Pynchon's Mason and Dixon--Should I bother? Where's it stand in relation to his other stuff?

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Because I like COL49 but have bad memories of Gravity's Rainbow. I like some of the ideas, but the impenetrability just became too comical in its own right; also I didn't much care for Slothrop's brief affair with a ten-year-old.
I've tried M&D a few times, found it kinda interesting, kinda funny, but I worried it'd get too thuddingly allegorical if I stuck with it too long (you know, "You can draw lines on a map but not on Our Uncategorizable Planet," or something).

Phil Christman, Thursday, 8 January 2004 19:47 (eighteen years ago) link

In defense of Slothrop, there are some hints that Bianca wasn't really 10, but a much more kosher 18 or thereabouts.

I didn't care for M&D though, firstly because I hoped that Pynchon would fall out of the vernacular but never did and it grated on me, and because I had no idea what the Sector & other surveying tools looked like.

I think, however, that the main thrust of the novel is about friendship.

Leee Smith (Leee), Thursday, 8 January 2004 19:51 (eighteen years ago) link

I saw a H/C copy of 'Mason and Dixon' for 10p in the Lewisham Library sale last week ((I already have a copy and at the time I didn't want to be weighed down by this monsta - but wot a bargain!)

Andrew L (Andrew L), Thursday, 8 January 2004 20:13 (eighteen years ago) link

It took me a couple of months to read this fucker and I was just utterly bewildered by it. Like Leee i thought he was going to go wilder with it but since he didnt i just did not know what do make of it- i think you have to be extremely learned to get even half of what he's talking about. I felt at ease with the vernacular to an extent after about 200 pages but most of it went over my head. Still, i was quite moved by the last few pages, i dont know if that was because it was some sort of release or relief after that long trawl. I'm torn between thinking i am glad i read it and thinking "what was the fucking point of that?"

jed_ (jed), Thursday, 8 January 2004 20:27 (eighteen years ago) link

Mason & Dixon gets better as you go along. The first 100 pages or so are petty tedious. I like it better when they finally get to America. Still, the book's hit and miss. Some stuff (the mechanical duck, the whole parnoid riff about cutting through America) feel like rehashes of things Pynchon has done better elsewhere. But the relationship between Mason and Dixon is wonderful and warm. Some of his best writing.

Not That Chuck, Thursday, 8 January 2004 22:12 (eighteen years ago) link

I had no idea what the Sector & other surveying tools looked like.

yeah, that's a really really good point. the whole book probably hangs on it!!!

vahid (vahid), Thursday, 8 January 2004 23:38 (eighteen years ago) link

It's definitely worthwhile if you can dull your mind to the deliberate antiquity of the style (with Capitals Used almost Everywhere!). To me, the book was about frontiers and wilderness, and approaching the unknown. The task of surveying and cartography is a tremendously tedious task but important in that you slowly increase the world's knowledge by exploring the frontier, literally, one inch at a time. What lies beyond the mapped edge of the world is best expressed by the line seen on ancient maps: "Here there be monsters." I won't pretend to understand a quarter of Pynchon's symbolism but it was still thoroughly enjoyable.

Mark Rose, Friday, 9 January 2004 00:24 (eighteen years ago) link

I mean this in the nicest possible way when i say that you are all doing your very best to insure that i never, ever read this book.:)

scott seward (scott seward), Friday, 9 January 2004 00:27 (eighteen years ago) link

i love the prose in it. "Dixon enters, coprophagously agrin.." : it's pretty much full of brilliant sentences that couldn't have occurred in real eighteenth-century (i think, it's late, shut up) writing, or in twentieth-century prose that wasn't pretendind to be eighteenth-century prose

tom west (thomp), Friday, 9 January 2004 01:58 (eighteen years ago) link

1. it's as good as he's ever been
2. he was writing it before vineland = he spent longer on it than G's R ! i think.

tom west (thomp), Friday, 9 January 2004 01:58 (eighteen years ago) link

(also, "You can draw lines on a map but not on Our Uncategorizable Planet" = inaccurate)

tom west (thomp), Friday, 9 January 2004 02:00 (eighteen years ago) link

it starts with one of his best gags ever! reverend cherrycoke!

vahid (vahid), Friday, 9 January 2004 02:04 (eighteen years ago) link

i thought there would be more of that stuff in it though. blinking LED (Learn'd English Dog) and other wierd anachronisms. maybe there were and they were just too subtle for me.

jed_ (jed), Friday, 9 January 2004 02:23 (eighteen years ago) link

I was disappointed w/ Bodine's cameo.

