M&D Chapter 4

This chapter begins with Cherrycoke’s storytelling in a family setting, but the narrative insists, as in chapter 1, on relocating characters outside the home in the context of a wider society. Juxtaposed to this process is the way in which relationships, firstly, on the Seahorse and, then, between that ship and the l’Grand are organised to construct alternative social units. Earlier references to Durkheim’s notion of social solidarity are revisited.

[4.1] Blood racing quietly, 30-31

The chapter opens with Cherrycoke’s ‘spiritual Contract with the World as given’ (30), perhaps a reminder of Mason’s ‘Contract between the City and oneself’ (14). The function of this short first section resembles that of the equally brief second chapter, a bridge that offers a reflective commentary of sorts. If chapter 2 undermines the truth claims of historical traces (letters that cannot be left to speak for themselves), this section focuses on family dynamics and what ‘[e]v’ryone “knows”’ (31) – even when reluctant, as Ethelmer is here, to openly address ‘past crimes’ that are ‘difficult to reconcile with the living Uncle …’ etc. If the ‘Contract between the City and oneself’ refers to the way in which strangers – by definition, they lack any kind of shared (personal) history but have been thrown together nonetheless – must negotiate their passage through an urban setting, here family members with that shared history must also negotiate and renew ongoing relationships. Later in this chapter, the Seahorse and the l’Grand will demonstrate another kind of interaction, to do with the warlike posturing that is necessarily based on an agreed recognition of foreignness.

At the outset (30), Cherrycoke returns to the end of chapter 1 and the ‘engine of Destruction’ (11). The two chapters intervening have introduced Mason and Dixon, making them aware, eventually, of the same dangers; and now Cherrycoke’s audience has increased with the appearance of Ethelmer, whose reference (bottom of 30) to ‘anything that sets the Blood a-racing’ perhaps recalls the Dog’s ‘pure Edge of blood‑love’ (24) – effects of a certain kind of entertainment. The allusion here to a sea battle sees Ethelmer ‘amiably pollicat[ing] the adults’ (30) – as though their presence, rather than that of children, might require him to moderate his speech – in contrast to more fearful references preceding it. Firstly, one might wonder at the discrepancy between the narrative as it appears on the page and whatever version is offered to Cherrycoke’s audience – it is plausible, for example, to accept that earlier descriptions of The Pearl of Sumatra and Hepsie would have been edited/bowdlerised. However, in the writing, Ethelmer’s gesture here has usefully distinguished between Cherrycoke (‘amiably’) and LeSpark (‘less certainly’). The latter’s business selling arms to all comers is described on 31, just after Brae’s response to her cousin: that ‘Blood may “race” as quietly as it must’ acknowledges what cannot be put into words, and the line is then followed by Mr LeSpark’s ‘Fortune’. Cf LeSpark’s introduction (in his absence) in chapter 1: ‘a respected Merchant active in Town Affairs’ (6). Brae’s ‘quietly’ might also remind the reader of the association of violence‑as‑entertainment and The Pearl of Sumatra’s noisy soundtrack. The section ends with Ethelmer, introspective, struggling to match ‘the living Uncle’ to ‘a Saga’ that would explain the accumulation of wealth.

Ethelmer‑as‑storyteller, then, is set against Cherrycoke to highlight what can be said. What they have in common is an outsider status based on roles played outside the family. Cherrycoke is introduced as a ‘far-travel’d Uncle’ (6) who can trade in stories accumulated on those travels, while a key moment for the introspective Ethelmer is meeting his uncle outside the family (31).

[4.2] You’d think there’d be a Team from somewhere, 31-34

On the Seahorse Captain Smith, introduced here in his absence, is denounced as ‘a Privateer’ (32), guilty perhaps of ‘petty Extortion’ and ‘adopting the ways of Street Bullies’ – cf his reputation here with that of Wade LeSpark in 4.1. Not least, Smith’s ‘Approach to … guests’ (32) might recall the way in which Cherrycoke must necessarily earn – that is, pay for – his own guest status in the wealthy LeSpark’s home. Eventually introduced in person, Smith offers an alternative reading, one (‘the fancy of a Heart unschool’d in Guile’, 33) that prioritises his own need for the right kind of company and ‘plenty of Philosophickal Conversation’. If 4.1 closes with Ethelmer’s ‘Innocence … long, even enjoyably, departed’ (31), here Smith hopes to presents himself as genuinely innocent. However, the section ends with a hint (‘as gently as possible’) of superior knowledge (34).

