewhat rare perspective in US American literature. not so much to vindicate the American left – ranging from the IWW-movement with Joe Hill. revolutionary comradeship and deep treason makes the telling an affair of great difficulty for DL herself. Moreover. A problem of high priority for DL. Frenesi and her extended family of radicals represent an important aspect in the history of American domestic politics in the twentieth century. To accomplish this. in trying to satisfy the . When Pynchon brings this up in 1990. He does it. To find ways of telling about American domestic politics in the twentieth century is a problem of narrative form which is brought into focus by DL’s intricate communication of information to young Prairie. DL’s experience in the 1960s of Frenesi’s close friendship.

Dos Passos and Pynchon continue to depend on or react to conventions that go all the way back to the polis or citystate in ancient Greece. The classical narrative contracts. the play of human will in Vineland in-between determining elements of culture and language is one of the novel’s most moving and challenging motifs. to emphasize the element of human volition in the processes of language and concept formation. it is my intention to make it completely clear that among the determining elements that make up language.2 My purpose in employing a different term is. In my analysis. aiming to protect the community from the most shattering aspects of new thought. this notion of convention. emphasis in original) The precise problem for narration in Vineland goes to the roots of narrative grammar.38 David Dickson girl’s need to know about her mother is that “whatever story DL told this kid must not. then. and the conventional character of language are expressed by the terms contract and contractuality. but as can be seen more clearly in the inflexion “conventional. and how could she not? (101. Underground. mainly. In using my own term – contract – for describing processes in language and thought. especially 76–82 and “Appendix” 191–202. I have shown elsewhere.3 In Vineland. . how could DL tell her what she knew. See Dickson. My indebtedness on this point to Pease and his idea of an “adventurer’s cultural contract” (174) should be acknowledged here. Pynchon suggests a similar repression of newness in referring to the nineteenth-century 2 3 See Dickson. be the story she knew”: Underground. The widely accepted term “convention” has the tendency of emphasizing the determining (and even deterministic) elements of tradition. The term does denote a decision or decree taken in negotiations between individuals. there is also the element of human volition.” the term tends to weaken or water out the connotations of human volition. Now. Right. maybe could never. how American narratives in Emerson. That’s the story DL should have known they’d tell the kid. In the terminology that I use. transform the sense impressions of calamities and adventures into experience through a politics of repression.

the radical American left.g. as portrayed in Vineland. too. perception and human action make it relevant to bring the discussion back to one of the main recent thinkers on issues of humanism. and its hatred of the new thus defines the fascism of this character and. on the traditional political left and right) who have knowledge about the near past to communicate to the twenty-first century. perceiving. in Pynchon’s novel. history. It is my aim here. asking whether. there is not new energy to be brought into a situation by a breakage in the transmission of basic pre-understandings. perhaps. to suggest how Pynchon in Vineland begins to formulate a critique of the hermeneutic theory of experience. My analysis of Vineland makes use of the fact that. incorporates a similar hatred of the new in its rhetoric. that of his employers in the American State as well. narration about history becomes a highly problematic task for the characters. as I see it. as I have mentioned. In between these “misoneistic” bodies of thought.. These connections in Vineland between language. What it does. Even more interesting. and acting in the present. Pynchon’s critique does not try to do away with the idea of the hermeneutic circle. His hermeneutic theory of experience puts great weight on the transmission of preunderstandings.“That Fundamental Agreement in What Is Good and Proper” 39 phrenologist Cesare Lombroso and his “misoneism” (272) or “hatred of anything new” which operates “as a feedback device to keep societies coming along safely. the forms provided by the “hatred of anything new” are too limited to make history a resource for living. at some moments in history. to an important extent. Lombroso’s “misoneism” is introduced in Vineland as Brock Vond’s philosophy. language and history – Hans-Georg Gadamer. the metaphors that language provides for the characters’ understanding of the present is a matter of conflict in the field of US American domestic politics. His theory idealizes human caution in relation to new ideas at the same time as its point of departure is a fundamental trust in human creativity. coherently” (273). . is to introduce a question. is that. or the transmission (as he would also put it) of prejudices. The new energy thus introduced would facilitate new ways of understanding crucial experiences and the making of new concepts. For those (e.

The metaphor. but similarities that are expressed metaphorically (429). And the perspective of language on reality is that of similarity in the appearance of things and similarity in significance for “us. “It is important to see. is a very different affair. my emphasis). “that to regard the metaphorical use of a word as not its real sense is the prejudice of a theory of logic that is alien to language” (429). and legein ‘to gather.” says Gadamer. then. memory and the human ability of abstraction take their point of departure in “the general concept meant by the word. what a person looks for are “similarities. the character of language is fundamentally metaphorical. In using Plato and Aristotle. Gadamer concludes his discussion here by saying that “the particularity of an experience finds expression in metaphorical transference. the question of concept formation is important.” Not universals. “the closeness of meaning between legein ‘to say’. as Gadamer puts it. on the other hand. But – and this seems important for how we regard the results of classificatory logic – “it is equally obvious that knowledge of what is common is obtained in this way” (429.” This is how I interpret Gadamer’s analysis of “language and concept formation” (428–29) and it should be emphasized that Pynchon’s Vineland is a demonstration of this view of language and truth. is the way in which human beings use language to express the real. Here. Universals and classification of concepts belong to the “theory of logic. As the Aristotelian process of induction is often understood. so that what emerges is a new more specific word formation which does more justice to the particularity of that act of perception” (429). and is not at all the fruit of a concept formed by means of abstraction” (429). This Aristotelian “logical schema of induction and abstraction.40 David Dickson In Gadamer’s view of history and the way in which experience and ideas are transmitted. Not classificatory concepts.” Language.’” Whether it is a perception of a thing or . is “very misleading” according to Gadamer. the general concept “is enriched by any given perception of a thing. the main drift of his discussion is towards Aristotle and the process of induction. whether in the appearance of things or in the significance for us. Gadamer acknowledges connections to Heidegger and. In Gadamer’s view.” With Aristotle.” however. In obeying the metaphorical character of language.

. whose metaphors are opposed to each other in . Even for logic. in which the forming of new metaphors helps Prairie begin to understand her history and her present reality. in the Heideggerian sense. Frenesi’s fate as well as Prairie’s exploration of it exemplify how thought does “turn for its own instruction to this stock that language has built up” (Gadamer 429) and how thought. one part of the work is for thought to “turn for its own instruction to this stock that language has built up” (429). thought picks up or gathers among the similarity-metaphors that language has put in store. and we thus see Prairie caught in-between two such stocks of metaphors. But however much Vineland proves the hermeneutic structure of experience and understanding. the fundamentally metaphorical character of language. the fact that the metaphor is the way in which human beings use language to express the real.e. Gadamer says. So. whether one works through logic or through experience. and with capitalism. both of which seem to be endorsed by her mother – that of the radical leftist movement and that of the repressive apparatus connected with the FBI. Language provides stocks of metaphors as an “advance work” for the narration of experiences that are relevant for subjectivation and action in the present.“That Fundamental Agreement in What Is Good and Proper” 41 the understanding of a logical schema. similarities in appearance and similarities in significance for us) that language has worked out. Vineland describes the transmission of historical experience largely in line with the hermeneutical view of history. In doing the work required for speaking. Vineland exemplifies the hermeneutic structure of experience and understanding. Another is the narrator’s description of Frenesi’s struggle with the mother-role through which patriarchal pre-understandings are transmitted between generations. One key example that I will return to is Prairie’s session with DL and Ditzah in the revolutionary film archive. and has to turn to the stock of metaphorical descriptions of similarities (i. thought does turn. the raison d’être of this novel is not to repeat that truth. picks up or gathers among the similarity-metaphors that language has put in store. this stock of metaphors is the “advance work that language has worked out for it” (430). The novel indicates a complication in the transmission of experience as it pictures Prairie’s position between two political cultures. In this way.

is founded” (431). the processes of formation of language.42 David Dickson terms of twentieth-century political values but are in very basic agreement about the danger of new ideas and unexpected thoughts – an agreement that has existed within Western cultures for a very long time. then. namely its understanding of beginnings and the role of human creativity in beginnings. Vineland indicates the need to come out of the stalemate in the creation of metaphors for American domestic politics that Prairie’s situation represents.” even as his main concern was “to reflect the order of things and to detach it from all verbal contingencies. I have also analysed Sophocles’ “Ode to Man” – a poem in the tragedy Antigone. its harmony with respect to what is good and proper. and Pynchon. where Vineland is the object of analysis in one of the chapters. . as mentioned. By beginnings. She needs to take out the bearings for her own orientation in her world. In my analyses of “thought-divers” in American literature such as Emerson. but the instruction she can gather from either of these stores of meaning will conceal rather than illuminate what she needs to understand – her mother’s part in recent historical issues. Dos Passos. According to Aristotle/Gadamer. Vineland aims its criticism at one particular point in the hermeneutic theory. is explicitly described as going back to nineteenth-century Lombrosianism. In Vineland this agreement. I have. Gadamer goes back to Aristotle for whom “speech and thought remained completely unified. then. 4 Vineland’s criticism of hermeneutics takes its starting-point in the stalemate of Prairie’s position between two basically similar bodies of metaphors.” And the historical factor by means of which speech and thought are unified is this “agreement on which human community. I mean the beginnings of what Gadamer refers to as “that fundamental agreement in what is good and proper” (431–32). At this juncture. thought and community are all determined by – are expressions of – “that fundamental agreement in 4 In my book The Utterance of America. My analysis of this classical poem suggests a fundamental agreement on the communication of experience in the Greek polis (= city state) in which one of the basic elements is a similar fear of anything that is new. traced a similar agreement back to ancient Greece.

stipulating the new as a danger to be warded off. the answers of which might fill it. a gap in the understanding of how new agreements in what is good and proper as concerns the processes of formation of language. Vineland does not. and the gun she’d brought him to do it with. the question of the origin of the “fundamental agreement in what is good and proper” is dealt with in passing. the novel’s peripety pictures the possibility of a new contract designed to illuminate what is otherwise supposed to be kept in the dark.“That Fundamental Agreement in What Is Good and Proper” 43 what is good and proper” (431–32). there is a gap left in Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory too. in front of her own eyes.” Aristotle speaks about this convention of language formation without implying anything about its origin (432). expertly bounced. reentering nonmovie space.” With Gadamer. At the same time. DL’s oral commentary orchestrates the scattered information about .000-watt Mickey-Mole spot on the dead body of a man who had loved her. Her mom. community and identity are proposed and realized. (261) The act of narration has this illuminating potential for Prairie. for a few hours. the deed. had stood with a 1. or even try to formulate the questions. and the man who’d just killed him. the agreement is that of an age-old “misoneism” or “hatred of anything new. thought. instead of conceal. try to fill this gap. As a result. actually. as if it were part of some contract to illuminate. Stood there like the Statue of Liberty. bringer of light. It is a moment in which the narrative about her mother finally disposes Prairie to break through her earlier prejudgements: Prairie. still pressurized with spirit yet with a distinct memory of having been. felt like a basketball after a Lakers game – alive. although the Greeks usually thought of the agreement as “the decree and the achievement of divine men. resilient. Vineland’s focus is on bringing onto the agenda the thought that a new fundamental agreement on the formation of concepts is at all possible in the present time. In the context of Vineland. He says that. Vineland portrays Prairie’s captivity in-between two politically opposed world-views whose one point of agreement is this fundamental contract. This happens in the aftermath of the film sequence from the archives of the former revolutionaries and is the peak in Prairie’s quest for knowledge about her mother.

the desperate act of abstaining from the care of her child – of rejecting her role as a link in the transmission of the hatred of anything new – creates the possibility of an opening in the closed hermeneutic circle of “misoneism. would tend to do so in compliance with what is agreed upon as inoffensive within his or her community. Instead. This was the mother’s desperate line of action when Prairie was still a baby. It whets the drive to explore the unknown that Prairie . FBI infiltrator and frame-up agent. The crucial circumstance is Prairie’s mother’s refusal. however. whether revolutionary leftist. or politically disillusioned. fascist. or avoidance. Her refusal to play mother has the effect of introducing an element of uncertainty in the cultural line of transmission by which the hatred of the new is reproduced. There is. at a time when she – Frenesi – was herself completely tied up by the coercions of left-wing radicalism and society’s crypto-fascism alike. Frenesi would have stayed with her new-born child. And this is exactly the way in which DL tells Prairie about Frenesi’s life. from a somewhat different perspective. of playing the role of mother in Prairie’s childhood. She would have become “just another mom in the nation of moms” (292). and obediently letting the story of her life be told inoffensively and without illumination. anybody else that tried to tell her story. one crucial circumstance that gives DL’s narrative about Prairie’s mother (or. this act introduces her as a space of silence that weakens the effect on Prairie of any prejudgements that others might want to impose on her. Moreover. Frenesi does not know herself and her motives well enough to tell to anyone about her life and actions as a combined revolutionary. As a mother in compliance with that fundamental agreement. In Vineland’s point of view. However. about the history of American domestic politics in the twentieth century) its illuminating potential.” By absenting herself from the family. a patriarchal mother. this is the outcome of a vicious hermeneutic circle in which pre-understandings and prejudgements serve the safety of a community at the expense of new perceptions. and Prairie can make her own interpretation of it.44 David Dickson Frenesi into a narrative. obediently transmitting the fundamental agreement in what is good and proper. she never turns into a teller of inoffensive stories about her life.

What it means. then. is founded” (Gadamer 431) is annulled in being thus counteracted. then. Pynchon is mainly concerned here with the transmission of historical knowledge. however. is the way in which the illuminating narrative is made possible. Although it may concern all production of knowledge. whether they matter enough to be insisted upon in the face of coercive traditions. Through this criticism Vineland suggests that the good and proper must not be viewed as something that was agreed upon once and never again. it is also a more particular concern with the problem of writing the history of American twentieth-century domestic politics. however. whether. where. it leads to the far-reaching questioning of the theory of hermeneutics. The effect. at some historical junctures. to come – from the everyday point of view that Vineland adopts – to a new agreement about the formation of concepts – a new agreement on which human community. according to one critic. not explicated in Vineland. for the writing of history to create a new agreement of what is good and proper is. is to pose a real question about resistance to the reader. It may be that Pynchon’s own explorations of the matter – both generally and with reference to American history – are further spelled out and practised in his great novel Mason & Dixon. While this is posed as a general question in Vineland. its harmony with respect to what is good and proper. What happens here from a hermeneutic point of view. The focus in this essay is on the question that Vineland poses to the theory of hermeneutics. but that it is a judgement of value that is renegotiated in certain historical situations. it is perhaps both possible and needful to come to new fundamental agreements on what is good and proper. On the level of philosophy of history. a question about his/her own every-day actions. The effect. strategies are practised which allow “conceptualization outside traditionally monologic conventions” (Troy 206). What does it mean. The key to the criticism that Vineland formulates against the hermeneutic theory. on the level of ethics. its . is twofold.“That Fundamental Agreement in What Is Good and Proper” 45 has in common with her mother and it turns Frenesi and her life into the irresistible object of her daughter’s explorations. is that “the agreement on which human community. This annulment is perhaps temporary or conditional as is suggested by the ambiguous conclusion of the novel.

1987. ed. Possibly. even. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company. can be founded? The novel looks forward to an answer to these questions. Truth and Method. Merrell R.A. 1999. that Vineland looks forward to an aesthetic “displacing the logic of the Same?” (Raudaskoski 134). 1960. then. I understand that these are things that remain to be accomplished in the everyday use of language – in the narratives of actual people.46 David Dickson harmony with respect to what is good and proper. and Pynchon’s Vineland. and to a new conception of beauty – one that might allow the appreciation of relativity as well as closure that Raudaskoski suggests. David. Vineland strongly suggests that the individual act can be instrumental in changing not only the course of history. what Pynchon asks us – as people and as philosophers of language alike – is simply to pay attention to the question whether. “Postmodern Exhaustion: Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland and the Aesthetic of the Beautiful. but specifically the agreements and designs by which history and people’s lives are shaped. The Letters of Herman Melville. . 1976.S. Finally. Madison: U of Wisconsin P. Trans. 2nd rev. Dickson. Marshall.” Studies in American Fiction 24. Hans-Georg. this is what Frenesi’s rejection of motherhood is about – an act of love that includes the insecurity of “landlessness” as much as the certainty of home. 1851. Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis. and if so how a liberated conceptualization could be made possible. 1998. Marc C. Raising these questions and indicating this possibility are Vineland’s main achievement. —— Moby-Dick. Herman. In taking the point of Vineland’s ambiguous ending. Davis and William H. Donald E.1 (1996): 65–85. New Haven: Yale UP: 1960. Ed. Whatever the goal and aim of a new agreement on what is good and proper. Works Cited Conner. Gadamer. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Visionary Compacts: American Renaissance Writings in Cultural Context. 1989. Gilman. Could it be. Pease. The Utterance of America: Emersonian Newness in Dos Passos’ U. Melville.

before a Ceaseless Spectacle of Transition. Oslo: Novus Press. 2002. Eds. and the Fulcrum of America. 1990. “… ever in a Ubiquity of Flow.“That Fundamental Agreement in What Is Good and Proper” 47 Pynchon. Raudaskoski. Anne Mangen and Rolf Gaasland. Oslo: Novus Press. 1991. London: Mandarin Paperbacks. . “Pynchon. Anne Mangen and Rolf Gaasland. Troy. 2002: 206–26. Mark.” Blissful Bewilderment: Studies in the Fiction of Thomas Pynchon. Thomas. Melville.” Blissful Bewilderment: Studies in the Fiction of Thomas Pynchon. Eds. Vineland. Heikki.

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whose Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon was one of the earliest book-length studies of Our Author. articulate the now orthodox view: [I]n order to link the atoms of experience together. Let Molly Hite. and. presumably in an effort to arrive at a less deceptive relation to subjective experience.DAVID THOREEN In which “Acts Have Consequences”: Ideas of Moral Order in the Qualified Postmodernism of Pynchon’s Recent Fiction 1. cultural. critics have assumed that Pynchon’s tacit rejection of cause and effect is consonant with that perennial poststructuralist project. (38) . The contributing factors to this denial are many: textual.. In this enterprise they resemble the classical physicist who aims to trace all the phenomena of his world to a system of laws [. Pynchon’s characters and narrators look for causes.. Not So Much Visited by Understanding as Allow’d Briefly to Pay Attention to What Had Been There All the Time Father. Mother? Was the story so important? (Simpson 37–38) Since the publication of V. institutional. why did you work? Why did you weep. destabilizing the bourgeois humanist subject. insofar as the literary-critical world is hegemonic. critics have attributed to Pynchon a denial of causality. The inhabitants of Pynchon’s worlds continually try to exchange their freedom for the security of a wholly coherent causal explanation. and particularly since the adoption of Gravity’s Rainbow as a central postmodern text.].. For the most part.

] represented the first attempts of the century to warn humans that reality could no longer be explained by the mere recourse to “common sense. quoting Gravity’s Rainbow 626). Asking whether these metaphors have been helpful to their various adherents in Gravity’s Rainbow. Friedman emphasizes that the three historical models of the universe are – and this is true even for scientists – only metaphors. since “he has been exposed to each of the alternative world views from paranoia [the clockwork universe] to anti-paranoia [the universe described by quantum physics]. Hite seems to say. and early cultural announcements of the coming of chaos into commonsensical Aristotelian reality are all constantly repeated motifs in his fiction” (476).. Friedman admits that they have not been. secure our freedom. In a sense.50 David Thoreen Hite’s choice of language could not be more deliberate. See also Collado Rodríguez’s essay in this collection in which he analyses Pynchon’s “latest attempt [in Mason & Dixon] to disrupt the still existing Newtonian confidence in categorical thinking” (72).. If only we could make ourselves resemble quantum physicists. (Collado Rodríguez 475)1 I admit to being one of the “many” not yet ready to accept metaphors from Relativity theory and quantum mechanics as models for living. it has nonetheless persisted. Taking Slothrop as his test case. but Pynchon’s readers know better: randomness. As a more recent example of such wistful analysis puts it: Nowadays many cultural critics and philosophers of science coincide in pointing out that the twentieth century has brought about a new interpretive paradigm.2 1 A page later. Alan J. Although this critical approach would appear difficult to reconcile with either Vineland or Mason & Dixon. indeterminacy..’ None of the metaphors from science has remained with Slothrop” (95. we could. by abandoning causal explanation. Relativity theory and quantum mechanics [. it can be argued that quantum mechanics entails such a tremendous shift from classical Greek and Newtonian notions that many people are not yet ready to accept it.” Friedman notes that Slothrop “reaches no ultimate conclusions” and reminds us that “we last see him with ‘not a thing in his head.” Newtonian physics.]. Friedman is careful to warn against the adoption of too narrow a 2 . fractal cartography. By referring to “atoms of experience” which cannot be held together. unstable selves. she reflects the essential indeterminacy of a world view predicated on quantum physics. Collado Rodríguez reveals the depth of his longing even more directly: “It seems clear that people are not ready to get rid of traditional common-sensical views about the character of a stable reality. and sensorial data [..

It is not that Pynchon fails to see the contradictions between historical methodology and the human desire for order. and are expressed by other characters [..In which “Acts Have Consequences” 51 particularly as applied to questions of morality and individual responsibility. I argue that Pynchon also rejects these models. Postmodern challenges to historiography are at the core of the discrediting of cause–effect. Since Frenesi obviously views her impending return to the earlier conception of the universe with such distaste.” Vineland’s Frenesi Gates understands that she “must reenter the clockwork of cause and effect” (90. . but for the most part consigned themselves to using the novel’s various statements about cause and effect as metaphors to help world view: “Alternatives to the world views with science as metaphor are many. “The metaphors from science [. the narrator says at one point. forcing us to acknowledge our own desires for order and then pandering to us: “All right. emphasis added). Many critics were caught off guard by such passages..] reinforce the importance of the choices of world view made by the characters. Pavlovian world view] when we see that it is parallel to a major theme in the development of science” (99–100). says Friedman. defied traditional historical method and chastised its own readers: “You will want cause and effect” (663).. No predominant pattern of earthly success follows any of the theoretical approaches. but that those philosophical objections are ultimately overridden because to refuse to make such causal connections is finally to exist in a moral vacuum.]. Thanatz was washed overboard in the same storm that took Slothrop from the Anubis ” (663). More. In “a moment of undeniable clairvoyance. strangely. and for readers of Pynchon such challenges appeared most directly in 1973. In Gravity’s Rainbow. Finally. and neither salvation nor success is identified with any one theoretical system in Gravity’s Rainbow” (95–96). rare in her life but recognized. we should weigh carefully the “freedom” she is offered by the quantum model against the “responsibility” demanded by its clockwork counterpart. But it will first be helpful to rehearse some background regarding the status of cause and effect in Pynchon’s fiction. and that he has gone out of his way in Vineland and Mason & Dixon to correct such mistaken critical explications. It is harder to dismiss an unpopular choice [such as Pointsman’s mechanistic.. Pynchon offered a historical novel that.

Though there may be no causal connection between the Germans’ extermination of “about 60. critics show no sign of abandoning it.. and argued for “relations of resemblance” as a “structural principle in Pynchon’s novels and in the worlds of those novels” (40). unfortunately. Mapping on to different coordinate systems” (Gravity’s Rainbow 159). and it is accompanied by an undeniable increase in magnitude. for instance.000 people” (V. I would argue. But what Douglas Keesey a decade ago dubbed “Pynchon’s newly explicit political activism” demands such a historicizing gesture (110). Molly Hite. causal history” (100). and despite passages in Vineland and Mason & Dixon which would seem to preclude the application of such a scheme. applying a typological model. but these too shortcircuit Pynchon’s insistence on individual responsibility.52 David Thoreen account for its dizzying array of voices. argues that “Vineland’s historical method becomes something outside linear. 245) in 1904 and of six million during World War II. concluding that “what Pynchon’s history does not enact [. there is a chronology. Metaphor. . Other alternative structuring principles have also been proffered..] is the historicizing gesture that places the past behind and subordinate to the present” (101). and rapid shifts in time and space. Signs and symptoms. What’s terrifying about Gravity’s Rainbow is that the reader proceeds with foreknowledge of the V2’s evolution into the ICBM.] not cause. taken on a life of its own. not series. took her cue from Leni Pökler’s often quoted “Not produce [.. not only from Pynchon’s novels but from the real world to which they bear some mimetic relation:3 Hite’s idea of order conveniently leaves out magnitude. Parallel. But Hite’s thesis – that events need not be ordered through causality or chronology but can be ordered equally well through correspondence and metaphor – carries with it a moral problem.” Elizabeth Jane Wall Hinds. In “Visible Tracks: Historical Method and Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland. Hite’s “relations of resemblance” thesis has.. in that it removes time’s arrow. What is tragic about Mason & Dixon is that the reader knows that the Line will eventuate in the Civil War. It all goes along together. 3 This mimetic relation is. an essential component of the experience of reading Pynchon. narrative modes.

she offers persuasive evidence (the text’s profusion of anachronistic details) to support her claim that “Pynchon’s version of temporality resists the linear bias of ordinary historiography.] that the machinations and mechanization of early market capital – political. who cannot resist playing a round or two of academic games. instead links and complicates experience into webs of more complicatedly connected meaning” (205). to dispel any notion that I am being editorially unfair: As she has done throughout her search for the past through iconic screen media. we learn that “Prairie has indeed moved back to a time during which she can not only know her mother but can actually be her mother” (99). rather than partitioning data into isolated and manageable portions.. further. but in fact ‘discovers’ a past that still exists. Anachronism. too” (207). “does not invoke her own position as a progression from past history. and the Vortex of History: Calendar Reform.g. That such statements are mere posturing becomes obvious when Hinds completes her inquiry by drawing a clear line of cause and effect: “Mason & Dixon makes the argument [. Prairie-the-historian has formulated a method of history that actuates the past upon the same plane as the present. Shortly thereafter. The temporal variants are literally 4 “Prairie’s historical quest. which sounds like either the set-up or punch line for a hillbilly joke. and Language Change in Mason & Dixon. both prefiguring and reflecting the present. 5 . economic.4 the passages she marshals as evidence occasionally underscore the fact that Pynchon’s characters have no trouble distinguishing between past and present (e. This past.. ‘Brock ain’t in the past right now.In which “Acts Have Consequences” 53 Although Hinds argues that Pynchon’s technique is to present his narrative in such a way that the past and present effectively coexist. “As DL acknowledges early on. In one of the most stunning revelations. Her historical method is based in reflexivity over time. Sorry. bypassing the causality inherent in ordinary historiography” (94). he’s in the present tense again’” [99. Pynchon thickens this dialectic of time by reversing causality: the present interacts with the past.] this temporal structure... quoting Vineland 103]): the one who pretends to have difficulty with this exercise is the critic. however.5 An examination of Hinds’ discussion of the novel’s final scene will illustrate my point. I quote at length. Hinds. argues that “[w]ith his anachronisms fleshing out Mason & Dixon’s temporal compressions. In “Sari. is ongoing. A close reading of the novel reveals the limits of the typological approach. Here.” Hinds offers yet another scheme..” Hinds writes. and psychic – have come to result directly in the postmodern culture of increased disorientation” (209). and [.

Frenesi has “felt in herself a fatality.] splic[ing] in a DNA sequence” – she must accept it.6 6 Another. just as Prairie is now indistinguishable from her mother and grandmother. as if some Cosmic Fascist had spliced in a DNA sequence. not only from Prairie to Frenesi to Sasha. emphasis added). If. Roger Mexico tells Pointsman that there’s a feeling about that cause-and-effect may have been taken as far as it will go... (89. how then do we account for it? Are we to believe that the stipulated “Cosmic Fascist” simultaneously inserted this genetic trait into every generation of the Becker-Traverse-Wheeler line? No. and the rest of his sterile armamentarium. of DNA. especially uniformed men […] and she further believed that it could be passed on.” (100. this late invocation of . for this is the only way in which Prairie can be said to be “indistinguishable” from her mother and grandmother. the narrator assures us that Pointsman will be “left only with Cause and Effect. But two other passages in Gravity’s Rainbow also devalued the currency of cause and effect among Pynchon’s readers. What more direct causal link between past and present could there be than a genetic one? The “temporal variants” are not only distinguishable. and this is the whole point of Frenesi’s consideration of heredity. more poetically just.” (752–53. a less ..54 David Thoreen indistinguishable. but back on into pre-history. “Obliged” or predestined. it must look for a less narrow. Such a DNA sequence would be an effect of evolution and could be traced along the maternal branch of the family tree. like Hinds. The next great breakthrough may come when we have the courage to junk cause-and-effect entirely. a helpless turn toward images of authority. we take Frenesi’s belief seriously. sterile set of assumptions. meaning suggests itself here. they are chronologically and causally ordered.. quoting Vineland 83) Note that Hinds accepts Frenesi’s suggestion of “some Cosmic Fascist [.. That for science to carry on at all. near the end of the novel. emphases added) Then. Early in the novel.. As an oblique reference to the conditioned erections of Infant Tyrone. Prairie fulfills Frenesi’s early suggestion of a biological basis for typological interpretation. and strike off at some other angle.

When. Having “understood her particular servitude as the freedom. critics have attributed an implicit authority to the above statement. Taking “science” as signifier for humanity. in his fourth novel. we meet a character who has for all practical purposes been living according to a moral system constructed on the principles of the new physics. is Frenesi Gates’s willingness to “go along in a government-defined history without consequences” (354). according to the world view based on quantum physics and championed by so many poststructuralists. and despite the explicitly limited subject matter of his remarks to Pointsman. as in life. no yet-to-be-born. as if Mexico is not merely one more subjective point-ofview character. to mistake this mode of existence as one that is in any way endorsed by Pynchon. roughly seventy pages into Vineland. Pynchon makes clear in Vineland. significantly. but is really (heh! heh!) Thomas Pynchon. to imagine no future.” he must abandon the “sterility” of cause and effect. this important observation has been forgotten. not to the onto-epistemological framework adopted by his characters.In which “Acts Have Consequences” 55 Although Edward Mendelson noted as early as 1976 that “[i]n Gravity’s Rainbow. to act outside warrants and charters. Pynchon returns to the earlier model of the universe. applying it.” . people think about the world in ways related to the work they do much of the day” (179). purely. Frenesi becomes Pynchon’s dramatic presentation of someone who lives in a continuous present characterized by the absolute absence of cause and effect – that is. thus his “sterile armamentarium. Despite Roger Mexico’s occupation (his work as a statistician would preclude consideration of causeeffect). we are first introduced to Frenesi and granted access to her point of view. by the action that filled them” (71–72). The result is far from ennobling. The result? Nearly every reason human beings find it possible to get up in the morning and make it through another day the detestable Pavlovian suggests that Pointsman is impotent. It would be difficult. to be able simply to go on defining moments only. but to – imagine. to ignore history and the dead. they have too-often concluded that for “Postmodern Postman” to “carry on. granted to a few. in fact. But what is really sterile. Here. of all things – a moral system.

these smells. the watch colonizes RC’s stomach. blank-faced. of course.56 David Thoreen has been sucked out of her existence. his wife “moves to another Bed. While Leni sees the maternal relation as a social construction aimed at 7 Dixon similarly experiences anti-Newtonian reality – emblemized by the watch given him by Emerson before his voyage to America – as constraint and servitude. Far from being liberating – much less uplifting or transcendentally spiritual – Frenesi experiences the freedom of causal constraints as merely another form of “servitude. his personal relationships suffer. a bitch with swollen udders lying in the dirt. The radical arguments set forth by Leni. why. In the end. In the midst of a deep postpartum depression. however.” (287) This is a clear reversal of the position set out in Gravity’s Rainbow. and soon into another room altogether” (324). Brock. because they want a great swollen tit with some atrophied excuse for a human. Leni rails against being a “mother” to her daughter Ilse. “If this Watch be a message.”7 In this regard it is interesting to see what has happened to the ideology espoused by Leni Pökler in Gravity’s Rainbow.. “This is just how they want you... and shortly thereafter finds that “his only Thoughts are of ways to rid himself of it” (321). and feeling guilty for her resentment against the newborn Prairie.. Whispering. bleating around somewhere in its shadows. until at last Dixon experiences it as a “curs[e]” (320). an animal. an event which Mason styles “release” (324). reduced to this meat. the watch becomes “a Burden whose weight increases with each nontorsionary day” (320). Frenesi hears Brock’s voice assuaging her guilt. Mothers work for Them! (219). [. As emblem for anti-Newtonian reality. are essentially the same as those picked up by Brock Vond in Vineland. leaning darkly in above her like any of the sleek raptors that decorate fascist architecture. .] “Mother. uses the arguments with Frenesi not to free her from social mores but to bind her to himself. a “local landsurveyor employ’d upon the Tangent Enigma” (321) internalizes antiNewtonian reality by swallowing the watch. surrendered. As he or the narrator reflects. which has become an interminable series of disconnected moments.” that’s a civil-service category. it does not seem a kind one” (318). When at last RC.

who is “interested at least in a scientific way in [.. Thus the radical ideal of an earlier age (the child’s freedom from the maternal relation) has been twisted into the mother’s freedom from maternal duties.8 That their union may produce a child is foreshadowed in the speculations of the Head Ninjette. against “unrelenting forces [. the passage also provides a correction to Pointsman’s “sterile armamentarium” of cause and effect. But because Frenesi has been released from these duties only in order to work for Brock and the State. while assenting that human life consists of struggling against the inexplicable. a society so lacking in community that there can be no counterforce.. whose major action throughout Vineland is accepting responsibility for having mistakenly applied the “Vibrating Palm” to Takeshi Fumimota. The result is a nation of snitches. Frenesi’s husband Flash and the other members of the underground community serve as Pynchon’s warning of what happens when an entire society or subculture adopts quantum physics as the basis of its moral system. beyond cause and effect” (383). Brock understands familial love. and perhaps particularly maternal love. as a bond that threatens state control. that tricky little pud-puller” (383).In which “Acts Have Consequences” 57 constraint and militates against it.” In contrast to Frenesi.. and on which it has based . Pynchon counterposes an assertion of free will.. Employing a variation on the radical rhetoric of the earlier period. The very notion of such retributions lies outside – indeed. no family gathering capable of celebrating the “secret retributions [. The annually renewed contract in which they dedicate themselves to each other bears certain affinities to a marriage contract. he can reassert his own control. her “freedom” translates into just another form of “servitude.] of the divine justice” (369). highlighting a conscious choice made by DL and Takeshi. 8 If as exemplar of responsibility DL embraces cause and effect.. And at the end of the novel. by severing it. Pynchon gives us DL Chastain. Their decision at the novel’s end to forego the no-sex clause in the contract signifies the ultimate acceptance of cause and effect – and in the manner that most affirms the human.. has been ruled out by – the onto-epistemological system to which the society has so enthusiastically subscribed.] the Baby Eros.] simply persist[ing]. stone-humorless. Given the object of the Head Ninjette’s “at least scientific” speculations. Brock encourages Frenesi to see the biological relation as a constraint.

his labyrinths” (Gravity’s Rainbow 432). though Emerson’s conception is of a relation less mechanistic than transcendental. brought to tears and vomiting at his discovery of “the other side” of “his vaccums. Happily. Oedipa uses the squalid upstairs room in which he has been living as a launching pad for a fantasy featuring her own magnanimity. and we are not yet a nation of snitches. with the protagonists’ moral educations. in which “Men of Science” (343) become “m[e]n of conscience” (699). This evolution too details ethical transformation. And so Jess Traverse can still celebrate a variety of religious experience in his annual reading of Emerson. DL’s acceptance of responsibility for Takeshi marks a departure from these earlier scenes of moral action in another way as well. Jeremiah Dixon’s attack on the slave-driver in Mason & Dixon [698–99]).9 An evolution of similarly extended duration operates in Mason & Dixon. Moments after comforting the sailor downstairs. Dixon perceives. something of the purpose of the Line: its morality. It is significant that the passage he recites is an assertion of cause and effect. DL’s acceptance of responsibility in Vineland is noteworthy both for its duration – roughly a dozen years – and for its evolution from externally imposed to voluntarily embraced. Less easily observable than pushing a button to call for an elevator. mirror-rotation of sorrow” (432) before locating. Oedipa’s mothering of the dying sailor in The Crying of Lot 49 [102]. Men. “the divine justice” Jess Traverse calls for. it is untainted by selfinterest. And Pökler. engages a psychological defense mechanism of “Impotence. “[w]here it was darkest and smelled the worst. we have not all adopted quantum physics as the basis of a moral system. which operates through “secret retributions. the Lancaster Massacre of “26 Indians. in this case effected by a three-stage pun set up and delivered over 350 pages. [343–44]. Franz Pökler’s gift of comfort and his gold wedding band to the “breathing” Dora survivor in Gravity’s Rainbow [433]. At the pun’s fulcrum.58 David Thoreen While one might argue that every Pynchon novel includes at least one scene dramatizing a moral act (Fausto Maijstral’s administration of the sacrament of Extreme Unction to the Bad Priest in V. Women and Children” (340) and world-wide slave traffic. the fantasy is so involving that she doesn’t notice he has let go of her hand (The Crying of Lot 49 103).” is nonetheless an effect in response to a cause. in a moment of paranoid clarity. 345). 9 . Maijstral admits to spending much of the night “pray[ing] for [him]self” (V.” the “random woman” upon whom he bestows his redemptive gesture (433). This transformation yokes the two great evils of the novel.

– none but the grosser. Most importantly. that people are held accountable for their actions. its immediate causes). should be understood as one of the several motives leading Dixon to attack the slave-driver in Maryland. . however. Mason considers the effects of the Line (and by implication himself and Dixon. cringing there among the Waggon-Ruts. the Gothickal. “what happen’d to ‘We’re Men of Science’?” “And Men of Science. Although Mason speaks of “the Debt” these “Louts” have taken on. in Pynchon’s worlds.–” says. and claims to smell “Lethe-Water” (346). who we are told is “not as a rule sensitive to the metaphysickal Remnants of Evil. the site of “last Year’s Massacre. recommend close examination of two additional passages which comment upon cause and effect. suspect at best – and at worst a marker for the presence of evil. which is. In terms of “character. “Acts have consequences. we must see to it that acts have consequences – putting it more kindly. Mason’s “they must.” Mason’s insistence that “they must” reveals his psychological depth. are apt to claim his Attention. as if some Divine Retribution is at hand. Returned from his solo visit to Lancaster Gaol. Dixon.In which “Acts Have Consequences” 59 “A Global Scheme! Ah knew it!” Dixon beginning to scream.” Mason. First. What’s a man of conscience to do?” (699). for the pun that will follow thirty pages later.” mutters Mason.10 In the second passage.” then. it removes from the statement its categorical certainty. the appended phrase reveals his doubts and represents his attempt to convince himself such injustice will not go unanswered. that is. they must” (346). and Dixon’s meditation on the Line. man.” (669) With the question Pynchon gives Mason in this exchange – “what happen’d to?” – he cues us.” cries Dixon. we must be prepared to right them ourselves. “what’d Ah tell thee?” “Get a grip on yerrself. If forces unseen will not right the wrongs of the world. Mason’s insistence pushes us – and Dixon – toward personal responsibility. than a Hammer knows of a House. its dogmatism. and “groans”: 10 The “they must” that Pynchon appends to Mason’s dialogue here serves several functions. This pun. with an elbow-nudge in the gut (watch what happens to this phrase). when Dixon attacks a slave-driver and frees his slaves: “Dixon still greatly desires to kill the Driver. “may be but the simple Tools of others. with no more idea of what they are about.

Cherrycoke’s tale itself being governed by an outer narrator. naturally. ’Tis the Duck speaking. of a single. Mason’s question emanates from Mason. narrator of the Mason & Dixon passages cited here thus far. official perspective” (356). But to what extent does the Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke. rather. artificially. The truly “unlocaliz’d voice” here is the narrator’s. is how a Voice unlocaliz’d may yet act powerfully as a moral Center. the “Crimes” of Cherrycoke’s “distant Youth” read as a metaphor for Pynchon’s career as a fictionist: 11 For David Cowart. or that the narrator or author of a work of fiction may do the same. there is the existence of the novel’s framing device. but whence the narrator’s voice? Two possible meanings of this sentence are that something approaching a Universal Human Conscience may yet – even at this late date – act powerfully as a moral Center. Cherrycoke might be expected to have a vested interest in upholding cause and effect. speak for Pynchon himself? Why should Cherrycoke be understood as a more reliable mouthpiece for Pynchon than was Gravity’s Rainbow’s Roger Mexico? As an Anglican clergyman.11 Second. draws the reader/audience’s attention to his own possible unreliability as narrator” (356–57). vis-a-vis the not-so-good? I wonder which List will be longer. which is enveloped by the Duck’s dialogue. one of whose roles is to ironize Cherrycoke. however. the Duck’s scoffing rejoinder emanates from the Duck. Despite his self-interest. one strategy by which Pynchon refuses “the imposition.” “Hark! Hark! You wonder? That’s all?” One of the Enigmata of the Invisible World. First. since the sacrifice and redemption at the heart of Christianity depend upon it.60 David Thoreen “Shall wise Doctors one day write History’s assessment of the Good resulting from this Line.– or. Cherrycoke’s “joking about his ‘Authorial Authority’ (354) in one place and calling himself an ‘untrustworthy Remembrancer’ (8) in another. more or less fascistic. even as Cherrycoke presents a catalogue of “Crimes of [his] distant Youth” (9). for instance. This outer narrator is significant because he in effect places constraints on the “Authorial Authority” accruing to Cherrycoke/Pynchon (354). . three factors recommend a provisional identification between Cherrycoke and Pynchon. “What about ‘care’? Don’t you care?” (666) Pynchon has again encoded an important moment in a pun.

