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Mason & Dixon

28 April 1997

"Facts are but the Play-things of lawyers, —Tops and Hoops, forever a-spin... Alas, the Historian may indulge no such idle rotating. History is not Chronology, for that is left to lawyers, —nor is it Remembrance, for Remembrance belongs to the People. History can as little pretend to the Veracity of one, as claim the Power of the other, —her Practitioners, to survive, must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc, spy, and Taproom Wit,— that there may ever continue more than one life-line back into a Past we risk, each day, losing our forebears in forever, —not a Chain of single Links, for one broken Link could lose us All, —rather, a great disorderly Tangle of Lines, long and short, weak and strong, vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep, with only their Destination in common."

Thomas Pynchon. Mason & Dixon, p. 345.

French translation

First cover

Does Britania, when she 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, measure'd and tied in, back into 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.

Thomas Pynchon. Mason & Dixon, p. 349.

Excerpt from Criticism

De Vaucanson and his Duck

The [second] passage [above] is essentially about metamorphosis, the persistent metamorphosis of unknown to known, of province to metropolis, of dream to reality, of sacred to profane, of hope to despair. A process of diminution occurs from grand to small, from complicated to simple, from sacred to secular, from imaginativeness to restraint. The upshot: control sought by colonialism. The puzzling part is that action seems to occur most expressively in hopes and dreams. Once tangible physical action occurs, the consequences become alarming. Inevitable disappointments result. The metamorphosis also transpires, in Pynchon's terms, from subjunctive to declarative, that is, from the contingent or hypothetical to a firmer condition, an addendum: the assertive, the emphatic, a final closed fist.

Charles Clerc. Mason & Dixon & Pynchon. University of America Press, Lanham, MD, 2000: 130.