The previous section alludes to family history and 4.2 focuses on another kind of family, the group brought together by circumstances aboard ship. Conflict based on social status – the formulation of a ship’s hierarchy, Mason and Dixon ‘tak[ing] their turns with the other principal Officers in dining with the Captain, whose dreams …’ etc (33) – is succeeded by a reference to conflict with France. The construction of some kind of national identity is here inseparable from international relations and the likelihood of warfare. Moreover, these constructions and an unavoidable bellicosity are ways of dealing with the status anxiety engendered by squabbles over the seating order at dinner. One might think back to chapter 3, Mason and Dixon anticipating the voyage: ‘It may be our last chance for civilis’d Drink’ (18).

[4.3] A nearly unsensed ghost, 34-37

The captain is now ‘this Lad’ (34), even if ‘young Smith’s been around forever’. Earlier, it was suspected that he might try to take advantage of his position; now, if there is any likelihood of battle, an apparent youthfulness and lack of seagoing experience are brought to the fore, along with evident disrespect from ‘a Youth of loutish and ungather’d appearance’ (35). Blinky and his advice arrives in a flashback (‘He’d been greeted …’ etc) as Smith recalls his first impressions of the Seahorse, disappointed by a ‘remote scruffy Sixth Rate throwing itself like a tether’d beast against its anchor-cables’, the descriptions of sailor and ship of a kind – one wonders if, elsewhere, ship and crew have been deemed expendable if he proves incapable of taking Blinky’s advice. If Smith does lack the gravitas that, supposedly, goes with age, his youthfulness is not on a par with that of ‘the young salt’. Practical experience is the issue and there is, perhaps, an echo of the earlier exchange between Mason and Dixon regarding the latter’s credentials (16-17). And then, looking ahead a little, Cherrycoke’s introduction to Mason/Dixon (36) will emphasise his youth. The significance of this recollection, here, might well be that it follows the earlier reference to Smith’s yearning for the right kind of company (33); in his eyes, therefore, any shortcomings of his command are exaggerated.

What follows (‘The vessel herself …’ etc, 35) is to do with experience, but also personifies the ship, its ‘Reputation for Nerve’ more properly belonging to its crew. Such anthropomorphism recalls the Learnèd Dog but also emphasises a unity vital for survival. Moreover, Dixon’s proficiency (17) and that of Smith here on 35 indicate the kind of specialised labour that characterises modern society. Interestingly, then, the ship’s motto invokes a past age, one where honour has meaning in a closed society, one where social rank is fixed (36) and corresponding to a ‘spiritual Contract with the World as given’ (30) rather than a ‘Contract between the City and oneself’ (14).

And so to the top of 37, where the captain differentiates between ‘how very Scientifick we are here’ (when referring to the officers) and how ‘ancient Beliefs will persist’ (when referring to ‘a group of Sailors holystoning the deck’. Bongo might be patronised here, but he has nonetheless learned to refer, a few lines down, to ‘Frenchies’, as though he can thereby earn membership of the national group, here defined by its opposition to those living the other side of the Channel.

[4.4] Death making itself sensible in new ways, 37-38

Another brief section returning the narrative to Cherrycoke and his audience, the battle (lasting ‘an hour and a half’) summarised, initially, in a couple of lines (37), most likely because, as he admits, Cherrycoke ‘was well below, and preoccupied with sea‑surgery …’ etc, 37-38). The lengthy account that follows on 38 is heavily dependent on what can be heard, for example, ‘close enough to hear the creak and jingling …’ etc, or ‘the cries of the injur’d and dying’, or ‘until we’d hear the Gun‑Tackle being shifted …’ etc. Here and elsewhere, this passage draws the reader’s attention to human activity, either suffering or the doing of battle-related work that will produce suffering … and the power of smell is also featured (‘so as not to be the first to foul his breeches in front of the others’, 38). Eventually, ‘the Ship’s hoarse Shrieking, a great Sea‑animal in pain …’ etc takes the narrative back to the earlier anthropomorphism (35). And one might also have in mind here the passage describing events at The Pearl of Sumatra (24-25).