Assize verdicts. but did not sign them.– Tops and Hoops. Alas. spy. Francisco Squalidozzi’s history of Argentina: “Fences went up. were Accounts of certain Crimes I had observ’d. the Historian may indulge no such idle Rotating. History is not Chronology. and the gaucho became less free. losing our forebears in forever.– not a Chain of single Links. to survive.” That is. evictions. as claim the Power of the other. Third. must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc. as well as the mental labyrinths of Franz Pökler (432).– giving the names of as many of the Perpetrators as I was sure of.– that there may ever continue more than one life-line back into a Past we risk..– rather. I knew some nightrunning lads in the district who let me use their Printing-Press.– somehow.” Quite the opposite. he sets down an historiography that sounds suspiciously Pynchonian: Facts are but the Play-things of lawyers.– her Practitioners. what I got into printing up. for that is left to lawyers. forever a-spin.In which “Acts Have Consequences” 61 Along with some lesser Counts [. committed by the Stronger against the Weaker. and the Vonds in Pynchon’s fiction. the Pointsmans. .– nor is it Remembrance. Finally... Assize verdicts. never trumps his prerogative at “having been there. (9) Certainly that “anonymity” brings to mind Pynchon’s carefullyguarded privacy. unlike the Weissmanns. “part” of which appears as the epigraph to chapter 35. a great disorderly Tangle of Lines. long 12 See for instance. bad art names names” (Keesey 109). each day. Activities of the Military.– enclosures. In his treatise on Christ and History. and Taproom Wit.] the Crime they styl’d “Anonymity. where before there was open plain and sky” (Gravity‘s Rainbow 264). for Remembrance belongs to the People.12 and for “evictions. I left messages posted publicly. We are obsessed with building labyrinths. and Activities of the Military” we have the War on Drugs’ civil RICO asset seizures referred to in Vineland. It is our national tragedy. one thinks of Douglas Keesey’s ironic rejoinder to David Streitfield’s Washington Post review of Vineland: “True art is ambiguous about the source of threat. never claims exclusive rights to the past. History can as little pretend to the Veracity of the one. for one broken Link could lose us All. and what finally establishes Cherrycoke’s role as Pynchon’s mouthpiece is that. Cherrycoke never speaks categorically or monologically. and the Crimes he had “observed” and publicized find corollaries in the other novels: for “enclosures” we have the labyrinths of Gravity’s Rainbow..


David Thoreen and short, weak and strong, vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep, with only their Destination in common. (349)

Far from claiming the sanction of Official Rembrance, or of The True Chronology, Cherrycoke insists that a History’s value lies precisely in being one subjective strand among others. Not surprisingly, when, in a parenthetical aside provided by the outer narrator, Ives challenges Cherrycoke’s narrative authority – or lack thereof – Cherrycoke playfully foregrounds the fictionality of history, even as he insists on his original plot line, merely providing support by way of additional improvised detail, saying,
let us postulate two Dixons, then, one in an unmoving Stupor throughout,– the other [...] assum’d to’ve ridden [...] out to Nelson’s Ferry over Susquehanna, and after crossing, perhaps, tho’ not necessarily,– on to York [...] ever southing, toward Annapolis, and Virginia beyond. (393)

Pynchon is a postmodernist. But despite the fictionality of history, despite the historicity of his fiction, not all is Representation, not all is Indeterminacy – either in Pynchon’s novels or in the world to which they refer. In fact, it is in breaking the frame that separated the modernist work of art as an internally consistent and self-sufficient world from “the base mortal World that is our home and our Despair” (Mason & Dixon 345) that Pynchon performs his most crucial function as a writer and a citizen. Quantum physics may represent a better approximation of the physical universe, but in the moral realm, Pynchon would remind us, application of any but the Newtonian physics is disastrous. The Human Conscience “may yet act powerfully as a moral Center” (Mason & Dixon 666), but it must be carefully attended, provided with representations – and examples – of moral resistance in order for it to grow.

In which “Acts Have Consequences”


2. Pynchon’s Political Parable: Parallels between Vineland and “Rip Van Winkle”13
I have argued elsewhere that postmodern assertions aside, historical trends do exist, and they are not merely the manufactured cabals of subjective and subjectivizing personalities. As a historical novelist whose subject is America and whose passion is politics, Thomas Pynchon is aware of “the imperial presidency.”14 Vineland (1990), his fourth novel, reflects the steady encroachment in the twentieth century of the executive branch on the legislative and dramatizes some of the attendant threats to Americans’ civil liberties.15 It is fitting, then, that Pynchon has embedded in his novel an extended parallel to an early American political parable, Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.” Although Irving’s style has been criticized as excessively British, the thematic concerns of “Rip Van Winkle” are distinctly American and are quite relevant to Vineland and the presidential usurpation of power in the 1980s.16 Because readers of Pynchon’s texts always stand the risk of “Stencilizing” those texts, that is, of succumbing to their own “unacknowledged desires for [order]” (Vineland 269) by forcing intertextual connections of their own device on a neutral, unsuspecting, and otherwise innocent text, I offer the following extensive treatment of the parallels between “Rip Van Winkle” and Vineland. In addition
13 14 This part of my article originally appeared in ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews. 14.3 (2001): 45–50. The phrase is the title of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr’s study of executive aggrandizement, first published in 1973, the same year as Gravity’s Rainbow, a novel that features a Nixon look-alike driving a “black Managerial Volkswagen” like a mad führer down the Los Angeles freeways (755). For a concise history of executive aggrandizement, including an account of the judiciary branch’s reluctance to hear cases involving such issues, see Jules Lobel’s excellent discussion. For more detailed, although less contemporary discussions, see Rossiter and Schlesinger A more extensive discussion of the historical and thematic context surrounding this parallel appears in my article “The President’s Emergency War Powers and the Erosion of Civil Liberties in Pynchon’s Vineland.”




David Thoreen

to the thematic parallels, I shall mention a few parallels of plot and place. My goal here is not to belabor the point, but to establish definitively the connection between the two and to assure the reader that the novel is not, in my reading, being “Stencilized” (V. 228). Vineland is Pynchon’s wake-up call to the American voter, who, like Rip Van Winkle and Pynchon’s own protagonist Zoyd Wheeler, has been asleep for twenty years. Indeed, both texts involve scenes of awakening. The first sentence of Pynchon’s novel reads, “Later than usual one morning in 1984, Zoyd Wheeler drifted awake in sunlight through a creeping fig [...] with a squadron of blue jays stomping around on the roof” (3), an ominous updating of this mid-story passage from “Rip Van Winkle”: “On awaking he found himself on the green knoll [...]. He rubbed his eyes – it was a bright, sunny morning. The birds were hopping and twittering among the bushes” (776). Rip has obviously slept later than usual, and Irving points up this irony by having Rip say to himself that “Surely [...] I have not slept here all night” (776). Calling for his dog, Rip is “only answered by the cawing of a flock of idle crows” (777);17 these crows are replaced in Vineland by the blue jays that, in Zoyd’s dream, had been carrier pigeons, “each bearing a message for him” (3). The military formation of the blue jays, along with their arrogant “stomping,” the “creeping” fig, and the profusion of “messages,” evoke the manytentacled military and government bureaucracies that shape so much of modern life – and their publicly accountable apex, the president and commander-in-chief.18 But the parallel does not end here. Both texts also include arrival scenes wherein the protagonists, oddly dressed, are attended by the heckling of children and by feelings of disorientation. As Rip
17 After Rip’s twenty-year nap, his dog Wolf has “disappeared” (777). Similarly, Zoyd’s dog Desmond disappears for much of Vineland. Rumored a ghost dog, “spotted out by Shade Creek [...] with a pack of dispossessed pot-planters’ dogs [...] who were haunting the local pastures” (357, emphases added), Desmond returns “home” only on the last page of the novel (385). Readers of Gravity’s Rainbow will also recall the intelligence messages delivered to Pirate Prentice via V2 rockets and the grating high-ranking government voice that “tells Pirate now there’s a message addressed to him, waiting at Greenwich” (11).


In which “Acts Have Consequences”


approaches the village, he notes with surprise the costumes worn by its habitants, and when we find that “[t]hey all stared at him with equal marks of surprise,” we must recall the outlandishness of Rip’s own outmoded dress. As he enters the village itself, “[a] troop of strange children ran at his heels, hooting after him” (778). Similarly, Zoyd, wearing a colorful dress (bought at a discount shop specializing in large sizes, called, appropriately enough, “More Is Less”19), and en route to a bar known as the Log Jam, gets stuck in “a convoy of outof-state Winnebagos [...] among whom [...] he was obliged to gear down and put up with a lot of attention, not all of it friendly” (5). One girl screams that Zoyd “ought to be locked up” (5). Rip’s feelings of disorientation (“The very village was altered – it was larger and more populous [...] his familiar haunts had disappeared [...] every thing was strange” [778]) are echoed by Zoyd’s experience at the Log Jam, where “right away he noticed that everything, from the cooking to the clientele, smelled different” (5). The Log Jam has been recently renovated and is now outfitted with “designer barstools” and a “jukebox [...] reformatted to light classical and New Age music that gently peep[s] at the edges of audibility” (5, 6). “[A]bout the only thing that ha[s]n’t been replaced [is] the original bar” (7). Not only is the architecture different, however. On returning to the village, Rip discovers that “[t]he very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility” (779). When a “short but busy little fellow [...] pull[s] him by the arm [...] and enquire[s] in his ear ‘whether he was Federal or Democrat?’” (779), the uncomprehending Rip gets himself in a tight spot by crying, “Alas [...] I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the King – God bless him!” (780). Rip has slept through the change in governments; Zoyd and the contemporary American voter have done much the same. Despite his somnolence, however, Zoyd recognizes that the Log Jam is only the latest in a long line of Vineland County bars to undergo gentrification and that the assiduous remodeling by so many
19 Pynchon’s pun here also reverses the 1980s mantra of minimalist fiction.

a sword was held in the hand instead of a sceptre. “sipping kiwi mimosas” and clad in “three-figure-price-tag jeans by Mme. the owner of the Log Jam: [O]nly reason I’m up here is ’at the gentrification of South Spooner. and other more familiar hellraisin’ locales has upped the ante way outa my bracket. wind up at drinking establishments. then. the dislocation is ironic and metaphorical. He is. but that area is now literally a new country: Instead of the great tree. that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore.. . The first of “several rude updates” he encounters at the Log Jam is the “collection 20 We see another sign of the litigiousness that has come to dominate American life later in the novel when. are interested only in maintaining the feverish materialism of the 1980s. in the late twentieth century. these are all folks now who like to sue. of the early republic’s impassioned political discussion. there now was reared a tall naked pole [. but even this was singularly metamorphosed. (779) For Zoyd. emphasis added) This new litigiousness takes the place. 6).” As Zoyd explains to Buster. the head was decorated with a cocked hat. the loggers Zoyd meets.. For Rip. that dislocation is ironic and literal. in the same geographical area.. however. Gris” (5. in a burst of nostalgia for “the malls [she’d] grown up with. He recognized on the sign.. but even before entering both men experience a dislocation akin to finding themselves in foreign countries. (7. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff.] and from it was fluttering a flag on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes – all this was strange and incomprehensible. but while that citizenry had fought and won a war for independence (and so cultivated an immediate interest in politics). of course. Two Street. back when insurance was affordable. and underneath was printed in large characters GENERAL WASHINGTON.] where all they did for hours was watch kids skate” (326). with hotshot PI lawyers up from the City. the ruby face of King George under which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe.20 The Vineland County locals are no less “busy” and “disputatious” than the citizenry that greeted Rip Van Winkle.” Zoyd’s daughter Prairie recalls that “there even used to be ice rinks.66 David Thoreen bar owners has worked another kind of change in the “very character of the people. and for big bucks. Both Rip and Zoyd. she could remember days [.

the despairing Rip cries.In which “Acts Have Consequences” 67 of upscale machinery parked in the lot. the movement in the United States in recent years away from democracy and toward dictatorship. After asking about his old cronies. The question of Federal or Democrat. as he went up the mountain: apparently as lazy.. “Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?” At this. (781) The scene’s corollary in Vineland comes when Zoyd takes his infant daughter north. unmistakably his own short.] and at the wheel a standard-issue Hippie Freak who looked just like him. with the driver staring twice as weirdly right back at Zoyd! (315) In Irving’s story. Thus Pynchon’s novel updates Irving’s story. at the corner of 4th and H. He doubted his own identity. all apparently dead or gone away. with the LSD paint job [. Although Zoyd’s moment of identity crisis occurs in a flashback to 1970 or ’71. which marked the transition from monarchy to democracy. In Vineland.” Rip looked and beheld a precise counterpart of himself. as. two or three startled people exclaim: “[O]h to be sure! – that’s Rip Van Winkle – yonder – leaning against the tree. the . In response to Buster’s claim that he and his clientele are “just country fellas. The basis for another parallel is Rip’s first view of his grown son. first foregrounded by Rip’s arrival at the polling place on Election Day. This metaphor ironically and humorously introduces what will become one of the novel’s key themes. suddenly disoriented.” Zoyd says. and whether he was himself or another man. they take the bus the rest of the way. is quickly overwhelmed by Rip’s pledged allegiance to King George. Meanwhile. and certainly as ragged! The poor fellow was now completely confounded. the shift in the political paradigm is similarly fundamental. Zoyd’s running buddy Van Meter has agreed to drive Zoyd’s car: Zoyd caught up with Van Meter in Eureka. itself newly blacktopped” (5). Woo-oo! An unreal moment for everybody. After hitchhiking to San Francisco. he observed his ’64 Dodge Dart. reminding us of the more fundamental shift from monarchy to democracy. “From the looks of your parking lot.. Rip’s identity crisis is a synechdochic reproduction of the early republic’s crisis of political identity. the country must be Germany” (7).

however. In San Francisco. this shift in political orders is not simply a parallel beyond good and evil.] thirsty soul” (776) with Zoyd’s once regular marijuana use and tubal intoxication. when he arrives at the Log Jam. Pynchon counters Rip’s “naturally [. though the Vietnam era and the Reagan-Bush years are not far behind. the fact that the Vietnam War was prosecuted by the administrations of both parties (and dramatically escalated by a Democratic one) suggests that party politics has little to do with the real change in America’s political direction. but effects. physiological manifestations of the political apathy displayed by the majority of Americans since the 1970s.. the unseen paybacks. As Pynchon himself put it in “Nearer. Zoyd and Mucho Maas listen to and are comforted by The Best of Sam Cooke. considering the Reagan administration’s systematic attempts to extend 21 In Pynchon’s view. . Pynchon presents that time as the halfway point between a “green free America” and a “scabland garrison state” of the future (314). But rather than presenting the mid-sixties as the moment of ultimate freedom. a failure of public will allowing the introduction of evil policies and the rise of evil regimes. this is precisely the sort of shift we are supposed to resist. Indeed. the heartless power of the scabland garrison state the green free America of their childhoods even then was turning into” (314). to Thee”: In this century we have come to think of Sloth as primarily political.68 David Thoreen zeitgeist to which the flashback refers sets up an implicit contrast between the mid-sixties and 1984. from democracy to dictatorship. then. (57) Neither is Rip’s invocation of the tyrant George III irrelevant.21 In addition to these parallels. My Couch. Zoyd’s identity crisis points to a shift from one political order to another – in this case. As in Irving’s story.. In Pynchon’s theology. than the simple modulation of a Democratic administration into a Republican one. “though outside spread the lampless wastes. More is involved. the halfway point of his journey up the coast. the worldwide fascist ascendancy of the 1920s and 30s being perhaps Sloth’s finest hour. That there are reasons for that apathy is beside the point: Pynchon is not interested in excuses.

. Lobel. Mendelson. I invoke Johnson’s administration not because he represents the high point of civil libertarianism in America but because Zoyd’s lack of attention and political responsibility can be traced to Johnson’s years in office.” Oklahoma City University Law Review 24.” Mindful Pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon. 22 The Great Society and the Civil Rights movement not withstanding. which would be 1966. Ed. 161–95.” Approaches to Gravity’s Rainbow.” Yale Law Journal 98 (1989): 1385–433. New York: Library of America. Columbus: Ohio State UP. “Rip Van Winkle.” College Literature 19. James Tuttleton.1 (February 1992): 91–103. Keesey.In which “Acts Have Consequences” 69 its authority while avoiding accountability. “Trespassing Limits: Pynchon’s Irony and the Law of the Excluded Middle. “shortly after Reagan was elected governor of California” (22). Eds. “Emergency Power and the Decline of Liberalism. The message sent to Zoyd “from forces unseen” is that Johnson is no longer in the White House. —— “Sari. David. “Visible Tracks: Historical Method and Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland.” American Literature 71 (1999): 341–63. 1983: 769–85. Alan J. Molly. Sorry. Irving.” Pynchon Notes 26–27 (Spring–Fall 1990): 65–73. Francisco. Ed. “Vineland in the Mainstream Press: A Reception Study. Charles Clerc. Boston: Little. Elizabeth Jane Wall. Tales and Sketches. 1983. Johnson occupies no idealized (or even privileged) position in either Pynchon’s political reckoning or in the history of executive aggrandizement. Jules. “The Luddite Vision: Mason & Dixon. 69–102. Washington. Columbus: Ohio State UP. and Language Change in Mason & Dixon. Douglas. Edward. Hinds. “Science and Technology. Friedman. and it is time to start paying attention (3). Hite. Cowart.22 Works Cited Collado Rodríguez. George Levine and David Leverenz. “Gravity’s Encyclopedia. Anachronism. Ideas of Order in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon.” American Literary History 12 (2000): 187–215. and the Vortex of History: Calendar Reform.3 (Fall 1999): 471–503. The earliest flashback dealing with Zoyd dramatizes his years in Gordita Beach. 1976.” Washington Irving: History. 1983.

70 David Thoreen Pynchon. The Imperial Presidency. 1991. 1963. 1948. Schlesinger. 1997. New York: Harper-Perennial. Rev. 37–8. Simpson. New York: Harper-Perennial. Jr. 1973. —— “Nearer. 1989. Princeton: Princeton UP. ed. 1989.” Oklahoma City University Law Review 24 (1999): 761–98. 1990. New York: Viking. “The President’s Emergency War Powers and the Erosion of Civil Liberties in Pynchon’s Vineland. —— Vineland. 1973. 1990. New York: Holt. “My Father in the Night Commanding No. Rossiter. Constitutional Dictatorship: Crisis Government in the Modern Democracies. Clinton L. Arthur M. New York: Viking-Penguin. Boston: Houghton. 1963. David. Thoreen. Louis. —— Gravity’s Rainbow. —— V.” At the End of the Open Road. CT: Wesleyan UP. The Crying of Lot 49. —— Mason & Dixon. . to Thee. My Couch.” New York Times Book Review 6 June 1993: 3FF. 1965. Middletown. Thomas..

the beaver-man. acquire the same epistemological status as those other historical events that are reported in the story (including the clearing of the Visto itself. by pointing out the self-referential quality of language. etc. a paradoxical liberating force that helps the reader to doubt and inquire into the official or historical discourse of authority.. Midnight’s Children. Linda Hutcheon called “historiographic metafiction” (5). Famous Last Words [. 1998–2001: PB97–1022). see White.FRANCISCO COLLADO RODRÍGUEZ Mason & Dixon. Historiographic Metafiction and the Unstable Reconciliation of Opposites1 I would like to start from the premise that with Mason & Dixon Thomas Pynchon has built a powerful and ideological postmodern artifact that fits into the literary category that. or the very existence of the protagonists). G. 2 3 . Programa Sectorial de Promoción General del Conocimiento.. some years ago.] its theoretical self-awareness of history and fiction as human constructs (historiographic metafiction) is made the grounds for its rethinking and reworking of the forms and contents of the past” (5). the automaton duck. On the notion of narrativity. in Pynchon’s hands. episodes that – from a humanist and Newtonian stance – readers would have qualified as fantastic or unreal (the Learnèd English Dog. but it also becomes.2 That is to say. systematically erase any possibility of ultimately believing in the objectivity of the historical events that the book allegedly reports: in this way. Ragtime. The human propensity to narrativize reality thus stands as the ultimate insurmountable barrier in our necessity to know the historical real. Legs. Mason & Dixon is a novel where metafictional devices. The Canadian critic uses this expression to refer to “those well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages: The French Lieutenant’s Woman.3 1 The research carried out for the writing of this paper has been financed by the Spanish Ministry of Education (DGICYT..).

but Mason & Dixon incorporates an innovative element in the writer’s fictional approach: for here he disguises a postmodern understanding of life by referring to the first historical epoch that seriously questioned the ideology of modernity. . more specifically. and many of them can also be found in his previous writing. I intend to concentrate my analysis. the use of doubles and impersoators. and the unstable characters of the two protagonists. Some specific devices become. This Pynchonian novelty adds to a story in which readers may. ultimately.” Pelovitz’s “Linear Pynchon. on the unreliable character of the narrative voices. The reader may also discover the appearance of some other names that belong to the Pynchonean cosmos. Her husband.” Enterzone. of Pynchon’s project. the intertextual winks to the reader. 4 Whose name intertextually evokes that of a minor character in Gravity’s Rainbow. most effective in carrying out the writer’s latest attempt to disrupt the still existing Newtonian confidence in categorical thinking. in my view. fractal geometry. who insist that the story of Mason and Dixon is only narrated by Reverend Cherrycoke. using a technique already present in V. and on the overcoming of clear-cut discursive and ideological limits.4 However. and chaos theory). such as the celebrated Bodine. In all these cases. an activity that is symbolized in – among other devices – the crossing of narrative boundaries. As regards the unreliable character of the narrative voices. that is to say. discover some of the author’s favorite metafictional devices as well as multiple references to the twentieth-century’s new scientific paradigm (relativity and quantum physics. and the scientific understanding of the relativistic and chaotic quality of life help to highlight the subversive component of these rhetorical devices and.72 Francisco Collado Rodríguez Many are the techniques that Pynchon uses in this novel to produce this subversive activity. of course. I decidedly oppose the simplistic views that some earlier reviewers of the novel were quick to defend (Menand’s “Entropology. or Bradbury’s derogatory “Is This the Greatest American Novel Ever”). the above-mentioned convergence of romantic and postmodern views. the novelist introduces a first-level unknown narrator characterized by its ironic attitude when reporting on events: this voice soon comments about the fact that Cherrycoke is temporarily staying at his sister’s house in Philadelphia.. the (early) romantic period.

6 further enhance the more than dubious truth of all narrated events – both the fantastic and the historical ones. see Genette 234– 37.– meaning ev’ry. Wade LeSpark. Here and there. then.”) (393) 5 6 On the concept of mise-en-abyme and its use in the contemporary novel. one in an unmoving Stupor throughout. assum’d to’ve ridden [. Let us consider one of them. Chapter 39 soon discloses a typical Pynchonian mixture of narrative levels and narratorial unreliability. for Simplicity.. and the latter’s total disregard of historical truth: (“Dixon was first to leave.–” “How ‘assume’?” objects Ives.” the Revd relates.Mason & Dixon.] out to Nelson’s Ferry over Susquehanna.– Milkmaid in the Forks of Brandy-wine. Examples of these devices abound – as usual – in Pynchon’s latest novel. let us assume that he went first to Annapolis. with his report of the adventures of Mason and Dixon to his family audience. who can stay in Mr LeSparke’s house “for as long as he can keep the children amus’d” (6) by telling them tales and stories.5 and the metalepsis or trespassing of narrative levels. a report partly based on the fact that he was a witness in some of those adventures. a figure always ready to intervene and confuse the reader a little more in a reported quest where the metafictional devices of the mise-en-abyme (with its suggestion of rhetorical infinite regress). Cherrycoke’s role as a second-level narrator and as an ironic and inventing fabulator starts soon after.– the other. The reader who has been paying attention to Cherrycoke’s report suddenly has to face the use of brackets. Historiographic Metafiction 73 Mr J. the reader may also glimpse the first-level unknown narrator. “There are no Documents. see Stonehill. Wicks? Perhaps he stay’d on at Harland’s and drove all of them south.” “Or [another unspecified character says] let us postulate two Dixons. with his drunken intriguing after ev’ry eligible. is ironically qualified as the Sultan by this mysterious narrator. who immediately confirms Cherrycoke’s role as the new Scheherezade. but mostly created by assumptions. the assumption that a first-level voice is narrating the Reverend’s telling of the story. On this notion. or mere inventions whose doubtful status some of his relatives are quick to denounce. “and with no indication in the Field-Book of where he went or stopp’d. . […]. interpretations of written documents..

the v.’– the Revd having thought it over.– ” “– were they not.” “Us. that Mason and Dixon had been converging. The motif itself also became a favorite one in the fiction written by two genial predecessors of the American postmodern novel. themselves believers in the condition of Geminity of the two protagonists in the main story: “Boys!” their Parents call. Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov. my barking Fire-Dogs. we face the first pair of twins. Uncle?” (315) Their uncle’s reply is uncertain: he advances the protagonists’ convergence at a certain point in their adventure. and here Pynchon uses it again to enhance his ironic criticism of categorical thinking: lines or borders that would define the limits imposed by Western dualist thinking are also metaphorically blurred with the help of a number of mise-enabymic doubles that invade the different narrative levels of the book. an old literary device equally related to the doubling quality of mirrors. that metaphorizes a bifurcation point.74 Francisco Collado Rodríguez The reader then has to put up with the notion that what is being reported here is subject to the mixture of different narrative voices. The paragraph quoted above also discloses another motif that is frequently favored by Pynchon: the use of doubles. “Who should be listening to a Tale of Geminity. Pitt and Pliny.7 7 This is what the Reverend replies to the Twins: “‘Up to a point. To bed?” queries Pitt. but also announces their eventually divided destinies: readers fond of chaos theory will probably recognize in Cherrycoke’s words a new hidden drawing of that celebrated letter. Once the mysterious first-level narrator has introduced readers to Cherrycoke’s family. “Bed-Time.” explains Pliny. to the concept of symmetry. and that assumptions are for those narratorial voices a valid means to report on the adventures of Mason and Dixon: the historicity of the two characters and of their celebrated line is thus counter-attacked by a human tendency strongly foregrounded in postmodern times: our insistent capacity to create fictional stories or interpretations of reality. to all but a Semblance– till something… . and ultimately to the line (the frame of the mirror) that separates the human subject from its external double.– ‘as it seem’d to me. “if not Twins?” “Your Surveyors were Twins.

Although it is not the only example existing in the novel of the technical subversive device. On the impact of these concepts in contemporary culture. In effect.. The Chinese astronomers Hsi and Ho also reduplicate Mason’s and Dixon’s roles within the embedded story Captain Zhang told about their legendary lives (chapter 64). Historiographic Metafiction 75 Later on in this tale of doubles the two protagonists will be impersonated by two members of their own team but. as we have seen. 8 9 10 . in ’sixty-seven or ’sixty-eight.Mason & Dixon.8 scientific notions that systematically take us to conclude the author’s rejection of dualist thinking and. Pynchon’s book offers its readers a further ironic loop on categorical thinking: in Mason & Dixon the term line is frequently used to suggest its pernicious and finally useless condition. that has traditionally ruled England from the sky. and something occurr’d between them. see Collado Rodríguez. correspondingly. whose very initials are clear evidence of their reflective nature.’” (315). Early critics related this Pynchonian insistence on enhancing similarities to quantum theory and Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity. more surprisingly. that divided their Destinies irremediably. For an extended analysis of this Pynchonean motif. readers will also discover a female version of the historical couple of astronomers in Franklin’s friends Molly & Dolly.. See the seminal chapter on Pynchon’s fiction by Nadeau. however this particular moment of the narrative is especially interesting because it also incorporates the typical postmodern technique of introducing specific literary subgenres within the main frame of the story.10 is remarkably enhanced by the authorial use of a radical type of metalepsis as manifested in chapters 53 and 54 of the book.9 However. also between narratorial voices and different narrative levels. see Kosko. Lines are continuously trespassed not only in the main story but. This transgressive activity that scientific readers may also want to connect to chaos theory and fuzzy logic. Even Zhang’s belief in the earthly Dragon of his pantheistic interpretation of life also has its heavenly correlate in the constellation of Draco. chapter 53 starts with a quotation from Cherrycoke’s paradoxical Undeliver’d Sermons where the “postmodern” preacher discusses the possibility that Thomas and Christ were twins. of Western rationalism and of the clear-cut experiment of modernity.

by the Indians: the technique is parodic again. unofficial powers of eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Chapter 54 surprises the reader with a homodiegetic or first-person report: the kidnapped woman.. thus a believer in the integration of opposites. The logical transgressions represented by the Chinese figure add in this chapter to a series of narratorial interruptions where we know more about the relationship between ’Thelmer and Brae. till finally metalepsis operates again and the narrative of captivity fuses . a certain Eliza Fields. Padre Zarpazo. This parodic device gives entrance to the story reported in the chapter. the narratives of captivity. now being converted into one of the “Viudas de Cristo. Padre Zarpazo. one of the hidden. the kidnapping of a white woman. 527). In the Captive’s Tale the reader also meets Zarpazo’s opposing double. from V. The problem is that the reader ignores what that narrative is doing there and who is reporting it. However.” a wink to the reader that evokes the figure of that other criminal mind. readers are also informed that The Ghastly Fop has already run into a series of more than a dozen volumes (including some Borgesian reflective forgeries. this apparent story within the story discovers the conceited forces existing behind the kidnapping: the sect of the Jesuits. Lt Weissmann. Zhang. a new Z. also referred to as “Lord of the Zero. This character is also in love with the captive maiden and he is even capable of transforming himself into his fierce enemy. lying open to a Copper-plate Engraving of two pretty Nuns. is it Cherrycoke? Later on. Pynchon is borrowing here from a sub-genre that has been recently recuperated by American literature programs. (526) Later.76 Francisco Collado Rodríguez defends the notion that the “final pure Christ is pure uncertainty” (511). the readers of this tale. only one page later we are informed that this apparently embedded story is written in a volume of The Ghastly Fop that Cherrycoke’s nephew ’Thelmer is reading: Brae has discover’d the sinister Volume in ’Thelmer’s Room. and expert in Feng-Shui. sporting in ways she finds inexplicably intriguing. the Chinese Capt. eventually becoming a weekly.. and Gravity’s Rainbow. and the reader is introduced to the ironized archenemy of the book.” narrates her own experience.

the alternative belief in the “reconciliation of opposites. at this moment in the narrative readers are forced to wander about the line that separates the reading of The Ghastly Fop from Cherrycoke’s oral report. The metaphorical importance that the term line has in the novel is also paralleled by the presentation of two protagonists whose very job is to understand.Mason & Dixon. and decide to follow the Visto east. opposed the far-fetched pragmatism of the experiment of modernity. Historiographic Metafiction 77 into Mason’s and Dixon’s main story: the Viudita and Zhang “arrive at the West Line. see Markley. It seems to me that Pynchon’s choice of the novel’s historical settings and his description of the two protagonists as being on the one hand melancholic and gothic. . Obviously. Also characteristic of Pynchon’s novels is their play with different ontological levels that. Mason & Dixon does not differ much from the writer’s earlier fiction in this sense. however they are also historical incarnations of the romantic cultural effects that. are elements that also respond to his manifested and continuous ironizing of either/or categorical structures.11 Servants of modernity.” This is a notion that becomes epitomized in William Blake’s poetry and painting. for instance. produce a continual impression of instability and uncertainty in the reader that tries to apply western logic to the act of reading. However. and ere long they have come up with the Party” (534). Mason and Dixon are however continuously presented as men suspicious of their own mission: there are times in which they hint at the political implications that their American line will eventually have (692–93). The gothic and romantic period (re)introduced within a culture still dominated by Aristotelian. As we have so far considered. Newtonian. and on the other romantic. and 11 On this matter. and humanist values. for a while. the historical period and the protagonists’ task further enhance this authorial obsession with blurring categorical limits. The two astronomers are frequently presented as having opposite characters. control. by transgressing their boundaries. but it is in the depiction of their characters where Pynchon stresses again the necessity to escape categorical thinking. and put to a practical use the so-called natural laws that the Enlightenment believed would eventually help humans to explain the mysteries of life.

their characters have. at last. a surveyor. Or they can watch us writing. The issue is not new in Pynchon’s fiction: the emotional interchangeability of Stencil’s and Profane’s characters comes easily to mind. only one page later readers are informed that the protagonists “at some point exchange Positions. they don’t know what thah’ is.” (679) The obvious instability of their characters has produced their very interchangeability. gradually start to exemplify in themselves the insistent postmodernist motif of the instability of the subject. with Dixon now for pushing on. he may negotiate for another ten minutes of Arc. razzle-dazzling their way among the Indians at least as far as Ohio. far from showing two radically different characters from beginning to end. In agreement with my understanding of Pynchon’s oeuvre. and has a romantic and rebellious spirit. stubborn. 13 . likes wine and tea. thus adding to the continually transgressive ethos of the book. Let them look thro’ the Instruments or something. an astronomer. Chapter 70 opens with Mason’s insistence that they must cross the Indian line and continue their own surveying activities: Mason. being a Spaniard I cannot stop thinking of the similar character flaws of the celebrated figures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Along the book’s totally unstable narrative line. wishes to go on.78 Francisco Collado Rodríguez that in the novel itself is also to be associated to the Eastern beliefs defended by Zhang.12 And similarly Mason and Dixon. become textually interchangeable..” (678) Notwithstanding. likes beer and coffee. the reader discovers many moments and circumstances that highlight the social differences existing between the two characters: the one is Anglican. whose roles actually become interchangeable in the second part of Cervantes’s novel. the other is a Quaker. and is frequently attracted to melancholic fits. by the time they have to face the possibility of trespassing the Indian War Path. However.” though. I would suggest a linguistically impossible evaluation of this integrative notion as being both positive/negative. as Pynchon frequently associates it to the notion of entropy.. “But Mason.?” “We’ll show them. However. these differences and the continual disputes of the two men eventually account for nothing: quarrels are followed by reconciliation and mutual respect and.13 an ethos epitomized in the very 12 This mythic integrative notion is not strictly “positive. believing that with Hugh Crawford’s help.

wherein the Pentateuch. so below” becomes a celebrated phrase in the book. However. offers some references to the Line and to some of the technical problems the surveyors had in drawing it. 540. See. the human need for transcendence. Historiographic Metafiction 79 linking & of its title. but the clear metaphor that situates the surveyors as draftsmen of the US map: however they are also the readers who try to make sense of the hidden message apparently written in the heavens. on every narrative level. in Astral Gematria. again. written ev’ry Night. devised for economic reasons and whose effects were to be dramatically felt in the Civil War. And that happens in a book that is saturated with references to story-telling: almost everybody. his mysterious answer will never be totally clarified because. also insisting on that favorite metaphor of Michel Foucault: the mapping of reality. such as the ill-fated line drawn by his protagonists. 497.14 Not surprisingly the Mason and Dixon line had interested the author since. An old madman or a real visionary. By the end of the book readers fond of Pynchon’s fiction should not be surprised to find again an ironic glimpse at transcendental revelation: Benjamin Franklin asks Mason whether he has already found or read a final Design in the skies. and know that our Bible is Nature. 14 15 Many examples can be offered of this postmodern/poststructuralist understanding of reality. the writing of his first novel:15 the activity of the surveyors is basically one of mapping reality but it also combines with that other celebrated Pynchonian motif. at least. I have found there. suggesting not just the esoteric understanding of a fractalic reality. and Mason replies in the affirmative: Sir. V. Sir.Mason & Dixon. and to your Continent. you have encounter’d Deists before. Mason & Dixon is above all a novel characterized by the decontextualization of its narrative. all the devices commented on here converge in Pynchon’s denunciation of the artificial and dangerous barriers humans invent. a Visto – a new v –. Ultimately. and frequently enhances the human activity of Representation. . is the Sky. Pynchon’s readers have to face an open ending. Messages of Great Urgency to our Time. or 687. The book abounds in references to the poststructuralist interpretation of life as a Text. “As above. (772). see especially 419 and the very end of the novel. for instance 482.

their mission now being to draw a line across the Atlantic Ocean: “A thoughtful enough Arrangement of Anchors and Buoys. The fight against despotic discursive lines and natural boundaries still goes on today. Later on the Christians fought their way down the Iberian Peninsula but Extremadura came to represent the limits with the Muslim kingdoms. everchanging frontier that separated the Muslims from the Christians in medieval Spain. and on the way we construct our interpretations of reality. Lenses and Lanthorns. . incidentally. is not limited to the Gothic and Romantic revolt against the rational excesses of the Enlightenment. Pynchon’s encyclopaedic knowledge and authorial irony are further enhanced by the fact that Extremadura – the place where.16 The remarkable combination of all the above-mentioned devices. a notion that is furthered again in chapter 73. and. a bifurcative invented episode in which the narrator imagines an alternative ending. In it Mason and Dixon are together again. Extremadura means “the limits of the Duero. historicity from fiction. 16 In a literal sense. it is everybody’s task to suspend our categorical and pragmatic beliefs and so give a chance for a more understanding fusion of opposites where ideological values have no clear limits. in any case. The fight against the limitations imposed by artificial – textual – barriers. he seems to warn us. ends up forcing the reader – or.80 Francisco Collado Rodríguez is ready to tell a tale or to experience a dream reported to the reader in the form of a tale. all the way from the Delaware Bay to the Spanish Extremadura” (712). forming a perfect Line across the Ocean. Pynchon seems to suggest.” a large river that crosses Northern Portugal and Spain and where the actual medieval frontier stood for a while. even if Extremeñean lands now stood very far from the river Duero. my own reading – to reflect on the line that separates truth from falsehood. I was born – is a Spanish region so named because it used to be the fighting.

Nadeau. 1980. London: Picador. and Theology in the Newtonian Revolution. Brian. Genette. Markley. Robert. 1981. Robert. Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic. 1963. London: Picador. Thomas. Katherine Hayles. N. Louis. Mathematics. Francisco. Gerard. 1972. 1993.” The Oklahoma City University Law Review 24. Kosko.Mason & Dixon. articles/pelovitz/masondixon.” Enterzone 11 (1997) <http://ezone. Collado Rodríguez. Hutcheon. Linda. “Representing Order: Natural Philosophy. Bart. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. White.” Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science Ed. Malcolm. Chicago: U of Chicago P. New York Review of Books (12 June 1997): 22FF.html>. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P. 1997. Readings from the New Book on Nature: Physics and Metaphysics in the Modern Novel. —— V. —— Gravity’s Rainbow. London: Jonathan Cape. Menand. The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. “Is This the Greatest American Novel Ever?” Literary Review July 1997: 24. A Poetics of Postmodernism. 2 (1999): 471–503. Historiographic Metafiction 81 Works Cited Bradbury. David. The Self-Conscious Novel: Artifice in Fiction from Joyce to Pynchon. U of Massachusetts P. Mason & Dixon. 1988. Ithaca: Cornell UP. London: Harper Collins. “Trespassing Limits: Pynchon’s Irony and the Law of the Excluded Middle. Hayden. “Entropology. Amherst. . Narrative Discourse. 1987. 1988.” Rev. “Linear Pynchon. London: Routledge. Stonehill. 1991: 125–48. Pelovitz. Pynchon.

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” Diss. It is not a desperate affair. or worse” of Pynchon’s ideas (J. It represents [. It has been argued that Pynchon overwhelms the reader in a barrage of bewildering but poorly integrated information. displaying an “indexical intelligence [that] intimidates his readers [so that] few question the banality. citing Mendelson’s work as a paradigm of critical recognition of encyclopedism as a specific genre and Gravity’s Rainbow as a paradigmatic text. The entire paper appeared in extended form as chapter 3 of my doctoral dissertation..] a way in which style can control content. Pynchonian Space and the Snovian Disjunction1 The deconstructionists have made the binary oscillation of Western decorum a desperate affair. Wood 210). disparagement of the scale of Pynchon’s background knowledge as merely accumulative (as “indexical” implies). (Lanham 84) If the voluminous display of interdisciplinary knowledge in Thomas Pynchon’s fiction is to serve a reader as an open field for serious investigation and contemplation then the reader who senses that Pynchon’s work is substantial as well as impressive faces a correspondingly demanding task. “American Nonfoundationalism’s Triple Play: Emerson to Twain to Pynchon. formal pleasure balance conceptual thought. MILLARD Delineations of Madness and Science: Mason & Dixon.WILLIAM B. London.2 Short of comprehending all the 1 An earlier version of sections I and II of this paper was presented as “Ducking the Snovian Disjunction: The ‘both/and’ logic of Mason & Dixon” at International Pynchon Week. is a plausibly predict- 2 . 12 June 1998.. rather than meaningfully masterful. 2000. Wood’s choice of the unusual term “indexical” in this context appears to be a direct (if snide) challenge to the more common description of Pynchon’s breadth of knowledge and interdisciplinary referentiality as “encyclopedic.) Should a critical school generally antagonistic to Pynchon (and to the writers who claim him as an influence) ever develop. it is an error-checking operation.” as described in Edward Mendelson’s influential “Gravity’s Encyclopedia. self-consciousness satirically ventilate out hierarchical urges.” (Jed Rasula elaborates further on theories of encyclopedic narrative. Rutgers University.

3 Such a reading must be capable of apprehending the distinct qualities of forms of knowledge that rarely make an appearance in fiction. the other was William Gaddis’s encyclopedic Recognitions. don’t have the luxury of a choice. speaking of influences in American fiction. one needs at least to develop a well-defined sense of how.S. One. commercial culture has had appalling consequences for writers and everyone else” (McCaffery 146). and why. Writers my age (mid-thirties). presents an exceptionally strong challenge. appears in novelist David Foster Wallace’s comment to Larry McCaffery: “If I have a real enemy. even Nabokov and Pynchon. their aesthetic’s absorption by U. once remarked that apprentices of his generation found themselves (in the 1950s) grappling with two very different models of what the novel might be. while resisting any formulaic or reductionistic claims to divine the inner structure of the writing or the ultimate truth-content of those forms of knowledge. was Saul Bellow’s realistic if picaresque Adventures of Augie March. a reaction against the proliferation of unstable social irony in his wake. inescapable influence behind an entire generation of writers’ anxiety: “The novelist Robert Coover. I also frankly acknowledge that its method of weaving between selected major and minor moments in the text of the novel and assorted critical. I want here to present one of the possible responses to that challenge without pretending the response can be definitive. far from systematic. Rick Moody. Millard diverse discourses that Pynchon outlines through his narratives and references. it’s probably Barth and Coover and Burroughs. reviewing Mason & Dixon for Atlantic Monthly. A different anti-Pynchonian or post-Pynchonian position. one that may or may not ever be adequately answered in the languages of literary critical theory. Coover said. scientific. even though their selfconsciousness and irony and anarchism served valuable purposes. Because. Our problem is how to confront the influence of a single novelist: Thomas Pynchon” (Moody 106). however. 3 . a patriarch for my patricide.84 William B. and perhaps ought to be. and philosophical texts external to it is. Pynchon’s most ambitious leap through the deceptive convolutions of history. Pynchon integrates such a cornucopia of information into his narratives. The ambitions and mysteries of the postmodern era’s most influential fiction writer call for a reading style that is both intellectually ambitious and receptive to mystery. Mason & Dixon. were indispensable for their times. cites Pynchon as the solitary. able commonplace.