Leee Smith (Leee), Friday, 9 January 2004 03:15 (eighteen years ago) link

Another good, and very funny, book in the faux eighteenth-century style is John Barth's "The Sotweed Factor." I've never liked anything else I've read by hiim, though. ("Giles Goat Boy," ugh.)

Not That Chuck, Friday, 9 January 2004 16:08 (eighteen years ago) link

I will say that M & D contains one of the best pseudo-Marxist political gags I'm aware of in literature, namely, early in the novel, when the pirates ask who owns the Learned English Dog, the talking dog's response (roughly rendered): "I, sir, am a British Dog. No man owns me."

I just about fell out of my chair.

M.

Matthew K (mtk), Friday, 9 January 2004 19:21 (eighteen years ago) link

that makes me feel stupid.

btw i couldnt get hold of The Recognitons - i bought J R instead.

jed_ (jed), Friday, 9 January 2004 20:38 (eighteen years ago) link

I thought that LED thing was a slavery jab.

Leee Majors (Leee), Friday, 9 January 2004 21:50 (eighteen years ago) link

I took it as a bit more abstract in the way it cuts; there's the irony of a free British "citizen" saying that when slavery was still a burgeoning practice among Brits and colonists alike, or in that theoretically even a Brtish dog would receive freedom whereas an African human wouldn't. But for me, I prefer to take it as a funny little absurdist political allegory, the poor pup not realizing that _every_ British dog is owned or feral, hence the alluded-to Marxist leanings in the gag (false consciousness, all that). It's good fun. Fun for me, fun for everyone.

The slavery gloss, to me, overdetermines that beautiful little simultaneous dog dream that M & D have later in the book, taking it away from enigma and giving it over to the straightforwardly political, as the yoke of slavery gets strapped to where Mason and Dixon meet.

Although I suppose that's merely a different sort of joke altogether, enlisting all that high-powered machinery just to make a pun on the Mason-Dixon line. I wouldn't put it past him, I guess, but it's painfully, aggressively highbrow-cute, in its own gonzo sort of way.

M.

Matthew K (mtk), Friday, 9 January 2004 23:23 (eighteen years ago) link

This is a different, uh, thing altogether: Is Vineland worth reading? There was a bigbigbig debate about this on the Pynchon-l mailing list (is that redundant? The 'l' probably stands for list, eh) about whether Vineland was worth reading. I think I got GR pretty well, considering its relative get-a-bility isn't extremely high--reading some scholarly exegetical work is downright frightening. But anyway, that said, I meant to say that I didn't like Crying Lot... and I thought V was brilliant, GR was uberbrilliant, Cryinglot was dissapointing. He derides it as a short story (Worthy of derision, even) in his preface to Slow Learner. So with all that said, is Vineland any good d'you think? It doesn't matter what you say, I'll probably read it sooner or later anyway. I thought M&D was a very good pastiche for the first uh twenty pages and then I started jogging or something.

B. Michael Payne (This Isnt That), Thursday, 15 January 2004 18:11 (eighteen years ago) link

i was going to post this exact question last night! i just started reading instead (i have read about 150 pages before then gave up during a sort of godzillaish episode in the book) im thoroughly enjoying it this time round but we shall see what happens when i hit the monsta again.

jed_ (jed), Thursday, 15 January 2004 19:15 (eighteen years ago) link

Vineland is a nice enough book to read when you've got extraordinarily low expectations. It offers none of the pleasures or complexity of Gravity's Rainbow, and almost none that V has, even. It's a strange, smug regression, with skull-crackingly obvious politics and tactics, that should have been written by a second-rate writer influenced by Pynchon and not Pynchon himself. There are gem moments, but the absurdities, which in previous Pynchon had functioned as reasons unto themselves, metaphors for themselves, here just seem like antic contrivance and glibness. When I read it originally, it pissed me off horribly. I've since looked back at it and realized that it isn't so awful, really; it just isn't any good.

M.

