Reading Pynchon #15

M&D Chapter 5

In the aftermath of battle Mason and Dixon are reborn, so to speak, as a couple, the ampersand perhaps coming into focus here. If one can speak of rebirth, however, it is inseparable from knowledge – there is no tabula rasa. As with Ethelmer in the previous chapter the knowledge in question cannot be spoken of.

[5.1.1] Being tossed out for anything, 42-45

The action is continuous from the previous chapter, Mason and Dixon ‘know[ing] they must stand as one …’ etc, sharing authorship of the letter written to the Royal Society (42). They are back in England, ‘drinking up their liquor allowance’ (43), even falling into ‘a companionable Silence’ (44). For the most part, however, there is a return to the bickering that marked the early stages of their relationship in chapter 3, not least the sarcasm and falling out featured on 43. With Mason’s stereotyping of ‘your People’ (42) meaning slips from the intended reference to Quakers to Dixon’s own reference to ‘Coal-Mining, I guess’; and there is also a reference to social status as explored in chapter 4, as well as the regional differences hidden by national identity. The letter that must be redrafted, an eventual final version hiding from the reader’s gaze its production (42-43, again on 44), goes back to the questioning of historical traces in chapter 2. Similarly, as given here, a family history of resistance (‘being tossed out for anything’, 43) would go unacknowledged if Dixon’s identity as a Quaker were left as Mason appears to define it: ‘you’re not suppos’d to believe in War’. Perhaps, in the aftermath of battle, and the unforgettable (‘Vapors rising from the Wounds of dying Sailors’, 42) there is an attempt to undo the action of the previous chapter. What they cannot repress is the thought that they should be dead but ‘inconveniently surviv’d’ (44), even if ‘what they cannot speak … resumes breathless Sovereignty’ (45).

[5.1.2] Some Gang of initial’d Scoundrels, 45-46

Juxtaposed in the phase above is what Mason and Dixon suspect the truth to be, even if they cannot speak of it openly, and the way they want to present themselves in writing; the composition of the letter they write to the Royal Society is marked by self-censorship. When (on 45) they receive, in reply, ‘a Letter of Reproach and Threat’ it is to the point and one wonders if its authors (‘some faceless committee’) had to carefully consider each word in the same way. As a pair, then, Mason and Dixon are exposed to the exercise of power; and Mason, as he sees it, has suffered (‘Not even the courtesy, – Damme! of a personal Reply’) a loss of status, abandoned by Bradley. As the chapter ends, they are isolated: ‘Plymouth reels merrily all ʼround them’ (46).


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