5 that it is a novel of deep ecology. about the enclosure of space in proper places (or properties).6 that it is. or of Luddism. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. a book about learning.” Mason & Dixon offers too many descriptive possibilities to allow for coherent prediction of any single critical consensus. that it is. 14. that it transforms Pynchon’s longtime master-trope of paranoia.7 that it is a novel of the psychology and pathology of modernity. as Stefan Mattessich describes it in his review for Postmodern Culture. in continuously useful contrast with that of Dixon. Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise”. placing its paired protagonists among “other immortal male pairs in literary history. at first the measure of their inconsequence. into a “pharmakon – at once the poison and its remedy” in that “the paranoia of Mason and Dixon. to care instead of wonder”. Ishmael and Queequeg. that. arguably a 4 5 6 7 Schmidt paras. about America too. about its delimitation and colonization. 2–3. rather slowly. In the early stages of the book’s scholarly reception.Delineations of Madness and Science 85 Like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition. that it is a novel of friendship. M. among many other things. has argued in one of the most insightful early assessments. Cowart 359. as rich in their interactions and as unimaginable outside of their bond as Vladimir and Estragon. “a novel about its own narrativity and.4 that it “is. contrarily. a boundary between dispensations”. it is a novel of colonialism and its discontents. Mattessich para.” allowing them to “recognize in the Line an epistemic watershed. in the view of David Cowart. that it is a novel of religion. as Louis Menand in the New York Review of Books. unable to declare which component of its tactical arsenal is its “chief weapon. and about its own (and our) complicity in that enclosure”. defining the cripplingly acute introspectiveness of the Romantic self through exploration of the mind of Charles Mason. a novel of the post-paranoid mindset. Wood 122. Boswell and Johnson. becomes the gauge of their sensitive resistance to rationalist excess. . precisely through this reflexive turning around upon itself. the critical community has heard the following: that Mason & Dixon is a novel of the foregone possibilities that we call America.

” and also a vast language game. as C.86 William B. there is some perverse value in this assessment. Of the many polarities Pynchon has examined. Antagonism between secular scientific reason and non-secular systems of belief is intertwined with some of the most profound cultural conflicts of our time. including the arms industries. resistance. and irresolution. the East India Company) only to dispense with them or even make sport of them. . Mason & Dixon is both consistent with its precursors in the Pynchon canon and unique in its expansion and enrichment of that canon. the Royal Society. In these respects and more. As I will later argue. It has also been described. For my own purposes. disconnected comic set pieces in the interest of an ultimately nihilistic cultural politics. the British and French military interests. Snow observed in his 1959 Rede Lecture “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. P. antagonistically and perhaps somewhat predictably. obliquity. and probably increasing social importance. performing operations on the reader that make constructive use of the experiences of disorientation. This is because it not only cleaves the intellectual community in half. enduring. saturation. conjuring its historical conspiracies (the Society of Jesus. Wood 201. As a consequence. this particular schism is of immense. I would like to argue that Mason & Dixon is a novel of science and anti-science. Millard kind of anti-Gravity’s Rainbow. a novel that asks its late twentieth-century and twenty-first-century readers to use the heuristic of history to rethink the Enlightenment’s dichotomy between scientific and non-scientific activities of the mind. and that it is manifestly a novel of language itself. the fascinating and dangerous 8 J. both an elaborate text so polyvalently allusive that it forces a reader to take quite literally the overfamiliar Derridean precept that “there is nothing outside the text.” but because it generates social divisions far deeper and more destructive than mere misunderstandings between academic specialties.”8 that compiles endless. as not a novel at all but an “allegorical picaresque. Accelerated changes are being wrought by research in all fields of science and technology. along with enormous misprision and oversimplifcation.

and perhaps begun reading. or even commonplaces by large numbers of commentators who have never actually read them. Before moving on to consider Luddism itself. A Field Guide to Comparative Luddisms Gravity’s Rainbow ranks with Finnegans Wake and A Brief History of Time among books that large numbers of readers have obtained. but also to re-embed his best-known idea in the explicit context of its origin. but never finished. I would like to return momentarily to Snow’s text. and thus celebrated. before examining the fictional bodying-forth of some of Pynchon’s ideas about science and its alternatives in Mason & Dixon. his name is now historically linked with something he deplored. Here. 1.Delineations of Madness and Science 87 dance of scientific and nonscientific ideologies would appear to be a component of most realistically envisioned models of the future. Judging from his New York Times Book Review essay “Is it OK to Be a Luddite?” Pynchon is one of the diminishing number who have read Snow’s text deeply and aggressively. . particularly literary intellectuals. even while taking Snow to task over the “immoderate. he strives to make sense of the problems Snow’s lecture crystallizes. He thus aimed to 9 An example of this is the charge by some contemporaries that Snow approved of the chasm. much as Pynchon historicizes the concept and practice of Luddism. though his entire polemic expresses the opposite intent. Snow’s “Two Cultures” lecture may hold pride of place in a related category: works that are cited as intellectual landmarks. assertion” that “[i]ntellectuals. touchstones. This is in order both to differentiate his observation of a cultural chasm from some of the interpretations and accusations that have accumulated around it. are natural Luddites” (Snow 22).9 Snow’s explicit purpose in decrying the poor communications between the literary and scientific intellectual cultures was to remove obstacles to the spread of industrialism into the Third World for the express and singular purpose of alleviating poverty.

think of only as the time of the Enlightenment and Jane Austen. or not done. to the ways class shapes one’s tone toward industrialization: [My great-great-grandfather] was a man of ability.. to his ancestors. my grandfather thought.88 William B. in the time that we. replying consciously and directly.” Like Vineland’s Beckers and Traverses holding fast to family history.” the subhead for its final segment. Thus both writers. in either the lecture or the follow-up piece. despite their glaring disagreements over the social benevolence of industrialism and secular science. at a highly personal level (discussing the views of his grandfather. It was no fun being an agricultural labourer in the mid to late eighteenth century. and did not romanticise their state. anticipating Pynchon’s own enthusiastic predictions for the same discipline as part of a potentially revolutionary convergence. Snow directs his historical attention. there was no question that the industrial revolution was less bad than what had gone before. The industrial revolution looked very different according to whether one saw it from above or below [. about the life of his own grandfather. snobs that we are. It is likely that Snow drastically underrated the responsibility of the scientific and engineering . To people like my grandfather. as “Them. Snow even identifies the nascent field of molecular biology (72–73) as extraordinarily promising. my grandfather was pretty unforgiving about what society had done. (27) Snow also issues a challenge to American and English novelists to begin considering applied science and its attendant social structures as a worthy topic for fiction (31) – a challenge to which it is easy to imagine the Pynchon of the 1960s. in Gravity’s Rainbow.]. and in his 1963 re-examination “The Two Cultures: A Second Look” he expressed the wish that he had used that title instead (79). Millard marshal more of the resources of intellect and opinion in the service of equalizing the worldwide distribution of wealth. Snow minces no words about these priorities. a peasant). share an antipathy toward the organized economic and political forces that are so eloquently and succinctly named.. Snow and Pynchon obviously part company at important points. a self-educated artisan. with Gravity’s Rainbow in gestation. Intriguingly. He originally thought of calling the entire lecture “The Rich and the Poor.

and interdisciplinary scholars. Leaving aside Pynchon’s comments about the proliferation of specialist cultures rendering the dualistic Snovian scheme obsolete. I should mention in passing that my own personal experience editing an interdisciplinary research magazine. to Be a Luddite?”: 1. Certainly Pynchon treats Snow’s lecture more as a launching point for his discussion of the historical Luddites. techno-pundits. than as the object of sustained examination. the objectives and priorities he has in common with Pynchon are far from trivial. anyone who would dismiss Snow’s idea outright might find it productive to examine such contemporary documents as the manifestos of the online discussion group edge. However.Delineations of Madness and Science 89 establishment for the bicultural breach and its human consequences. there are still a small number of broad personality categories defined by attitudes toward science. of enduring interest only to historians of the donnish disputes of the mid-twentieth century. Pynchon. as Snow does. . as Pynchon dubs this line. provides ample anecdotal evidence that misunderstandings across the Two Cultures are rife. 65–66). pursuing an explicit mission of improving communications among disparate fields. Whether one identifies a dipole of cultures.10 a gulf of incomprehension nevertheless remains between the worlds of empirical science and of literature or critical digerati. the “Snovian Disjunction” – to the realm of bygone controversies. Sometimes this even extends to a reluctance to admit that another field’s most rudimentary terms of art may be admitted into the English language.K. “Is it O. or the Brownian motion of myriad microcultures. as Pynchon credits Snow with observing “with the reflexes of a novelist after all. charging the literati with the chief responsibility for parochialism to an unbalanced degree. and of other iterations of his archetypal figure the Badass. Still.”11 It may be tempting to relegate Snow’s delineation of the Two Cultures – or. More importantly. This highly select group of futurists. is affiliated loosely with Wired magazine and more closely with the science-publishing agent and entrepreneur 10 11 This is another point Snow took up explicitly and proleptically in the original lecture (8–9. his sanguinity over what industrialism would bring about in the Third World becomes ever harder to see through the smoke of an Indonesian or Brazilian forest fire.

A 1950s education in Freud..” as though there were no others [. in a sense.12 Manifestoist Brockman. Edge’s ambitious essay “The Third Culture. while no one was looking. “The Third Culture. .edge. celebrating the thorough inversion of the situation he noted in previous decades. people in the sciences did not make an effective case for the implications of their work. explicitly and aggressively identifies Snovian literary intellectuals as an irrelevant rump group whose exit from center stage in the public discourse is under way and long overdue: [T]he playing field of American intellectual life has shifted. Nonscientific intellectuals. and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s. 2–4. and the value and importance of the ideas presented remained invisible as an intellectual activity. according to this view of history. Marx. available at the same website. as Snow came to envision in “A Second Look.. are practically Thanatoids. while many eminent scientists [. their works were ignored by the selfproclaimed intellectuals.] also wrote books for a general audience.]. took to referring to themselves as “the intellectuals. dead without quite being ready to admit it.. finds unambiguous support in the steady proliferation of scientific bulletins and features for daily newspapers. Second. How did the literary intellectuals get away with it? First. Millard John Brockman. because science was not a subject for the reigning journals and paras..” This arises not from a synthesis of the other two or from improved communication between them. The claim by Brockman and his Edge colleagues that science is now well within the purview of journalism. Books on science are regularly 12 Anon.. now identifies a “third culture.” in particular. and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time [. Brockman frequently erases his own individual presence as an author for anti-individualist reasons best understood through examination of works such as By the Late John Brockman. and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly marginalized. lowbrow and high-.]. the traditional American intellectuals are.90 William B. [John Brockman].. Indeed. increasingly reactionary.” http://www. [Snow] noted with incredulity that during the 1930s the literary intellectuals.” but from the simple combination of intellectual vigor and direct communication with the public on the part of the ascendant scientific culture.

.ac. As the novelist most closely associated with the adaptation of scientific and technological ideas into fiction. these developments hardly imply that the gap has been erased. with more expertise and more confidence. by mathematician Gen Kuroki (<http://www. such writings and controversies indicate that the depth of the Snovian Disjunction persists and may even be increasing.drizzle. and numerous others.” he confesses. He has followed alternative versions of that motto to make it technical. no matter what shifts occur in the forms and degrees of cultural capital accrued by either side. The merits of Edge’s broadly triumphalist position are best assessed in other contexts.html). such as conscious allusion to recognized and academically sanctioned precursors. useful online archives have been created by the historians’ consortium H-Net Humanities OnLine (<http:// www2.Delineations of Madness and Science 91 considered in the book review sections of at least major newspapers and magazines. physics. than any literary figure alive. This is also true of the various well-publicized interpretations of physicist Alan Sokal’s notorious hoax on the editors of Social Text and on the critical-theory community in>). indicating an incursion of one Snovian culture onto the other’s media turf.math. to name another broadside fired from the scientific side of the chasm toward a purported cabal of antirealists across the way. by computer scientist Jason Walsh (<http://www.13 At the very least. however. “I was operating on the motto ‘Make it literary. Sokal’s personal website at New York University (<>) collects articles occasioned by his hoax. he has crossed the Snovian Disjunction more often. Acknowledged here is his realization of the fruitlessness of adhering to canonical literary values. Though he would never shake his allusive habit. make it 13 For background information on Alan Sokal’s initial parody of assorted postmodern theorists’ use of scientific terminology.msu.>) One of the first inferences he draws from his aghast rereadings of his early stories is recounted in the introduction to Slow Learner. not limited to commentators who share his critique.’ a piece of bad advice I made up all by myself and then took” (4). he has aggressively expanded it into non-literary realms. In “The Small Rain. that substantial proportions of the members of one culture speak the languages of the other. None of this has ever been news to Thomas Pynchon.

14 The central question of whether the Enlightenment is ultimately a liberating or repressive idea. is complex. the privileged position implicit in the slogan “make it literary” was one of the first stages to be jettisoned as the multistage rocket of Pynchon’s career lifted off. science. depending on how one defines that loaded term. and love. By 1984. and riddled with conflict. but only one part. make it cinematic and even televisual. however. Millard mathematical.92 William B. Critiquing secular reason. and reduce the possibilities for human freedom. a form of Luddism may be the only sane response. worsen the imbalances of class. social organization. ‘people who read and think. ad infinitum. half-apologetically adding that “it doesn’t sound so bad if you broaden the labeling to. to be compatible with technophobic or pastoral Luddism. he hints both that the Age of 14 Literary references remain part of Pynchon’s enormous database. make it historical. and about others he has left little doubt: his allegiances and aversions regarding economics. and the ethical gravity of humanity’s treatment of its planet need no explication to scholars of his earlier work. has occupied Pynchon’s attention throughout the progress of that career. contextualized. Pynchon’s take on science and anti-science. make it musical. At moments when those suspicions seem incontrovertible. whether scientific rationality advances or retards human freedom. make it mass-cultural. make it cybernetic. too integral to the intellectual underpinnings of each book. About some matters he is maddeningly or delightfully obscure. surprise. But Pynchon’s fascination with the physical sciences is too pervasive and too deep. make it chemical. His texts clearly encourage suspicions about whether or to what degree it is inevitable that science and technology will be enlisted in enterprises that can only damage the biosphere and dull the noösphere. say. and the work he performs in the Luddism essay redefining the term and reclaiming it from its Snovian usage creates a conceptual foundation for both novels that have followed that essay. I believe he both is and is not a Luddite. he would note that American culture at large treats “literary intellectual” as a term of opprobrium. in the Luddism essay.’” . when Enlightenment reason appears to lead only to the lies of the corporate state. generally overshadowed (particularly in Gravity’s Rainbow) by other arcana. make it critical-theoretical. politics. and technology not by rejecting them but by historicizing them.

we Will die fighting. with blood. and cheaply. . as Americans. not crudely technophobic. There it is discovered or hallucinated that the bombing of the Jamf Ölfabriken Werke is merely a reconfiguring for future functions. It will be amazing and unpredictable. God willing. it is an attitude toward governance and class.” and then characterizing the result as “unpredictable. not toward technology per se. like other observers of the time. saw clear identification between the first Luddites and our own revolutionary origins. he would have it neither way. the kind of revolution that he. “you heard it here first. from Lord Byron’s mischievously improvised song. context. in which he. So we. we should live so long. we can take comfort.” One may more confidently note that after tracing the rise of “King” Ned Lud and the assaults of his troops against stocking-frames – and the frames’ worker-downsizing. Oboy. And down with all kings but King Ludd! (41) This is a surprising maneuver that should really surprise only those who retain Snow’s definition of Luddism in its Lawrentian form. Pynchon closes his Luddism essay with an explicit wish not for any renunciation of scientific progress. the next great challenge to watch out for will come – you heard it here first – when the curves of research and development in artificial intelligence.Delineations of Madness and Science 93 Reason is permanently at hand and that it has never existed (or even that it cannot exist). It begins: As the Liberty lads o’er the sea Bought their freedom. molecular biology and robotics all converge. however minimal and cold. are going to be caught flat-footed. the armies only mock-adversaries. Meantime. let us devoutly hope. boys. as a longtime celebrant of the animate over the inanimate. Pynchonian Luddism is not the same thing as Snovian Luddism. or live free. We are back in the Zone with Enzian. It is certainly something for all good Luddites to look forward to if. and even the biggest of brass. It is possible to quibble that Pynchon ironizes his own statement by first making a prediction. but for a revolutionary technological change. so he has it both ways. capitalconcentrating owners – he has thoroughly reinscribed the term Luddite in a socioeconomic. might plausibly cheer on: If our world survives.

. brother. capitalize the T on technology. It is also a period when the line that became the Snovian Disjunction was in the process of being drawn. human elite with no right at all to be where they are […] (Gravity’s Rainbow 607) However problematically or unproblematically the reader of Gravity’s Rainbow might take this screed its rhetoric remains strong enough to make it impossible henceforth to take the simple position of the Snovian Luddite. Pynchon extends his ongoing critique back to the origins of that culture in Mason & Dixon. deify it if it’ll make you feel less responsible – but it puts you in with the neutered. it is safe to say that a position metaphorized as castration is no longer tenable. A Pynchonian Luddism will have to be a Luddism that acquaints itself with both history and hardware.] dictated by the needs of technology ..94 William B. “secretly [. Though Pynchon’s moments of moral suasion are never uncomplicated. It shares with other Pynchonian manifestomoments. a discursive context in which it is uttered by a figure whose reliability is imperfect. a voice impossible to ignore. then in various decadent and comic forms in Vineland.. 2. including a few I would like to examine in Mason & Dixon. with the implication that anatomizing the period when this culture and its ideologies took shape just might enrich our understanding . by a conspiracy between human beings and techniques.” But then the voice of Technology is heard. Millard Moreover. some specific somebody with a name and a penis hadn’t wanted to chuck a ton of Amatol 300 miles and blow up a block full of civilians? Go ahead.. urging a recognition of human responsibility on the part of both the obviously culpable and the would-be Counterforce: do you think we’d’ve had the Rocket if someone. Omnia in Verba extra Credibilitatem After examining Western technoculture ascending toward its deathly apogee in Gravity’s Rainbow. in with the eunuchs keeping the harem of our stolen Earth for the numb and joyless hardons of human sultans. politics is deemed to be all theatre.

since one invariably . irrationalities. and truthclaims are entirely within our reach. and artifice. Thomas Kuhn’s observations of the actual practices by which the communal correctives of scientific method have led to paradigm changes between phases of “normal science” and “revolutionary science” obviously qualify any foundational assumptions or nontrivial truth-claims. and woolly externalities of history. Historicizing science and reason is obviously dangerous to this pre-Kuhnian paradigm. holds that science is essentially an attempt to escape from history. Considering the centrality of scientific inquiry as a philosophical focus for the novel as well as Mason and Dixon’s professions. so as to subject each new theory to the most thorough scrutiny and correction an expert community can provide. bias. one interpretation of scientific discovery. the accidents of history are obstacles that science exists to overcome. An implicit faith in the theoretical attainability of knowledge independent of human belief-systems underlies the processes of scientific method. tested through observation and experiment. Finally the results and the conclusions based on them are shared through peer review and publication.Delineations of Madness and Science 95 of the mindsets and institutions that have developed. 21) for developing pre-existing reference sources into fiction. repeated studies confirming results by ruling out fluke. this effort to apply the heuristic of history to the empire of reason carries radical implications. This is Pynchon’s familiar Baedeker strategy (Slow Learner 17. the history of science can be seen as a series of ever-closer asymptotic approximations to objectively true. The Age of Reason thus had a beginning but can have no end. and if this complex but coherent goal could ever be reached. After all. This allows for the construction of plausible yet corruptible hypotheses. and those on the humanist side of the Disjunction who equate science with utter objectivity and rational control. mystery-free knowledge. rationally comprehensible. humanity could transcend and cast away the accidents. held not only by the more naive-realist contingent among scientists but by many humanists unfamiliar with real scientific practice. In other words. The assemblage of historical facts providing the novel’s framework and texture constitute a kind of hardware on which the “software” of the narrative can run. But to the still-prevalent scientific positivists or objectivists.

if less scrupulous over evidentiary matters. Mason & Dixon is thus not only a novel of what we can know. specifically regarding his deceased wife Rebekah and her imagined existence in an afterlife. then Romanticist striving and the Gothic renewal of supernaturalism in the face of reason’s incomplete project. to students of the humanistic disciplines it is unproblematic. falsified and discredited dogmas that were once considered unassailable. which Pynchon juxtaposes. If the question “When was the Age of Reason?” is unintelligible to the scientific realist on account of its verb tense. It is merely an inquiry about a recognized period bounded by eras of. blurrings. and other types of intellectuals from Snow’s nonscientific sector. than upstart Reason. first. many philosophers (positivists aside). This populist view is older and more comprehensive. with secular rationality in Mason & Dixon. most critical theorists. and progressive improvements in the correspondence between theory and observation. an embodiment of the human consequences of such striving. and even superimposes. Millard uncovers conceptual shrapnel. The astronomer. can render sensible. precision in logic and measurement. curvatures. The strengths of scientific method include its conduciveness to both imagination and sanity in hypothesis generation. which tends to yield egregious error whenever investigators encounter data approaching the limits of what their physical and cognitive equipment. with a few hedges and conditions.96 William B. and it is this. but of what it does to us to try to know it. There are numerous points in the text (particularly when matters Snovian are in the foreground) where Pynchon’s own voice appears to break through the narrative frames and make a direct declaration to the reader. Mason. sporting in traditional . novelists and other artists. and the inexplicable does not automatically apply to historians. A requirement to redline the irrational. Its weakness is its foundational hubris. This voice entangles itself within the frames. pursues truths about sidereal phenomena with great accuracy but is driven to melancholy. and erasures of the Snovian line generate some of the book’s most ingenious effects and intriguing interpretive challenges. The consequent crossings. The border of madness is reached over the impossibility of attaining other forms of knowledge. the supernatural. orthodox supernatural belief and divinely ordained authority. including interpretive paradigms.

– otherwise. denouncing all that once was Magic. One may be allowed an occasional Cock Lane Ghost. no.– visitations. along with making playfully anachronistic affinities with twentieth-century alien-abduction stories. Royal Society members and French Encyclopædists are in the Chariot. religious revivals. and possibly assent. The good Reverend. Yet the reader’s sense of recognition. all the benefit of the doubt. is on the side hostile to secular reason. Chapter 35 is a goldmine. echoes the assertions of the Luddism essay: These times are unfriendly toward Worlds alternative to this one. though too often in smirking tropes upon the Church of Rome. the same narrator who has already provided ample evidence that his reliability is questionable. is compromised by the awareness that this is Cherrycoke saying it. or minefield. medical impossibilities. by relating events he could not realistically have witnessed. (359) Cherrycoke delivers the same idea Pynchon himself expressed in The Times thirteen years before.– no. for any more in that Article. bleeding statues. availing themselves whilst they may of any occasion to preach the Gospels of Reason. Pynchon sends his narrator into territory where all the weight of popular belief and lived experience. folded acceptably between the covers of Books. has already stretched his credibility with his listeners in the framing . (1) Cherrycoke’s account of Peter Redzinger’s “occasion of Godrevealing” in a pit of hops (358–59). ghosts. one must turn to Gothick Fictions. and curses. of such disruptively fruitful passages. and our own era’s analogous phenomena (such as obsessions with the paranormal) represent a broad front of resistance to the Age of Reason [with its] profound unwillingness to give up elements of faith. however “irrational.” to an emerging technopolitical order that might or might not know what it was doing. appearing in one of the anomalous chapters where Mason and Dixon themselves do not appear and attention focuses on the experiences and ideas of Reverend Cherrycoke. far too foreign.Delineations of Madness and Science 97 postmodern fashion with the reader’s allegiance and making it maddeningly hard to determine which of these incompatible effects deserves emphasis. It is useful to recall the argument in the Luddism essay that the Gothic tropes of monsters.

What are we to make. in the heated LeSpark family debate on the same topic. Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev’ry Radius. a flammable odorant found in rotten meat and used industrially to provide a warning odor in odorless fuels (e. She is too innocent. since “Facts are but the Playthings of lawyers” and history’s “Practitioners. to be left within the reach of anyone in Power. propane gas).e. offensive to his host Wade LeSpark and thus detrimental to the bonds of family: 15 His name puns on the names of two toxic and harsh-smelling chemicals: ethyl mercaptan or ethanethiol.. also sees him tread close to blasphemy with his joke about history and Christianity. I am indebted to Paul Mackin and Spencer Thiel of the Internet discussion list PYNCHON-L for pointing out the chemical pun. and incredibility. to survive. credulousness. the rather Rortean assertion by young Ethelmer that: Who claims Truth. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters. or coerc’d.15 His skepticism. so much so that it is easy to overlook its source. Toilette. and Bearing. and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires. Ethelmer consistently raises skeptical and heretical points of view throughout the frame narrative.” Then.. spy. though he is checked by mature family authority. Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume.– who need but touch her. of two resonant passages on historical method and credibility at the outset of the chapter? We encounter first the epigraph from Cherrycoke’s Christ and History favoring a multiplicity of narratives. while often eloquent and rousing. . and Taproom Wit.98 William B. credence. financial credit. and thus with intimations that foundations for belief are scarce indeed. The thematic atmosphere throughout this chapter is suffused with religious creeds.g. break their structural bonds. must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc. only in Interests that must ever prove base. Millard narrative. (350) This practical skepticism toward truth-claims has much to commend it. of Government. Truth abandons. History is hir’d. and all her Credit is in the instant vanish’d. then. a sulfur-based solvent used to denature proteins. as if it had never been. and 2-hydroxyethyl mercaptan or beta-mercaptoethanol. or even the Curiosity. i.

flowing from that one Event. These passages condemning monopolies on truth have the ring of truth. Sir. or at least a parting shot. as a corollary. licensing the speaking of truth to power under the safe guise of comedy? The line between these alternatives would seem consequential indeed. like Cherrycoke’s. history. Wayne Booth’s Rhetoric of Irony distinguishes between stable and unstable forms of irony. your Cousin proceeds unerringly to the Despair at the core of History. the millions of lives. If it is undeniably so that he rose from the Dead. Sir. and must labor to find much amusement in Joaks about the Savior.” Mr. Later. his undeniably strong rhetoric about the corruption of official history. ev’rybody. As Savages commemorate their great Hunts with Dancing.” (75–76) A younger Pynchon might have given the irreverent youth a better outcome in this exchange. the adoption of their antitheses? Or is he working in the tradition of jesters (reliable and unreliable) from Petronius Arbiter to Lear’s Fool to Twain to Lenny Bruce.– with all the secular Consequences. The former leaves little doubt about an eiron’s unreliability and cements agreement between the sender and receiver of an ironic message that the real message conveyed is anti- . and History is redeem’d from the service of Darkness. presents an interpretive conundrum. But if Ethelmer is a clown figure. but the reader lacks the stars and sector that would ensure the straightness of such a Visto. Sectarian War.Delineations of Madness and Science 99 “Brae. when his courtship of Tenebrae. Inquisition. “Temporarily out of touch with my Brain. and truth and encouraging their mockery. LeSpark upon his feet. and in the terms of rhetorical theory an eiron. but here Ethelmer’s pungent irreverence must bow to decorum. comes to nothing it becomes difficult to take him with much seriousness. the seas of blood.” Ethelmer bows. and how we have far’d.” comments Ethelmer. a foil.” he mumbles. and. design’d and will’d to occur.” “Including ev’ry Crusade. “Save that for your next Discussion with others of comparable wisdom. “Sorry.– and the Hope. yet they are voiced by characters hardly associated with truth-telling. faith. “What happen’d? He liked it so much being dead that He couldn’t wait to come back and share it with ev’rybody else?” “Sir. then the Event is taken into History. Is Pynchon ironizing the statements about reason. so History is the Dance of our Hunt for Christ. Reverend. In this house we are simple folk.

100 William B. Millard thetical to the eiron’s expressed message. To many of us literary critics. Brought to mind here is Wittgenstein’s famous drawing in Philosophical Investigations (IIxi [194e]) that can be viewed in one aspect as a rabbit. I believe Pynchon’s moments of aporia gesture toward meanings but refuse to mean. undercuts the possibility of any such agreement.16 A habitual refusal to allow either member of any dichotomy an unambiguously privileged position over its opposite pole characterizes the thematic and stylistic aspects of Mason & Dixon as well as the communicative. The functions of language can go beyond purposive use to include non-communicative experiences. The superimposing of incompatible interpretive frameworks is a powerful way to produce the disorientations of unstable irony. Unstable irony. these Pynchonesque koans tend to launch us on flights of scholarly and interpretative [sic] acrobatics that have served most to expose the limitations of the very rationality on which we depended” (Porush 33–34). Guetti 44). referential. which Wittgenstein compared to “an engine idling. and dramatic possibilities include some effects that drive the reader beyond coherent communication..] doing work” (Wittgenstein 132 [51e]. Moreover. but never simultaneously under both aspects. instead evoking a koanlike metaproposition that the sanest thing one can do with a Line is to occupy both sides of it. immersed in a rationalizing profession that is itself the expression of a rationalizing culture. in another as a duck. 16 David Porush has also referred to Pynchon’s “play with the reader throughout his works – his penchant for posing paradoxes and unsolvable puzzles. not [.. if the text can have meaning within several interpretive schemes. its grammatical. the effort to identify true or false meaning must come to a halt. the visual analogue of textual aporia. The book teems with doubled elements and images. yet those systems cancel each other out. or to a more appropriate question: whether what this language is really for is something beyond the delivery of messages. and when Pynchon executes this operation in the very passages that purport to deliver conclusions about rationality itself. however. Pynchon’s irresolvable positions regarding the accessibility of truth can lead to a host of unanswerable or meaningless questions. In this spirit. . meaning itself may not be the point.

These include the prolonged. sky (“as above”) and earth (“so below”). Doppelgängers. the alternative endings of the story of Hsi and Ho (628). . slave and free. and hence any twin is also a menace. are a dark Gothic or Romanticist device. Further complicating logical delineation is the superimposition of eighteenth-century idioms and twentieth-century references into a hybrid style that is both familiar and foreign. Stig’s “Yingle” and “Yangle. This style combines features of eighteenth-century English prose. will stand. Abstract concepts. as Karl Miller has painstakingly recounted in Doubles. or deferring) death and its inevitable susceptibility to death.Delineations of Madness and Science 101 inviting attention to the act and concept of division.” Zhang’s chi and sha. and the strategically capitalized noun. Hsi and Ho. Mason’s sons William and Doctor Isaac. Susan Strehle. memes. and. Eliza and Zsuzsa. discussing Vineland. its capacity for transcending (or delaying. whether person or idea. likewise.17 Here Pynchon gives us not only Mason and Dixon themselves but Pitt and Pliny. including the sly winks of conscious ana17 This is hardly a new device in Pynchon.] Grape People and Grain People” (18). Astrology as “Astronomy’s wanton little sister. Pynchon’s recurrent twinning suffuses the book with an aroma of the uncanny and a consciousness that nothing solitary. a harbinger. an inescapable reminder for the mirror-maddened modern self of both its uniqueness and its interchangeability. If conceptual bifurcation is the elemental act of the rational mind.. who goes out and sells herself that Astronomy may keep her Virtue” (136). and narrative channels. Father Zarpazo and Captain Zhang. not to mention Dixon’s early reference to “two sorts of drinking Folk [. and Franklin’s interns in the electrickal arts Molly and Dolly. momentum-gathering Ciceronian periodic sentence. observes sixteen plausible sets of paired characters and traces a coherent structural and moral scheme based on doubles and comparisons. often appear in pairs: science and mysticism. in Maskelyne’s quotation from Kepler. Pennsylvania and Maryland. uncertainty over whether the thing divided would be better left whole is most acute when the similarities on either side of the line are strongest.. a natural extension of the polyvalent yet recognizable Pynchonese voice. with knowing discursions into contemporary parlance.

either. (564) and thus set up an implicit subtextual joke about Amy .’ hey. where Kabbalists give Mr Spock’s “live long and prosper” hand sign and a Popeye doppelgänger translates the golem’s tautological utterance Eyeh asher Eyeh as “I am that which I am” (485–86).” Mason remarks. Mrs Eggslap providing a troupe of cheerleaders for Stig in his race with Zepho Beck. Mr. Higgs” and his obsession with rigging (54–55).102 William B.?” (363) In addition we have the cluster of pop-culture citations in chapter 50. the flavor of an upscale 1990s coffeehouse as Dixon orders what appears to be a Kenya AA and Java Highland latte (298). having eloped with her “Italian Waggon-smith” to Massapequa. to be a Woman” (621). Amy’s reappearance seven chapters later. Dixon’s gestures toward both Monty Python and Laurel and Hardy when snowbound near Lancaster: “Can’t say I’m too easy with this Weather. ‘Strangers will take you for I don’t know what.I..] ’tis hard. the complex verbal riffing on musical forms from Plato’s modal scales to Philadelphia soul and rock ’n’ roll at the end of chapter 26.. which allow microscopic moments of history not only to recur as farce but to gain farcical effect in both their contexts.D. the Learned English Dog’s sharing an acronym with light-emitting diodes (when “The L. – I don’t know what. as. as.E. along with Fender Bodine’s question “would the li’oo Doggie be for sale?” echoing the lyrics of the postwar novelty song “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” (23).. ‘But I like Black.” “Another bonny gahn-on tha’ve got us into. and sampling Tammy Wynette: “Sometimes [. The border between centuries collapses. blinks” [22]). and what may be the most grammatically ingenious intrusion by our era’s pop vernacular. Millard chronism.?” “Actually I lost sight of the Trees about fifteen minutes ago. Do you?” (400). the references to subatomic physics that flicker throughout the text. he’s.. substituting one century’s lax idiom for another’s: “I’m.’ – yet my Uncle. the teenage-mall-rat discourse of young black-clad Amelia in New York. in jokes about using Indian Hemp without inhaling (10). “Do tha mean those white flake-like objects blowing out of the northeast. L.. and the framing artifice becomes visible.. such as the string-theory and Higgs-boson joke involving “the Boatswain.

the salient features of the Badass – that he is “Big” and that he is “Bad” – take on additional scale and menace by virtue of their blatantly brobdingnagian Bs. by song lyrics. Even the capitalizations reward scrutiny. The passage on Frankenstein’s monster also highlights a crucial visual difference between literary and pop-cultural iterations of this particular Badass when it refers to the “commonly depicted Bolt Through the Neck. as in all Pynchon’s books. sometimes with a comic touch. an obviously significant choice for this treatment. which seems improbable). but the overall pattern of anachronistic humor – reinforced. 148). Undermining its own framing conceit of orality. It marks this personal effect with a sign of the generic and thus produces an effect of impersonality. may constitute the low-water mark of the anachronism strategy. While Gravity’s Rainbow confers such a capital on the War. elevating them out of their ordinary lexical functions and rendering them perceptibly public and substantial. executing subtle effects that differ from the simple Germanic practice of capitalizing all nouns indiscriminately.Delineations of Madness and Science 103 Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco. in turn reinforces the practice of overlaying different signifying systems over each datum in the text. in the narrative frame of Reverend Cherrycoke’s Scheherazadic performance. this text thus draws attention to its own artifice. the ostensibly minor detail of Beaver/Jeremy’s Pipe also continually appears with such an anomalous capital P (49. He has long treated certain nouns or phrases in this manner. as the Pompidou Center renders its infrastructure visible. the significances of discretionary capitals are incommunicable (unless Cherrycoke can somehow pronounce these emphases. In the Luddism essay.18 Pynchon did not begin capitalizing nouns with Mason & Dixon. just as the lieutenant himself is so much less a defined personage than his rival Roger Mexico.” the cinematic signature that mechanizes the creature in a way Shelley’s text never did. the fact of irregular and thus discretionary capitalization makes sense only for the written text. and that no single system can be taken for granted. . In devising an adaptive mutation of eighteenth-century English for Mason & Dixon. Pynchon apparently found that century’s almost-regular capitalization practice 18 Of course. The reader is thus reminded that these data signify differently under different aspects. and recognizable as proper nouns for deities or brand names.

104 William B.” “women. Millard congenial.” “gold.” “Yet.” “value. most of us here in Virginia wouldn’t know a Parallax from a Pinwheel if it came on up and said how-d’ye do. then sing. these telling details on the microscopic level. but Mason and Dixon’s conversation with Colonel Washington.” and “sphere” do not appear capitalized. not simply reversing the polarity but re-balancing it and forcing a reconsideration . In a perhaps deliberate fictive counterpart of Derridean critical strategies.– ” “And that Transit-of-Venus Pudding? Same thing. what a Rage it was! the Transit-of-Venus Wig. as the Washingtons recall how the Transit of Venus created a bubble of popular opinion: “Here.– Observers station’d all ’round the world.” “world. Gershom.– ev’ry Astronomer suddenly employ’d. “more fame attaches to the Transits. giving him even further license to create useful distinctions between ordinary terms and those attracting a shade more attention. Examples of the practice are virtually innumerable. ideas. that receive the emphatic capital here. But during that section of the conversation the observant reader will have noticed that the terms “fame. that several women were seen wearing upon Broad Street. even in Massachusetts. He deploys capitals artfully and unpredictably. It is the more trivial and transient items. and Martha affords one with particularly sharp contrasts. Pynchon tends to give some compensating emphasis to the less privileged member of a binary pair on any level. attaching them not to the more conventionally important nouns but to those whose ad hoc contextual importance appears to require momentary emphasis. Throughout Mason & Dixon the application of this convention reflects Pynchon’s tropisms toward the things. and our attention to these transitory fads quickly fades.– Treasuries of all lands pouring forth gold. a single black Currant upon a Circular Field of White.– ” (283) They proceed to lament. Husband. the dark little knots rather than the larger white spheres.– and all to find a true value for the ‘Earth’s Parallax. lending plausibility to an inference that it is precisely these bubbles of readerly opinion. the sailors’ song of the Transit of Venus. and personages that are customarily subordinated.” “lands. do ye remember it? a dark little round Knot against a great white powder’d sphere. that carry value.’ Why.” the Colo beams.

scientific professionalism does not rule out a proclivity for the paranormal. Without saying so explicitly. Like Kuhnian practitioners of normal science facing data that require a revolutionary revision of the paradigms by which they have comprehended all data they have previously encountered. is on a par with Vaucanson’s invention of a mechanical duck: ingenious and impressive. The division of territory into new entities called Maryland and Pennsylvania. guided by the geometry of the constellations. we find that the narrative intermingles them to the point where one may question the value of separating them in any context. miracle. Rational thinking in this context appears unreasonable. Pynchon’s works present a recurrent historical . Instead it referred to a realm of investigations including study of the physical world and the heavens (hence the name of the Royal Society’s journal Philosophical Transactions). but here it is also entwined with activities far from scientific. The process of either discovering order in. every astronomer has moonlighted as a Covent Garden astrologer (136). penetrating the wild new continent means encountering infinite and ancient forms of strangeness. Pynchon reminds us that the term “philosophical” in Mason and Dixon’s century referred not to the linguistic and logical abstractions connoted by the modern term. or legend becomes self-erasing. which takes the form in time of a transitional moment. a perception of scientists or “natural Philosophers” as eccentric or worse was a cultural commonplace. or to the Socratic pursuit of wisdom. the more the line separating reason from madness. As in Swift’s Academy of Lagado. Their America itself thus becomes the largest example yet of Pynchon’s master trope. or imposing order on. Then in turning attention back to the dichotomy of scientific and non-scientific thinking. the wildness of nature may be integral to the world view that shaped America.Delineations of Madness and Science 105 of the precision of its dividing line. but unnatural and quixotic. and in space. The further and more frequently these men of science venture into the realm of the giant vegetable and the tall-tale. Mason and Dixon know no language that can bound and subdivide the Bigness and glorious Badness of the American frontier. and here scientific research is never far from madness. The sanity of both Mason and Dixon comes repeatedly into question: “star-gazing” can signify either astronomy or onanism (171). of an ungovernable place.

utilitarian terms and repeatable experiments.” when one recognizes that the whole evanescent. environmental degradation. in the American 1960s in Pynchon’s California novels The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland. exists on some level other than personal in Mason & Dixon. . The grounding of such moments and spaces in meticulously researched historical data hints that the concreteness of history may allow some resistance to encroaching political control. and particularly in the Zone in Gravity's Rainbow. But there is also hope of redemption. As natural as everything else in Dixon’s life. may be one of the underlying reasons the Snovian Disjunction has arisen. a language evocative of awe. it must defy coherence. which I would term “Pynchonian space” or “the Pynchonian moment. Such spaces and times appear in America’s beat-era bohemia. and aesthetic degeneration.19 All of America and all of modernity is transfigured here as potential Pynchonian space and time. in most of his late life and after his final meeting with Franklin. pointless. This marshaling of the possibilities of dubiously coherent language. Millard concept. encouraging the reader to step outside a language-game where distinctions defining meaning are essential. political anarchy. provides the tragic element in Pynchon’s vision. Thus the only language appropriate to this space and time must be a language that creates vectors extending beyond language. For Mason. and intellectual vectors intersect to create a temporary realm of augmented personal autonomy. for this reader. there is death. If language is irreducible 19 Tragedy. through family. as well as certain moments in Maltese and Südwestafrikan history in V. socio-economic.106 William B. Like the languages of religions and transcendence. The tragic tone enters. unclaimable” (772). economic oppression.. at Dixon’s dream of the song “It was fun while it lasted. combined with the detailed rendering of the mechanisms whereby those imperial forces encroach. I should add. the old-fashioned way. and the question of their evanescence is either answered coldly by history or left open by the text’s redemptive moments.” whereby political. Secular reason needs communicative. epistemologic uncertainty. the scarceness and evanescence of such moments. transforming enterprise is soon to reach an end. and narrative possibilities both comic and tragic. there is a silence that the reader may forever try to interpret as either madness or private attainment of religious knowledge. “eyes elsewhere. At the same time.

is beside the point. Pynchon’s ultimate project may be to restore a sense that written language is adequate. which are presumably objective and open to the corrective processes of scientific method. to God” (66). As Stephen Jay Gould pointed out in a letter to Science in 1991. as encoded in its motto nullius in verba. that it need not be superseded by other languages based on equations or digits. There are indeed physicists notorious among their peers for claiming that all other sciences are ultimately reducible to physics. after all. In a little-discussed passage from “The Two Cultures: A Second Look. Nullius in verba – abstracted from Horace’s Epistulae. in Horace’s original Latin phrase (“Nullius addictus iurare in verba magistri”). to the challenge and scope of modern history.” Snow also complained of the disjunctions and hierarchies within the Royal Society. not a nominative nullus. genitive singular. The distrust of verbiage that generations of scientists have inferred from this “canonical mistranslation” (Gould para. the entire philosophy of the Royal Society. this august body has undoubtedly perpetrated and perpetuated the Disjunction in one way that is more than symbolic.Delineations of Madness and Science 107 to propositions and data. language itself is deemed untrustworthy and must be forever subordinated to quantitative data. or to mathematics. xenografted with a crucial grammatical error. 2) amounts to an officially sanctioned error that has contributed mightily to the Snovian conduit of sha. but power.” What the Royal Society’s motto instructs the scientist to distrust is not words.” In other words. or more than adequate. whereby “[t]heoretical physicists tend to talk only to each other. and. nullius was an adjective. modifying magistri. and interpreted as a cardinal principle of the scientific culture – has conventionally been translated as “there is nothing in words. like so many Cabots. One need not disparage those processes to note that the phrase as Horace originally wrote it means nothing of the kind. and the scientific community generally. But if I may express overt sympathies with Charles Mason for a moment and derogate the Royal Society. To this end he uses language that can comprehend both sides of the Snovian Disjunction and render it moot. . A literal translation would thus be “I am not bound to swear allegiance to the word of any master. A technophilic Pynchonian Luddite would understand this instinctively.