Matthew K (mtk), Friday, 16 January 2004 16:35 (eighteen years ago) link

If you stop assuming that every book Pynchon writes has to be some sort of Talmudic progression from GR, then Vineland and M&D are both pretty good; Vineland is actually my favourite of his books, perhaps because it's endless allusions are the more low-brow ones I actually understand.

Irrelevantly, I love love love that wonderful expression in Lot 49 with Oedipa "shuffling back through a fat deckful of days".

Chuck Tatum (Chuck Tatum), Friday, 16 January 2004 19:51 (eighteen years ago) link

(Sorry, "its")

Chuck Tatum (Chuck Tatum), Friday, 16 January 2004 19:52 (eighteen years ago) link

vineland is his best book except for all his other best books

tom west (thomp), Friday, 16 January 2004 20:06 (eighteen years ago) link

He derides [TCOL49] as a short story (Worthy of derision, even) in his preface to Slow Learner.

Pfft, what does Pynchon know.

Leee Majors (Leee), Friday, 16 January 2004 22:04 (eighteen years ago) link

Cos apparently, the bum's gonna be on some tv show this month. Crass media whore.

Leee Majors (Leee), Friday, 16 January 2004 22:04 (eighteen years ago) link

He's going to be on Simpsons with a paper bag over his head. When is that, anyway?

B. Michael Payne (This Isnt That), Saturday, 17 January 2004 22:53 (eighteen years ago) link

24th Jan in the US

jed_ (jed), Saturday, 17 January 2004 23:41 (eighteen years ago) link

six years pass...

So. I started Mason & Dixon yesterday. It's been on my shelves for YEARS all sad and abandoned and hardbacked.

Why didn't anyone do some sort of intervention when I read GravRain first! GravRain, I did not enjoy. M&D is... GRATE! I admit I am only 100 pages in, but if it carries on like "Carry On Up The East India Company" (Mason is Charles Hawtrey, Dixon is Sid James, those 3 Dutch girls are a trinity of Barbara Windsors) it can't go wrong.

I ampersand-hearted the Learn'd English Dog tho, I see upthread that he is not to everyones tastes. What, you don't *like* allegories featuring puppies? (It's better than yet another sodding 'rocket'. Oh, I did not like GR).

superpitching, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 10:44 (twelve years ago) link

Started re-reading this a week or so ago, taking my time over it, each day more convinced that this might my favourite book (out of all of the books, not just Pynchons).

calumerio, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 11:31 (twelve years ago) link

It's all about the cheese rolling scene.

Matt DC, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 11:47 (twelve years ago) link

I think it's an enjoyable romp at first, but becomes a bit of a slog once they're in the US - got heartily sick of Zhang & the Jesuits.

Stevie T, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 11:48 (twelve years ago) link

In the interests of not having to flag SBs I am gonna ignore this thread as much as possible for the rest of the day.

Ravacious Fortune (Noodle Vague), Wednesday, 24 November 2010 11:50 (twelve years ago) link

I really enjoyed this and should probably reread. My mind is telling me it's the best of the second wave of novels, but I haven't read it in so long that I can't quite trust that assessment.

EZ Snappin, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 11:51 (twelve years ago) link

I am almost certain this is my favourite book (out of all of the books, not just Pynchons), must read again to confirm.

I am using your worlds, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 12:56 (twelve years ago) link

Zhang and the Jesuits >>> Major Marvey

Matt DC, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 13:23 (twelve years ago) link

there's something peculiar about how totally occluded what actually happens in this book is, to me, though it might be that i both read it and re-read it, years later, when totally sleep-deprived

but something about i. the need to follow actual historical event ii. the temptation to go off on one -- makes it impossible for me to recall to myself any vague outline of what happens, other than: there is mason, there is dixon, they go to america, they follow a line

thomp, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 15:43 (twelve years ago) link

I couldn't finish M&D.

look at it, pwn3d, made u look at my peen/vadge (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 24 November 2010 15:47 (twelve years ago) link

but something about i. the need to follow actual historical event ii. the temptation to go off on one -- makes it impossible for me to recall to myself any vague outline of what happens, other than: there is mason, there is dixon, they go to america, they follow a line

― thomp, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 15:43 (4 hours ago) Bookmark

not sure i remember a lot more than that, but i thought it was pretty great

calpolaris (nakhchivan), Wednesday, 24 November 2010 20:39 (twelve years ago) link

I couldn't finish M&D.

i am very stubborn about finishing books i start but i gave up on this around p300 or so.

buzza, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 21:00 (twelve years ago) link

"What actually happens" is never of primary importance in Pynchon novels IMO, it's all about enjoying the journey. I sometimes open this book at random and read a couple of chapters without being overly concerned about how they connect up.

