Monday, June 25, 2012

On Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon"

The New York Times takes the occasion of the availability of Thomas Pynchon's oeuvre in eBook format to sing the praises of Mason & Dixon. I keep threatening to write a long-form essay on how good this book is, and while that'll probably never happen, IMO M&D is every bit as good as Gravity's Rainbow, albeit not with his more famous work's hallucinatory intensity. Instead, Pynchon focuses on the enlightenment and the prehistory of the United States in a comic romp that becomes increasingly dark as our heroes draw their line deeper and deeper into the wilderness. Although it does take a while to get used to TRP's faux 17th century prose, once you relax into it, his writing takes you on a journey back to the days of wigs and revolution. To choose just one example:
"Does Britannia, when it sleeps, 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, and on West-ward, wherever 'tis not yet mapp'd, nor written down, nor ever, by the majority of mankind, seen, -- serving as a very Rubbish-Tip for subjunctive Hopes, for all that may yet be true, -- Earthly Paradise, Fountain of Youth, Realms of Prester John, Christ's Kingdom, ever behind the sunset, safe till the next Territory to the West be seen and recorded, measur'd and tied back in, back to the Net-Work of Points already known, that slowly triangulates its Way into the Continent, changing all from subjunctive to declarative, reducing Possibilities to Simplicities that serve the ends of Governments, -- winning away from the realm of the Sacred, its Borderlands one by one, and assuming them unto the bare mortal World that is our home, and our Despair."
--Mason & Dixon, Chapter 34, pg. 345.
Looks intimidating, doesn't it? Don't be scared, though - it gets easier the more you read it, and the book rewards the work you put into it. (And if you need any help, just use the wiki!) It's a classic. I've read it twice already will no doubt go back for a third go-round.

Cross-posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox

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