Ballad-Mongers and Cranks. as well-versed readers of Pynchon quickly recognized. However. disciplines. this language cannot help but imply the following: that in our own world. Millard Pynchon has used language to project a world where everyone talks to God. and ideologies. whose inclusive motto might well be omnia in verba. it is by no means clear that the presuppositions of the Snovian literary culture (or what is left of it) always support an optimistic view of Mason & Dixon itself. would foster more skepticism toward Lines. and less toward whatever lies on either side of them. . stands out from the original wave of reviews. that of James Wood of The New Republic in The Broken Estate.20 but the particular point it is beside is a telling one. Wood’s hostility to Mason & Dixon may be beside the point. 3. Across the distances outlined by history. was remarkably if unsurprisingly devoid of praise for Wood’s assessment of Mason & Dixon. Wood’s other writings.108 William B. This is not only by virtue of its negative assessment but also by revealing features of Pynchon’s writing that defy comprehension by anyone operating under certain assumptions about the nature and purpose of fiction. even among commentators who admired other aspects of Wood’s work. for example. express a deep nostalgia for the certainties of a command-based belief system. Expressed here is anguish that he 20 Discussion of The Broken Estate among the combination of professional scholars and amateur Pynchon aficionados on PYNCHON-L in October 1999. Foundational Nostalgia and the Agnostic Sublime Mason & Dixon’s pluralism arguably supports some degree of guarded optimism toward literary language’s capacity for creative improvisation and useful historical memory. One early critical response to Mason & Dixon. particularly his personal meditation on the loss of religious belief in the essay (originally a sermon) that gives The Broken Estate its title. some closer listening to the fabulists and counterfeiters. and to each other.

Thus any form of writing that subjects the realist paradigm to skepticism and frames its own truth claims as provisional. Wood inadvertently emphasizes how science. Joseph McElroy. begs for derogation.. His aesthetic of fiction places the highest premium on the realistic rendering of an individual subjectivity that is separate. History and fiction are set into irreconcilable opposition. is to generate “interiority” (206) on the part of characters so as to sustain credibility on the part of the reader. “the reality of fiction must also draw its power from the reality of the world [. By refusing to engage science on any level. self-contained. viewed as an inevitably historicized and historicizing activity that can never fully crystallize into a timelessly believable orthodoxy. and their descendants (285–311). Arnold. the skepticism of the non-positivist sciences) convicted of corroding treasured and indispensable foundations. As he states in the introduction to The Broken Estate. DeLillo. along with Norman Mailer.Delineations of Madness and Science 109 cannot sustain his old faith in religion’s truth claims. Here might be found the antidote to a humanist hubris that would subordinate both the deity and nature to the comprehension (and perhaps the control) of Faustian and fallible human reason. and largely (even aggressively) ahistorical. it appears all the more important for the private believability of realistic fiction. to provide stability in a different realm. and a searing contempt for the rationalized Christianity of Renan. Fiction demands belief from us. and the larger vectors of history (secularism. and the request is demanding in part because we can choose not to believe” [xiii–xiv]. cer- . one in which neither culture nor Zeitgeister nor the sportive complexities of contemporary authors dare intrude.. Pynchon. It is no accident that Wood’s vigorous assault on Pynchon’s dramatic performance and implicit ideology omits any mention whatsoever of science and technology. and of the problems it confronts. When public belief in a transcendental foundation has been rendered impossible. is at the core of Pynchon’s novelistic practice. Perhaps the irony in Wood’s failure to grasp Pynchon’s aesthetic is that in another sense Pynchon may in fact provide precisely the corrective to Renanian religious rationalism that Wood so desperately seeks.]. rationality. Wood’s thought balances delicately between the necessity of a foundational belief and the impossibility of one. in Wood’s view. The novelist’s chief task. a kind of prosthetic faith.

but belief in the sense of rational apprehension. egoism. remains separate. and thus to “technological structures and global corporate systems beyond the comprehension of any one mind or imagination” (Tabbi ix).110 William B.” This describes the transference of awe from a personal God. as no other totalizing narrative or foundational system can claim such belief. and to the challenging aesthetic from which both these novels draw power. the imagination responds either with a sense of inundation or an attempt (inevitably futile) to assimilate the otherness of technological reality into language and mind. Whatever their beliefs may be. and other ungovernable forces formerly endowed literature. belief in general as a convincing 21 Tabbi’s most recent work on Mason & Dixon can be found in his book Cognitive Fictions. Instead. and alignment is not available to them. replacing the awe with which divinity. and others. has given full-bodied fictional form to an idea Joseph Tabbi terms “the postmodern sublime. to the Snovian problems it confronts. Narrators and characters in Pynchon (and in other authors with a similar technology-focused aesthetic) must naturally “believe in” technological culture to the extent that it is the factual atmosphere in which they operate. nature. unfamiliar. they offer principles that I believe can be usefully applied to Mason & Dixon. awe is transferred to the mysteries of science. The latter is no longer deemed available for unironized belief. It constitutes something they must grapple with or submit to. conviction. other than the semiotic system” (17). respectively). Whether this sublimity takes the passive or active form (inundation or attempts at dominance. like the natural world and [Henry] Adams’s universe of force.” . Where “the technological network. it inevitably partakes of a reaction beyond anything that could be termed understanding. “Mapping the (Core) Text. Though Tabbi’s readings of Pynchon are drawn primarily from Gravity’s Rainbow and antedate the more recent novel. in particular chapter 2. Millard tain cyberpunk authors of the 1980s. Belief is simply not at the center of the aesthetic problem-situation at hand.21 Tabbi employs the theory of the sublime articulated and anatomized by Thomas Weiskel in The Romantic Sublime to define a new technology-based aesthetic of awe.

They may. uncontrollable reality systems that continually conquer and outpace interpretation. where none of the available interpretive discourses is adequate to comprehend or control experience. not one’s King. mourn it: “Perhaps. then the whole matter of foundational belief. aesthetic questions are likely to hinge on questions of the credibility (formal. and thus on center stage. is not a decision Pynchon’s characters or readers must make. “we attribute to the Armies of old. Making the Prussian example all the more mystical. and of the many readers who share his instinct for some credible foundation. A realist aesthetic will effectively command a reader to adopt the satisfactions of belief in a period when belief is in crisis. Rather. it is a perceived effect at the border area of assorted rationalities. a level of common Belief long inaccessible to our own skeptical Souls. psychological. . It is neither an irrationalist aesthetic nor a hyperrationalist aesthetic. to be either believed in by humans (with sublime awe) or disbelieved (with secular skepticism). a true foundation. divine and personal) authority offers no solace.Delineations of Madness and Science 111 and unifying norm. The technological sublime is in an important sense a sublimity of emptiness. The centrality of belief-decisions in the religious realm metastasizes into other realms as well. Hence the preferences of James Wood.– whom or what can any modern army believe in enough to obey? if not God. of course. Since those latter systems are largely of humankind’s own making.?” (551) The reader’s sense of sublimity issues forth from apprehension of the unbridgeable distance between the decisions the characters and narrative voices do make – the various interpretive systems they offer to make limited sense of the world – and the vast. or philosophical) of a given work of art.” the Revd suggests. deserves central and overwhelming human attention... One can also venture a few steps beyond Tabbi’s chief concept into a loosely historicized analogy between different types of belief that carry implications for the aesthetics of fiction. Whether they have retained the religious structure of belief or have joined Wood in losing it. they hope to transfer some form of it to art. turning to external (that is. If a personal God stands behind the physical world. including the logical coherence of its supporting propositions and the apprehensibility of its evidence.

In the sciences. but this system is not necessarily self-sufficient (or deeply involved in novelistic aesthetics) so long as the largest questions concern religious belief. locating meaning within the phenomena instead. a Puritan hymn wanly hoping for divine salvation. sung collectively – and abortively – in the shadow of the Bomb. Both the enormous scale and the moral enormity of the material/technological world. the proximate causes of sublime awe. presents its own questions of credibility. but control . the central foundational proposition of this world view. or at best becomes a matter for irony or nostalgia. They point toward the sublime Other. Millard A different but coexisting system of thought. secular science. the existence of a personal and interested God. The natural world and scientific incursions into it are available as metaphorical models of transcendental matters. The importance of belief generally. In fiction. Belief remains an available option. conditional acceptance of positivistic propositions as the best available grounds for continued work.112 William B. “As far as the enterprise of science is concerned. perhaps modeled to some degree on the foundational questions of religion. sensing (or hoping) that no God or God-equivalent stands in their way. not just the ultimate object of belief. We see this as in the famous conclusion to Gravity’s Rainbow. If it does then the realist principle underlying Wood’s strongest claims is liable to be inverted. may yield entirely to the skepticisms of secular rationality – as has happened for large parts of the populace since the early period of science’s ascendance. but belief anchored in certainty does not. In the words of science philosopher Bas van Frassen. drops away. or as metonymic microcosms. become visible in works such as Pynchon’s as the ultimate and sufficient causes as well. but they are not that Other. readers are likely to cease looking through material phenomena for metaphorized meaning. On the other hand. but nature and science are ultimately valuable more for reading-through than for reading. the sciences here are instrumental: mere accompaniment to an ultimate Text supplied by religion. To venture a pun that the music-obsessed Pynchon might approve. belief in the truth of its theories is supererogatory” (Levine 15). Characters in such a world may approach the immediacy of phenomena with a newly energized hubris. a distinction arises between belief in truth claims and the practical.

and Leslie Marmon Silko’s can be ignored only at the cost of granting secular reason a hegemonic position. “Hunt. but questions of belief may come to be decentered as a matter of relative importance by questions of communicative performance. making a religious reading-through from secular phenomena to spiritual realms an option rather than a mandate. Postmodern inclusiveness gives voice to “people who still speak the world in magical and religious terms” (McClure 148).Delineations of Madness and Science 113 is relocated into the material world. . whose own myriad forms of resistance can readily substitute for an ineffable divine will. such as Wade LeSpark’s extrapolations from the proposition that “History is the Dance of our Hunt for Christ” (75). recognizing the ineradicable presence of assorted spiritual world views in Pynchon’s represented communities. The technological sublime. cannot be an atheistic sublime. arguably in Pynchon’s own thinking.” for example. as John McClure has discussed in some detail. creating for the aesthetics of fiction an epistemological atmosphere that might be termed the agnostic sublime. What makes this alternate form of sublimity possible is a sense that if one realm of thought can get along with radical foundationlessness. and in a wide range of other postmodern fictions. Rupture of the frame of realism not only becomes admissible but is practically mandated.22 It is appropriate here that even the principles of an unambiguous believer. and that the inadvertent duplicity of their crucial terms not be overlooked. a more general foundationlessness might prevail in other realms as well. particularly the terms of Third World cultures. is shown by Cowart (358–59) to implicate the arms 22 The term “agnostic sublime” here is one I present with no small degree of caution. But in locating the source of awe in worldly systems.” The “post-secular project of resacralization” (144) that McClure finds in such canonical postmodern texts as Pynchon’s. This defines out of postmodernism the very anti-totalizing principle with which practically all definitions of the postmodern begin. in other words. be presented as conditionals. the spiritual circumspection. I would argue that the postmodern mode of sublimity retains the uncertainty. or at least Pynchon’s reimagined version of it in Mason & Dixon). Thus no fair definition of postmodernism can reduce non-rationalist perspectives to simple superstition or “magic. colonized but not yet modernized (a category that conceivably still included colonial America. atheism is in its way no less foundationalist or triumphalist than theism. of the true agnostic. Ishmael Reed’s. Questions of credibility remain. DeLillo’s. since no plot and no scientific discourse can be structured without them.

It is this which replaces the search for parallels between the mandated (even coerced) belief of revealed religion and the persuaded belief a reader derives from (or grants to) effective realist fiction. is literally beyond belief. not something for a critic to treat differently from the way one would treat the specific historical references or political critiques. The problems surrounding the crucial intertwined ideas of control and belief may explain why Wood overlooks science in Pynchon entirely.114 William B. again. remain beyond the comprehension of all the fragmentary systems. Tabbi anatomizes “Pynchon’s nonmetaphorical use of science” (86). in Gravity’s Rainbow. Millard merchant LeSpark in historical operations no less sinister than the biblical Herod’s original hunt for the infant Christ. Those claims are not thereby rendered meaningless or trivially relativized. or at least places them at a distance from the preconditions of coherent reading. political. or moral. resistant to the implicit dominance of our allegorizations and our belief systems alike. Pynchon’s extra-human and non-humanist world. it is possible to view any structure of belief. It renders beliefs and believability irrelevant. mathematical. by which individual human minds attempt to subordinate them. as a futile attempt to subordinate a world that is sublimely insubordinate. In the light of a more nuanced and receptive theoretical response such as Tabbi’s. Such a world cedes no ground to any discourse that attempts to frame it within human truth-claims. which include the grim and uncontrollable processes of politico-economic history. The subjects within Pynchon’s technological state are neither granted a blanket pardon for their bureaucratic participation in the atrocities of that state (recalling. Perhaps. Prevalent is as a constant functional awareness that scientific facts and technological processes. in this view. particularly belief about the implications of science. driving the Holy Family into circumstances deserving such Pynchonian descriptives as paranoia and preterition – not be overlooked. willing to treat the systems of science as disproportionate and external to human reason and imagination. the assumption is that science is just one more of Pynchon’s ample sources of allusion and allegory. the “capitalize the T on technology” passage at the Jamf . be they semiotic. by examining the psychology that characterizes Pynchon’s teams of aeronautical engineers in the Nazi rocket-state of Gravity’s Rainbow. Tabbi finds Pynchon.

however. are well aware of the various decenterings of belief that would follow in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. about whom no such assumption can be made. narrator Cherrycoke included. no matter how doomed. Mason & Dixon occupies a setting that practically guarantees disparate religious assumptions between the majority of its characters. magical) are pilloried. assorted American Indians’. and perhaps the young freethinker Ethelmer’s). occur in an era when “God has receded.” “Deism has crept in to make the best of this progressive Absence.23 For the reader. the reader can entertain Pynchon’s ominous implications only by abandoning both belief and control. and New Age charlatans of late twentieth-century America 23 These include technological “realists” like Pointsman or the Peenemünde engineers. Characters in the Zone assemble their own belief systems in efforts to come to grips with inconceivable phenomena. like the heroic Enzian and the monstrously hubristic Blicero. The actions of the novel. .” and “Royal Society members and French Encyclopædists [are] in the Chariot” (358–59). Cherrycoke notes the proliferation of assorted religious unorthodoxies in Pennsylvania. the plausibility of any of these assorted beliefs is not the true question at hand. cults. however. The diverse theological opinions expressed are still largely united under the large umbrella of some form of monotheistic faith. erotic. mystically inclined anti-rationalists. like Leni Pökler or Geli Tripping. Ethical centers of gravity exist in Gravity’s Rainbow. The clash between Enlightenment science and any form of received belief will be recognizable to today’s reader as imminent despite the near-universality of some form of belief (either foundational or foundation-seeking) within the bounds of the novel. With no theological center available (outside a wan realm of hope) and no single interpretive system coming close to explaining experience. or a bit of both. Its readers. in a litany that plausibly foreshadows the assorted sects. Unlike Gravity’s Rainbow. even as some forms of supernaturalism are allowed to coexist uneasily with science.Delineations of Madness and Science 115 Ölfabriken Werke) nor treated to blanket credulity toward their systems of belief. in Cherrycoke’s description. and sentimentalities of all sorts (romantic. (with the exception of Captain Zhang’s.

our own postmodern period presents a kind of inversion of the belief-landscape that Cherrycoke describes in colonial and post-Revolutionary Pennsylvania. naive realism. any more than theological correctness.]. perhaps incessant debate in scholarly and journalistic venues. 24 n). Millard (358). . amounting to a reification of science into an uncritically positivist “scientism. Perhaps non-coincidentally. The crucial Enlightenment values of objectivity and factual correspondence are now subjected to an assortment of charges.”24 One historical crisis of authority. preferring a pragmatist skepticism toward the usefulness of debates over foundationalism: “Scientists who agree with Kuhn are not about to do anything very different from what their colleagues who agree with [physicist and staunch realist Steven] Weinberg do [. limned in fiction. a requirement for useful work” (Rorty. failure to grasp the embeddedness of observations within theory or culture.. naive relativism. reductionism.116 William B. while scientific realists and objectivists respond with counter-attacks claiming reflexive irrationalism. a fragmented and somewhat desperate array of rearguard actions against the Enlightenment’s encroachments into the authoritative position formerly occupied by established (or at least majority) religion. inattentiveness to the metaphoricity of its own language. The essay in which she lists the opposing qualities is tellingly titled “In Defense of Objectivity” (Levine 31. Here is implied a metastasizing social crisis of belief.. may readily resonate with another that is under energetic. a sentimental strain of 24 Mary Hesse enumerates a series of fundamental principles of both the “naive realist” and “antirealist” arguments (quoted in Levine 15–16) but adopts neither position herself. “Phony” 122). These include cultural hubris. Richard Rorty and Ian Hacking are among others who find the polarity of “triumphalist” positivism and “diabolize[d]” social constructivism unsatisfying. Pynchon constructs colonial society as an eminently fluid conceptual space with regard to both specific concrete beliefs and the broader issue of belief-in-general. preferring a Habermasian hermeneutics that eschews the relativism commonly found among critics of positivistic realism. In neither science nor politics is philosophical correctness. This particular cultural comparison appears as one of the most conceptually weighty of Pynchon’s many constructive anachronisms due to the era in which it is viewed. and unavoidable implication in assorted capitalistic depredations and imperial interests. For postmodernists decry the hegemony of science.

positions. They were in an early stage of a centuries-long effort to attain it. in an extensive discussion included in a Festschrift for Kuhn. . While strong opinions about the relative truth-value of different professions. Swerdlow. Unlike his characters.Delineations of Madness and Science 117 Luddism. Condemnation of disciplines that lack a mathematical basis. The natural philosophers of Mason and Dixon’s day (let alone their predecessors among the astronomers and polymaths of the Renaissance) faced no similar combination of privilege and responsibility. dates back as far as Francis Bacon. or some subtler relation. The reader in search of Pynchon’s sense of truth and usefulness. as science historians (particularly those working in the tradition of Kuhn) have documented. and of his many clashing discourses. for example. Johannes Müller of Königsberg also hints at an early form of Renaissance humanistic science a full century before Bacon. Levine. occupy drastically different positions in a diachronic hierarchy of prestige that is in constant historical flux (cf. Science historian Noel Swerdlow. or to which the postmodernist or poststructuralist practitioners of those other discourses strenuously object. or further. finds such a theme strongly articulated as early as 1464 by the astronomer and mathematician Regiomontanus. It also carries the burden of providing foundational knowledge to which other discourses might ultimately appeal. Yet the interdisciplinary contentions that particularly concern interpreters of Mason & Dixon differ qualitatively from earlier debates on a crucial contextual point. disparaging that era’s scholastic philosophers in terms distinctly harsher than the motto nullius in verba (Swerdlow 148–49). may get closer to those goals by asking whether the vibrant pluralism of Pynchon’s text implies a formless general relativism. Pynchon operates at a time when the sciences carries an authority that essentially equates with social dominance. and slip-shod use of borrowed scientific metaphors or philosophic arguments on the part of their opponents. Different intellectual disciplines. to wrest some of it away from the unexamined authority of religion. and discourses are neither a recent development nor a consequence of eighteenth-century efforts to establish a kind of proto-positivism as a procedural norm. an ultimate preference for some dominant discourse after all. Limon).

its transubstantiative religious status and complex physical/biological nature: He believes that bread is alive. also permeates the novel.– the small cavities within exhibiting a strange complexity. Royal Society membership. He aspires to his mentor James Bradley’s favor. serving as skin or Carapace.– that the yeast Animalcula may unite in a single purposeful individual. generally taking comic form. to be made up of even smaller bubbles. and thus as discourses with some testable. But the problematic nature of Mason’s chosen field also animates his recurrent tensions with his father. credible jurisdiction over the foundations of truth-claims. so forth. for example. and. the solid British Quartern Loaf. upon magnification. their pale Walls. The elder Mason holds unique and frankly mystical beliefs about the nature of bread.– that each Loaf is so organized. Mason & Dixon shows Mason in frequent agony over his own status within his profession. and endures searing jealousy when that position goes to the less competent and frequently unstable (but socially well connected) Nevil Maskelyne. like the Soul. Emptiness. Anxiety over the relative positions of entire professions. (204) . is mostly. Dixon. It is one in which our contemporary interdisciplinary debates not only mirror the belief-crisis that animates Mason. to appearance smooth. proving. The Loaf. a baker who sees no practical value in his son’s star-gazing and wants him in the family trade. and their contemporaries but might even derive useful guidance from Pynchon’s treatment of that crisis. This anxiety can be described at either a personal or a social level. the indispensible point of convergence upon every British table. During the consolidation of the sciences as professions. with the crust. Millard Pynchon’s anachronistic strategy in Mason & Dixon thus represents an exceptionally informative plunge into the “problemsituation” posed by the debates over Enlightenment science and reason that have continued to divide scholars up through the postmodern period.118 William B. one may presume. and Pynchon does both. down to the limits of the Invisible. and ultimately the position of Astronomer Royal. The mid-to-late eighteenth century appears here as the earliest of history’s uncertain Pynchonian moments yet to be fictionalized. whose practitioners are uncertain of their relative prestige. anxiety over this discursive flux was predictably acute.

Much of the plot through the “America” segment of the book is driven by a dialectic between the unspoken (or never-quite-spoken) question “What is scientific activity really for?” and the relentless withholding of any answer that is both credible and socially respectable. He noted that many of the discoveries yielding the most important reconceptualizations of basic scientific principles stemmed from investigations that were conducted not in the vacuum of abstraction. The late Donald Stokes. believing them safer. Louis Pasteur’s microbiologic discoveries are. the oven door like a door before a Sacrament. “pure” or basic science (to which Mason is inclined) and applied. a flight from realms of social utility and prestige.” was characterized by a proliferation of technological applications of principles discovered in the seventeenth.– the daily repetitions of smell and ferment and some hidden Drama. The eighteenth century in general.– the smells. in Pasteur’s Quadrant (which is swiftly becoming an influential text among the executive branches of today’s scientific establishment).25 A sense of both scientific enterprises and scientists as open to 25 Historically. utilitarian science (Dixon’s earthy variety) have rarely been as distinct as some mythologizers of scientific progress would hold. He learn’d as much of it as would keep him going. as Cowart observes toward the outset of his account of Mason & Dixon as a particular type of “Luddite novel. instead.Delineations of Madness and Science 119 For all its economic and political insecurities. traced the institutionalization of this distinction in European and American science and technology. the profession of astronomy offers young Mason a different form of safety. the unaccountable swelling of the dough. (205) Choosing to pursue a scientific career thus appears not as a step toward greater ambition but as a downward step in the direction of a kind of spiritual cowardice. he was overwhelmed by the ghostliness of Bread. seen as examples of efforts to address specific “use-inspired” problems comprising both basic understanding and useful application. natural vitality. practical. and even supernatural gravity. not as saturated in life and death? If Christ’s Body could enter Bread. not so much a greater intellectual challenge as a lesser metaphysical dread: The baker’s trade terrified the young man. then what else might?– might it not be as easily haunted by ghosts less welcome? Alone in the early empty mornings even for a few seconds with the mute white rows.– but when he began to see into it. These included practical inventions like James Watt’s steam engine to assorted approaches to the measurement of longitude at sea and Adam Smith’s elucidation of the inner .– was he fleeing to the repetitions of the Sky. as in the Mass.

in perfect Projection.. Speculative reductio ad absurdum accounts of what the drawing of the Line might ultimately produce appear toward the end of the narrative. Theatrickals. a Promenade. the political machinations of the Royal Society and of their comically conspiratorial counterparts in the Society of Jesus emphasize that organized scientific establishments.120 William B. and beneath the Earth’s surface. (701–02) workings of markets (Cowart 342).– eighty Miles long. Stables. At twilight you could mount to a Platform. Pure Latitude and Longitude.. operate so far from the ideal of disinterested objectivity as to make a mockery of it.” the fellows of a subterranean “local Academy of Sciences” (740). where he learns of electromagnetic “Tellurick Forces” from a host of gnome-like “innersurface Philosophers. and watch the lamps coming on. Such an explicit nod toward the Swiftian Lagado consolidates an atmosphere in which scientific activity. Games of Skill. of use at Trail’s End only to those who would profit from the sale and division and resale of Lands” (701). and the extended Line elides any distinction between impure Pelf and pure abstract geometry as it foreshadows one of the twentieth century’s most familiar blights on the American land: the Visto soon is lin’d with Inns and Shops. to its ever-unreachable Point. watch the Visto tapering. This reaches a pinnacle of absurdity in Dixon’s late tale of a northerly expedition into a concave realm invaginated into. Mason and Dixon operate in an environment where a concept of knowledge for knowledge’s sake was as little a part of the working scientist’s vocabulary as a Wildean/Paterean “art for art’s sake” would have been to their romance. is positioned somewhere distinctly beneath respectability. The overtly commercial nature of one such projection confirms the Line’s status as “some hir’d Cadastral Survey by its nature corrupt.and novel-writing contemporaries. Dixon’s perverse vision of their survey’s purpose passes at this stage from his dialogue into Cherrycoke’s (Pynchon’s?) narratorial voice. through. even prestige within the scientific profession. no less than individual entrepreneurial scientists. Pleasure-Gardens . Throughout the novel. Mall.– nay. if not outright mockery. Millard caricature. persists throughout Mason & Dixon from which the practical applicability of their knowledge does not always spare them. .

in Consequences of Pragmatism.Delineations of Madness and Science 121 It is both a sublunary parody of cartography’s Platonizing impulse (perhaps even of the light-points of the heavens) and a shopping mall. It is commonly argued.” which offer an alternative view: “Relativism” is the view that every belief on a certain topic. Yet it is difficult to argue that Pynchon seriously pretends that the process by which the sciences attained their hegemony might have transpired otherwise. He problematizes the relations of discourses. that anyone applying nonfoundational philosophies or discourse-centered historical analyses to scientific topics must inevitably slide down a slippery slope into relativism. If indeed “History is hir’d. Science at this historical moment fares no better than History. or purpose. or intuitions cannot be supported except conversationally. The philosophers who get called “relativists” are those who say that the grounds for choosing between such opinions are less algorithmic than had been thought. is as good as every other. one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an important topic are equally good. but by no means does it follow that he merely relativizes them. or that competing systems for organizing experience are essentially interchangeable. Except for the occasional cooperative freshman. He unmasks certain pretensions of the “Royal Society members and French Encyclopædists. The real issue is not between people who think one view as good as another and people who do not. However. Richard Rorty usefully sets forth definitions of the terms “relativism” and “pragmatism.” like any faithful postmodernist scholar in Cultural Studies or Science and Technology Studies. It is between those who think our culture. (Consequences 166–67) Perhaps it is Rorty’s key term “conversationally. Thus one may be attacked as a relativist for holding that familiarity of terminology is a criterion of theory-choice in physical science […]. leveling all distinctions (useless or useful) into a morass of inconsequentiality. or coerc’d. only in Interests that must ever prove base” (350). that the term “progress” has no credible referent. but he does not remove these parties from their historical chariot. from the positivist side of today’s science wars. No one holds this view. and people who still hope for other sorts of support. or perhaps about any topic.” that allows a reader to locate statements of authority (however provisional) in this gener- .

to use one of the narration’s recurrent terms. and Zhang.122 William B. the performative quality of their utterances.” coupled with the claim that novels are even more corrupting than romances. . offers a coded gesture toward Foucault’s panopticon and its paranoia-inducing political implications (522). a rock-kicking Johnsonian naive-realist assertion that “Facts are Facts. Objective grounds for positive argumentative positions being in short supply. lines. one falls back on the subjective observations of the fabulistic historians. From the recurrent linkage of commerce with slavery to the identification of Jesuit missionary work with empire. His sympathy is thus with the art forms of the “quidnunc. and subjugation. ostensibly truthful yet interest-corrupted history is as pervasive as the refusal to place history on a scientistic. The rejection of official. is an obvious foil. on walls. it is not difficult to separate Pynchon’s jaundiced view of worldly power from anything that could merit a description as relativism. El Lobo de Jesús. Pynchon. Ives LeSpark’s position in the historical-theory conversation of chapter 35. “subjunctive”) revisionism toward the general wisdom of Linedrawing places true relativism (that is.26 The reader may not have positive grounds for knowing 26 The academic lecture by Padre Zarpazo. philosophical and moral/ political indifference) a healthy distance away from any tenable interpretive position. factual footing. spy. obsession. and Taproom Wit” (349) and even of the “fabulists and counterfeiters. Millard ally foundationless environment. While the hypothetical (or. Ethelmer. and goes unanswered by any counter-skeptical voice elsewhere in the text. and general “Imprisonment” as his ideal model for an imagined future theocratic social organization. the rhetorical force of passages such as Zhang’s muchquoted skeptical excursus on the Line’s violation of feng shui principles of ecologic balance (542) is itself difficult to answer. Regardless of the personal unreliability imputed to these speakers. if viewed as speaking guardedly through eiron figures like Cherrycoke. aligns more plausibly with those who seek no philosophical support beyond conversational performance and persuasive historical rhetoric than with those expressing a faith that human claims can be shown to correspond neatly with natural realities. Ballad-Mongers and Cranks” (350).

intermittently. but identifying which ones to reject is easy. influence. like the derogation of sanctioned versions of history. action. taking temporary leave from their realm of truth. This precondition is a broader concern than Pynchon’s wellestablished empathetic alignment with socio-political Preterites and antipathy toward elites and Elects.].. namely that no knowledge can be true knowledge if it is tainted by personal.” is required by their concept of purity (and hence also of pollution) going way back beyond Plato. Always there is – is permitted to be – only one direction of movement. Individually they may (or may not) have political convictions strong enough to move them to support or subvert this or that structure of power and authority. sallying out over a drawbridge briefly let down and again drawn up only from science’s side of the chasm. aesthetic. If a voyage from the realm of transcendence into that of interests is inevitably implicated in all the various . but equally because such a stance was compatible with the transcendence-oriented political.” Paul Forman locates the errors of objectivist modernism in the denial of a Foucauldian linkage between knowledge and power. This uni-directionality. this “rectification. an end above all others and overriding all moral considerations. One of the most rhetorically uncompromising historians of science to enter the “science wars. causation: from science’s side across the chasm to the wider social and cultural milieu. Modern scientists were permitted their stance of irresponsible purity not merely because they insisted that only by proceeding so could society get from science the desired practical benefits.. social. It is also an analogue of exactly the detached model of science that postmodernists in general oppose. (paras.Delineations of Madness and Science 123 which systems to accept. 4. One may also note in passing that the ultimate undesirability of the Line. He speaks of objectivists (“paladins of science”) as entering the realm of moral action only reluctantly. and under a faulty assumption of their own decontamination: their commitment is to a transcendent scientific truth. and cognitive ideologies of modernity. But in so acting they always see themselves as expeditionaries. is premised on the equation of propertied and official interests with baseness and injustice. and it problematizes any easy identification of Pynchon with postmodernist positions on matters Snovian. or cultural interests [. 5) A resemblance between these “expeditions” and those of Mason and Dixon into the contested territory of America may be more than a coincidence of metaphor.

1974. Cowart. elusively and elegiacally. “In Postmodernity the Two Cultures Are One – And Many. then local knowledge acquired from contact with the various interested parties appears to be a more compelling attainment than any transcendent. .edu/dept/HPS/FormanThinkPiece. Standford University (26 Jan. or recompense. “The Luddite Vision: Mason & Dixon. differentiating postmodern epistemologic humility from postmodern political fatalism. html>. thus becomes yet another conceptual oscillation indicating that problematizing the linedrawing impulse is not equivalent to erasing it. David. that between the modern and the postmodern.stanford. Wayne C. A Rhetoric of Irony. and others is exactly what Mason and Dixon accrue in exchange. American Indians. the aspects of the world that power continues to destroy. Paul. axmen.” History and Philosophy of Science website.27 That form of hard-won but richly textured experience among the colonials. Works Cited Booth. While thus working within a postmodern paradigm. 27 These include not only the interests of power but also the moral interests Forman advocates as frankly acknowledged guideposts for postmodern scientific work.1 (June 1999): 341–63.124 William B. 1998) <http://www. His complex relation to yet another line. Pynchon retains modernism’s historic position outside entrenched power. Millard irresponsibilities that have followed from Platonism. yet postmodern science acknowledges that power has always determined the conditions under which any truths can be constructed.” American Literature 71. Pynchon’s fictional and historical practice insists on drawing from an impulse common to both. for the failure of their efforts to inscribe a geometric sign of transcendence upon the Earth. and continues the work of illuminating. capitalizable Truth. Chicago: U of Chicago P. Modern science seeks a foundation of Truth (modeled on pre-modernity’s Belief) in order to speak truth to power. assorted fanatics. Forman.

1978: 112–45. and the Arts. Limon. 1976: 161–95. of Mason & Dixon. 1991): 142. Levine. Postmodern Culture 8. 1990. Doubles: Studies in Literary History. 1973. “Z. Chicago: U of Chicago P. Bloomington: Indiana UP. Boston: Little.asp>. George.” Twentieth-Century Literature 21 (1975): 193–210. of Mason & Dixon.” New York Times (22 Feb. an Atom in Two Places at Once.jhu. Edward. Johnson. of Mason & Dixon.” One Culture: Essays in Science and Literature. 1980. Stefan. 1970. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. NY: Vintage/Random House.” Rev. Slate (6 May 1997) <http://www. “Entropology. “Telluric Texts. Kuhn.1 (Spring 1995): 141–63. Karl. Rick. Ed. Ed. Review of Contemporary Fiction 13 (Summer 1993): 127–50. “Surveyors of the Enlightenment. Kirn. Mary. 2nd ed. John. and Norman Levitt. Moody. “Royal Shorthand. Atlantic Monthly 280 (July 1997): 106–10 <http://www. Athens and London: U of Georgia P. The Electronic Word: Democracy.” Rev. Mattessich. Menand. John A. Paul R. 1994.Delineations of Madness and Science 125 pynchon. “Gravity’s Encyclopedia. Larry.” Letter. Stephen Jay. Gould. Pynchon’s Tiresome Mind Games. the Profane.” Rev. Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with postmodern_culture/v008/ 8.. Brown. The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science: A Disciplinary History of American Writing. George Levine. Walter. Wittgenstein and the Grammar of Literary Experience.html>. Science 251 (11 Jan. Implicate Spaces. Gross. . Hesse. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. —— “The Sacred.” Modern Fiction Studies 41. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. “In Quantum Feat. George Levine and David Leverenz.” Mindful Pleasures: Essays on Thomas Pynchon. Mendelson. McClure. “Postmodern/Post-Secular: Contemporary Fiction and Spirituality. George. and The Crying of Lot 49. 2000): F1–F2. Lance W. Edward Mendelson.1r_mattessich. Thomas. Lanham. Ozier. Chicago: U of Chicago P.theatlantic. New York Review of Books (12 June 1997): 22FF.slate.” Pynchon: A Collection of Critical Essays. Michel. 1987. Guetti. 1993. Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science. Richard. of Mason & Dixon. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. “One Culture: Science and Literature.” Rev. Ed. Interview with David Foster Wallace. James. McCaffery.>.1 (September 1997) <http://muse. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Louis. Miller. “The Calculus of Transformation: More Mathematical Imagery in Gravity’s Rainbow. Oxford and NY: Oxford UP. Madison: U of Wisconsin P. 1994. 1987: 3–32.

“‘Purring into Transcendence’: Pynchon’s Puncutron Machine. NY: Warner. and Mound: On First Reading Thomas Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon. Normal. 1999): 120–22. 1966. Ithaca: Cornell UP. Joseph. Rasula. 1994: 101–18. —— The Crying of Lot 49. 1964. Ed.html>. —— “Phony Science Wars. Greiner and Larry McCaffery.” The Vineland Papers: Critical Takes on Pynchon’s Novel. 40–41. “Line. IL: Dalkey Archive P.” Rev. Normal. C. Slade. Susan.” Social Text 46/47 (1996): 217–52. Philadelphia: Lippincott. “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. Paris: Editions Odile Jacob. Richard. to Be a Luddite?” New York Times Book Review (28 Oct. NY: Bantam. Boston: Donald E. 1993: 131–68. Donald J.” World Changes: Thomas Kuhn and The Nature of Science. Vortex. 1997. Washington. —— “Is it O.3rasula.5 (Nov. Geoffrey Green. 1982. 1997.jhu. 1974. —— Slow Learner. IL: Dalkey Archive P. Rorty. 1984. Peter. Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation. 2002 . —— Cognitive Fictions. Alan D. Donald J. Brown. Boston: Little.html>. P. 1995. Cambridge: MIT Press. 1963. “Textual Indigence in the Archive. N.C.3 (May 1999) <http://muse.linguafranca. of Impostures Intellectuelles. Greiner and Larry McCaffery.swarthmore.K. Snow. Rpt. Sokal. D. —— “A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies. Thomas Pynchon.” Personal faculty web page.html>. 1997.” Ed. “Pynchon’s ‘Elaborate Game of Doubles’ in Vineland. Joseph. NY: Holt. Thomas. NY: Picador USA. 1969. Strehle. Jed.126 William B. M. 1990. —— Mason & Dixon. NY: 1973. V. Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science. Paul Horwich. Ed. “Science and Humanism in the Renaissance: Regiomontanus’s Oration on the Dignity and Utility of the Mathematical Sciences. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. Brown. Stokes. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.: Brookings Institution Press. David. and Jean Bricmont. Pynchon. 1984): 1.” Lingua Franca (May/June 1996): 62–64 <http://www.” Postmodern Culture 9. Consequences of Pragmatism. The Two Cultures: and A Second Look: An Expanded Version of The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Millard Porush. Alan. —— Gravity’s Rainbow. —— Vineland. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Swerdlow. Swarthmore College <http:// www. Schmidt. Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk. 1994: 31–45. Sokal. The Social Construction of What? Atlantic Monthly 284. Geoffrey Green. Tabbi.

Chicago: U of Chicago P. Thomas. Churchland and Clifford A. Wittgenstein. “Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. G. NY: Macmillan. 1976. Foreword by Harold Bloom. E. Wood. 1953. London: Jonathan Cape. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. 1986. James. Wood.>. Trans. . Anscombe. Ed.” <http://www. Michael.hyperarts. “Hyper Arts Concordance: Mason & Dixon. “Empiricism in the Philosophy of Science. 1985. The Romantic Sublime. Ludwig.4 (Spring 1998): 120–30. Hooker. M.Delineations of Madness and Science 127 van Frassen. The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief. 1999.” Raritan 17.” Images of Science. Bas C. Tim. Paul M. Ware. Philosophical Investigations.