I am using your worlds, Wednesday, 24 November 2010 21:42 (twelve years ago) link

impossible for me to recall to myself any vague outline of what happens, other than: there is mason, there is dixon, they go to america, they follow a line

Ditto--I can remember nothing else from the book. Except something about a talking robot duck? Not sure if that's right, to be honest.

buildings with goats on the roof (James Morrison), Wednesday, 24 November 2010 22:45 (twelve years ago) link

i am very stubborn about finishing books i start

look at it, pwn3d, made u look at my peen/vadge (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 24 November 2010 22:47 (twelve years ago) link

otm

look at it, pwn3d, made u look at my peen/vadge (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 24 November 2010 22:47 (twelve years ago) link

There is a very bizarre trick employed about 3/4 of the way through M&D that I have never before or since seen in a novel but also opens up the whole novel and changed the entire way I looked at it.

Also, the ending is heartbreaking and beautiful and worth reading for that alone.

Also, the mechanical duck. It is Pynchon's best book, I think.

Matt DC, Thursday, 25 November 2010 00:14 (twelve years ago) link

what was the trick? i seem to remember the last few pages of this being really affecting

calpolaris (nakhchivan), Thursday, 25 November 2010 00:16 (twelve years ago) link

i'm dying to know about this trick.

j., Thursday, 25 November 2010 05:49 (twelve years ago) link

My second favourite Pynchon I think, maybe even my favourite - tho' GR has that unassailable intensity, this is the more likeable book. I too find it hard to remember what goes where, and what's happening around the place, but I don't much mind: its looseness is part of its charm, and I like its movement, the way it drifts off, seems to be rambling, but then the digression's done another theme-and-variation - borders, things not quite there, systems tipping from one state to another, hinterlands.

His best character portraits, too, I think: answers a lot of the usual criticisms of P once you're over the style hump (Loved the style from the off: came out as I was starting my (long-)18th Century doctorate: my favourite novelist digging around the same places I was headed! EXCITED!)

I've never given this a full re-read. Maybe over New Year? I think that might be good.

portrait of velleity (woof), Thursday, 25 November 2010 17:54 (twelve years ago) link

seven months pass...

i just finished this !! ahh!! i totally loved it, twice as much as gravity's rainbow, possibly because i actually concentrated and finished in a couple weeks instead of over the course of a few months.

not at lot really "happens" that you need to remember, much of it is just setpiece following setpiece. but its very funny! i was chuckling every few pages.

i think the "difficulty" of the prose is overstated--the anachronisms are mostly typographical, i.e. the capitalizations and older spellings and so forth. take that out and i dont think itd seem particularly different than GR stylistically.

i assume the "trick" matt is talking about is the introduction of the pulp "ghastly fop" novel that the cousins are reading into the larger narrative? its quite well done. was disappointed that ethelmer and tenebrae didnt get together.

max, Friday, 22 July 2011 02:09 (eleven years ago) link

i've read parts so many times, but i STILL have trouble not reading every Capitalization for goofiest possible ever-emphasis

j., Friday, 22 July 2011 02:19 (eleven years ago) link

i like this book a lot. prosewise it gives me more pleasure than any other pynchon; i probably read about a hundred (scattered) pages of it out loud.

my Sonicare toothbrush (difficult listening hour), Friday, 22 July 2011 02:27 (eleven years ago) link

yeah i read a lot of it out loud and then i got worried that my neighbors could hear me so i stopped

max, Friday, 22 July 2011 02:39 (eleven years ago) link

making me want to re-read

just sayin, Friday, 22 July 2011 07:27 (eleven years ago) link

this book is great fun until the pair reach america. i stopped reading at that point.