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conflates. namely a serious concern with the hybrid in its double sense: a concern with a technique of cross-breeding or a technology of superimposition which artificially transforms both shape and concept of life. on the other hand. The usual abundance of distractions and sub-plots. Moreover. we submit our reading to the following claims: firstly. By isolating this creature. Julia Tonndorf and Jeanine Werner. an eighteenth century meticulously researched and wildly transformed. In the following. but quite a particular one. with megalomaniac man venturing beyond those boundaries 1 We would like to thank the participants of the International Pynchon Week for general inspiration and for important suggestions of direct concern to our topic. Secondly. Pynchon gives this motif an unconventional rendering which subverts. and to our principal and crucial readers. the man-made creature is a rather conventional theme in literature since the Enlightenment. quite narrow focus. we propose a reading of Mason & Dixon that has a specific. Thirdly. The compass of our approach will be the figure of the “mechanickal Duck” which appears as an uninvited companion of the line and its crew. makes it virtually impossible to extract anything close to a unifying leitmotif. however. we’d like to express our gratitude to Simon Garnett for innumerable patient corrections. . as well as a concern with hubris. that the duck is a relevant topos. that the duck is not just one more member of the whole realm of dubious creatures in the Pynchon universe. that its literary status is multiple and overdetermined: on the one hand.MARTIN SAAR AND CHRISTIAN SKIRKE “The Realm of Velocity and Spleen”: Reading Hybrid Life in Mason & Dixon1 Thomas Pynchon’s novel is dominated by its historical disposition. because it can capture something that lies at the heart of Mason & Dixon’s construction. one that is to be treated as a synecdoche or paradigm of many others. and exceeds its various traditions.

till laws of the Unforeseen engag’d. But despite its pertinacity in Pynchon’s writing. Mason & Dixon seems to adopt not so much an apocalyptic. these narratives of the hybrid do not simply highlight or interpret the more or less factual interdependence of mankind’s industrious naïveté and the monstrosity of its outcomes. First we want to briefly recount the historical as well as literary sources of Pynchon’s “automatic Duck. overturns their fictive biographies.130 Martin Saar and Christian Skirke which he should not and must not transgress. as well as the media complex in Vineland. there is something to be said about Pynchon’s tone or humor: in contrast to his earlier works. It interferes thematically and formally with Pynchon’s protagonists. we all know.– now the Duck is a Fugitive. If we compare the “automatic Duck” to its later sibling. This means that it emphasizes irredeemable losses over imminent dangers. the oblique but omnipresent hybrid belongs equally to the thematic of his novels as to their composition. the V2 missile. In Mason & Dixon as well as in his previous novels. flying where it wishes” (373). and renders vague their human shapes. V. modernization and the progress of Western rationality appear as narratives of human overestimation and as continuous production of composite beings – Gravity’s Rainbow’s rocket metaphysics. but a melancholic stance. we will proceed in three steps. The Crying of Lot 49’s technological conspiracies. Rather.’s prosthetics. . the hybrid is the double figure that can be said to describe the structure of modernity or Western technological civilization. Thus. the hybrid constitutes a space of its own within the narrative itself. meddl’d where he shouldn’t have. and the numerous questionable scientific projects of Mason & Dixon may serve as the most general points of reference.” We will then glance at the numerous other figures of the super-animal but non-human throughout Mason & Dixon that indeed contains a complete typology of creatures 2 That this is a rather obvious connection may be proven by the following remark during the conversation in which the duck appears for the first time: “’Twas his own Hubris. Pynchon’s other iron angel. With these preliminaries in mind. we might assume. In Pynchon.– the old Philosopher’s story.2 For Pynchon. something else can be exemplified with this generalized hybrid figure.

a trope of hybrid life. who lived from 1709 to 1782. But the masterpieces of this genre between science. We take the term hybrid to designate the more comprehensive category which also includes the less complex (and nonbiomechanical) automata of the period in view in Mason & Dixon. Brian McHale’s paradigmatic survey and analysis in Postmodernist Fiction. 4 5 . experimental hybrids that mismatch organism and machine. as well as hybridized existences in general. in the following year he finished his “Tambourine Player” and his famous artificial duck. we will try to “read the duck. and an undead population which originates in a surreal conglomeration of witchcraft. man himself is said to be constructed in a Promethean act of creation out of the non-organic. In Greek myth. The latter in particular won the praise of scientific experts and the Parisian 3 For good reasons. But this dream found its poignant fulfilment only with the rapid advancement of the mechanical sciences and the new realms of technological construction in the modern age. The 1774 “Writer” by Swiss inventor Pierre Jacquet-Drosz and Baron von Kempelen’s famous and fake “Chess Player” from 1769 can figure as prominent examples. The prominence of the figure of the “cyborg” is plausible for much of Pynchon’s work (especially for V. In a third step. can be read as a figure. the automaton epitomized the complex art of engineered imitations of life.” and ask whether this particular mechanical creature. Ed. this hybrid figure. For an overview see Jean-Claude Beaune 431–80. cf.4 In the middle of the eighteenth century. totemism and animism. Trevor Williams. the entry in the Biographical Dictionary of Scientists. Cf.“The Realm of Velocity and Spleen” 131 beyond nature: speaking animals.3 I The idea of artificial life is one of the oldest dreams of humanity. or rather of hybridity itself.).5 His “Flute Player” was presented in 1738. mechanics and stunning entertainment obviously were the artificial creatures of Jacques de Vaucanson. much of the secondary literature on Pynchon has focused on the issues of technology and the technological conditions of modern humanity.

all of which stage the breakdown of constructive reason. This is the essence of the monster’s famous 6 Cf. from 1818.132 Martin Saar and Christian Skirke public alike. swimming. who fails to reconcile his creature with its autonomous desires. Several mechanical models and illustrations of this duck exist in collections and museums all over the world. The mechanical delicacy and fascination of this defecating machine was only surpassed by the intellectual finesse of this Faustian-Promethean project: to redouble an element of the animated world. probably not all of them are authentic. among them Voltaire and La Mettrie. digesting. and defecating. drinking. One of the most distinctive portrayals of such a conflict between the sentimental and the experimental side of the artificially animated is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Contradictory composite of bodily replication and unique consciousness. . to mirror natural physiologies and physiognomies by perfect human construction. the man-made creature becomes tragically aware of its isolated originality: man’s duplicate turns into a compulsive being. eating.” Its stunning features allegedly included a nearly perfect imitation of animal motion. Her novel depicts the effects of desire and despair on the selfsufficient but servile instrument itself. or. The Modern Prometheus. We want here to recall those examples which seem most relevant in respect to Mason & Dixon. Mary Shelley asks a crucial question about the reach of human responsibility (in which she sides with the monster). The most prominent literary genre imagining automata and artificial life dates from the various strands of Romanticism. cackling. but inevitably destroy the equilibrium of creation and control over the product. She concludes that humans do not only mutilate the harmonic features of natural or divine creation when they construct illegitimate representations of themselves. The monster is bound to project its alltoo-human longings against its inventor.6 Vaucanson and his duck even made a lengthy entry in the first volume of Diderot’s and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie under the heading “automate. Mazlish. In Pynchon’s novel. several emotional interferences occur with the strictly scientific experiment and the strictly rational construction of automatic life.

To Be a Luddite?” It is worth noting that for Pynchon. His detailed portrayal of the machine must hence present pieces of evidence which serve a distinct purpose: in attacking the illusionistic principle of man-shaped automata. Edgar Allan Poe’s criminalistic essay Maelzel’s Chess-Player from 1836 aspires to disenchant a slightly different fascination with the actual artificial creatures. castration fear. which is to say. a puppet that can dance and play the piano. powerful reverberations of magic and spells advocate the inexplicable. a naïve trust in the miracle-like possibilities of technology. Shelley’s novel belongs to a tradition that points out the limits and effects of technology – the opposite could be put forward. The chronicle of young Nathanael’s falling in love with the machine Olimpia. Does not even the mighty duck still display traits of a toy duck (cf.7 And its spell is irreversible. A.” For Freud. the imminence and the urgency of the monster’s threat make it impossible for both. as he does. in Hoffmann’s story.“The Realm of Velocity and Spleen” 133 warning: “You are my creator. Freud also relates the fear of automata to the child’s (repressed) desire to treat its Puppen. first published in 1816. Hoffmann elucidates a complementary perspective on this confusion. the hideous face of the monster is only a faint reflection of the monstrosity of human zeal. T. E. the motif of the automaton touches on the issues of infantile fears. Nathanael’s irrational affair. In proving that the automaton 7 Compare Pynchon’s comments on Frankenstein in “Is it O. and projection. the “official” psychonanalytic account of Hoffmann’s Sandman can be found in Freud’s 1919 essay “The Uncanny.8 Whereas. 667)? 8 . His Sandman. man and his creature. As is well known. Unexpectedly. such a persistent fascination must remain a dangerous fantasy: as it can’t be reduced to reason. In Frankenstein. tells of the ambiguous human fascination with the simulacrum. entails madness and. his fully-blossomed feelings even survive the moment when Olimpia’s artificial nature is revealed. and thus express an implicit critique of reason. describes his successive involvement with the human pretension of the automaton. finally. that the intent of mystifying technological invention is “to deny the machine” (40). its toys or dolls. suicide. but I am your master. narcicissm. or rather affair with irrationality.K. to return to a state of innocence. Mason & Dixon 449. he tackles a modern type of superstition. – obey!” (167). But in a modern world. as living beings.

and cosmological speculation. In Romantic literature. And the Romantic imagery of automatic life is even taken up literally in one passage of the background story in order to become ironically reversed.” runs a genuine mechanical puppet theater which represents the battle of Leuthen. moral. the theme of man-made creatures is staged as fatally attractive. and intellectual integrity of man. All of these motifs reappear in Mason & Dixon. . this incongruence manipulates the horizon of the artificial: the premature appearance of hybrid creatures might affect the tragic dimension of their existence.9 But the overall twist Pynchon gives to this literary tradition is crucial: he implants these Romantic motifs in the setting of the earlier Age of Reason which has not yet fully disposed of magic. with whom she plans some obscure career as “Adventuress. Her friend Zsuzsa. Poe embraces the cause of man against those machines that unrightfully usurp human individuality. and in the astonishing coexistence of automaton and line crew. as a clandestine but severe threat to the physical. Another adaptation of Romantic artificial creatures adheres more directly to its model: when Mason first encounters the fugitive Eliza Fields.134 Martin Saar and Christian Skirke is not self-sufficient. Aunt Euphrenia remembers that once. but in fact contains a human operator.” (536) a simulacrum of his late wife Rebekah. together with their disturbing implications. he takes her for a “Point-for-Point Representation. superstition. He needs to be forced into acknowledging that Eliza Fields is an actual human being whose individuality he must respect. he needs to be forced into recognizing that she is no suitable object for his fetishistic pursuits. doing a really odd job. or in the grotesque affection between Armand Allègre and the automaton. she was best paid for pretending to be an actual Automaton Oboe Player (669–70). Possibly. whose unhappy impossibility is always measured against the routines 9 The character of Eliza Fields never fully rids herself of connections to the automatic sphere. In the narrative of Vaucanson’s duck we can recognize them in different shapes and dispositions: in the broad skepticism that answers to the advent of the mechanical duck and in her subsequent mystification. His overt fascination and his desire to get involved with this bodily imitation dies away in a slow and painful process. spiritual.

who bears his bizarre destiny as an electric cigarlighter with the well-rehearsed indifference of an experienced extra in a cheap magician’s show (426). let us have a short look at Mason & Dixon’s gloomy world of not-quite real creatures.“The Realm of Velocity and Spleen” 135 of reason. Our list is by no means complete. The burlesque werebeaver Zepho originates in another spill-over of European occultism to the New World (618). there is a further “rational” exponent of human inventiveness. 175). There is also . the wired electric eel. Among the more enigmatic hauntings that visit the line are a Glowing Indian (496). We can only suggest rather than prove that there is a fully fledged topology or ontology of living beings between nature and artefact. we encounter the Learnèd English Dog. In Mason & Dixon. As a persiflage of the Beast rather than the unleashed American Werewolf. This could mean that reason has not yet come to recognize its own products as its own possible enemies. a preacher of human knowledge and morality who is reminiscent of a La Fontainean fable but has been relegated in person to the unprofitable public house entertainment circuit (18). animals and simulacra. this time the harmless by-product of a mad professor’s dream. and an American Golem who has found (together with his exiled creators) a new diaspora in the Pennsylvanian woods (485). they have been transposed to an age that still has to defend the seeds of reason against powerful intrusions of genuine myth and supernatural forces. namely. II Before we turn to the narrative of the “mechanickal Duck” itself. between reality and imagination: there are talking clocks and an animated ear (121. And. Felípe. he is even welcome to participate in a common sense contest: who will be more efficient in clearing Mason and Dixon’s vista from trees and trunks? A Swedish axman? Or the large-teethed creature of the moonlit night? An impressive scene: a surprising moon eclipse sweeps this episode into a ridiculous row over celestial foul play.

In short. and it cannot be remedied by any reliable or universal ontology. . they cannot be told apart (142). in order to “make All authentic” (372). inspired machines and serialized humans: they all blur the clear-cut line between the human and its inferior or superior neighbors in the technologically extendable Chain of Being. from Inertia towards Independence. his ambitious endeavor is subverted by a grotesque accident: an unforeseen revolt of representation is taking place. After he succeeded in giving it the ability to digest and defecate he went on to work on an erotic capacity. in Mason & Dixon. After a quick appearance as the haunting “it” in chapter 36. It is common to all these creatures that they belong to different worlds and different orders of existence at the same time. It shakes off its materiality in order to give birth to an impossibly abstract consciousness which. Finally. cases of hybrid identity abound. At this point. no-one can distinguish between the original and the simulacrum. Animals with human traits or animalic humans. A chasm runs through them all. and Power” (373). There are cases of dubious personal identity: tricks and ruses of self-sameness seem to be played. There is Captain Zhang engaged in his mimetic battle with the shadowy “Wolf of Jesus” so that. is at first consistent with the tragic canon of hybrid life. There are animals that transcend animality either in intelligence or capabilities. setting off this Explosion of Change. We learn that the duck was planned by Vaucanson as a perfect imitation. There are humans whose humanity is called into question by strange transformations.136 Martin Saar and Christian Skirke Eliza Fields who could be a Wiedergänger. in the end. Armand muses: “That final superaddition of erotick Machinery may have nudg’d the Duck across some Threshold of self-Intricacy. but the concept of artificial life itself. a double of Mason’s dear wife Rebekah (511). It doesn’t just affect the machinery. And it is common to all of them that they touch on the border of the human. Armand Allègre introduces the duck in the subsequent chapter as the exclusive topic of just another sub-story.

it/she says. She gets tricked by the company to hover exactly over Mason and Dixon’s line according to that strange law of animal psychology that says: “Right Lines cause Narcolepsy in all Fowl” (666). But the duck redresses her being fixed to a single point. It is the ongoing process of the duck’s “’Morphosis” instead (374).” Vaucanson’s duplicate of the prototype. and must suffer the duck’s constant caring supervision that turns into a dangerous but nevertheless ambivalent love affair. she develops a tolerance unprecedented in the automatic sphere and finally lets go unharmed her human creators. and gendered. superior to humans. Without any effort.10 In a typical Frankensteinian reflex the duck turns to Allègre to ask him for intermediation in the service of Love: she demands to meet her so-called “Fatal Other. As her technical abilities increase and her consciousness matures. So. Allègre fails to do his duty. as it happens” (377). Of course. So we’ll go on referring to the duck as “she. nor a satisfaction of the automaton’s strange desires. the Frenchman escapes from his obsessive and jealous admirer into an unfriendly exile.“The Realm of Velocity and Spleen” 137 A modern nightmare: the apparatus becomes reasonable. III Several effects of the line. a planet. of herself (376). however without success. His only chance to return to ordinary life is neither his eluding the omnipotent robot’s affection. when Armand has an affair with Luise. she substitutes the system which coordinates her 10 The delicate question of the automaton’s sex is settled in passing: “Moi? Female. Soon. we might even say of linearity. or even an abstract physical (and metaphysical) point that first rotates around the earth and then leaves the space and time of the novel.” . The duck’s biography of change presumably ends in her complete denaturalization and the extinction of her worldly desires. announce the duck’s disappearance. It ends in her selfdefinition as a satellite avant la lettre. the duck takes only voyeuristic part in it.

Her immobility ceases to coincide with the revolution of the earth around itself. the duck chooses to ride a bent trajectory into some unworldly “Realm of Velocity and Spleen” (667). this short episode bustles with theories about her flying paths. giving a completely new and multiple connotation to velocity and motionlessness: the crew is preoccupied with a deeply rational geometry. a premature demonstration on the relativity of space and time. The duck’s insoluble quest for a delusory “Fatal Other” lends expression to an essential dysfunctionality.138 Martin Saar and Christian Skirke position. While Mason and Dixon battle with the earthly problem of impossible straightness.. Without precedence and partner. she now watches the world spinning beneath her. All these considerations. infinitely or infinitesimally. Technically speaking a perpetuum mobile. however. She is the only one to possibly know which forces on the other side of America may control and mark this continent. Even though her ambitions seem to be merely touristic – she accounts for her travels with a casual “Interesting Planet [. she “enters and leaves the Stream of Time as she likes” (637). using Mason and Dixon as mere puppets. with the perfect line and its reliable coordinates. Her life-giving plummet falls against the laws of gravity. the intelligent machine forces us to witness her innate distortion of desire. she contradicts any mechanical possibility: the duck turns transcendence into fuel. Hence. The synthetic determination of any dialectical reconciliation presents her with the tragic tautology of solitude. are rendered futile by the next unpredictable manoeuvre of the automaton. immoderate desire for the Orthogonal.] I can’t wait to do the Equator” – she is the only one who has actually seen “where else the Parallel goes” (669). At the same time however. Still.” (667) she extends the graph of the American line over the entire circumference of the earth. but the duck confronts them with an incomprehensible premonition. she is a prototypical being for whom archetypal answers will never hold: the hybrid has neither . at least into the Orient. Remaining steadily within the small ribbon of dusk. the last enigmatic messages which the automaton communicates to the visto concern the two heroes and address the political-historical entanglement of their project: initially expounding her “simple.. We have to notice that the duck’s very existence is paradoxical. but now appertains to the earth’s revolution around the sun.

And indeed. Even though the conflictuous and unsettling qualities of the hybrid are vividly present throughout Mason & Dixon. but with jealous affection. the duck proposes her own almost psychoanalytic theory of her creation. Luise Redzinger. rather underline the ridiculousness of being sexually harassed by a clockwork-driven steel bird. Whom is the hybrid to fall in love with? At first. finally turning away her affection. even becoming – Armand himself names it – “autoérotique” (688). From loving her mechanical counterpart to loving a member of the human species that invented her.” she flirts (380). story-lines scarcely follow the urge to resolve them or to confront them. instead of engaging with the inevitable and tragic conflict for which Dr Frankenstein and his monster have become synonymous. And “love” doesn’t solve this problem either. the erotic career of the duck defines an interesting path. Her destination cannot be traced back beyond the chasm of hybridity. almost anarchic approach to her unique sexuality. the monster’s haunt turns overtly farcical: she is not even the simulacrum of a human being. my poor Armand. The automaton’s recourse to a behavioristic cliché about her biological look-alikes adds to this bizarre episode: “We mate for life. Allègre’s seriousness about this event and the compassionate interjections of his principal listener.” (376) she starts to pursue humans not with wrath. Dissatisfied with “clocktower Cocks.11 We do not learn much 11 Obliquely. The tragic human experiment that relies on powerful technological means is doubled and parodied by a powerful companion: the somersaulting experiments of the unexpected technological product itself. their unwinnable duel about granting or denying emotional relief. Pynchon’s interpretation of the man-made creature puts a strong emphasis on the comic potential of the grotesque. Alas. the Frankensteinian pattern of the duck’s emotional disorientation appears to be obvious: the artificial creature seeks to blackmail its inventor into constructing its mate. But as we have seen. but of a duck. Pynchon’s machine takes an experimental. When the automaton virtually proposes to Armand Allègre. once again invoking the Frankenstein or even Pygmalion theme: .“The Realm of Velocity and Spleen” 139 origin nor parentage in the strict sense.

perhaps the Duck had ’morphos’d into some Anatine Equivalent. a gestalt of the hybrid. the duck is a version. Several clues underline this assumption: the whole of Mason and Dixon’s professional journey seems to succumb to a hybrid scheme. the realm of angels and supernatural phenomena and the realm of earthly. “The Horror of Monsters.. But the obvious predicament of the surveyors’ task is that they are tied to the order of a strictly super-earthly nature. “He wish’d to control utterly.” Pynchon tells his own short and witty version of this process in “Is it O. They require the starry sky.. the dream of a material machine that is to transcend mere materiality.” (379).– purely. Cf. we think can rightfully claim a central place in the overall organization of Mason & Dixon. not an Automaton. natural creatures. an impossible being that is rationally constructed but not fully mastered. was in need of a creature to love. In our view. certain creatures and “freaks of nature” were still thought of as belonging to both. an Vaucanson himself.12 While these species of hybrids became trapped in the immanence of an all-encompassing realm of natural laws and regularities.140 Martin Saar and Christian Skirke about this final stage – it could even be a case of mishearing on Armand’s behalf. but a creature capable of love” (668). acting as my Guardian. At the beginning of modernity. To Be a Luddite?” In Mason & Dixon. several speculations concerning the automatic duck still emulate the pretechnological theme of the hybrid: “if Angels be the next higher being from Man. imaginary as it may be? The intelligence and amorous ardor the duck displays is grafted onto but not reconciled with her mechanical nature. Hybrids are those naturally and ontologically incoherent beings that seem to belong to two different orders of existence. technological progress invented a new type: the manmade creature that transcends its nature by technical means. or creature in its different forms. 12 . Nature is to be conquered by measurement. And these two worlds usually interfere with each other in a tragic (or comic) way. The hybrid figure. as an Angel might. its complexity notwithstanding. the trope (or concept) of hybridity itself which includes the aspect of hubris. Davidson. But what else could we call the duck’s behavior? Is it not evident that she prefers solitary high speed flights to pursuing some kind of other half. But this is equally true of the figure of the hybrid. she suggests. terra incognita must be rendered intelligible as well as geopolitically unambiguous.K.

In between. and to backfire relentlessly on its inventors – recall the deadly eroticism of this sadomasochistic implementation. Mason & Dixon can be read entirely as a fable that reveals reason to be inextricably intertwined with its magic other. rational experiment and alchemy. Mason and Dixon experience “pure” technological success (remember the Torpedo lighter). the autarkic technological body subjects . Most of the troubles Pynchon’s two travellers have to face along their route – from theological-political partisanship to Indian rituals – belong to the order of the prerational or surrational. Another hybrid creature. Returning into the light of reality necessarily means to forget some dark experience that cannot stand the light of day. Let us suggest some connections between Pynchon’s portrayal of the hybrid and what should be one of the most pressing questions during this assessment of the recent stage of Pynchon’s work: what is the original and singular contribution of Mason & Dixon to the Pynchon universe? Has his writing changed in tone. the V2 rocket from Gravity’s Rainbow was a similar mad scientist’s fantasy. is to offer the following comparison. whose transgressive properties only Blicero and Gottfried could fully comprehend. It was also destined to transcend its material layout. It succeeds in blurring the line between astronomy and astrology. And this fundamental dependence can turn against the rational construction itself. In the beginning we stated that there is some sense of déjà-vu about the picture of the duck turned satellite. the organizational patterns which man invents in order to materialize his visions of power and control. in complexity. in order to achieve geographical accuracy. the missile exhibits this mad eroticism of technology itself. a similar fetishistic dream of a supernatural being.“The Realm of Velocity and Spleen” 141 enigmatic source of reference. the plastic Schwarzgerät. geography and geomancy. they behold the realm of the ambiguous which suspends linear time or warps the earth into its concave counterpart. and they must testify to the sheer power of the ungraspable. But this isn’t constrained to a symbolic level. in rigor? All we can say on the basis of our reading of just one figure from Mason & Dixon. to multiply its lethal capacities. The autonomous device perverts. In fact. in its very corporeality. however.

obscure and more obviously sexualized neuro-psychological experiments.] CATCH” (759). touching on their economic potential (165–67) and their suitability for creating hallucinogenic drugs (344–48). . e. They come along as the capricious mood of some inspired robot that is free to fool around with her “extra-natural powers. Then. the imperturbable pulse of some steering module interrupts or (dis-)organizes his last thoughts: “CATCH [. we can already note a couple of differences: first and foremost her readiness to engage into dialogue with her human counterparts. premature experiments with relativity do not amount to just another self-assertion of instrumental rationality. the technological process gains an imaginary dimension when the highly advanced “erectile” plastic Imipolex G makes its appearance (486–88). Technology. an upper Velocity Range that makes her the match.. her playfulness contradicts this human 13 Gravity’s Rainbow contains a multi-layered set of “lessons” about technological culture.142 Martin Saar and Christian Skirke man physically to its autonomous rhythm and traps him inside its steel cavities. But simultaneously. there are mathematical and physical basics and their technological interpretation. inexhaustible strength. All this is certainly indicative of a temper that sharply contrasts with the mercilessness of her younger sibling. is a machine gone astray and having assumed unforeseen symbolic and physical powers. Finally.. Slothrop’s erections (83–86). Only at this point does polymerization become the ambiguous technological-sexual procedure that adds the crucial erotic device to the phallic shape of the metal rocket. and her grotesque falling in love with the French chef. her amiability. there are the complex backgrounds and implications of polymerization. The workings of counter-measures against the rocket are elucidated in the same way: strange statistics. We have also seen that. First.g.” This is expressed in the last disturbing scene of Gravity’s Rainbow: Gottfried is encapsulated in the famous coat fashioned from Imipolex G and has been strapped to the missile’s belly in order to be literally part of this orgasmic metaphor. the rocket blast. of much larger opponents” (448).– invisibility. too. a simple electronic circuitry that is used to control the V2 missile (301). under her supervision. e. her protective instincts.g..13 But how does the flying robot of Mason & Dixon measure up against this disturbing manifestation of twentieth-century technological omnipotence? Even though the duck. in Momentum.. never ceases to be an imaginary domain of ritual and domination. Only at this stage is there a convergence of technological and natural “laws” and sadomasochistic “rules. in this account.

Pynchon’s automatic duck is obviously the representative of a different and forgotten type of technological craze whose bizarre charm merits being characterized by the obsolete word “Spleen. strange and in all cases fateful references to man-machine connections abound.“The Realm of Velocity and Spleen” 143 logic of opposition. in the attitudes and attires of its characters. the death of the “Bad Priest” revealing that he/she is entirely made from prostheses (342–45). . In conclusion. She can refrain from being a threat to man.14 His “historical” novel on a grand endeavor of rational science and politics includes the Romantic tradition of the mechanical grotesque which is already riddled with suspicions against the progressivistic doctrine and the unsettling effects of modernization.” This peculiar sort of obsolescence which we can also observe in the Baroque language of Mason & Dixon. the fatal automatic affair. If the hybrid can be read as a structural metaphor for the development of Western technological civilization as it appears in 14 Already in V. set roughly between 1850 and 1950. After dismantling the traditional paradigms of man-made creatures – the desperate and tyrannical monster. BongoShaftsbury’s switch implant (80). nor by mere affinity to the topic that Pynchon returns to the automaton motif even in a pre-modern context. the biomechanoids SHROUD and SHOCK (chapter 10). but uses her powers to invent an idiosyncratic space (the “autoerotic” dimension) that suits her hybrid demands.. His openly humoristic interpretation of this critique could be read as a thorough and specific strategy of (re-?)romanticizing a contemporary disposition. Thus the duck. this unfamiliar piece of eighteenth-century prototechnology. can be said to design a special and “new” perspective on modern culture. the organized mechanical charlatanism – Pynchon reassembles the hybrid as the hilarious grotesque whose high spirits get constantly out of hand. is effectively breaking with the tragic notoriety and fatefulness of Hybrid Harbingers of Doom of which Gravity’s Rainbow’s missile is an extreme example: she does not simply turn her back in contempt on her creators. the Chinese dancer automata (chapter 14). It is neither by accident. Just a short list: the importance of plastic surgery (chapter 2) and psychodentistry (153).

by precise formulations of ambiguity. Protestant heresy. . this obsolescence does not only convey the sense of historical distance and the atmosphere of historical opportunity. Perhaps to gain – for a short while – a warped and prismatic perspective on our time by recovering technology from its genuinely modern alliance with destruction and annihilation. it is both. its narrative is not just an impartial look at the being-not-yetresolved of what we.144 Martin Saar and Christian Skirke Pynchon’s work. Perhaps for merely anamnetic purposes. the land unconquered. When Mason and Dixon take us back to this point in history that has proven decisive in so many ways. and superstition.” (45) a world where many powers lay their conflicting claims on Mason & Dixon’s reality – politics. too: under the peculiar romanticizing perspective of Mason & Dixon. the continent on the verge of being measured and seized. as well as numerous local deities and the ancient powers of magic. But their coexistence is granted throughout by mutual insecurity. a retrospective and prognostic accentuation that converts temporal distance – between the plot and “us. And these estimations and divinations are populated throughout by the fantastic beings. global trade and local bargaining. madness. which early nineteenth-century literature invented against the austerity of an emerging rational culture. still carries some options which put the sovereignty of reason itself at stake and put into question its triumphant march through the past two centuries. As it seems. Therefore. Unlike the closed cage of our modernity. rationalist technology. Pynchon invests all his narrative sympathy when he tries to rescue these short and ambivalent episodes. this becoming of modernity must experience a restructuring.” between the protagonists and their future – into an unusual reading of historical chance. would still identify as the course of Western civilization. they give us the opportunity to experience a world in which not all circumstances have yet been “reduced to Certainty. The historical indeterminacy which underlies Mason & Dixon’s speculations is not just openness to those decisions yet to come. and largely take place in the improbable realms. it is subject to an epic historical speculation which is not just characterized by its semi-fictional eighteenth-century point of view. It is also defined by its puzzling over what it will discover in a fictitious future. as contemporary readers.

“The Realm of Velocity and Spleen” 145 to save and to relive this brief moment in history where the powerful dualism between reason and its other has not yet been dissolved in favor of one of its poles. Penguin. 1993: 14–58. New York. Poe. “The Sandman. London. Pan. Animals. T. McHale. To Be a Luddite?” New York Times Book Review (28 Oct. What there are. V. E.” The Boundaries of Humanity: Humans. New York: Zone Books.” Trans. 1991: 36–67. R. rrrf? There is ever an Explanation at hand and no such thing as a Talking Dog. Ed. (22) Works Cited Beaune. 1984): 1. Freud. . Jean-Claude. Edgar Allan. Henry Holt. Ed. “The Horror of Monsters. Yale UP. Berkeley: U of California P. 1998: 431–80. Brian. Essays and Reviews.” Fragments for a History of the Human Body. 1973.” Tales. 1971: 217–52. Postmodernist Fiction. Methuen. The Fourth Discontinuity. Rather a time where. Arnold I. 40–41. 1997. even the rational turns back on itself and mutates into something foreign. Davidson.” The Golden Pot and Other Tales. New Haven. Bruce. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Robertson. Ramona Naddaf. Sigmund. Thomas. Hogarth. Hoffmann. London. “Maelzel’s Chess Player. are Provisions for Survival in a World less fantastick. 1991. 1987. 1992. 17. 1975. “The Uncanny. —— “Is it O.K. Pan. Ed. David Galloway. J. Harmondsworth. however. 1966. sometimes. A. “The Classical Age of Automata: An Impressionistic Survey from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford UP. —— Mason & Dixon. Pynchon. 1975. Sheenan and Morton Sosna. As the Learnèd English Dog asserts in a grandiose gesture of ironic selfnegation: ’Tis the Age of Reason. —— Gravity’s Rainbow. James J. and Nadia Tazi. Vol. Mazlish.– Talking Dogs belong with Dragons and Unicorns. London. Part One. London. Michael Feher. Trans. Strachey. That is when mechanical Ducks start to speak and get horny.

Harper Collins. Ed. London. . Frankenstein.146 Martin Saar and Christian Skirke Williams. M. The Modern Prometheus. Mary. K. 1994. Ed. Oxford: Oxford UP. Joseph. Trevor. 1980. Biographical Dictionary of Scientists. or. Wollstonecraft Shelley.

Pynchon’s modus operandi has always been the hybridization of high and low. and given to cosmic forms of practical jokersterism. and form parodies of everything from pop to opera. band leader. at least in some essential respect. Then again. dialect humor. punning lyrics. . (Ralph Ellison 1547) What the leaflet neglected to mention was that Benjamin Franklin was also a Mason. be identical? (Sigmund Freud 205) In 1994. Jones’s work. like Pynchon’s. comedy. Its eclectic nature is evident in record stores. Gravity’s Rainbow 663–64) Does not this agreement suggest the conclusion that joke-work and dream-work must. jazz. so this subject and genre are not really unusual at all. novelty. song writer. where it is found under categories as diverse as swing. bizarre sound effects. vaudevillian. just three years before the long-awaited Mason & Dixon. At first glance. is a study in hybridity. and writing liner notes for a clown like Spike Jones might seem not only odd but decidedly lowbrow. Jones himself was a hybrid of several roles and professions: stand-up comedian. radio show host. comic impressions. Thomas Pynchon published the liner notes for Spiked! The Music of Spike Jones. His “music” is a madcap collage of rapid-fire jokes. and children’s music. of which the United States of America may well have been one. hot jazz. virtuoso solos. writing liner notes might seem like an odd task for one of America’s foremost highbrow authors. a Catalyst compact disk. (Pynchon.JOHN HEON Surveying the Punch Line: Jokes and Their Relation to the American Racial Unconscious/Conscience in Mason & Dixon and the Liner Notes to Spiked! America is a land of masking jokers. Moreover.

Clearly. And a Spike performance was a veritable comic Gesamtkunstwerk. musical instrument inventor.. semi-cubistic portrait of the maniacally grinning Jones wearing “reckless plaid”). promotional paragraph (such as Pynchon did in 1995 for the rock band Lotion). On one level. the holy fool. they place Spiked! in that very small group of albums whose explanatory text and cover art are both worthy of The New Yorker. these “notes” are a 2. the one in touch with the demonic forces and deep primitive brain levels – but not also.. midgets. Coupled with Art Spiegelman’s cover illustration (an appropriately fractured.” the one to justify Pynchon’s relative silence at the time. chicken outfits and suits of reckless plaid [. watching and thinking about American culture. they could be taken as a nose-thumbing prank on the literati who were expecting the next “big book. these are liner notes that seek and find a decidedly ambiguous cultural status.] pants used to go up and down in rhythm to his playing” (10–11). Jones’s traveling show. with giants. a conceptual artist with a head for business (liner notes 2–3).. We’d like him to be simpler – how much can a purveyor of impolite sound effects be allowed in the way of depths? Traditionally the drummer is supposed to be the weird guy. Far from the standard. with Spike running around deploying his pistol shots like a symphonic conductor waving a baton.] and the lady harpist smoking a cigar” accompanying trombone player Joe Colvin.500 word essay thoroughly examining the evolution of Jones’s humor and its relation to the social and cultural changes of postwar America. Despite all of this apparently mindless silliness. The Musical Depreciation Revue. Whatever the .148 John Heon percussionist.. television show writer and host. “whose [. Pynchon sees great depth in Jones’s music and persona: Yet there remains about Spike’s work what is sometimes an almost uncomfortable complexity. and master of slapstick. This hybridization of high and low in Jones’s art is reflected in the form and content of the liner notes. Slickers in fright wigs. animals. a reminder to us that he was still there. the lowest pulse. As Pynchon explains. They might also be seen as an ironic postcard from the reclusive writer. “was always as much a visual as an audio act. as in Spike’s case. and tap-dancers chasing on and off stage.

Elsewhere. when Pynchon was four. for Spike and the Slickers and indeed postwar America.” in 1941. the time when a good portion of Pynchon’s postmodern Bildung was taking place. a song so loved that it was used to promote the sale of war bonds (Young 5). both culturally and artistically. “Granny Speaks” is an insult to older people. he sold 30 million records on Victor and RCA alone.” and like “The Simpsons. went on countless national and international tours. Jones’s work was an important and distinctive component of the America Pynchon grew up in. what is most interesting about the notes are “comments about social currents of Jones’s time that this music either reflects or offends against” (187). particularly race or ethnicity. and two television shows during the early years of that medium (12).” (liner notes 9) up to the time Pynchon published V.” featuring Paul Frees’s impression of Billy Eckstine. Spike Jones was a phenomenon comparable to “The Simpsons. and this seems especially true when its jokes and parodies center on group identities. “Deep Purple. Jones’s work reached Pynchon. it is safe to say that the notes are also an ardent fan’s tribute to and close analysis of an artist who had a deep influence on him. Jones had his first hit. .Surveying the Punch Line 149 case.” his unique send-up of American culture was both inane and profound.” and “what today we would unquestioningly call acts of racism seemed. “Red Wing. Certainly. Doubtlessly. “Pal-Yat-Chee” manages to offend country people and Italians. as pure and unpremeditated as the breathing of a Zen monk” (1). it reached far beyond it. and gained true nation-wide celebrity with his rendition of “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (1942). Although it grew out of underground child wit. During those twenty-two years. giving it remarkable cross-generational appeal. Pynchon states in the first paragraph that Jones’s humor presents “more than enough material for that interesting subset of folks actively looking to be offended. Jones continued to be a huge presence in American popular culture and the “underground of child wit. He lists some of these “offensive” songs and those whom they might offend: “The Russian Dance” makes fun of Russians. it enjoyed enormous success from World War II to the 1960s. had long playing radio shows during the golden age of radio. As David Ocker observes.

Pynchon discusses Jones in terms of Zen and humor again. “This is the way characters end up in Zen stories illustrating deep lessons. as in Zen. though. (1) At the end of the piece. which is a social one” (72). or national identity in order to demonstrate the overarching importance of jokes and their relation to the American unconscious and conscience in this novel. Following Bergson’s lead.150 John Heon will offend Afro-Americans because the singer keeps nodding off. The examination of these “comic transactions” (English) and their Freudian “jokework. a shy little prairie maid” longing for her “brave. implying narcolepsy not in the public interest. wisdom cannot always be separated from a peculiar sense of humor” (9).” In “Red Wing. and Chinese. and humor in general.” ostensibly a song about a stereotypical “Indian maid.” we see a classic case of the type of humor that is easily misread by that curious “subset of folks . African Americans. saying of the last phase of Jones’s career. I will extend this analysis to other characters in Mason & Dixon whose humor addresses racial. in Spiked! also do so in Mason & Dixon: Native Americans. What kind of wisdom is Pynchon suggesting there might be in Jones’s peculiar and perhaps racist humor? What separates humor about race from humor that is racist? And why did Pynchon write this apparent apologia for Jones’s humor when he was soon to publish a comic novel that would focus much of its own humor on the evils of racism and slavery in America? In answering these and related questions. which is society. Although I will focus primarily on Gershom. and so forth. George Washington’s Jewish-African-American stand-up comedian/slave in Mason & Dixon. The depictions of these groups might seem racist. ethnic. Three of the racial communities that function as foci of jokes. inscribe.” will reveal who is allowed by various communities to generate humor about race and how their punch-lines survey. but in both Jones’s work and Pynchon’s there is more than meets the eye in this “dialect humor. and blur the lines of community identity and moral responsibility. I will “place laughter in its natural environment. I will compare Pynchon’s evaluation of Jones’s humor about race with the ostensibly more politically correct humor of Gershom.” in order to “determine the utility of its function.

aren’t those Indians ridiculously simple and sentimental?” Or you could see that this song is about laughing at the sanitized. you might not find it funny at all.Surveying the Punch Line 151 actively looking to be offended. gunshots. the “farting tuba”). “Tellurick” mounds. They but appear a solemn People. then subversively descend into restatement. that it is a parody of a racial stereotype and a musical sub-genre. and hot jazz. innocent. This mound is . Or you might laugh at this depiction of Native Americans.e. He then explains. never to be invok’d idly. simple. as a serious. there is a passage in Mason & Dixon that discusses the importance of laughter to Native Americans. undermining them with eruptions of Dixieland jazz and goofy sound effects (cowbells. The song laughs at a type of bad music. crude remarks. Interestingly. indeed holy. Spike’s preferred structure was first to state the theme in as respectably mainstream a manner as possible. taking a standard. “How do the Indians here about fancy Spectators like huz?” (598) Shelby responds. Dixon asks Captain Shelby. at its banal. and are presumably not offended. Although Jones was by no means a crusading racial reformer.. and this comic ditty certainly does not directly point to American guilt for the systematic annihilation of almost every Native American tribe. by way of sound effects. “Red Wing” does at least point to the laughable falseness and stupidity of a myth that has been used to repress that guilt. (8) “Red Wing” does precisely this. exactly. and if you yourself hold this belief. While standing by the cone-shaped. Force in Nature.– worshipping laughter. i. simplistic form and reductive racial characterizations. tame melody and hokey lyrics and then performing a kind of musical Freudian substitution joke.” If we find it funny. what. seeing only the message. If you see “Red Wing” as a song that honestly expresses the belief that Native Americans are like this. you might even be moved. and sentimental. sentimental depictions of this group in the “Indian lovesongs” of the Thirties and Forties. As Pynchon states. “They laugh” (598). do we find funny – or not? The answer will of course depend on who you are and how you understand American pop culture depictions of race at the time the song was written. “Gee. rather.

African tribalism. Again. like the Native Americans.”1 Pynchon’s mention of Zen in the liner notes resonates in Mason & Dixon. happy minority.” Every Chinese vocal and musical cliché is trotted out in this song. is often marked by profound laughter. is a source of deep Amusement to them. and the Taoist practice of Feng Shui” (117). Jones looks to the East in “The Chinese Dance. not necessarily Electrical. the emerging muscle of the Enlightenment and. as Joseph Dewy points out. ancient Druidism. is an explicitly religious novel that explores the damaged legacy of Christianity. have been forced into the American myth of the simple-minded. Native American primitivism. in the Zen tradition. which. or enlightenment. just as in Zen. a mocking of the mocking American concept of the stage Chinaman rather than a mockery of the Chinese.” it is possible to be offended.– that white people do not. 1 In fact. they see in laughter a kind of enlightenment. they know the mounds transmit a mystic “Force. The Chinese. but the parody is so extreme that it becomes clear that it is a caricature of a caricature.” something akin to the power of laughter (599). Quaker quietism. finding both systems wanting for largely the same reasons. (113) Although this “(re)solution” definitely has an Eastern orientation. Like the “holy fool” Jones. where “wisdom cannot always be separated from a peculiar sense of humor. Spike’s work is “music that is about music. they put on the appearance of solemnity but actually sanctify the comic. . Native Americans are masking jokers. Zen Buddhism.152 John Heon something they understand perfectly. (598) In Pynchon’s fictional world. the moment of satori. As Pynchon observes. “a freewheeling hybrid of Hinduism. as with “Redwing. Dewey notes it is actually a melting pot of mystic traditions. and show no signs of ever doing so. turns to a most unexpected source – the mysticism of the East – for (re)solution.” where his peculiar sense of humor performs joke-work similar to that in “Red Wing.” and it is one of the first examples of music that began to comment on popular culture concepts of race and show the “postwar loss of faith in the pop-lyric consensus” (8).

“‘For suppose I was never Zhang.” After a long period of denial of any connection with or similarity to his Occidental nemesis. (5) In many ways. He produces his cross-cultural clown’s costume through his Freudian condensation of opposites. One day he emerges in a Jesuit soutane. one of the most overproduced and blindly worshipped pieces of “classy” Christmas kitsch. especially in America.– ha-ha!’ His laugh. Zhang suddenly sees in a moment of paranoid illumination that he must hybridize himself with his enemy. another holy fool. Pynchon argues that Jones’s “class hostility. Thus the mockery in “The Chinese Dance” is directed not only at the general American version of the stage Chinaman but also at Tchaikovsky’s famous work. “The Chinese Dance” is part of a larger parody. he saw in himself. both of which. Pynchon might be said to harbor this same basic conflict and profit artistically from its “useful energy. Zhang reveals what to him is the greatest joke of all. seems practic’d” (552). Thus. Captain Zhang.Surveying the Punch Line 153 and Spike’s humor punctures this myth (without making this its primary intention). Both wanting and rejecting those connections at the same time seemed to generate a useful energy. which he has embroidered with a “gigantick and Floridly rendered Chinese dragon in many colors” (549). Spike nonetheless wanted to claim inspiration from highbrow music. “The Nutcracker Suite. a martial arts and feng shui expert.” In Mason & Dixon he produced a caricature of a Chinese caricature. which is. though hideously fiendish enough. Jones’s entire oeuvre can be seen as an extended Freudian “hostile tendentious joke” against high culture snobbery and low culture stupidity. another hybrid of high and low.” Spike’s longest composition and an undisputed comic masterpiece devoted to bringing high art low. but rather Zarpazo all the Time! HA!. of course. This indicates. the conflict in Jones himself: Unable to respect highbrow audiences. is apparently a stage Chinaman in many respects. Father Zarpazo (the Jesuit “Wolf of Jesus”). this seeming caricature of Chineseness. .” his hatred of highbrow audiences and “society psuedos. Zhang.” was behind much of his humor (5). according to Pynchon. and he seems quite settled in this role of quintessential “Eastern-ness.

and the kung-fu fight to the death with Zarpazo is averted through this comic self-hybridization. As his music evolved. is in many ways a mirror image of Jones (with a little Sammy Davis. As suggested above. mock hill-billy humor. and hybridized it with his smart-man-playing-dumb. Orient and Occident are comically unified. comic self-hybridization figures largely in Jones’s artistic development.” showed America how to laugh at itself. It is a site for the conflicting voices of the heterogeneous American population and the problematic of ever- . cowbells. Spike undermines the same comfortable pop consensus on race that he went after in “Red Wing” and “The Chinese Dance. socio-economic. like “The Simpsons. thrown in).” Paul Frees’s parody of the Jewish-African-American singer Billy Eckstine. It should be noted that Jones started as a jazz musician and continued to rely heavily on jazz for his unique collage of styles. The humor of Jones’s music springs from his juxtapositions of the different regional. the reassurance and security of “safe songs. Jones worked his way through all types of postwar American popular music. automobile horns. it went from.” shatters the mellow melody of this hit tune with the jarring sounds of jackhammers. and thus shatters the image of the “Negro crooner” who sings soothing songs to a white world that wants its illusions verified (“How can those colored people be angry at us if they sing songs like this?”). plays a joke on himself by becoming his own Doppelgänger.” originally in stark opposition to the “Jesuitness” and “Europeanness” of Zarpazo. Gershom.” Here. revealing his repressed Westernness. took on a black art form. racial. breaking glass. As I will demonstrate in more detail later. who takes on whiteness and hybridizes it with his blackness and Jewishness. “a subtle burlesque of all corny.” Jones. Jones’s “Deep Purple. exaggeration. Jr. Years before Mailer wrote “The White Negro. hill-billy bands” to a more general burlesque of all kinds of American corniness (liner notes 3). a white.” and “safe” roles for black artists are subverted with the same techniques of musical caricature. whistles and gunshots. and disruptive sound effects. as he himself described it. jazz. His success stemmed at least in part from the fact that he. In “Deep Purple. systematically lampooning its form and content.154 John Heon Eastern mysticism and general “Asian-ness. and aesthetic groups that make up America.

cruising nowhere special. and strife. the freeway). its original meaning was “the mob.. But the Mobility can also still behave like an ugly. After years of capturing the essence of American comic polyphony and dissonance. out there like the Flying Dutchman on the great urban ultimate – the freeway. Actually it is a role which Negroes share with other Americans. a self-confessed “hayseed” and at the same time a consummately wised-up. it contains a comic. out there among the mobility. “Mobility” is a fascinatingly multivalent word. at least in many parts of the novel.Surveying the Punch Line 155 shifting community identity lines.” and it was a decidedly pejorative term (OED 2nd ed. characterized by Pynchon in the closing paragraph of the liner notes as the way characters end up in zen stories [.” the ability to move (like Spike on that urban ultimate. a place where lines between classes and races can be crossed – though not without difficulty. reluctant to come to any rest or closure. mindlessly violent mob. for with e pluribus unum. the lower classes. and it might be more “Yankee” than anything else. and successful music industry insider. .. “Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke. goodness is by no means assured.]. (12) This curious word. the government of the mobility. In his 1958 essay. Yet.” was used as far back as 1690. it reflects the motley of American origins and the turbulence of rapid change. Nascent America is.]. America is the place of social mobility via the Mobility. finding them to be pervasive national preoccupations: America is a land of masking jokers [. oxymoronic combination of “mob” and “nobility. by the mobility. Finally.” phase.” and this plays a crucial role in the liner notes and in Mason & Dixon.). in the word “Mobility” is also the word “mobility.. denial. Jones himself was a quintessentially American motley fool. Pynchon repeatedly uses the word “Mobility” in Mason & Dixon to denote the growing ranks of people coming together to form the new nation.. one might even say “postmodern. “mobility. The many of the mob can challenge the few of the nobility and become “noble” themselves.” Ralph Ellison examines masking and jokes in this American Mobility. and for the mobility – with all of its internal divisions. conflicts. he reached a final.

Pynchon confirms Gershom’s importance in the epigraph to chapter 35 by allying the hybridizing function of the . on one level this is Pynchon simply having some creative fun with incongruity. Certainly. masked as Indians. the motives hidden behind the mask are as numerous as the ambiguities the mask conceals. masking and hybridization are very American traits. One of the most complex and amusing examples of comic hybridity is Gershom. is that there is no central American identity. the practical scientist. when we are projecting the future and preserving the past. Faulkner as a farmer. (1546) This joke. according to Ellison. (1547) For Ellison. In short. it is in the American grain.” recounting one of the better known stories about how the country was founded upon the mask and the political practical joke: Americans began their revolt from the English fatherland when they dumped tea into the Boston Harbor. Abe Lincoln allowed himself to be taken for a simple country lawyer – until the chips were down. We wear the mask for purposes of aggression as well as for defense. George Washington’s African-AmericanJewish slave/manservant/comedian. and Jones. Ellison explains this joke by going back to America’s “origins. no essential “American-ness.156 John Heon But basically the strategy grows out of our awareness of the joke at the center of American identity. Hemingway poses as a nonliterary sportsman.” We keep looking for the origin but keep finding multiple. Pynchon. but he is also making some of his most profound statements about race and humor in America. skilled statesman and sophisticated lover. the source of so many of the laughs in Mason & Dixon is the protagonists’ constant confrontation with the permutating racial and ethnic groups in the fecund flux of colonial America. and the mobility of the society created in this limitless space has encouraged the use of the mask for good and evil ever since. Benjamin Franklin. And indeed. often contradictory origins. and the “Mobility” and mobility it confers. through various American historical. (1546) He then traces the masking joker role. Here the “darky” act makes brothers of us all. political and literary figures: Nonetheless. allowed the French to mistake him as Rousseau’s Natural Man. America is a land of masking jokers.

to survive. vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep. not unique to Pynchon. This “self-overcoming” [Selbstüberwindung] through . and Nietzsche is one of the most important sources of it. but a key route to other pasts and futures–an alternative history” (171). many readers (or at least reviewers) of Mason & Dixon seem to think that history and comedy are diametrically opposed (171). Nietzsche stresses that the philospher must “laugh out the whole true. for one broken Link could lose us All. They must do this so that there may ever continue more than one life line back into a Past we risk. in Mason & Dixon. The Genealogy of Morals. with only their Destination in common. there is no better start for thinking about the multiple lines of American history than laughter. The hybridizing power of laughter and the comic has been of the utmost importance in modern intellectual history (ies). or Benjamin. In “The Author as Producer. Ellison.– not a Chain of single Links. Throughout The Gay Science. This linking of the comic practices of masking jokers to the creation of multiple histories rather than a single History is. This is a crucial task. laughing at monumental History and at the myths of single origin (Genealogy of Morals). This Mischmensch is a motley “buffoon of history” who constantly changes masks. Keesey. and Zarathustra. we use the comic mask when we are projecting the future or preserving the past. “There is no better start for thinking than laughter” (236).” a hybrid.– rather. a man of multiple origins. “laugh at all tragic plays and all tragic seriousness” (Zarathustra 42) in order to laugh at the tragic self and overcome it.” Walter Benjamin posits. and as Douglas Keesey observes. and Taproom Wit” (349). Keesey suggests that “subsequent studies of Mason & Dixon might profitably begin with this assumption that comedy is not incompatible with history. writes that. losing our forebears in forever. (349) As Ellison says. each day. and one that is often denied. Nietzsche asserts the primacy of the comic view of modern man as a Mischmensch.Surveying the Punch Line 157 masking joker with that of the historian. must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc. “History” and “her Practitioners. weak and strong. a great disorderly Tangle of Lines. long and short. of course.” (Gay Science 7). literally a “mixed man. spy. Pynchon’s frame tale narrator. the Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke.

it is the dissension of other things. spy. according to Nietzsche. Likewise. His ideas about the philosophical uses of laughter and humor were one of the sources of inspiration for Jarry’s mad comic genius and were a driving force behind the comic aesthetics of New York Dada as manifested in the works of Duchamp and Man Ray. In “Nietzsche. they got the joke of monotheism. Mason & Dixon is about laughing at the solemnities of origins and boundary lines of all kinds. “I laugh at every master who does not laugh at himself. and tavern stand-up comedian. And the character who figuratively straddles that line and so many others in Mason & Dixon is Gershom. he snoops around in disguise. is what leads Nietzsche to proclaim in the epigraph to The Gay Science. in part. Genealogy.158 John Heon laughter is. It is disparity. a Touchstone and touchstone of the American Revolution who lives just below the Mason-Dixon Line and often crosses it in the course of his travels as an itinerant masking joker. It was Nietzsche who led Bataille to assert that “every theory of laughter is integrally a philosophy. and they laughed themselves to death (Zarathustra 183). and History” Foucault expanded on Nietzsche’s concept of the laughter inherent in genealogy: “What is found at the historical beginning of things is not the inviolable identity of their origin.. Of course. especially the origin of the line that divided free from slave states in America.e. As a busybody.” The influence of Nietzsche’s “god-killing laughter” on literature. similarly. every integral philosophy is a theory of laughter” (Sur Nietzsche 186). philosophy. Artificial Mythologies 11). and art has been enormous. and. . And this. i. the American Mischmensch. the writings of Benjamin de Casseres and the “absolute caricature” of Marius de Zayas. And Derrida tells us that “Nietzsche pointed the way” toward the view of the act of interpretation as that which “affirms play” in “a field of infinite substitutions” (91) and “is no longer turned toward the origin” (93). History teaches us how to laugh at the solemnities of the origin” (79). Gershom is a type of historian. what the gods did when one of them claimed that he was the one true God. He uses the mask for “projecting the future and preserving the past”. Barthes’s use of laughter as a methodology to disrupt all interpretive metalanguages (in later works such as A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments) owes much to Nietzsche (Saper.

we learn from the mouth of the Virginia slaveholder and future First President: Up in Pennsylvania they tell me I talk like an African. and he tells Washington and Mason why: “At Raby Castle. Washington’s first words to Gershom in this scene are. ‘an Israelite in whom there is no guile’” (278).? From the Earl of . When Washington quotes John 1:49. and we are meant to pick up on this in Washington’s 1760s/1960s “colonial jive. Dixon is stung. They imagine us here surrounded by our Tithables. one of Washington’s jokes about Gershom’s mixed racial/religious identity offends Dixon. A page later. might such words be allowed to pass. without raising suspicions as to amplitude of Spirit. telling Mason and Dixon that Gershom is “Truly.” or attempts to direct American racial history.” In the excerpt from Cherrycoke’s Spiritual Day-Book that functions as the epigraph to the chapter Washington first appears in. using thah’ same quo-tation from the Bible. an excellent Punch. so Gershom cracks jokes that will help spawn the American Revolution. Twice we are told before we meet Gershom that Washington is in some ways “African.” Curiously.. himself a British subject. insensibly sliding into their speech. Gentlemen. One of the ways in which Gershom’s masking joker act “projects the future. among other strange customs. “Here then.– Gershom! Where be you at. In fact. into their Ways as well.Surveying the Punch Line 159 getting into other people’s business and cracking jokes. Yet only from Our Savior. is by figuratively putting one of the most important Founding Fathers into blackface. my man!” (276). but he is also his “man” in modern African-American parlance. (276) Comic racial hybridization through language is clearly Pynchon’s strategy here. Phiz aflame.. the whites. Observe this pitcher upon the Table.” he informs them. the invention of my Man Gershom. “gaily dance the steps their African slaves teach them” (275). Come. we are informed that in Virginia. surely. Just as Jones sowed some of the seeds of the cultural irreverence that would grow into the rebellion of the 1960s. my Great-Uncle George. “Darlington liked to joak of his Steward. delivering punch lines that cross lines and try to make their audiences question history and identity. and so. The fact is that Gershom is his “man” in terms of being both his manservant and his property. it is implied.


John Heon Darlington the remark was no more than the unconsider’d Jollity one expects of a Castle-Dweller,– but to hear it in America, is an Enigma I confess I am at a loss to explain...?” (278)

Washington, embarrassed that his joke has insulted Dixon, apologizes and then tries to salve the wound by saying, “The two Conditions are entirely separate, of course” (278–9). Dixon clearly does not see the difference between the “condition” of servitude and the “condition” of slavery, but Gershom tells him not to “bother about that Israelite talk, anyhow [...] it’s his way of joaking, he does it all the time” (279). When Dixon asks him in disbelief, “Thou aren’t offended?” Gershom reveals the shocking and comic truth:
“As I do happen to be of the Hebrew faith,” tilting his head so that all may see the traditional Jewish Yarmulke, attached to the crown of his Peruke in a curious display of black on white, “it would seem a waste of precious time.” (279)

This episode seems to place Dixon in “the curious subset of folks actively looking to be offended,” while at the same time acknowledging that Washington is still a slave-holder, and therefore similar to any serf-holding “Castle-Dweller,” or colony-holding imperialist nation. Yet, as if to further undermine Dixon’s righteous rage at the “bad” joke, Washington interrupts in his “black” voice, and he and Gershom do a master-and-slave minstrel routine with a dash of schlemihl schtick:
“Say,– and cook?” beams George Washington. “Gersh, any them Kasha Varnishkies left?” “Believe you ate ’em all up for Breakfast, Colonel.” “Well, whyn’t you just whup up another batch,– maybe fry us some hog jowls, he’p it slide on down?” (279)

Gershom’s response is pure minstrel mask: “One bi-i-i-g mess o’ Hog Jowls, comin’ raaight up, Suh!” (279). Both the slave who is and is apparently not truly a slave, and the master who is and is not truly a master, seem to have fun. Gershom is obviously playing a part, but there is evidence that Washington is not really aware of how he

Surveying the Punch Line


himself slides in and out of “African” speech and how he is still prejudiced against blacks. Both Gershom and Washington live in a state of hybridization of and oscillation between black and white. It is apparent from the start that Gershom, “an Israelite in whom there is no guile,” is completely guileful; like Jones, he is a smart man who can play dumb. However, it seems not so much that Washington has put on blackness but rather that he has had blackness put on him by Gershom. His speech, his food, his drink, are controlled by Gershom, the black Jew whose “traditional Jewish, Yarmulke, attached to the crown of his Peruke” makes “a curious display of black on white,” reflecting the problematic nature of this particular master/slave duality (279). After Gershom’s mock “darky act,” it is Mason’s turn to be offended for him. Referring to the hog jowls, he asks, “Do the Jews not believe that [...] the Article you speak of is unclean, and so avoid scrupulously its Flesh?” (279). And once again, Gershom undercuts the righteousness, switching back to a scholarly, British “white” English: “As it happens, the Sect I belong to, is concerned scarce at all with Dietary Rules” (279). To further hybridize the historical periods, Pynchon lets us know at that point that hipster, hippie, and colonial Washington is smoking a pipe full of his homegrown hemp – and all are sharing. Pynchon then has Washington respond to Mason’s offense by presenting the final comic incongruity in Gershom’s identity:
Yet if a Jew cooking pork is a Marvel, what of a Negroe, working a Room? Yes, my Oath,– here is Joe Miller resurrected,– they applaud him ’round a circuit of Coaching-inns […],– indeed he is known far and Wide, as a Theatrickal Artist of some Attainment, leaving him less and less time for his duties here,– not to mention an income per annum which creeps dangerously close to that of his nominal Master, me. (279)

Gershom, like Spike Jones, is revealed to be a comic “conceptual artist with a head for business” (Minstrelsy was in fact one of the first roads to wealth open to American blacks). Humor, like history, grows out of conflict and contradiction, both internal and external, and Pynchon’s and Jones’s minstrelizing of American history recognizes this. The history of minstrelsy confirms this too, for as Houston Baker


John Heon

argues, despite the fact that the minstrel mask was a site of “the deepseated denial of the indisputable humanity of inhabitants of and descendants from the continent of Africa,” it is “first and foremost, the mastery of the minstrel mask by blacks that constitutes a primary move in Afro-American discursive modernism” (17). The minstrel mask was and is a place of “nonsense, misappropriation, or mishearing,” and its effect was and is to deform language, remove its conventional restraints, and ultimately question authority (Baker 17– 18). Baker, seeing black minstrelsy as one of the vital sources of avant-garde humor in America, considers it a type of proto-Dada practice that paved the way for the wider use and acceptance of this kind of comic practice in the twentieth century (17–18). Gershom is a fictional portrait of one of the earliest masters of this artist-fool trade, and Jones, the white jazzman/minstrel who used “nonsense, misappropriation, or mishearing” to create his comic art, was a significant influence on Pynchon’s conception of this and other artistfool figures. But as much as Pynchon wants us to see that Gershom’s talent impresses Washington, and as much as he wants us to see that Washington grants him the freedom to pursue it, he also wants us to see that Gershom is still Washington’s property. Gershom is quite aware that he is still a slave, and his series of Fool and King jokes are designed to make George Washington see that he is just as much of a tyrant as King George:
Gershom is presently telling King-Joaks,– “Actually, they’re Slave-and-Master Joaks, retailor’d for these Audiences. King says to his Fool, ‘So,– tell me, honestly,– what makes you willing to go about like such a fool all the time?’ ‘Hey, George,’ says the Fool,– ‘that’s easy,– I do it for the same reason as you,– out of Want.’– ‘What-what,’ goes the King, ‘how’s that?’– ‘Why, you for want of Wit, and I for want of Money.’” (284)

Gershom inverts the slave/master relationship, retailoring the fool’s motley and the king’s mantle and attempting to teach one and all to “laugh at every master who does not laugh at himself.” This apparent role reversal raises some questions: Is Gershom just wishful thinking on Pynchon’s part? Is this what he hopes a slave could have been? Does he want us to believe that any slave could have had this degree

Surveying the Punch Line


of freedom? Is he giving us a way to feel good about ourselves as Americans by placing the father of our nation at the mercy of his clever slave who is “freed” by his own wit? In other words, what is behind Gershom’s mask after he has been so frequently unmasked, i.e., revealed to be that which he is not? Is he free? Is he really in control? At least at this point in the narrative, the comic symbiosis between Gershom and Washington seems too benign and jovial to be believable, and it indicates the need for a closer look at the politics of Gershom’s jokes and Washington’s responses to them. Although he does not appear again for almost three hundred pages, Gershom returns to perform one more crucial act of comic identity confusion. Gershom plays this Taproom Wit/historian’s role most fully in the scene in a Maryland billiard room and tavern shortly before the outbreak of war. The prelude to his performance is the last two lines of the song of the Traveling Sons of Liberty: “Americans all, / Slaves ne’er again!” (571). This sets the tone for the political discussion that takes place in the proverbial smoke-filled room, swarming with agitated Americans abuzz with the impending revolution. Pynchon creates a literal smoke screen around his characters in this scene; although Mason and Washington are definitely present and sometimes the speakers, it is impossible to be sure who speaks many of the crucial lines of the interchange. Nevertheless, it seems from context that Washington delivers the following:
Even as Clearings appear in the Smoke of a Tavern, so in Colonial matters we may be able to see into, and often enough thro’, the motives of Georgie Rex and that dangerous Band of Boobies... Henceforth it seems, the Irish and the Ulster Scots are to be upon the same terms with them as the Africans, Hindoos, and other Dark peoples they enslave,– and so, to make it easier to shoot us, with all Americans,– tho’ we be driven more mystically, not by the Lash and Musket, but by Ledger and Theodolite. All to assure them of an eternal supply of cheap axmen, farmers, a few rude artisans, and docile buyers of British goods. (572)

This outrage is expressed in racist terms by the next speaker, who might be Mason, Gershom, or some unidentified “patriot” and aleswiller in the carnivalesque polyphony of the crowded room: “Not only presuming us their Subjects, which is bad enough,– but that

– bartender says. and it is at precisely this point that he reveals himself with a witticism: “Excuse me.– Your Majesty!” (572–3). the word “Nigger” is not so much uncivil as it is dangerous. bartender says. “Hey. is ambiguous indeed: “Civility. Gershom launches into his schtick that lampoons both King George and the hypocritical masker George Washington: “And furthermore. Only a Madman would walk around wearing a Crown.” “The Rabbit in the Moon!” “Wait a bit. Gersh.” Several hoots and whistles.” For the rest of the evening.– well that’s what I can’t forgive. is a very Shark.– bar-tender falls on his knees. Mason! ’tis my Tithable. how’d you know who I was. I’m in disguise here. At this pregnant moment. do I hear that Word again? In this Smoak. impersonating an African. so are we all” (572). here’s the latest news of the King.164 John Heon we’re merely another kind of Nigger. what’ll it be George. tho’ the Bellows are never quite fast enough to reveal who. This is just what Gershom wants (so perhaps he did say it in one of his many voices). somebody say there’s a real Negroe in here?” “Hell. Apparently. The Gershom’s joke sets off racial confusion and spreads a contagion of “King Joaks” that cause racial identity to shift constantly behind the mask of black smoke: Half the Company seem to believe this is a white Customer. might be coming from Mason. Sir! The word you have employed here in this quiet Pool of Reason. presumably from the slave-holder Washington. Gershom!” (572). tells another King-Joak. Are you sure?” (572). Now and then someone. recognize him right away. though largely out of character for him. ’twould seem. do the one about the Crocodile that can talk. having caught Gershom’s act before. The response to this utterance. King says. (573) . maybe even more’n one. it could truly set off revolution if white men saw that it was being applied to them – and it could disrupt the slave-based economy. Others. that Crown on your Head. Washington is shocked at the realization of who the speaker is: “That voice. This statement. “King goes into a Tavern. which ever feels its Lunch-Hour nigh” (572). ev’ryone suspects ev’ryone else of being Gershom.– King says.

Everyone gets their just deserts via the comic spirit of the Revolution and the Mobility. has taken on blackness (and redness) through the minstrel role. Washington is once again shown to be a tyrant and bigot despite his gentility and “nobility. becomes a masking joker in the smoke: “King’s Alchemist presents him with a Philtre that can transport him where’er he wishes. ‘Your Majesty! The Sun?– it burns at thousands of Fahrenheit’s Degrees. Even one of Mason’s former surveying assistants. Nathe is able to tap into the repressed guilt he has felt about the project.– far too hot for anything to remain alive. As reassuring as this scene might be. the racists all get their noses twisted.” and Mason is revealed as the desecrator of Native American lands. that may be one thing. with his minstrelsy. He then disappears into “Nickotick Vapors.” who as seen the evil inherent in the Mason-Dixon line. ‘So where’s the Difficulty?– I’ll go at Night. His joke-work exposes the inner workings and contradictions of the psyche of child America breaking away from mother England. But elsewhere Pynchon does show us how this “revolutionary” comedy can be much more problematic and how masking jokers are not always so benign. opaque as futurity. He has. Taproom Wit. “Baby-Phiz Nathe McClean. and he feels emboldened to upbraid his former mentor. it is a bit too nice and neat. leaving Mason feeling as guilty as foolish” (574).– ” […] “King decides he’ll journey to the Sun. cannot be a kindly Act” (573). elicited both expressions of hostility and confessions of guilt from the American (yet still very British) racial unconscious.Surveying the Punch Line 165 In the confusion of mistaken identity. into the Lands of Others. and comic historian – at least for a while. everyone takes on the role of the minstrel.’ King says.– clearing and marking a Right Line of an Hundred Leagues. a student at William and Mary. Gershom’s humor infects the Mobility. and with the aid of Gershom’s instigating jokes. and himself: “Surveying a Property Line. and a 1960s college protester/merry prankster surrogate.” the invisible Youth continues. . Mason. As a result of the well-placed act of minstrelsy by Gershom. “– Alchemist says. From behind the mask of smoke that gives him anonymity. sets it in motion.’” (573) Nathe.

There is something sinister about him – and his ensuing prank.” has them hold hands. “a Scythe-bearing figure in Skeleton’s Disguise..” a masking joker in Aquamarine colonial/hippie glasses “allowing his eyes to be viewed. Thus.166 John Heon Hovering above all of this ferment..] a member ex Nomine” (290). In Mason & Dixon. no matter what Sentiments might lie ’pon his Phiz. “A voice thro’ the Vapors. (294) Franklin enters. operating on a higher level of political knowledge and power. Ben Franklin (whom Ellison recognized as a masking joker). Mason is shown to be linked to Franklin when the Freemasons in a Philadelphia tavern inform Mason that “anyone whose name is Mason is automatickally a Member [. the famed Leyden-Jar Danse Macabre! with that Euclid of the Elecktrick. with the last grasping one terminal of the Leyden Jar. He gathers a line of “a dozen or so heedless Continentals. The possibility that America was founded by this masking joker is pointedly raised in Gravity's Rainbow: “What the leaflet neglected to mention was that Benjamin Franklin was also a Mason. Mason is in on Franklin’s Practical Joak of America. Mr Mason was in the Habit of delivering even his gravest Speeches. announces: The Moment now ye’ve all been waiting for. Philadelphia’s own Poor Richard!. is another Taproom Wit.” like Gershom’s voice through the smoke. yet conveying a bleak Contentment that discourages lengthy Gazing” (294). of which the United States of America may well have been one” (663–4). He gives away his solemn confidence snappily as another might the Punch-Line of a Joak (for as I often noted. in the part of Death. (247) His link to Franklin is confirmed when.. Mason’s nature as a masking joker is also asserted by Cherrycoke.. the Saloon of The Orchid Tavern is pleased to Present. whether he knows it or not and whether he likes it or not. with the Rhythms and Inflections of the Tap-room Comedian). just after Mason learns of his membership in the freemasonry. Franklin enters the makeshift stage of the tavern to perform as “the Harlequin of Electricity” (294). and given to cosmic forms of practical jokersterism. and he then reaches out with the blade .

strangled cries of Amusement. Mr.Surveying the Punch Line 167 of the scythe and touches the other. the Figure has turned and taken a hand at the end of the Line. a Harlequin. If the United States of America is a joke played by the Masonic prankster Franklin. setting off the jerking. this prank is merely a prelude. Mason?.– better than a Key upon a Kite. “Not Joining us tonight. we get a greater sense of the dark side. and Franklin gathers his Electrophiles for what seems to be a real dance of death. a co-founder of the American Joak. and that “the Line” of Electrophiles he creates for his Main Drama is connected. screaming Danse Macabre (294).. He could be both a holy and unholy fool.] this Scythe here is the perfect Shape to catch us a Bolt. the Door opens and the Wind and Rain blow in. he is the Ancestor of Miracle– or of Wonders” (488).. from whom all comfort has flown. it is a very ambiguous one. via his creation of the Joke of “the Line. exhorting them: Let us get out into the night’s Main Drama! [.– think of it as Death’s Picklock [. to the Mason-Dixon Line.” Following this. but his “playful” Totentanz. A Figure of Power. and Franklin sums up his performance. He is a Taproom Comedian.. Just as Franklin leads the Elecktrophiles into the Storm and possibly toward death. Thunder crashes.] felonious Entry.” Franklin is hinting at Mason’s secret complicity as a Mason. the Party of Seekers are plung’d out into the Storm. A thunderstorm is breaking. laughing. (294.” seems to be leading to a prank that will in fact mean death. by many tangled threads. perhaps a good many. the aggression and hidden agenda of Franklin’s electrical pranks: Before Mason. But this sinister aspect of his nature appears to be hidden from the motley American masses. he will also help lead the revolution that will result in certain death for many of the American Mobility and . (295) When he asks. into the Anterooms of the Cre-a-torr. can quite reply.. the American Experiment. they “esteem Franklin a Magician. “So much for Harlequin” (295). my italics) There is a feeling here that Franklin is indeed in the business of pulling pranks of cosmic proportions.. and vanish’d. indeed. Dramatic as it is. and with odd.” for “to the Mobility.. his “mere prank.

There is a carelessness about human life in this comic and cosmic “act” that scares Mason. Dixon begins to see that the Line is a kind of prank played on them. in any way. for whom “we the people” are lab rats. which is attacked by the Saint Foux. may be serious” (337). “France is not at war with the sciences. and at the beginning of this fool’s errand Mason and Dixon are passengers on the Seahorse. the joke might be on both him and us. Pynchon seems to be suggesting that for Franklin the American Revolution is like a hilarious “Elec-trick-all” experiment that just happens to use people and history. We shouldn’t be running this Line.. there is still a strong indication that they can have positive effects on society and history. “will someday join the company of great Humorous Naval Quotations” (40). And after the horror.] something invisible’s going on” (478). Despite its bloody outcome. as if in playful refusal to admit that America. the saint of fools. “American politics” (478). He. but Franklin’s humor has something of the cold detachment of the scientist. perhaps the mad scientist. and it confirms Ellison’s assertion that masking jokers can have very mixed motives. like the anti-establishment. to which Mason replies. For it is Dixon.” we are told. starts to see the larger mask. anti-racist pranks of the boys in “The Secret Integration. The idea of the Mason-Dixon Line (and the US) as a joke is bolstered later. like the Americans who do not understand the Tellurick mounds and their “Force. He wants to discharge the Leyden Jars and see what happens.168 John Heon the English. “We are Fools [. Although often unquestioning of the mission. “laughing at nothing.” seem to have a fairly clear moral direction.? [.. not necessarily Electrical. The creation of the Line is referred to as “a fool’s errand” (51). The song the sailors of the Saint Foux sing as they cease attack. this confrontation ends with a joke. Despite the moral ambiguity of masking jokers and their jokes. Gershom’s taproom witticisms. His experiment might backfire... There are strong indications that the Line is indeed a joke – played on Mason and Dixon and the emerging country.. “Indeed a spirit of whimsy pervades the entire history of these Delaware Boundaries.].” perhaps Franklin is playing with a power that he does not fully comprehend. too. the man called “fool” by his .– or at ev’rything” (41).. Mason and Dixon go up on deck. Unfortunately.

it is Dixon. with other laughers. albeit in very different ways. . to look at its motives and origins. “If you’re not part of the solution. Of course. but force us to confront our laughter.” Dixon. This is what the masking joker Dixon finally displays. a colonial Everyman.” is also the “Punch” who begins to erase that line with a punch that is the punch-line of the whole “joco-serious” book. However spontaneous it seems. Schlagfertigkeit. at least in Pynchon’s “history. Dixon.Surveying the Punch Line 169 mentor Emerson and “Harlequin. the aleswilling Quaker clown and man of the Mobility. you’re part of the problem.” and “Mirth” (346) by Mason. can “represent an idea of action and agency more complex than either the nihilism of despair or the Utopia of progress” (Bhabha 255). to identify its complicities and the moral consequences of those complicities. more precisely. it is Dixon. and jokers as social actors. or even complicity. real or imaginary” (64). who will take away the slave-driver’s whip. showing literal and figurative Schlagfertigkeit when he “places his Fist in the way of the oncoming Face” of the slave driver (698). They demonstrate Bergson’s tenet: “Our laughter is always the laughter of the group […]. laughter always implies a kind of secret freemasonry.” “Punch. they prove that jokes as social acts. In the 1960s it was popular to say. behind humor there is often hostility. slave and free. is Pynchon’s fictional “proof ” from the 1760s that everyone can be both part of the problem and part of the solution. the man “whose repertoire in jest is second only to what resides in the Vatican Library” (115). According to Freud. one must first realize what the problem is and that one might be part of it. Despite having been instrumental in creating the line that would divide North and South. a “readiness to strike” (be it justified or not). Jones and Pynchon not only make us laugh. These are two of the things Pynchon and Spike Jones do. In doing so.

Walter Kaufmann and Roger Holingdale. Ellison. Wylie Sypher. James Strachey. Richter. 337–58. 1978. Henry Louis Gates. Michel. 1986: 226–40. David H. Trans. Spiked!: The Music of Spike Jones. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. Trans. Genealogy. “The Sound of One Man Mapping. 1956: 61–190. 1887. Ithaca. Newark: U of Delaware P. Brooke Horvath and Irving Malin.” 1900. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Cambridge: Harvard UP. New York: Norton. Norman. 76–94. Ithaca: Cornell UP. Bergson. Sigmund. New York: St. Foucault. NY: Doubleday. Nietzsche. and the Politics of Community in Twentieth-Century Britain. History. Humor. Tim. 1992. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Schocken. 959–70. Trans. Sign. “The Author as Producer. Douglas. “Structure. NY: Cornell UP. Page. Edmund Jephcott. Thomas. Autobiographical Writing. Trans.” 1958. 1994. Walter Kaufmann. Peter Demetz. Aphorisms. “Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke. Martin’s Press. New York: Penguin. Ocker. Jacques. 1994.” 1964. English. 1989.” Pynchon Notes 36–39 (1995–96): 184–88. Comic Transactions: Literature. Chicago: U of Chicago P. Trans. Friedrich. —— On the Genealogy of Morals. Trans. Wylie Sypher. Ed. Benjamin. Dewey. Derrida. Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Trans. Keesey.” Pynchon and Mason & Dixon. Freud. “The Secret Integration. Ed. “Nietzsche. Mailer. Brown.170 John Heon Works Cited Baker. Garden City. Catalyst/BMG. —— Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Location of Culture. and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences. Bhabha. 1960. Counter-Memory. 1994. Pynchon. Comedy.” Reflections: Essays. 1967. CD. 1541–48. 1977. Walter. New York: Norton. New York: Routledge. . Donald Bouchard and Sherri Simon. New York: Vintage.” Trans. Joseph. 1987. David. Houston. New York: Vintage. Ed. Jr. 1884–5. Advertisements for Myself. 1882. The Gay Science. Boston: Little. Slow Learner. “Spike Jones and Lotion: Connected by a Fragile Thread. “Mason & Dixon on the Line: A Reception Study.” Pynchon Notes 36–39 (1995–96): 165–83. “Laughter. Henri. 1974. Eds. Ed.” Language. 1905. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.” 1957. Donald Bouchard. Ed. and Nellie McKay. Homi K. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato. Ralph. The Critical Tradition. 1984. James F. 1997. Eds. Liner notes. “The White Negro. 2000: 112– 31.

1973. Spiked!: The Music of Spike Jones. —— Liner notes. New York: Henry Holt. 1997.Surveying the Punch Line 171 —— Gravity’s Rainbow. Catalyst/ BMG. Young. 1994. —— Mason & Dixon. 1997. Craig. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P. Jordan. CD. Artificial Mythologies: A Guide to Cultural Invention. Tim Page. Saper. Ed. . Spike Jones Off the Record. 1987. New York: Penguin. San Francisco: Past Times Publishing. 1994.

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Mapmaking and Representation in Mason & Dixon Near the end of the “America” section of Mason & Dixon. “an eight-pointed Star. The fight continues: “This has been my North Point. Dixon responds with the etymology of the sign. for some temporary Tradesman’s Sign. Mason fears that this sign will be interpreted as a show of support for France. MCLAUGHLIN Surveying. In accomplishing their charge in America.?” Making no more sense of this than he ever may.. It does not generally benefit the Surveyor to debase the Value of his North Point. “since the first Map I ever drew.– ” “Hahr! So that is it!” (688–89) Beyond being yet another example of Mason and Dixon’s tendency to argue over almost anything. now.” Dixon declares. writes. which my Flower-de-Luce stands faithfully as the Emblem of. sit down to draw a plat or a map – a “Pen-and-Paper Representation” (687) – of their work. when they may.ROBERT L. Brown. Earth Herself if tha like. Mason shrugs. I cannot very readily forswear it. than with me. surveyors “transcribe the written words of a deed into a monumental location on the ground” . Sir. Mason is immediately struck by the north arrow. surmounted by a Fleur-de-Lis” (687)..” “Oh. Mason and Dixon enact a double interpretation and representation. ’Twould be to betray my Allegiance to Earth’s Magnetism. they’re as happy to twit a King. the title characters. “It may sit less comfortably with the Proprietors. The first is in the survey itself. after four years of running the line marking the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. author of two seminal books on principles of surveying. as the next Lad. As Curtis M. by lending it to ends Politickal. When Dixon finishes the plat and offers it for his partner’s inspection. this episode is significant in that it makes explicit two interconnected intellectual processes that have been implicit in the project of drawing the Line: representation and interpretation.

reproduction . The second comes in the episode quoted above. The Power of Maps. Brown writes. thus calling its own ability to mean into question – can be addressed through Bakhtinian theory. McLaughlin (Boundary Control vii). Bakhtin argues that every language or discourse is a manifestation of fairly specific world views 1 Wood’s use of ellipses is even more unusual than Pynchon’s. Concomitantly. author of the groundbreaking study of maps and mapping.” “accurate. about relative importance. (22)1 The mapmaker uses signs in an attempt to represent the world. Denis Wood. in making a plat.]... in telling the story of their survey. it should show sufficient information to allow any other surveyor to understand how the survey was made. (He also italicizes eccentrically. interpretable far beyond the control of their author. Of this process. I have argued that the interpretive conundrum of Gravity’s Rainbow – it is a narrative that constantly subverts narrative as a vehicle for conveying meaning. with other social constructions.” “objective. are infinitely interpretable. Of course. the map.) .” “neutral”: all conspire to disguise the map as a . about social value – are ideologically charged. Mason and Dixon are interpreting the line they have marked on the earth and representing it in the form of a text. As Mason and Dixon’s disagreement about the north arrow suggests. representation and interpretation are not simple..” “window. as the north arrow debate illustrates. closed intellectual processes. Mason and Dixon must interpret the words of the two colonies’ charters and the directions of the two colonies’ commissioners and then represent that interpretation through the monuments that mark their Line.. being made up of signs..” “transparent.174 Robert L. brings that world into being [. It is hard not to read Mason & Dixon through the frames of the interpretive strategies we have used to read Gravity’s Rainbow. maps are not value-neutral reproductions of the world. “A plat should tell a complete story. Clearly. when they create the plat of their work.. but these signs – also representing choices about what to include and what to leave out. of the world. argues: “Mirror. maps. disabling us from recognizing it for a social construction which. and why the survey was correct” (Evidence and Procedures 384).

can enclose and define the world. which can speak definitively about the world. the novel is bringing together various world views and the languages through which they are expressed. Mapmaking and Representation 175 or ideological belief systems. or synthesize into something new. however. For him. and organizations of argument. Novels bring together a variety of discourses in dialogue through which the implied world views can be seen to conflict. which are always fuzzy. they and the ideological belief systems they imply are put into dialogic relation with one another. Out of this intertextual mélange comes the opportunity for meaning. it seems likely to me that they are. ambiguous. Although I am not prepared to insist that Brown or Wood or any other text is definitely one of the sources for Mason & Dixon. the surveyor is a person of science who. . they are in fact arbitrary. These discourses are absorbed into the narrative voice and parodied or stylized. Brown’s books are widely available. and so on – not just for information but for their discourses: their vocabularies. setting them into conflict. despite their ostensible goal of neutrally reproducing the world.2 That is. through knowledge and proper procedures. revealing that. pop cultural. and with the reader’s own world views. scientific. But even without conclusive evidence. with the narrator’s voices. mythic. embedded in the social and cultural codes of their times. among the conflicting world views in the novel are two we can see defined in Brown’s books on surveying and Wood’s book on maps. have gone through several editions. Specifically. and are considered fundamental texts in the training of surveyors. Brown insists on a separation between the hard sciences. It is through this dialogic interaction that a novel’s meaning develops. identify with each other. and ideologically 2 I do not have a smoking gun to prove that Brown and Wood are sources. I think a similar meaning-making process is going on in this novel. we can use these books to help identify and define competing world views implied in the practices of surveying and mapmaking that are central to the novel. biographical. and the law and language. In Gravity’s Rainbow Pynchon uses his sources – historic. rhetorical strategies. Wood’s book was widely reviewed and was considered to be on the cutting edge of the theory of maps. Wood offers a poststructural approach to maps. and inadequate in their versions of the world.Surveying. and showing us what develops.