Michael B, Friday, 22 July 2011 13:54 (eleven years ago) link

it's still pretty fun after that! they get high with George Washington and meet a robot duck

max, Friday, 22 July 2011 13:57 (eleven years ago) link

two months pass...

did not know that mark knopfler's "sailing to philadelphia" was inspired by this book

max, Wednesday, 5 October 2011 14:47 (eleven years ago) link

i did but i'm not proud of myself for it

thomp, Wednesday, 5 October 2011 14:51 (eleven years ago) link

im not sure knopfler really read mason and dixon the same way i did but its a pretty song

max, Wednesday, 5 October 2011 14:52 (eleven years ago) link

also dont get why he has dixon sing "a glass of wine with you sir" when its established pretty early on that mason is the wine-drinker

max, Wednesday, 5 October 2011 14:53 (eleven years ago) link

weird how pynchon's britishisms are more convincing than knopfler's

thomp, Wednesday, 5 October 2011 15:05 (eleven years ago) link

anyway, have you heard pat benatar's pynchon concept album

http://img.maniadb.com/images/album/165/165413_1_f.jpg

thomp, Wednesday, 5 October 2011 15:06 (eleven years ago) link

i have heard of it

max, Wednesday, 5 October 2011 15:07 (eleven years ago) link

i mean everyone knows what a huge pynchon fan benatar is

max, Wednesday, 5 October 2011 15:08 (eleven years ago) link

one year passes...
three months pass...

Finished it. Wonderful work, probably *just* behind ATD in my affection in that it often felt like a collection of really good bits than a single tectonic movement towards Truth, Beauty or othersuch (although it did of course have elements of this)

some of the individual bits are as good as anything I've read - Jenkin's Ear, the chapter where the duck is introduced, the chapter where Zhang is introduced, lots of the psychogeography and perhaps above all the parable of Hsi and Ho, which is possibly my favourite literary parable of all. and of course the ongoing badinage between our two heroes - the very book's soul. so much to love here.

didn't cry at the end - came close - it folds to an elegiac & superbly-weighted ending - the bits with SPOILER SORT OF Mason & his son especially

did not know that mark knopfler's "sailing to philadelphia" was inspired by this book

― max, Wednesday, October 5, 2011 7:47 AM (1 year ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

i had never consciously heard this song and i was in a grocery store during the "couplethree" weeks i was reading the book and it came on and i thought i was insane

like the guy in signs and symbols

Yeah, reread this over the summer. Loved the whole of part three, where the timeline gets really scrambled, and it seems as if noone is really sure what is going on. I want to write a(nother) paper on that part some day.

Frederik B, Friday, 27 September 2013 11:01 (nine years ago) link

Yeah the bittiness is kind of the whole point. This is his best book, I think, although I do need to give it a re-read.

Matt DC, Friday, 27 September 2013 11:09 (nine years ago) link

it's my favourite, but it's probably my favourite historical era

how do i shot cwmbran? (Noodle Vague), Friday, 27 September 2013 11:12 (nine years ago) link

I love the discussion of the Black Hole of Calcutta and how it distorts history. It's a discussion of relativity in 18th century language.

Frederik B, Friday, 27 September 2013 11:16 (nine years ago) link

He returned to quite a few themes in ATD - perhaps most memorably the hollow-earth theory - but I think they got fairly distinct treatments. ATD is rangier, more flippantly-written, more overtly psychedelic, more revolutionary in tone. M&D is very technical, subtly-detailed and elusive. It's almost an acknowledgement that America will always escape itself - that too much has been staked.

Oh - there were numerous astonishing sentences. Cherrycoke on History and its uses springs to mind (in fact, every Cherrycoke extract was incredible really, ditto Tox). There's one paragraph, spoken by an Indian to 'defecates-with-pigeons', that is one of the most haunting paragraphs I've read

You could not be the Giants of long ago, who would simply have wip'd us away, and for less

"Coprophagously-agrin" is the phrase that sticks in my head,

Matt DC, Friday, 27 September 2013 11:24 (nine years ago) link

one year passes...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fart_Proudly

j., Thursday, 20 November 2014 15:32 (eight years ago) link

seven years pass...

#pynchoninpublic remembering my favorite Pynchon in that special day pic.twitter.com/ME4YXKH9cP

— David Tena (@Davirutena79) May 8, 2022

mark s, Sunday, 8 May 2022 12:59 (six months ago) link

(adding: dr vick's brother once played me "sailing to philadelphia" on the ukelele)

(attn real hedz: we larfed non-stop)

mark s, Sunday, 8 May 2022 13:01 (six months ago) link


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