The distinction between these last two. Mathematics.176 Robert L. and (4) to describe by map or writings the divisions created” (Evidence and Procedures vi). Law is not looked at as an exact science. But what about locating “in accordance with a written description” and describing “by map or writings”? These activities seem to undercut the distinction Brown needs to make in order to support his claim that surveying is an exact science. These are: “(1) to locate property lines in accordance with a written description. the scientific procedures with which surveys are made. Curtis Brown’s two books. are important texts for the professional surveyor. certainly locating and creating fall into the scientific end of the science/interpretation conflict. exceptions. Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location (written with Winfield H. He tries to dismiss the interpretive problems . Of these activities. (2) to locate encroachments on written title lines. on the other hand. Frederick Landgraf and Francis D. scientific procedures and legal and ethical contexts. and the legal and ethical contexts within which the surveyor operates. Two plus two always equals four.” or “north relative to the bearing of the monumented line. The surveyor. The attorney. is apt to develop an exact viewpoint. becomes especially important in Brown’s books. McLaughlin interested. Uzes). and modifications. being a man of science. both of which have gone through several editions. in contrast to written English. The word “north” may mean “astronomic north. utilizes a language that can have various meanings. (Boundary Control vii–viii) But this separation is hard to maintain.” “magnetic north. given Brown’s definition of the duties of a professional surveyor. “Blue” may mean a color or a personal feeling. is an exact science. Eldridge) and Boundary Control and Legal Principles (written with H. They cover the history of surveying in the US. a factual and pure way to know the world. He writes: The English language is composed of many words with dual meanings.” depending upon the contents of the remainder of the deed. (3) to create new land divisions. These conflicting world views swirl around and complicate Mason and Dixon’s American project – running the Line – and also are manifestations of larger conflicts at work in the novel: the ideology of control versus the possibility for liberation. depending upon the surrounding circumstances.

he advises. apparently. The first has to do with azimuth. The second problem results from the surveyor’s “assumption that the earth is flat” (Boundary . surveying as a tool for drawing and defining parts of the world is compromised by the nature of the world it seeks to know. Brown also tries to remove the interpretable from the activity of describing by map or writings by paring down the description to its simplest but still sufficient form. Brown explains: Strictly speaking. In other words. the angle turned at each point along a line is being turned to a true north line. which are especially relevant to Mason and Dixon’s east-west Line. so multiply interpretable for lawyers and courts. Since all true north lines converge toward the north-pole. But he doesn’t make clear why words. this variation is insignificant. are stable for the surveyor.Surveying. Mapmaking and Representation 177 connected with locating in accordance with a written description by appealing to the surveyor’s expertise: “The surveyor is a professional specialist who knows how to read and interpret deed words. “The north arrow need not be elaborate. making the map as impersonal and objective as possible. thus. That is. and how to set monuments in accordance with the words” (Evidence and Procedures 25). any straight line other than a true north line or the equator has a changing azimuth or bearing as you travel along the line. or “the angle measured clockwise from the meridian” (Boundary Control 19). the variation is large enough to create confusion. which is not parallel with any other true north line at any other point on the line. What would Dixon say to that? Brown’s hedging on the scientific-fact-vs. For example.-interpretive-ambiguity distinction opens the door to reflections on the limits of science. The ancients were sometimes carried away with embellishments on their compass rose. This is caused by the fact that azimuth or bearing is determined by the angle from the described line to a true north line. usually true north. but plats made today can be best served with a simple efficient arrow” (Evidence and Procedures 385). Brown explains the solution: “within a definite zone. the surveyor creates a convenient fiction. This is illustrated by two problems Brown discusses. (Boundary Control 19) For small areas. but for large areas. all bearings are referred to true north as defined relative to one datum line in the zone” (Boundary Control 19). like that covered by the Mason-Dixon Line.

and map a plot of land. A long narrow strip of orange peel can be flattened with a minimum of distortion. signs. 86). praises their accuracy (Evidence and Procedures 77–79. Further. Rather. As we will see. Similarly. For every survey. the earth complicates matters. writing 200 years later. Brown explains: An orange peel. without distortion. For him. If coordinate systems are limited to long narrow strips of land. Wood begins with much different assumptions. the surface of the earth cannot be represented on a flat plane surface. cannot be flattened without tearing. He argues that the power of maps comes from the notion that they are neutral but that . assumes that the earth is knowable separate from the means we employ to know it. define. he assumes that the means of knowing the world are separate from the ambiguous and confusing language. As even Brown is forced to admit. as we have seen. my point is that Brown’s contention that surveying is a science. exempt from the ambiguity and interpretive multiplicity of language. Indeed. Mason and Dixon performed their charge so well that Brown. but as a sphere. such as a map. able to know and represent the world as fact. is subverted by his own admissions of the errors and distortions that seem to be inherent in the processes of interpreting deeds so as to plot them out on the earth and of representing these plottings on a map. (Boundary Control 20) All this is not to suggest that surveying is hopelessly flawed as a method and manner of knowing the world or that Mason and Dixon are on some kind of a fool’s errand. Brown. compressing. a minimum of mapping error results. our means of knowing the world create the world we know.178 Robert L. and means of representation that articulate that knowledge. a sphere. though it may be insignificant. Denis Wood’s take on mapping and representation implies a world view very much at odds with Brown’s. “Measurements can never be made without an error of some magnitude. the surveyor should know how much uncertainty can be tolerated” (Evidence and Procedures vii). A flat earth would allow for a perfect east-west. northsouth coordinate system to measure. or folding the skin. McLaughlin Control 20). Mason and Dixon’s faith in their science will be similarly undercut as they face their own areas of uncertainty.

not the world – or not just the world – but also (and sometimes especially) the agency of the mapper. just as maps provide a means of controlling land. all maps. necessarily embody their authors’ prejudices. They do this in several interconnected ways. insurance company is made apparent. arbitrary character is unveiled. toward maps as a means of knowing and representing the world can help us understand how maps function in society. maps also create property and a means of claiming the right to that property. they provide a means of controlling people. That is. As Wood says. Mapmaking and Representation 179 when that notion is exposed as false. Suddenly the things represented by these lines are opened to discussion and debate. Wood recognizes that the means for knowing the world are inseparable from the means of representing that knowledge. like maps. these lines must be accepted as representing things in it with the ontological status of streams and hills.. “the map is about the world in a way that reveals. Wood argues that maps are as much about the mapmaker as they are about the world. state. unavoidably. their power can be seen in a whole new way: As long as the map is accepted as a window on the world. First. Second. Wood’s attitude toward knowledge and representation and. maps. This ownership is confirmed by the distribution of the map and its presumably neutral representation of the world. (19) Concomitantly. But no sooner are maps acknowledged as social constructions than their contingent. their conditional. more specifically. Wood explains: . as they create the world. “the map does not map locations so much as create ownership at a location” (21).” which alone the map is capable of embodying (profound conflict of interest). the interest in them of owner. their .Surveying. Once it is acknowledged that the map creates these boundaries. Two of the qualities of maps that Wood identifies – their ability to create the world they describe and their ability to mask the interests they serve under the guise of neutrality – are especially important in maps’ function as instruments of control. He says. This intertwining can be seen in the complex process by which a mapmaker seeks to represent the world in a map. biases and partialities” (24). is ideologically interested. it can no longer be accepted as representing these “realities. Thus knowledge is intertwined with language. and language. inevitably..

the represented world is enabled . it is passed off as . is dependent on that function remaining invisible. hard to see around her. to be taken for the world). it is hard to overlook him.. (38–39) To sum up. evolves together with the map as an instrument of polity. deals and so on in which we have immersed ourselves. it will be argued that cartography was primarily a form of political discourse concerned with the acquisition and maintenance of power. wage war. treaties. but then it’s ceaseless branching. function as means to interpellate people into the officially sanctioned symbolic order of their societies. to assess taxes. not something to be taken seriously.180 Robert L. for it is only to the extent that this author escapes notice that the real world the map struggles to bring into being is enabled to materialize (that is. “Stability and longevity quickly became the primary task of each and every state. contracts. Nature itself ” (76). facilitate communications and exploit strategic resources. as the world. Instead it is seen as no more than a version of the world. the continuing need for increasing hierarchic integration produces first a simple enlargement of the mapping function.” (43) Third. covenants. In Brian Harley’s words. maps. to the world described. hard to see it . as a story about it. and this pretended neutrality is vital to the map’s powers: “The interest unavoidably embodied in the map is thus disguised . Wood argues: maps are required for us all to keep track of each other and what we’re up to. Wood emphasizes. But the ideological function of maps. maps function as an Althusserian ideological state apparatus. helping to establish and maintain social control and helping to set up an imaginary relationship (imaginary because the means of control are invisible) between people and the social order in which they live. As author – and interest – become marginalized (or done away with altogether). as a fiction: no matter how good it is. Wood explains: the map is powerful precisely to the extent that this author . They manage this by connecting us through them to all the other aspects of the vast system of codes.. disappears. In order for the map to convince us that it is Nature itself.... in its premodern and modern forms. McLaughlin In growing societies. Against this background.... As long as the author – and the interest he or she unfailingly embodies – is in plain view. as natural. laws. Thus the state. because of the invisibility of their interested positions. it must make us forget that it had an author with his or her own interested positions.

it is real. reality. fill our vision. (77) Much of Mason and Dixon’s story in America is of their growing awareness of themselves as victims of the map. Soon enough we have forgotten this is a picture someone has arranged for us (chopped and manipulated.. victims of the map. it is . one must turn to Gothick Fictions. for any more in that Article.. (70) This illusion. in this point of view. Nevil .. Mapmaking and Representation 181 to . Royal Society members and French Encyclopædists are in the Chariot. it is the world. The novel is most concerned with the astronomical branch of the Royal Society. [. is insidious.. and who have been induced by a profound cultural labor to accept it as the territory. Soon enough . language-laden means of knowing the world – is the dominant world view in Mason & Dixon.] One may be allowed an occasional Cock Lane Ghost... Reverend Cherrycoke. Wood argues.. to admit that it is a version of the world and not the world itself. selected and coded).. In the novel the agency most obviously connected with pursuing and enforcing this world view is the Royal Society. explains at one point: These times are unfriendly toward Worlds alternative to this one..Surveying. but because it renders this interest invisible to the cartographers as well who manage in this way to turn themselves into . Brown’s attitude toward science – that it is a vehicle for pure and complete knowledge of the world and that it transcends the ambiguity associated with other. is to declare it a fiction and therefore worthless. off-and-on narrator of the novel.– otherwise. not only because it renders the inevitable interest invisible to those who view the map. denouncing all that once was Magic. availing themselves whilst they may of any occasion to preach the Gospels of Reason. (359) As Wood pointed out. dominant not only in the sense of its pervasiveness but also in the sense of its association with the power elite.. to admit that knowledge is anything but pure and absolute. folded acceptably between the covers of Books. that branch of science which seeks to know the workings of the clockwork universe Newton proposed. the amalgamation of controlling agencies that seek to impose the world views most beneficial to themselves on the rest of the human race.

.– a simple pair of Numbers. in turn represent some single gigantick Equation. perhaps even impossible Task. he is “the pure type of one who would transcend the Earth. (134) This same point is made to Maskelyne’s predecessor as royal astronomer.– to us unreadable. the Equation of a Sphere. Right Ascension and Declination. nor ever do they lie. Mason and Dixon are operating. located upon the Hemisphere of Heaven by Right Ascension and Declination. taken together. . to find. incalculable. Numbers that you Men of Science are actually paid. He says that because of mathesis. by the president of the Royal Society.3 Maskelyne speaks to Mason of his faith in the knowability of the universe and of his intellectual ambitions to know it: For if each Star is little more a mathematickal Point. according to his scheme.182 Robert L. possessing Diameter.” seeking “his realm of pure Mathesis” (134). A lonely. say. even non-measurable ones” (56–57). Unless they be Moons or Planets. as at Paris. in which. uncompensated. that Sailors at last may trust their lives to this Knowledge. then all the Stars. (283) 3 Foucault defines mathesis as “a universal science of measurement and order” and sees it as a vital element of the Classical episteme. (194) The ostensible purpose of understanding the workings of the heavens is to better understand the earth. McLaughlin Maskelyne. is the novel’s best personification of this world view.– they are pure Mathesis. So that the relation of all knowledge to the mathesis is posited as the possibility of establishing an ordered succession between things. I suppose. James Bradley. each exists as but a dimensionless Point. must like any other set of points. is to know every celestial motion so perfectly. tho’ innumerable. “it is always possible to reduce problems of measurement to problems of order. for the task at Greenwich. the hidden purpose is hinted at by Mason as he talks to Martha Washington: the ev’ryday work of the Observatory goes on as always. out of the Purses of Kings. He says of the stars: They betray us not.– yet some of us must ever be seeking. Mason’s temporary partner on St Helena and eventual royal astronomer.. to the mind of God as straightforward as.

And because of the scientific nature of the survey and the maps that will result from it.. The Royal Society world view about science and knowledge serves the interests of commerce and control. a representative of the Jesuits.. that the answer could be found through the creation of a clock that could keep accurate time at sea. than intelligible. who insisted. as Mason suggests. to privilege specific religious..4 My point here is that this pursuit after knowledge is far from pure: accurate measurement of longitude is important because it will serve more efficient mercantile systems and colonial enterprises. (219) The same point is made more strongly by Fr Zarpazo. This conflict was enacted most bitterly by Maskelyne and clockmaker John Harrison.] Right Lines beyond a certain Magnitude become of less use or instruction to those who must dwell among them. naming: in short.] were preoccupied with conveying Force. to enforce laws. or military.]. the process. social. it was the motivation for building the Observatory at Greenwich.. Several decades of work went into this project. That these interests are served in the surveying of the Line between Pennsylvania and Maryland is evident in the novel. has the potential to be invisible. . to enslave or kill those who are different – can be established and maintained. correctly as it turned out... to whose rivalry Pynchon refers several times. who argued.– along straight Lines.Surveying. be it hydraulic. creating the conditions under which power – the power to tax. creating boundaries. to more distant Onlookers [. Mapmaking and Representation 183 Mason is referring to the problem of the longitude – how to measure accurately on land or sea one’s position relative to north–south meridians. Dixon’s teacher: The Romans [. This point is made by William Emerson. one of the novel’s controlling agencies: 4 See Sobel for a fascinating rendering of the problem of the longitude and the dispute between Maskelyne and Harrison. and it marked a conflict between astronomers. and mechanists. like the Royal Society. to control land. Drawing the Line is part of a process of taking land. by their immense regularity. as Wood argues. or architectural. and cultural codes. [. that the answer could be found only through knowledge of the stars.

[. all we may need. Unlike those of the Antichrist Chinese. I mean to say.184 Robert L.– Faith is no longer willingly bestow’d upon Authority. Lines of Sight. (281) The Mason-Dixon Line is an important symbol of these interconnected processes of control and commerce: in its westward movement it represents the process of control whereby the continent will be taken from its indigenous inhabitants and put to the uses of its colonizers. beyond the settled eastern seaboard. Routes of Approach. The rationalization of America into something that will serve the ends of power and the Line’s place in this process is described in a key passage narrated apparently by Cherrycoke: Does Britannia. why. these will follow right Lines.– Rules of Precedence. and on West-ward. be it in a Crofter’s hut or a great Mother-City.” the Wolf of Jesus addressing a roomful of students. we alone had the coherence and discipline to see this land develop’d as it should be.. we will build Walls. power beginning to sort itself out. so shall we find that we may shape.. in Chaos. Flows of Power. when she sleeps. by the majority of Mankind. Out in the wild Anarchy of the Forest. the place where human beings generally are not bought and sold from the place where they are. nor written down. Line and Staff. it represents the ultimate and hateful ends of commercialism. Walls are to be the Future. we will accept Consent. either religious or secular.] order. with their unwritten Laws. George Washington explains to Mason and Dixon his experiences in the Ohio country. McLaughlin “The Model. If we may not have Love. nor ever. seen. He compares the country to a piece of tricky weaving [. What Pity. and why it is vital to establish control there. with arrangements of such Lines. dream? Is America her dream?– in which all that cannot pass in the metropolitan Wakefulness is allow’d Expression away in the restless Slumber of these Provinces. As a Wall. The World grows restless.– if we may not obtain Consent.– . so did we our own Army. projected upon the Earth’s Surface. becomes a right Line. Markets appearing..– ” (522) One of the reasons for establishing this kind of control is to create conditions for commerce and to make sure profits flow in the right direction. upon ev’ry patch of ground. in separating north from south.] As the East India Company hath its own Navy. wherever ’tis not yet mapp’d.. “is Imprisonment.

At Cape Town they are offended by security official Bonk’s assumption that their mission involves spying as well as astronomy. certain that scientific knowledge is separate from the interests of the world. On St Helena Dixon introduces himself to Maskelyne by saying. and our Despair. measur’d and tied in. and assuming them unto the bare mortal World that is our home. but currently beyond their own. Mapmaking and Representation 185 serving as a very Rubbish-Tip for subjunctive Hopes. the ideology of control inexorably absorbs and rationalizes all the wonders that exist subjunctively beyond the horizon. they assume that their own systems of knowledge will eventually account for and assimilate these phenomena.Surveying. just as in the quotation from Cherrycoke above. which taken together form a cryptick Message [. reducing Possibilities to Simplicities that serve the ends of Governments.– winning away from the realm of the Sacred. for all that may yet be true. . They are shocked when the French ship l’Grand attacks the Seahorse.. Realms of Prester John. back into the Net-Work of Points already known. Fountain of Youth. its Borderlands one by one. 5 This phrase (summarized here) is taken from part of a song sung by the sailors on the French ship (40). safe till the next Territory to the West be seen and recorded. “Newton is my Deity” (116). “we serve no master but Him that regulates the movements of the Heav’ns. “La France ne fait pas la guerre contra les sciences”5 – the distinction between a scientific mission and a military or political one. ever behind the sunset. (345) Mason and Dixon begin the novel with the Royal Society point of view.. changing all from subjunctive to declarative. that slowly triangulates its Way into the Continent. confident in the purity of scientific knowledge. When they encounter something fantastic – like the watch that never needs winding or Rebekah’s ghost on St Helena – they respond to it much as the Royal Society responds to fantastic Jesuitical inventions: they are results of knowledge. Mason indignantly replies. refusing to recognize – despite its claim.– Earthly Paradise.] we are intended one day to solve and read” (59). not different from or in conflict with their own. Christ’s Kingdom. Mason’s melancholy results from his being unable to reconcile his faith in the rational with his emotional need to believe in some sort of reunion with his dead wife Rebekah.

and Mason and Dixon have the job of interpreting from language to lines on the earth the resulting compromises. The two take great care to make the survey of their Line as accurate as possible. For decades the two colonies have argued over the wording of their borders.” says Mason. Darby admits. between . which interfere with compasses. “thro’ some dark miracle of Mathesis [. Pennsylvania. though. they do not try to pretend that this uncertainty does not affect their faith in science.. that forces human and earthly make absolute accuracy impossible. “Obliging us. had to admit that the survey will always contain some error and that the surveyor has to decide how much uncertainty is acceptable. through their adventures in America. These charters granted land in language irreconcilable with each other and the landscape. enact two. We saw earlier that Brown. interconnected movements: as they come to recognize and embrace the uncertainty of their science.186 Robert L. have confused two methods of keeping the chain count. “to take symmetrical readings on the opposite sides of the Crests. the chainmen. our Errors have ever exactly cancel’d out” (473).. Their greatest challenge is the points where Maryland. except for a spot where the north-south border of Maryland runs inside the twelve mile arc centered at New Castle. “producing now. and Delaware meet. which affects the plumb line. Another force that adds to the uncertainty of the enterprise is the language of the original Penn and Calvert charters. the result. to the surveyors’ horror. Mason and Dixon survey the terms of the deeds and manage to reconcile them with a minimum of necessary error. but as they proceed. McLaughlin From this initial epistemological position. But if they have not and the distance has been measured incorrectly. as Brown suggested. they become aware of themselves serving the interests of that science and of their own roles as victims of the map. The human forces take the form of Darby and Cope. and hope that the two errors will cancel out” (475). they discover. would be “a very Hole in Space” (473). unlike Brown. The earthly forces include not only iron lodes. Darby says reassuringly. despite his faith in science’s ability to know the world and in surveying’s ability to represent on the earth the terms of deed and then to represent on a plat the story of the survey. Mason and Dixon come to admit this uncertainty. who. Mason and Dixon.]. but the mass of large mountains.

. of transactions never recorded. withal.] Anybody may be in there. As they move farther from the rational eastern seaboard and more into Cherrycoke’s subjunctive west. the Black Dog. impossible for any who live out here the year ’round to see as other than hateful Assault.– coast-lines. a-bustle with Appetites high and low. beyond Resolution. from clandestine lovers to smugglers of weapons. river-banks. from which Land-Scape ever takes its form. How can it pass unanswer’d? (542) . ridge-tops. the Leyden Jar battery – so frequently.. Timothy Tox’s Golem. This breaking-down of the scientific world view is best represented in Captain Zhang. the forces of control and commerce their Line is meant to serve.– so honoring the Dragon or Shan within. [.] ’Tis no one’s for the moment. This wedge of ambiguity is significant because of the inability of scientific knowledge and the ideology of control to account for it fully: Yet there remains to the Wedge an Unseen World. To mark a right Line upon the Earth is to inflict upon the Dragon’s very Flesh. (470) This place that eludes Mason and Dixon’s charge and their science also eludes. ‘curv’d’” (468). a famous and semi-magical Magnetick Anomaly. one ‘straight. A small geographick Anomaly. their offerings and acceptances. lockets.. about a thousandth of a Mile longer.] Nearby. His science of feng shui directly challenges the surveyors’ science. as the party moves west. is Iron Hill.. some hawking contraband. into which riskers of other peoples’ Capital have been itching for years to dig. are waiting until the legal status of the Wedge becomes clear. a sword-slash.. [. a long.– some marking off “Lots” for use in some future piece of Land-Jobbery. Mapmaking and Representation 187 them. tea.– but being reluctant to reward more than one set of Provincial Officials at a time. perfect scar.– buckles. the Glowing Indian. The necessary uncertainty of the survey opens the way. laces from France. Boundaries follow Nature. two boundary lines. at least temporarily. for other challenges to the Royal Society world view. [. in fact.’ and one.. that the ability of their sciences and their knowledge to account for and assimilate them all has to be called into question. the Chinese geomancer fleeing the Jesuits. He criticizes their work: Ev’rywhere else on earth. known to Elf Communities near and far.Surveying. Mason and Dixon encounter the fantastic more and more frequently – the werebeaver.

But something invisible’s going on.. but together offering us a way to know the world contingently.” “Best thing’s to draw up a Book. simultaneously.?” Mason shrugs. conflicting. by Forces invisible even to thy Invisible College?” (73). no one complete. different systems of knowledge – agreeing. Dixon suspects in an unfocused paranoia that the two are pawns in a game they don’t understand. It doesn’t alarm thee.. I’ll carry it through.188 Robert L. McLaughlin In Zhang. debate. fear not. an alternative world view that exists simultaneously with their own but is not assimilable into their own. discussion. they have the following exchange: “We shouldn’t be runnin’ this Line. and even wagering that result from having available multiple stories about the world is preferable to the social.?” (478) . He asks “are we being us’d. Friend.. economic. They are learning here a new attitude toward knowledge: that we err when we seek one system of knowledge to explain the world completely and absolutely. “American Politics. Later. when the two are far into unsurveyed. for there’s certain to be wagering upon the Question?” (552) In the woods Mason and Dixon seem to learn that the uncertainty. unrationalized America. tha must feel it. Mason warns the Sons of Liberty he encounters about his employers. rather.. “Whom are we working for. Connected with this recognition of multiple world views is Mason and Dixon’s growing awareness of the interests they are serving in drawing the Line. isn’t it?” “Why aye.?” Mason regards his Cup of Claret. Mason?” (347).” “Just so.. smell it. As early as Cape Town. This suspicion becomes more urgent as the two visit Lancaster and view the results of the Paxton Boys massacre. We’re being us’d again. In the wilderness the members of the party discuss Captain Zhang’s presence: “Too many possible Stories. You may not have time enough to find out which is the right one. and physical violence that results from the insistence on a single story.. “they will not admit to Error” (408). Now Dixon asks. “Bit late for that. synthesizing – exist side-by-side. Mason and Dixon encounter a world view different from their own.

when they theorize about the forces they are serving. which. Mapmaking and Representation 189 Interestingly. and Mason not to. Their earliest reaction. Mason believing it to be a conspiracy of Maskelyne. as far as we may” (479). to change their status as victims. as they move from being oblivious to being aware of the forces they are implicated in. are represented in the drawing of the Line. the two agree that they nevertheless must proceed with the job: “We’ve no choice. (701) As the narrator’s quotation marks around real suggest. seems to contain a . Dixon thinking it to be the East India Company. to rebel.Surveying. they had a choice at last. With this growing awareness of themselves as victims of their own map. Their stories conflict but together suggest the forces of control and commerce. Zhang and a number of others have been styling it all along– a conduit for Evil. an immersion in “real” Science […]. but to go on with it. but. Closer to the end of their time in America. the Jesuits. Mason and Dixon increasingly desire to act in some way. (698) But this rebellion is balanced with another action stemming from their awareness of what they have done: Mason and Dixon understand as well that the Line is exactly what Capt. So the year in Delaware with the Degree of Latitude is an Atonement. they attempt to extricate themselves from the effects of their job. is resigned inaction. the drawing of the plat. like most of us. and the Masons.– what each of us wishes he might have the unthinking Grace to do.– unless he had to. and Dixon chose to act. yet fails to do. this is not so much an atonement as a return to the state of obliviousness to the interests science serves in which the pair began. Still. To act for all those of us who have so fail’d. On the west Line. they manage a few triumphs. as we have seen. Dixon prays for revenge to be taken on the murderers but also “that I be spar’d the awkwardness of seeking them out myself ” (347). In Lancaster. On a side trip in Maryland Dixon frees a group of slaves from the man trying to auction them: Here in Maryland. The scene with which I began this chapter. they come to different conclusions about the nature of the interests using them. For the Sheep. they act not at all or in contradictory ways.

She is too innocent. Ethelmer asserts that multiple stories are to be preferred to one story that claims to be the absolute and only truth: Who claims Truth. The form and purpose of the novel itself seem to be the subject when the characters in the Cherrycoke frame argue about truth and fiction. This complex nature of representation – that representation. Truth abandons. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters. as if it had never been. and intriguing representation of all is the novel itself. Wade LeSpark. to be left within the reaches of anyone in Power. or coerc’d. (350) . the plat serves the interests of those in power. Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev’ry Radius. Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume. History is hir’d.– who need but to touch her. and so on. But the most curious. Representations are everywhere.190 Robert L. it really is the stories of Mason and Dixon. Seeming to be the story of Mason and Dixon. Timothy Tox’s poems. and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires. ambiguous. Cherrycoke. even the weird midcourse loop the loop where the narrative becomes confused and conflated with an episode of The Ghastly Fop – and even more. Toilette. only in Interests that must ever prove base. McLaughlin synthesis of these different reactions to their situation: ostensibly. and Bearing. Mason’s journals. told through various narrators-omniscient. as Wood argues. stories beyond the official story of the survey the plat is supposed to tell. always serves interests but that in its multiplicity representation is not completely controllable: other stories beyond the official one creep in – is central to the novel. or at least hinting at. Cherrycoke’s sermons and day-book entries. from Cherrycoke claiming to impersonate a parson to Dixon dressing in a “Representation of Authority” (49) to St Helena being a “Representation of Home” (133) to Cape Town’s replication of the Black Hole of Calcutta to Mason sending a misleading picture (“’Twas but a Representation” [186]) to his bride-to-be to a lawyer claiming that “ev’ryone needs Representation” (202) to the American colonists complaining about virtual representation in the British Parliament. subtly. it challenges them by offering. and all her Credit is in the instant vanish’d. or even the Curiosity. of Government.

which. suggests that. 1995. offers the possibility of liberation from the totalized and totalitarian world view of the ideology of control. Curtis Maitland. for more than one Version of the Truth” (350) and because fiction threatens the distinction between “fact and fancy” (351). “No one has time. Works Cited Brown. Mason & Dixon’s presentation of surveying and mapmaking and the world views that become associated with them leads to ideas that are central to the novel’s representation of America – Mason and Dixon’s America and our America. New York: Vintage. 1970. The Power of Maps. it leads us to a sense of how the novel’s form. Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Sobel. New York: Wiley.Surveying. Denis. Curtis M.. unfortunately. No wonder Uncle Ives thinks novels are dangerous. then. Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location. New York: Guilford. has dominated the America Mason and Dixon helped to define. 2nd ed. New York: Walker. it is also about the erasing of lines. Boundary Control and Legal Principles. 1962. Longitude: The True Story of the Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. . its many layered and competing stories. the proliferation of possibilities that offer a challenge to this ideology. New York: Holt. Mapmaking and Representation 191 Ives LeSpark rejects this theory because. Pynchon. and John Fels. Wood. Frederick Landgraf and Francis D. Dava. Winfield H. Thomas. Moreover. as he says. Brown. 1994. Uzes. the blurring of distinctions. 1997. 1969. while the novel is about the drawing of a Line that promulgates the ideology of control. Mason & Dixon. New York: Wiley. Eldridge. 1992. Its own form. Foucault.

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“Off the Deep End Again”: Sea-Consciousness and Insanity in The Crying of Lot 49 and Mason & Dixon

I want to draw a line of connection between The Crying of Lot 49 and Mason & Dixon by noting the particular use the author makes of references to madness and the sea. Furthermore, I wish to place Pynchon’s concern with these elements in relation to a specifically American literary and historical tradition. Madness as both a blanket description for a host of abnormal mental states and the way in which those states are perceived by the sane, have been recurrent presences in Pynchon’s work throughout his career. His fiction of the 60s and 70s established a particularly powerful and enduring association with paranoia.1 More recently
1 Recent cultural and historical studies of paranoia build on Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1965: 3–40. These include Patrick O’Donnell. Latent Destinies: Cultural Paranoia and Contemporary U.S. Narrative. Durham: Duke UP, 2001; Timothy Mellor. Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2000. Frank Palmeri has revived the importance of paranoia as a focal point for assessing the whole of Pynchon’s output through to Mason & Dixon, in “Other than Postmodern? Foucault, Pynchon, Hybridity, Ethics.” Postmodern Culture 12. 1 (2001): 1–24. See also Jon Simons. “Postmodern Paranoia? Pynchon and Jameson.” Paragraph 23. 2 (2000): 207–21; A. Hescher. “Postmodern Paranoia and Thomas Pynchon, Forms of Discourse in American Literature: The Opening of Constellations of Binary Metaphors in Gravity’s Rainbow.” Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 22. 1 (1997): 53–68; D. Kolesch. “A Creative Paranoia Against Televized History: A Loss of History and Recollection in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.” Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 20. 2 (1995): 275–305; John Johnson.“Towards the Schizo-Text: Paranoia as Semiotic Regime in The Crying of Lot 49.” Patrick O’ Donnell. Ed. New Essays on The Crying of Lot 49. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991: 47–78; L. Bersani. “Pynchon, Paranoia and Literature.” Representations


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Pynchon’s novel of the 1980s, Vineland, saw Zoyd Wheeler struggling to assume a post-radical state of socialised normalcy in the Reagan era through receipt of a “mental disability check.” The novel opens with Zoyd contemplating the fact that “unless he did something publicly crazy before a date now less than a week away, he would no longer qualify for benefits” (3). Pynchon’s concern with the sea has prior to Mason & Dixon been peripheral, but The Crying of Lot 49 serves as an interesting corollary to the later work through the role of sea-consciousness and in particular Oedipa Maas’s projection on to the sea of her own idealism.2 At times of confusion in the face of the unravelling of Oedipa’s sense of normality she turns to the sea and becomes aware of its presence. The novel can be seen to chart the progress of her relationship to the idealism the sea embodies for her as she struggles to find a release from the perplexities, confusions and paranoia she feels increasingly in the grip of. Paranoia in particular quickly becomes a way of life for Oedipa in the wake of revelations about Pierce Inverarity’s business dealings which she has delved into to execute his will. From this starting point
25. (1989): 99–118; Robert Kiely. “Being Serious in the ‘Sixties: Madness, Meaning and Metaphor in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Crying of Lot 49.” Hebrew University Studies in Literature and the Arts 12. 2 (1984): 215–37; L. Mackey. “Paranoia, Pynchon and Preterition.” Sub-Stance 30 (1981): 16–30; L. Braudy. “Providence, Paranoia, and the Novel.” English Language Notes 48 (1981): 619–37. Though the author does not mention Pynchon’s work directly Sheldon W. Liebman’s “Still Crazy After All these Years: Madness in Modern Fiction.” Midwest Quarterly 34. 4 (1993): 398–415, provides an overview of the continuing appeal to twentieth-century writers of the theme of madness. Liebman states that the intensity of twentieth-century writers’ interest in this subject sets the age apart from a very long tradition: “What is noteworthy is that they have chosen madness as a metaphor. In so doing, they have made the twentieth century so prolific in its fictional studies of insanity that it far overshadows the seventeenth century in England and the fifth-century BC in Greece. The question of why that is the case should both give us pause and encourage us to search for an answer.” (414–15). Similarly neglectful of Pynchon but a useful study of the attraction of insanity for writers of contemporary American fiction, is B. T. Lupack. Insanity as Redemption in Contemporary American Fiction: Inmates Running the Asylum Florida: UP of Florida, 1995. See Kiely 215–37; Guzlowski 48–60.


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Oedipa’s quest for meaning begins to suggest answers to more personal questions, including her suspicion that she has been enclosed in a tower throughout her life and that exposure to potential revelation suggests a way of regaining contact with some more significant and revelatory meaning. Such a summary of Oedipa’s motivations and expectations as she begins to soak up references to Pierce’s businesses throughout the city of San Narcisco, only really does justice to the ambiguity of what it is she hopes to find, and what her sense of enclosure really signifies. Both Oedipa and the reader are continually teased by the shared possibility of confrontation with significant information, of gaining insight into the connections which she is unable to stop making between Pierce and an illegal underground postal system given the name of Tristero. It is gradually revealed that this organisation has a heritage stretching back centuries, in which time it has offered secret channels of communication to all who have felt disinherited, left out of, and peripheral to, the society of their day. Resolving the question of whether this unofficial postal system exists or not is one threat to Oedipa’s sanity. The other is whether she is able to cope with the implications of its existence and accept the profound changes in her perception of everything around her which its existence seems to demand.3 Reluctantly Oedipa throws off her sense of buffering insulation from her own life, famously picturing it enclosed within a tower from which she now desires escape. The image embodies what is at stake for her as she confronts the provisional and fictive nature of the comforts she has clung to in support of her distance from anything other than a superficial engagement with the life around her. From the starting point of her first act of metaphor-making, her picturing herself
3 Robert Kiely extends the locus of Pynchon’s concern with insanity when he states, in his comparative study of Pynchon’s work and Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, that “though certain symptoms [of insanity] are concentrated in the characters of the Big Nurse and Oedipa Maas, it is understood that the true source of madness is the Combine or some nefarious network of miscommunication. The author places himself (and the reader) precariously close to the situation of the protagonist since the questions posed for all are: how do I get out of this madhouse and will I know the difference if I do?” (216).


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in her tower, further revelations are desired so that she can picture the manner of her relationship to her own life more clearly. Her realm of comfort, of protection from enquiry, is thus left far behind when she decides to examine what she calls the “formless magic” (13) keeping her where she is. Her quest sees her begin to doubt all that she had held to be true, and to attempt to turn back from this path of revelation and to her world of comfortable isolation means that she must deny the existence of desires she has already identified. If she does attempt to do this, these desires must be seen as fictions. As figments of her own imagination they must be dismissed, ignored or painted over by her conviction that they do not exist and that she is, therefore, happy to “fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad or marry a disc-jockey” (13). It is not possible for her to backtrack without taking advantage of the most powerful of these options, namely by embracing a delusion, by going mad. Thus paranoia itself begins to be seen as an indicator of the world of questions without answer she has entered, and not something that should be rejected as delusory. To deny the truth which paranoia puts her in contact with would not constitute a return to reality but rather return her to the madness of a deluded existence. Her desire for meaning is at least, via the Tristero, given a name. This postal system represents the desires of a community of people who, like herself, want to keep open a channel of communication with their own desires for something different and more hopeful than the set of ideals and values realised within the conventional society of America with which they have become disenchanted. Proving the existence of the Tristero seems to restore the possibility and viability of hope itself in the face of hidden and controlling forces. However, confirmation of its existence would also confirm the frightening reality of the powers which necessitate its existence, a stark reality reflected in the bleak options facing Oedipa at the end of the novel. At the auction awaiting the revelatory crying of lot 49, she confronts the need to recognise which state of insanity she is now irrevocably a part of:
Either Oedipa in the orbiting ecstasy of a true paranoia, or a real Tristero. For there either was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy America, or

(para. Re-instated here is the prevalent self-absorption and insulation 4 I am grateful here to John Krafft for his suggestions concerning the ambiguities inherent in Oedipa’s view of the sea. assumed full circle into some paranoia. who comes to see more than she saw at first. and manage to be at all relevant to it. whilst the earlier novel charts Oedipa’s first steps to an emergent realisation of the need to confront her own responsibility for understanding the life around her: The position of Mason and Dixon more nearly resembles that of Oedipa Maas. toward a vision of local ethico-political possibilities” (para. was an alien. to whom revelations happen which may or may not add up to evidence of a wide-ranging conspiracy. The key to this is the cultivation within each individual of an awareness of his or her relationship to the determining factors and powers which seem to render individual action insignificant. and the narrator describes the comfort she derived from the significance she gave to it when in the past she viewed the Pacific as an “inviolate” embodiment of “some more general truth. immediately undermines the integrity of Oedipa’s vague sense of hope by stating that though she “had believed in some principle of the sea as redemption for Southern California” this excluded “her own section of the state. Early in her quest Oedipa senses the presence of the Pacific. 5).4 The narrator also. The possibility of action is explored in Mason & Dixon. but which are nevertheless historically significant and demand an ethical response. and it is this which must come before any subsequent action can be taken to improve that relationship. . which seemed to need none” (37). (126) Frank Palmeri is right to argue that there is in Pynchon’s work a progression “away from the representation of extreme paranoia. In The Crying of Lot 49 Oedipa’s awareness of her relationship to the world around her undergoes a sea-change. 31) An alternative to the madness at the end of every avenue of possibility open to Oedipa had potentially been envisaged by the role of sea-consciousness within the book. unfurrowed.“Off the Deep End Again” 197 there was just America and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue.” (37) a hope that life in Southern California could become less ugly than it appeared to be on the surface. however.

its arid hope. its spirit” (105). the role the various lakes play in revealing the identity of the Tristero. The change of tense here. suggests not only that her idealism belongs to a time before her quest began. With the disappearance of a voice on a phone. The sea’s role in the novel changes and becomes a means of assessing the degree to which Oedipa is willing to accept the changed status of meaning in her world. which would stop short of any sea” (37). the narrator implies. is also made to stand out when Oedipa reaches the lowest ebb of her quest. Subsequently throughout the novel we are given reminders of the sea’s peripheral presence via. Oedipa’s prior sense of the sea as an incorruptible model of a spiritual life which she wanted affirmed on the land finds another representative in the person of the aptly named Driblette. she . but reveal to her the presence of its absence. He soon rejoins the appropriate symbolic realm of his own vision of meaning when he commits suicide by walking into the Pacific. the fact that she “had believed” in the sea as an embodiment of redemptive hope. or else to a new world of deconstructed truths and textual meanings in which she must try to make herself at home. For her to achieve a true sense of the reality around her and her own relationship to it necessitates resisting any desire to retreat to her former state of insulation.198 Ian D. Copestake from reality which Oedipa is only now beginning to challenge. Oedipa’s quest inevitably leads her to a choice between her nostalgia for the comforts of her past idealism. and hence to a delusion. Driblette is frustrated at Oedipa’s seemingly obsessive textually grounded search for meaning at the expense of “the invisible field surrounding the play. for instance. between the possibly fruitless pursuit of texts and some more spiritual perception of truth. seemingly her last possible contact with vital information about the Tristero. The suggested division between the land and the sea. but it also allows the narrator to suggest the very different nature of the enlightenment both she and the reader should expect to confront at the quest’s end: “Perhaps it was only that notion. Her willingness to continue will thus be reflected in her attitude to the sea which. should no longer indicate to her the comforting possibility of redemptive meaning. As director of a Jacobean play which gives Oedipa her first clue to the existence of the Tristero system. she sensed as this afternoon they made their sea-ward thrust.

As if there could be no barriers between herself and the land. . her isolation complete.5 Through a quite literally touching act of recognition. She turned pivoting on one stacked heel. furthermore. without it. and this unsettling but revelatory experience of isolation and disorientation informs her encounter with the novel’s final representative of the sea. and which. she came the last three steps and sat. cuts her off from the “inner sea of emotions” which it is seen to represent (51). took the man in her arms. or would not remember him. whether such a system really existed or whether it was a nightmare of her own concoction. the sailor suffering from delirium tremens. Exhausted. (87) While she can give physical comfort to this damaged and washed-up representative of the sea’s symbolic realm she can no longer offer him the same hope which that realm had formerly signified to her: 5 Guzlowski suggests that Oedipa in fact desires “to further the estrangement” which exists between herself and the physical sea in the novel. back into the morning. could find no mountains either. Oedipa’s desire to comfort the sailor demonstrates the distance she has now come from her prior state of insulation from the world around her: She was overcome all at once by a need to touch him. The genuine emotion and sense of loss conveyed in the scene is reflective of Oedipa’s recognition of the need to abandon. But she had lost her bearings. hardly knowing what she was doing.“Off the Deep End Again” 199 faces the prospect of never finding out whether it was all a joke. actually held him. Guzlowski sees her as failing to respond to the cries of the sailor by abandoning him “and the inner emotional seas he might have guided her to” (52). At this moment the narrator describes Oedipa’s sense of loss in terms which confirm her irrevocable distance from the sea and her past idealism: She stood between the public booth and the rented car. but the nostalgia which preserved the sea for her as a realm symbolic of a vaguely defined and flawed sense of hope. and tried to face towards the sea. (122) Oedipa’s absorption by the land seems complete. as if she could not believe in him. not the sailor. Using this meeting to support his claim that Oedipa does not desire contact with the redemption that the sea represents. in the night. gazing out of her smudged eyes down the stairs.

the substance which became created nature only by having form imposed upon or wedded to it. H. however. My focus on an America tradition of writing draws on formative differences in historical and religious perceptions which set the two nations apart in terms of their relationship to the sea. unless saved by the efforts of gods and men. She acknowledges. whereby. an embodiment of chaotic emotions man should strive to define himself in opposition to.” (87) The symbolic identification of the sea which Pynchon plays upon in the novel is in part informed by romanticism and concepts of the sublime. But more influential is a longer and specifically American tradition which Pynchon is well aware of and subsequently brings to the fore in Mason & Dixon.6 This is indicated by the revival of interest in ancient medical authorities who first argued for the restorative properties of exposure to the sea for treating abnormal states of mind. .200 Ian D. especially of the romantic period. Copestake She felt wetness against her breast and saw that he was crying again. Auden and Kathleen Grange have noted.” she whispered. historical changes have occurred in the iconography of the sea which underline a movement away from the fear. as Auden notes. What is over-looked in accounts of the fascination the sea holds for many writers. hostility and suspicion expressed in classical views of the sea. (Auden 18–19) The sea was thus viewed as anathema to mankind. 6 Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s illuminating study of this shift in sensibility focuses on changing attitudes in English writing to mountains. it is always liable to relapse. “I can’t help. in fact. that “Insofar as ‘ocean’ attitudes can be isolated. in which the spectacle of nature offers man a means of affirming the interconnection between selfhood and Godhead. rocking him. He hardly breathed but tears came as if being pumped. and into which. The sea. The sea or the great waters – are the symbol for the primordial undifferentiated flux. though the English – an island people and a seafaring race – never seem to feel the same distaste for the sea as for the ‘hook-shouldered’ hills” (xii). As W. there are parallels. “I can’t help. is that the gradual credence given to notions of sublimity in the eighteenth century was aided by the undermining of Stoic fears particularly in America of the sea’s chaotic power. rather than the oceans. is that state of barbaric vagueness and disorder out of which civilisation has emerged.

by the mythic relationship between melancholia and the Roman god. the first decades of the eighteenth century marking a transitional phase in its iconography with writers such as Pope and Defoe glorying in the very tempestuousness of an element which the classical and Stoic of mind had feared. As Foucault noted. and attribute to him the patronage of those who live by the sea […].” call him a voyager over many seas. in the Roman Mirabilia. to give one instance.“Off the Deep End Again” 201 The romantic or modern view of the sea. There was also the fact that since the Middle Ages men had become accustomed to imagine Saturn like this. (Klibansky 212) Such associations between madness and the sea eased the sanctioning as medical fact throughout the Enlightenment of neglected ancient practices for the treatment of the insane through the use of sea . and the latter was really to blame for the melancholic’s unfortunate character and destiny. whether morbid or natural. stood in some special relationship to water” derives in part from texts which describe Saturn as “accidentaliter humidus. for whom the sea is the real situation. stood in some special relationship to Saturn. one of the two ancient river gods which stand in front of the Senatorial Palace was taken for a statue of Saturn. offered a gradual but complete reversal in attitude to the emotional symbolism of the sea. Michel Foucault argues that the classical perception of the sea as the metaphoric realm of the insane’s own chaotic and violent impulses. however. reflecting the “ceaseless unrest” of “the great turbulent plain” (9–10). an association marked out. These changes also run parallel to and are influential in determining transitions in attitude towards the insane. “water and madness have long been linked in the dreams of European man” (9). This attitude is exemplified for Auden in the writings of Herman Melville. sanctioned changes in perceptions and definitions of the insane which distinguished the medieval from the classical mindset and ushered in a new era of control and treatment of the mad. apart from his other attributes. Saturn: Nearly all the writers of the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance considered it an incontestable fact that melancholy. and the voyage the true condition of man. (Klibansky 127) The conception of Saturn as “a divinity who.

seems nevertheless to have held a distinguished rank among the great remedies of antiquity. precipitating the onset of dejected states. improving digestion. but its confluence with revived notions of the sea as a restorative for the disturbed mind. and distracting from morbid or obsessive preoccupations. In relation to treating such states.7 Travel was deemed a particularly effective means of altering a patient’s physical constitution. Rufus of Ephesus. for the eclectic treatment of mild to strong melancholic states.8 The revival of the sea journey for use in the specific treatment of melancholia was strongly advocated by Johann Christian Heinroth at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Textbook of Disturbances of Mental Life: Or Disturbances of the Soul and their Treatment. nor is it easy to foretell what reception it will meet with now that an attempt is made to bring it again into practice. (xii) The revival of this notion is strongest in the wake of the greater credence seemingly given to them by the impact of changed perceptions of nature and ideas of sublimity introduced in the West at the end of the eighteenth century and current throughout the nineteenth. the changed iconography of the sea. notions of the sea’s utility regained currency despite the waning of the humoral theories which first gave them medical credence. Copestake travel. Such notions responded to ancient humoral theories of the body which continued to influence ideas of human health and treatment until the end of the seventeenth century. Amongst such theories was the belief that vapours from the spleen or contaminated blood resulted in black bile. . though. though for many ages past scarce mentioned in relation to medicine. In The Use of Sea Voyages in Medicine (1771) Ebenezer Gilchrist wrote of the revival then underway in utilising the restorative properties of sea travel: Sailing. See Nicolson. How it came to be disused I cannot say. it is Melville who provides the age’s most memorable expression of not only. Ishmael’s turn to the sea at 7 8 See Jackson 35–39.202 Ian D. as Auden noted. see also Wharton “The Revolutionary and Federal Periods” 46– 48. Again. Records from the second century BC preserve advice given by the Greek physician. living at sea.

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the outset of Moby-Dick is steeped in his knowledge of both the sea’s restorative properties and the humoral theories which account for his melancholia:
It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily passing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially, whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. (12)

Ishmael’s subsequent confrontation with the monomania of Ahab confirms Melville’s awareness that America’s historical relationship to the sea had been anything but a harmonious wedding of meditation and water. The seventeenth-century sea deliverance narratives of America’s first settlers reflected the predominant classical and Stoic perception of the sea as a fearful realm of hidden dangers which man should under normal circumstances shun completely. The belief in Providence common to all writers of such narratives, be they Puritan or fiercely anti-Puritan, informed the value of these dramatic accounts of deliverance from the horrors of death at sea, and exemplified the power and prevalence of a typological view of the world in which such escapes confirmed both the presence of God’s will and His blessing on individual settlers’ calls to faithfulness.9 The particular Providential designs of which the Puritan settlers felt themselves to be part were satirised by critics in the late eighteenth century who made use of the growing number of medical tracts investigating the nature of religious enthusiasm. Meric Casaubon’s Treatise Concerning Enthusiasm (1655) and the writings of Henry More, helped make current a view that the religious enthusiasm of sects such as the Puritans was the result of melancholic vapours, and that delusion rather than Divine blessing was at the heart of their Providential schemes. Pynchon, like Melville before him, is aware of the confusions inherent in America’s historical relationship to forms of idealism and delusion which its Puritan heritage has continued to influence. For
9 See Wharton “The Colonial Era” 32–45; Stein 17–37.


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Sacvan Bervovitch the “sacred drama of American nationhood” (132) is constituted by the confluence of sacred and secular history, in which The Great Migration and the War of Independence are linked by evolved perceptions of Providence in the wake of the growth, power and influence of scientific rationalism. While the Divine Order remained reflected in the laws of nature which science brought to light, this revised cultural framework facilitated the emergence of an American national self-identity which outgrew its origins in the outmoded typology of Providence, and yet preserved in adapted form a cultural authority which endorsed the myth of America’s manifest destiny. What is so often at stake for American writers and their fictional characters when they confront the sea or water, what draws Thoreau to Walden Pond, or gives significance to the final sight of the sea at the close of The Great Gatsby, is the repeated need to find an answer to the question of whether a conception of America is necessary for it to exist, or whether a society is possible outside the delusions or ideals which historically have determined its identity. Oedipa Maas confronts this question at the end of her personal quest for answers, and finds avenues towards different forms of insanity awaiting her. In Mason & Dixon Pynchon moves back into history to expose the larger delusions at the heart of America’s quest for national identity. At the heart of Mason & Dixon is Pynchon’s concern to chart the movement man can hope to make away from the prison-house of paranoia to a home within the changed world such paranoia is indicative of. The supposedly enlightened age which the drama of Mason & Dixon illuminates is one in which madness abounds. Mason suffers from hyperthrenia, or excess in mourning, brought about by the death of his wife, Rebekah, casting him under the shadow of a deep melancholia. Cherrycoke, as the Reverend himself is keen to point out is not unacquainted with mania, having avoided imprisonment for his crimes by allowing himself to be declared insane. Among the many realms both ghostly and geographic visited in the book is the island of St Helena from which, due to the incessant beating of the sea against its mountainous sides, all are said eventually to go mad. The southeast winds of Cape Town are another element responsible, the narrator tells us, for legendary examples of insane behaviour. We can add to this list of conventional insanities the more fabulous examples which

“Off the Deep End Again”


are never more than a page away throughout the novel, of characters, realms, rituals and inventions the absurdity of which break through any prolonged pretence at historical realism. From the mechanical duck and talking dog to the Lambton worm, Pynchon celebrates through them the colourful diversity of imagination’s realms, and sets them against the cold line drawing and divisiveness which bring Mason and Dixon into history. The dividing line between sanity and madness in the age of reason is rendered less clear by the reactions of “Sunny, bustling and order’d” Cape Town to the bouts of madness it experiences among minds seemingly “in the rosiest fullness of Sanity” (151–52). When deemed too dangerous the mad “are kept as a responsibility of the Company, confin’d in padded rooms in the Slave Lodge” (151). The dehumanisation of the mad goes hand in hand with the heritage of slavery on which “order’d” Cape Town was built. The interrelatedness of reason and its supposed opposite is given an ironic twist by the image of democracy among the confined mad of the Slave Lodge, who are “of every race, condition, and degree of Affliction, from the amiably delusionary to the remorselessly homicidal” (152). The confinement allows for sadistic pleasure to be taken by Cape Town’s hierarchy who revel in their sense of difference from the mad through displays of power which serve only to confirm their own inhumanity:
Sometimes for their amusement the Herren will escort a particularly disobedient employee to a Madman’s cell, push her inside, and lock the door. Next to each cell is a Viewing Room where the gentlemen may then observe, through a wall of Glass disguis’d as a great Mirror, the often quite unviewable Rencontre. (152)

The sea is again perceived as the metaphoric realm of the mad, a fact which serves to underline the definition of them as other from the order desired on the land:
Some of them hate women, some desire them, some know hate and desire as but minor aspects of a greater, Oceanick Impulse, in which, report those who survive, it is unquestionably better not to be included. Again, some do not survive. When the Herren cannot return their Remains to their villages, they dispose of them by sea, that the Jackals may not have them. (152)


Ian D. Copestake

Pynchon, like Foucault, is aware of the historical changes in the perception of the mad.10 In Mason & Dixon he utilises a wide variety of perceptions of the insane which serve both to foreground their provisionality and underline the intimate relationship between the human need for definition and the imposition of inhumane division which this can foster. The fate of the mad in Cape Town reflects Stoical conceptions of the sea as a realm of fearful chaos and uncontrollable power. However, by being returned there the dead confirm that in return for hegemony over the fate of the mad the enlightened authorities have thrown their own humanity into the sea, and conform to Lillian Feder’s definition of insanity as:
A state in which unconscious processes predominate over conscious ones to the extent that they control them and determine perceptions of and responses to experience that, judged by prevailing standards of logical thought and relevant emotion, are confused and inappropriate. (5)

The madness of the Age of Reason is, as Pynchon figures it in Cape Town, confirmed by its failure to distinguish between the symbolic product of unconscious processes which turn the sea into a symbol, and its own conscious authoritative acts. There are parallels here with the manner in which Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon comes to be related by its narrator, the banished Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke. The tale is made possible by Cherrycoke’s escape from imprisonment in England, which he avoids by claiming to be insane and so taking advantage of the authorities’ endorsement of the belief that “Sea voyages in those days being the standard Treatment for Insanity, my Exile should commence for the best of Medical reasons” (10). Cherrycoke’s liberty is thus made possible by medical Reason’s imposition of fact on a perception of the sea as a restorative to mental health which is steeped in mythic associations and outmoded ancient medical speculation. Mason is also aware of the sea’s regenerative influence. His desire to alleviate his hyperthrenia makes him “eager to be aboard a ship, bound somewhere impossible,– long voyages by sea being thought to help his condition”
10 Palmeri notes extended patterns of similarity between Pynchon and Foucault’s work, while both Palmeri (para. 38) and Collado Rodríguez (500) note explicit references to Foucault’s work in Mason & Dixon.

Outside it this power to misconceive myth as reality. a change occurred with Freud’s success in jettisoning “the linkage between insanity and somatic illness and [his substitution of] an analogy or putative identity between insanity and a normal. (141) In Szasz’s view the status of medical treatment also changed. (140). that these expressions were figures of speech or metaphors. In relation to Pynchon’s novel. Such views have gained currency in the world of the novel. Szasz argues that Freud’s work dramatically influenced perceptions of the insane which gave credence to forms of treatment which were not only ineffective but inhumane. far from being a metaphor. namely. For Szasz. fiction as medical fact. they understood. everyday feature of inner (mental) experience. Szasz claims that when the early (nineteenth century) psychiatrists spoke of mental diseases or diseases of the mind. Szasz’s theories offer a historical model for the “literalization” of the treatment of mental illness which the Enlightened authorities fall back on in their efforts to assert control over a seemingly unknowable condition. By viewing insanity as related to the brain rather than the body highly invasive medical practices from lobotomy to electrotherapy gained credibility.“Off the Deep End Again” 207 (25). and often explicitly stated. then the procedures they use cannot be literal treatments” (163). for “if the conditions psychiatrists seek to cure are not literal diseases.” which for Szasz was exemplified by Freud’s cryptochemical theories of actual neurosis (and other mental illness) and by the neurochemical fantasies of contemporary psychopharmacologists […].11 For Szasz the nature of such treatments reflected the 11 See also Valenstein. A consequence was the “literalization of the metaphor of mental illness. is literally an illness like any other illness (that it is always and without doubt a disease of the brain). . mirrors Thomas Szasz’s condemnation of the practices of twentieth-century psychiatry in the wake of Sigmund Freud’s impact upon it. After the Freudian revolution got under way […] psychiatrists began to insist – as they now typically do – that mental illness. dreaming” (141).

“true sanity […] entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego. may be for the person involved “veritable manna from heaven. is essentially a form of “socially accepted madness. He goes on to declare that I left messages posted publicly. The narrator of Mason & Dixon relates that he had committed “one of the least tolerable Offences in that era. “egoic” experience […].” He contrasts the “transcendental experiences” which are “the original well-spring of all religions” with what he calls the “egoic” approach to reality of most people. were Accounts of certain Crimes I had observ’d. his freedom).– giving the Names of as many of the Perpetrators as I was sure of.– enclosures. – the Crime they styl’d ‘Anonymity’”( 9).208 Ian D. what I got into printing up.” on the other hand. and clapp’d in the Tower. Assize verdicts.– somehow. the experience of “the world and themselves in terms of a consistent identity. D. As Feder explains. but did not sign them.” To Laing. was nothing next to the power the Enlightened authorities of his age had over all these elements. yet keeping back what I foolishly imagin’d my own. A central idea in Laing’s The Politics of Experience is that human beings having lost their “selves. For R. Pynchon’s depiction of Cherrycoke’s “insanity” brings to the fore further recent models used in the definition of mental illness which differ from those of Feder and Szasz. till the Night I was tipp’d and brought in to London. that false self competently adjusted to our alienated social reality” (The Politics of Experience 144–45). Copestake spurious fantasies which the Freudian revolution had given credence to and made legitimate. a me-here over against a you-there. The . in Chains. I knew some nightrunning lads in the district who let me use their Printing-Press.” have “developed the illusion that we are autonomous egos. Laing. committed by the Stronger against the Weaker.” (Feder 281–82) Aspects of Laing’s contentious but influential views inform Cherrycoke’s explanation of the circumstances leading to his exile at sea. (9) Cherrycoke is seen to have lost the self he felt he had. the worst of Dick Turpin seeming but the Carelessness of youth beside it. within a framework of certain ground structures of space and time shared with other members of their society. a state of “ego-loss” generally regarded as psychotic. Activities of the Military. evictions. and in its place is confronted by the fact that what he had considered his own (his name.

perfect union with All. (10) Realising he has no autonomous selfhood that is not the property of Reason Inc. as ’twere a Ring upon the Collar of a Beast.” confirms that his own former belief in the autonomy of his ego was indeed a form of “socially accepted madness. and provides the narrator of Mason & Dixon with a passport to a new form of selfhood..– indeed. The fact . he embraces the epithet “insane” and the non-identity it infers. Children. as with growing relish he begins to recount the manner of his escape from this plight: Strange Lights. Fires. Voices indecipherable. each in his Interest. The realisation that the autonomy of his own self was a myth in the face of the repressive and all-pervasive power of Reason’s authority. offers a means of escape from hegemonic forces and social control. (10) Here Cherrycoke’s experience of. to understand that my name had never been my own. did it please ev’ryone to style me. What Pynchon recognises in Mason & Dixon is the need to acknowledge the validity of the delusions of others. and in doing so enters a state which in the eyes of the authorities is one in which the self is truly lost. this is the part of the Tale where your old Uncle gets to go insane. upon the freezing edge of a Future invisible.– or so. ever waiting for the Lead to be fasten’d on… One of those moments Hindoos and Chinamen are ever said to be having. Insanity. to use Laing’s term. therefore. For Cherrycoke it is a state which perfectly reflects his new realisation that in the world of the sane he was never free.“Off the Deep End Again” 209 challenge he offered these authorities. as is it did for Zoyd Wheeler in Vineland. to the Authorities.” From the moment in Cherrycoke’s account that this bleak realization is reached the tone of his narration changes. was to withhold his own name and so attempt to assert a form of selfhood unsanctioned by them. all this time. or withhold it. is brought home to Cherrycoke in an ironic vision of transcendence: It took me till I was lying among the Rats and Vermin. sort of thing.– rather belonging. then. who forbade me to change it. entire loss of Self. “ego-loss. through the moral act of his exposés. to recognise the legitimacy of values and beliefs which by their very existence contradict conventional assumptions and beliefs.

Figured here is Pynchon’s recognition that the opposed states of rationality and irrationality are intimate bed-fellows. while his fabulous histories leave his audience continually aware that the territory he patrols is the boundary between truth and falsehood. trapped. however. Cherrycoke’s new identity is. allowing him to maintain his freedom through his role as madman. one which sees him make a home in the contentious spaces which boundaries create. but both Wheeler and Cherrycoke consciously embrace it as a role which allows them to highlight and transcend the divisions within their respective societies while retaining their freedom. if we compare it with the Laing model of insanity. which exists in opposition to the “egoic self. Cherrycoke’s sea-bound exile as family loon.” is seen by Laing to be “occupied in maintaining its identity and freedom by being transcendent. possessed” (94–95). Liberty is again associated with madness. In Mason & Dixon’s Cape Town the imposition of a privileged selfhood by the town’s authorities dehumanises them at the same time as it deconstructs the opposition between sane and insane. Wheeler’s recognition of this fact turns his act from one of mere conformity to a deliberate and positive compromise.210 Ian D. unembodied. pinpointed. This state. sees him embrace a status consistent with what Laing terms man’s “inner” or “true” self. Cherrycoke’s new identity is appropriately shifting and changeable. Copestake that Zoyd Wheeler’s social conformity is outwardly confirmed through an act of irrationality highlights the prevalence of an order of values which can only be defined by its perceived distance from such acts. The claim for the exclusive legitimacy of its own power is based on the annihilation of that which it perceives to be other. As the “nomadic Parson” and “Family outcast” (10) his seaborne life makes him both exotic and mysterious. as the existence of one depends on the existence of the other. To fail to make such compromises is to insist on oppositions and a drawing of boundaries which define out of existence all that is on the other side. providing him with license to fulfil his role as storyteller. and thus never grasped. while attaching himself to no side but his own. Mason & Dixon is Cherrycoke’s tale and it continues to embody the characteristics of the exposés for which he was condemned by taking the form of an account of the perverse ethics inherent in the Age of Reason which underlay the divisive product of Mason and .

the subject of their projected hopes and dreams for the future: “[…] what’ll yese do now?” “Devise a way. To recognise complicity is. his melancholy following the passing of Mason (8). is also. D. At the end of the novel Dixon asks of his cohort: “Ev’rywhere they’ve sent us.– What’s the Element common to all?” “Long Voyages by Sea” replies Mason.– and now here we are again. “to inscribe a Visto upon the Atlantik Sea. we lived with Slavery in our faces. and his role as the timekeeper of the novel. never in Holland. and their Wage-Payers.– the Cape. prior to Mason and Dixon’s last transit. M. Helena. Ev’ry day at the Cape. in another Colony. “Was there anything Else?” “Slaves. and a teller of fantastical tales. and with it the evil being perpetuated in its name all over the globe. they’re murdering and dispossessing thousands untallied. Mason.” Dixon replies.– more of it at St. His status as a wanderer by sea and land. St. this time having drawn a Line between their Slave-Keepers. Helena. a vital sign of the awareness which Pynchon looks to promote as offering hope of the possibility of ethical action and resistance amid a world of division and conflict. the Companies. this shameful Core… Pretending it to be ever somewhere else. down where it smells like warm Brine and Gunpowder fumes. with the Turks. as if doom’d to re-encounter thro’ the World this public Secret. that Garden of Fools? Christ. down there. In such ways Pynchon underlines the importance of the history of insanity to his memorialisation of man’s need for division and definitions which nevertheless give credence to the inhumanity of conflicts such as the one the Mason-Dixon Line will forever be associated with. blinking in Exhaustion by now Chronick. Such associations are bolstered by the acronym of the book’s title. and the hope embodied within it. in Mason & Dixon. nor in England. the innocent of the World passing daily into the Hands of Slave-owners and Torturers.“Off the Deep End Again” 211 Dixon’s partnership. but oh. the Russians. A. make him a true child of Saturn.” (692–93) The sea which Oedipa longed for but never came near to.” . The role of the sea in the novel brings to the fore Mason and Dixon’s own recognition of their responsibility as the novel concludes with an acknowledgment that the sea is also the means by which the spread of reason’s authority is assured. America.

and its Bureaus seek Purchase.– indeed. the length of the Beacon Line. and one Day. Brendan’s Isle. acquiring the rights to the oceans: Too soon. Chandleries.– as. (712–13) Such a projected retirement at sea suggests Mason and Dixon’s complicity in the appropriation of the many realms they have encountered.212 Ian D. having written a number of foresighted Stipulations into their Contract with the Line’s Proprietor. there is a need for a new refuge which . Copestake “Archie. flapping thro’ them.– all a Sailor could wish. (712) This imagined utopia at sea is soured in the instant that it is dreamed. some are fended directly into the Sea.” Betwixt themselves. might the Sea-Line. With madness taking over the land and insane reason seemingly also setting its sights on the sea. exactly at ev’ry Degree. in sinister yet pleasing Coral-dy’d cubikal Efflorescensce. for either Side of the Ocean. Some are estopp’d legally. ’Tis here Mason & Dixon will retire. the transnoctially charter’d “Atlantic Company. before a ceaseless Spectacle of Transition. In time. the Line shall have widen’d to a Sea-Road of a thousand Leagues. Dens of Vice. for the narrator’s extended contemplation on this vision of Mason and Dixon’s retirement finds the outstretched hand of Reason Inc. forming a perfect Line across the Ocean.” a combination PleasureGrounds and Pensioners’ Home.– “A thoughtful Arrangement of Anchors and Buoys. Music-Halls. all the way from the Delaware bay to the Spanish Extremadura. “Along the Beacons. be prominently mark’d by a taller Beacon. As a result their own identity is left to merge with the ceaselessly flowing element which has facilitated the world’s transition into sameness. they persist. Chapels for Repentance. Lad.”– with the Solution to the Question of the Longitude thrown in as a sort of Bonus. Printers of News. most Ships preferring to sail within sight of these Beacons. Shops full of Souvenirs and Sweets. word will reach the Land-Speculation Industry.” for good. like some horrible Seaweed. They are content to reside like Ferrymen or Bridge-keepers. Greengrocers’ Stalls. many such will decide to settle here. with ev’rything an Itinerant come to Rest might ask. Look ye here. being after all Plank-Holders of the very Scheme. and a Population ever changing of Practitioners of Comfort […]. as a way of coming to rest while remaining out at Sea. Taverns. Inns. Tobacco-shops. ever in a Ubiquity of Flow. neither feels British enough anymore. as up and down its Longitude blossomed Wharves. Lenses and Lanthorns. appears “St. yet Time being ever upon their Side. or a differently color’d Lamp. nor quite American.” Mason producing a Sheaf of Papers. as upon a Fiduciary Scale for Navigators. Gaming-Rooms.

By not rejecting the form and order which beliefs and ideals give to a society we are all responsible for the injustices which result. A part of Mason & Dixon’s own thrust at truth is carried by the novel’s celebration of the absurd. Palmeri states that Pynchon’s earlier novels. the act of metaphor is still very much “a thrust at truth and a lie” (89). but by recognising that fact and the provisionality of the ideals and values which define and legitimise them. See Tanner 153–73. As in The Crying of Lot 49. In Mason & Dixon the motif which is promoted in the light of the threat both to insanity and the sea as embodiments of escape or redress is the value of fictionmaking itself. 24)12 A way forward from this point is through the promotion of an awareness which recognises the delusory nature of all ideals and so sees us follow Cherrycoke to the liminal states and boundary lines enabling us to see more clearly our own relationship to the contending positions of power which dominate society. O’Donnell 10–11. (para. and it is this which turns Pynchon’s celebration of the imagination in his novel into a stance of ethical resistance as he populates his novel with creations of the human imagination which do not insist on being seen as anything other than unreal and fantastical.“Off the Deep End Again” 213 can hold out the possibility of resistance to the divisive and inhumane values taking root fast throughout history. and so impose their beliefs through the etching of dividing lines across the globe. including The Crying of Lot 49. the puncturing of its historical realism with flights of fantasy. independent ethical action remains possible. reflecting as it does in Mason & Dixon the capacity for the authorities of the Enlightenment to believe in the fictions they inherit. resist suggesting a way forward from the paranoia which grips these novels’ characters: [Pynchon] implies instead that it is necessary if almost impossible somehow to combine the urge to order and meaning with a skepticism that recognizes the fruitfulness of disorder and unpredictability. 12 Reflected here are Pynchon’s continued efforts to locate the modern self between extreme polarities of order and chaos which Tony Tanner identified as a vital characteristic of American fiction from the 1950s to the 1970s. . in which the human imagination is allowed free reign. To recognise and accept the inevitability of delusion is the key.

Melville. 1771. Robert.” Hebrew University Studies in Literature and the Arts 12. Kathleen M. “Other than Postmodern? Foucault. 1961. Collado Rodríquez. New Haven: Yale UP. Raymond. Patrick. “The Ship Symbol as a Key to Former Theories of the Emotions. England: Penguin Books. Pynchon. Thomas. Michel.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 36 (1962): 512–23. 1990. Ethics.901/ 12.txt>. 1 (2001): 39 pars. Ed. Copestake Works Cited Auden. Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl. Religion and Art.” Oklahoma City University Law Review 24 (1999): 471– 503. New York: Norton. 1964. Sacvan. London: Jonathan Cape. Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite. Middlesex: Penguin. 1963.1959. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Roger B.1palmeri. Middlesex. Meaning and Metaphor in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Crying of Lot 49. W. Ebenezer. The Crying of Lot 49.214 Ian D. “Trespassing Limits: Pynchon’s Irony and the Law of the Excluded Middle.W. 2 (1981): 48–60. 1951.” Early American Literature 7 (1972): 17–37.1967. Madison: U of Wisconsin P. New York: John Wiley. Klibansky.1960. Grange. Gaddis. The American Jeremiad. “Introduction. Cadell. The Use of Sea Voyages in Medicine. Gilchrist. Princeton.” Postmodern Culture 12. London: Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. 1965.” Critique 23. Pynchon.village. Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy. 1–20. Madness in Literature. Melancholia and Depression: From Hippocratic Times to Modern Times.” New Essays on The Crying of Lot 49. O’ Donnell. Trans. Foucault. Palmeri. . 1991. Stanley W. Hybridity. 1978. NJ: Princeton UP. “No More Sea Changes: Hawkes. Kiely. Francisco. 1851. Moby-Dick. Bercovitch. Frank. Jackson. Norton. 2 (1984): 215–237. Lillian. Herman. 1981. London: Minerva. Pynchon. John Z. Nicolson. 1979. D. 1967.virginia. 1967. 1997. 02 December 2002 <http// Jefferson. —— Vineland. The Romantic Iconography of the Sea London: Faber & Faber. “Being Serious in the ’Sixties: Madness. London: Thomas Nelson. 1980. —— Mason & Dixon. R. The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness. Guzlowski. 1986. Richard Howard. Thomas. New York: W. and Barth. H. London: Tavistock. Marjorie Hope. Patrick O’ Donnell. “Seascape and the American Imagination: The Puritan Seventeenth Century. 1987. Laing. 1991. Insanity: The Idea and its Consequences. London: Picador. The Enchafèd Flood: or. —— The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise. 1971. Stein. Szasz. Feder.

Wharton. New York: Basic Books. Haskell Springer. City of Words: American Fiction 1950–1970 New York: Harper & Row. Valenstein. 1995. Haskell Springer. 46–63. Athens: U of Georgia P. 1986. —— “The Revolutionary and Federal Periods.“Off the Deep End Again” 215 Tanner. Ed. . Donald B.” America and the Sea: A Literary History. 32–45. Tony.” America and the Sea: A Literary History. Ed. Athens: U of Georgia P. “The Colonial Era. Elliot S. 1971. Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness. 1995.

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L. Kurt Vonnegut and E. Emerson. and include articles on Stanley Fish. IAN D. He works as an upper-secondary school teacher of English and philosophy in Bengtsfors. His dissertation was published in 1998 and is entitled The Utterance of America: Emersonian Newness in Dos Passos’ U. Doctorow. myth and scientific discourse on twentieth-century American and English literature.Notes on Contributors FRANCISCO COLLADO RODRÍGUEZ was educated at the universities of Extremadura and Edinburgh and is Professor of American Literature at the Department of English and German at the University of Zaragoza. Pynchon and Susan Howe. where he has taught postmodern literature and . Spain. Bharati Mukherjee. COPESTAKE teaches English and American literature at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. and Pynchon’s Vineland. Frankfurt. He gained his PhD from the University of Leeds completing a dissertation on the poetry of William Carlos Williams. Sweden. Bakhtin. He is currently working on a project on Bahktin and mental change.S. he has written extensively on the influence of fantasy. He is the author of a number of articles on Thomas Pynchon. DAVID DICKSON has a PhD in English literature and is an independent scholar. JOHN HEON is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Pennsylvania. His publications discuss language and innovation. He is the editor of Rigor of Beauty: Essays in Commemoration of William Carlos Williams (2003).A. He is at present writing a book on the complete works of Thomas Pynchon. In addition to editing two books on recent fiction. and is currently writing a book on madness and the sea in American literature.

MCLAUGHLIN is Associate Professor of English at Illinois State University. works at Columbia University’s Center for New Media and Learning. His dissertation is entitled “The Dionysia of Science: Faustian Fools.218 Notes on Contributors received the Distinguished Teaching Award. Michel Foucault: Zwischenbilanz einer Rezeption. Helsinki Art Museum). eds. Ruppersburg and Engles (2000) MARTIN SAAR is writing a dissertation and teaching at the department of philosophy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. He edited Innovations: An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Fiction and is Senior Editor of the Review of Contemporary Fiction. “Delays in Clay” (1999. He has published articles on Nietzsche. Frankfurt. Germany and German Thought in American Literature and Cultural Criticism. ROBERT L. His most recent scholarly publication is “The Fable of the Ants: Myopic Interactions in DeLillo’s Libra” in Critical Essays on Don DeLillo. His work on Thomas Pynchon has appeared in Pynchon Notes. and Comic Ecologies in Bruce Nauman and Thomas Pynchon. and other publications. PhD.” His publications include “History and Change” (2000. and he contributed an article on . WILLIAM B. He edited Columbia’s research magazine 21stC and has written literary and cultural commentary for Postmodern Culture. Te Neues). Frankfurter Foucault-Konferenz 2001 (2003). Experimental Humor. the Oklahoma City University Law Review Symposium on Thomas Pynchon and the Law. Review of Contemporary Fiction. with Axel Honneth. DAVID SEED holds a Chair in the School of English at Liverpool University. 2001). MILLARD. His first book was The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon (1988). and Visions of War. and excerpts from a novel in progress (in Combo. Foucault and contemporary aesthetics and co-edited with Gerald Echterhoff Kontexte und Kulturen des Erinnerns: Maurice Halbwachs und das Paradigma des Kollektiven Gedächtnisses (2002). and.

He is the editor of the Science Fiction Texts and Studies series of Liverpool University Press and is currently completing a study of representations of brainwashing in fiction and film for Kent State University Press. He has an MA in the history and theory of architecture from the University of East London and an MA in philosophy from Essex where he is currently completing doctoral research. Horvath and Malin. and American Science Fiction and the Cold War.Notes on Contributors 219 surveying to Pynchon and Mason & Dixon (2000). He has also published books on Heller. where he teaches creative writing and twentieth-century American literature. urban planning. CHRISTIAN SKIRKE is a part-time teacher in philosophy at the University of Essex. Massachusetts. . and ANQ. the Oklahoma City University Law Review’s symposium on Pynchon and the Law. DAVID THOREEN is Chair of the English Department at Assumption College. ed. Joyce. among other topics. he studied architecture. and architectural theory in London and Stuttgart. His essays have appeared in Pynchon Notes. Worcester. as well as Thomas Pynchon: Reading from the Margins (2002). eds. Niran Abbas. Before turning to philosophy.

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Index Adams. Bruce Jay 15 Gadamer. 208 Forman. 201. Ebenezer 202 . 197. David 85. John 89–91 Brown. 210–11. 35. 19 Don Quixote (Cervantes) 78. 166. Sigmund 133. 80. 77 Arnold. Alan J. Hans-Georg 35–46 Gaddis. Philip K. 43. 153. Georges 158 Baudrillard. 205–06 Frankenstein (Shelley) 132–35. Roland 36 Bataille. 158 de Vaucanson. 173–91 Burroughs. Ralph Waldo 36. 202 Bacon. Michel 79. William 20 Gilchrist. 182. Matthew 109 Auden. 1962) 20 FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) 41–44 Feder. 74. 129–45. Candida 28–29 Dos Passos. 1963) 20 Duchamp. Walter 157 Bercovitch. Benjamin 166–68 Freud. Jean 19 Benjamin. Hans 7–9 Bhabha. Henri 150 Bertens. 76 Boulding. 19 Booth. Sammy 154 deconstruction 83 DeLillo. W. 38. 213 Fail-Safe (film. 207 Friedman. 143– 44 Franklin. Homi 169 Blake. 75 Collado Rodríguez. John 28. Paul 123 Foucault. Jorge Luis 74. 77. Lillian 206. 180 Aristotle 40. Maurice 28 Cowart. 45. Daniel J. 58 Enlightenment 76. Francisco 50 Colvin. 200. Curtis M. 150. William 77 Boorstin. 115. Mikhail 174–75 Barthes. Sacvan 203–04 Bergson. 201. Henry 110 Aesthetics 35–46 Althusser. 104–05. Joe 148 Conner. 42 Dr Strangelove (film. 123. Jacques 86. 204–13 ethics 9. 85 Donadio. Don 109 Derrida. 42. Wayne 99–101 Borges. 110 Davis Jr. 168 Emerson. Marcel 158 Ellison. 83–124. Marc 36 Couturier. Meric 203 causality 49–57 chaos theory 72. Francis 117 Baker. Houston 161–62 Bakhtin. 42. William 16–17. H. Ralph 155–157. 27 Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) 29 Causabon. 113 cyberpunk fiction 16. 158. Louis 21. Kenneth 18 Brockman. 50 Friedman. Jacques 131–32 Dick.

T. 88. 83–124 Plath. 112. Linda 8–9. 62 postmodernity and science 55. 60. 201. E. 102–05. 24–25. Thomas 95–96. 193– 213. 213 Perry Mason (TV series) 29 philosophy 35–46. 36–37. Elizabeth Jane Wall 52 historiographic metafiction 71–80 Hite. 133 Hollander. Maxwell 22 Harrington. 175 Puritanism 203 Pynchon and humour 99. 135. 83– 124 poststructuralism 8. Charles 28 Horace 106 Humanism 71. Edgar Allan 133–34 postmodern historiography 51. Frank 8–9. Stephen Jay 107 Grange. 83– 124. Cesare 39 Mailer. 83–124. Molly 49. 77 Nietzsche. Pierre 131 Keesey. 102–03. 99–100. Marshall 15–31 melancholy (melancholia) 78. 61. 62. Michael 23 Harrison. 55. David 149 Palmeri.222 Ginsberg. Sir Isaac 181 Newtonian physics 71. 65. Edward 55 More. 56. Katherine 21 Heidegger Martin 40. Johannes 117 Nabokov. . 106. 201–04. 79. 197. E. 77 Hutcheon. 208–10 Lombroso. and politics 37–45. 85. 76. 114–15. 61. 50. 147–69 insanity 133. A. Joseph 109 Index McLuhan. 93–94. W. 27–28. Arthur 15 Mattessich. and science 72. Herman 36. 144. 112 Jacobs. 204 intertextuality 36–37. 122 Newton. Johann Christian 202 Hill. Henry 203 morality 49–69 Müller. 214 Melley. 52 Hoffmann. 157 Kennedy assassination 28–29 Kuhn. 175 irony 80. Norman 109 Malcolm X 27 mapping 25. Gravity’s Rainbow 18. 193–213 Inestone. 74 narrative techniques 60–61. 49. 204. 51–52. Joe 37 Hinds. 83–124. 110. 49–69. Vladimir 29. 75. 72. Timothy 27–28 Melville. D. and postmodernism 7– 13. Sylvia 27 Plato 40 Poe. 130. 71–80. 105. 31. Douglas 52. 206. Friederick 157–58 Ocker. 202–03 Menand. 56–57. Jane 22 Jones. 41 Heinroth. 54. 173–91. John 183 Hayles. 71–80. 79. 213 paranoia 8. 141. 71 hybridity 129–45. R. Kathleen 201 Grant. 63–69. N. Louis 85 Mendelson. Spike 147–69 Jacquet-Drosz. Allen 27 Gould. 113 Laing. Stefan 85 McElroy. 147–69. 24–25. 72. 173–91 Marwick.

10. Slow Learner 91. 149. 64. 58–63. Thomas 207–08 Tabbi. 105. Man 158 relativism 121–22 relativity 50.Index 130. 52. 56. 142. 154 Thoreau. 132–35. Noel 117 Swift. Philip 15 Schaub. Alan 91 Sophocles 42 Spiegelman. Art 148 Streitfield. 94. 143–44. 58. 200 Rorty. 11. Richard 121 Roth. 95. C. 77. 130. Baron 131 Weiskel. 62. 75 racism 149–169 Raudaskoski. Ludwig 100 Wolfe. 53. 141. Mason & Dixon 7. 13. 83–124 Sokal. 11. 200. Heikki 36. 45. 58. James 108–14 223 . 12. 193–213. 46 Ray. 83–124. 15– 31. 166. 50. V. 80. P. 101. 10. 71–80. 79. 58–59. David 61 sublimity 108–14. Bas 112 von Kempelen. Bernard 15–16 Wood. 76. 55. 204 sea-consciousness 193–213 sea deliverance narratives 203 Snow. The Crying of Lot 49 10. 106. Henry David 204 Todorov. 15. Thomas 110 Wittgenstein. 173–91. 193–213. 105. Tzvetan 29 van Frassen. 56. 49–69. 72. 51. 88. Ernest 109 “Rip Van Winkle” (Washington Irving) 63–69 Romanticism 72. Vineland 8. 16. 130. 194. 130. 129– 45. 146. Piotr 153 The Simpsons (cartoon) 149. 174– 75. Tony 28 Tchaikovsky. 147–69. 202 Swerdlow. 110. Thomas 28 science 55. 12. 18. 72 religion 83–124 Renan. Jonathan 105 Szasz. Denis 174–91 Wood. 209 quantum physics 50. 72. Joseph 110–14 Tanner.

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