In this section Cherrycoke’s audience is identified as Brae (as on 8 her role is to admonish his excesses) and the twins. Elsewhere, other family members have been identified if/when they speak – no one’s presence is recorded otherwise, for example, listening quietly: Uncle Ives in chapter 1 (9), and then Ethelmer and Wade LeSpark as this chapter opens (30‑31). Hence, it has been established that the reader can have no way of knowing who, at any given time, might also be in the room. Moreover, each character, when introduced, is immediately tied to a life outside the family and the room that hosts Cherrycoke’s storytelling.[1]

[4.5] It has occurred to me, 38-41

As the section opens, Mason and Dixon must find a role: ‘It takes an effort to act philosophickal, or even to find ways to be useful’ (39). Cf Captain Smith earlier, as 4.3 concluded: ‘Gentlemen, ʼtwould oblige me if you’d find ways to be useful below’ (37). Or earlier still, news of the fate of Bencoolen impacting on plans made – and taken for granted – by Mason and Dixon (33-34). The battle ended, Smith goes on to speculate as to their importance (39). The question here is, perhaps, rhetorical: cf Smith’s ‘[p]erhaps there is’ (top of 34).

At the bottom of 39 ‘the perfect ellipse of the l’Grand’s stern dwindle[s] into the dark; and then, a page later, there is an abrupt transition (‘A Year before …’ etc, 40) to a French perspective, one that introduces speculation in the form of ‘Invisible Gamesters’. One might think of the ‘gaming’ described on 24-25. One might also recall the reference to ‘riots of sailors’ (15): on that occasion they would have been anxious to prevent the exploitation, as they saw it, of dead comrades.[2] In chapter 3 sailors are found ashore; in the current chapter they have been seen as necessary (if expendable) elements in battle. Here, ‘a crew so melancholick’ (40) can be set against earlier anthropomorphism: ‘The Vessel herself … enjoys a Reputation for Nerve …’ etc (35).

The chapter ends with Mason and Dixon now ‘reluctant to part company’ (41); they have finally found a role as a pair, drinking and speculating, for example: ‘what else did they know?’ The unity expressed here is inseparable, then, from shared suspicions, a moment that returns them, and the reader, to Smith’s comment at the end of 4.2 (top of 34).

[1] In my commentary on chapter 3 I introduced the distinction Durkheim made between mechanical and organic solidarity. The way adult characters are, quite arbitrarily, inserted into the family setting established in the novel’s opening pages – Cherrycoke entertaining niece and nephews – seems another way of addressing the writing of social solidarity. As well as Thijssen’s article I also have in mind here an older article comparing Durkheim and Tönnies – see Joan Aldous, Emile Durkheim, and Ferdinand Tönnies, An exchange between Durkheim and Tönnies on the nature of social relations, with an introduction by Joan Aldous, American Journal of Sociology, 1972, 77 (6). Not least, one can argue that, for Durkheim, organic solidarity meant a productive (beneficial) confrontation with difference, necessary for a functional social change. It is this feature that sees common ground of sorts emerge between Durkheim and Foucault. See for example comparable discussions of crime and punishment in The Division of Labour in Society and Discipline and Punish.

[2] The use of ‘riots’ as a collective noun here should recall Thompson’s essay on the morality of riot. See EP Thompson, The Moral Economy in the Eighteenth Century, in Customs in Common, Penguin, 1993, 185-258 (essay first published 1971). In Customs in Common, see also the following chapter, The Moral Economy Reviewed (259-351). Thompson shared with Foucault an interest in resistance. In the earlier scene, the sailors lack the legitimacy afforded their actions when aboard ship. In this chapter, scenes on the Seahorse have allowed the construction of an ‘imagined community’ – see Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, 2006 (first published 1983).

 

M&D Chapter 3

If the first chapter located Cherrycoke in the family home and set one kind of discipline against another, and the second offered, and problematised, historical traces, the new chapter finds Mason and Dixon in Portsmouth, negotiating their own new relationship as well as interactions with others.

[3.1.1] There’s this Jesuit, this Corsican, and this Chinaman, 14-18

The chapter begins with Cherrycoke admitting his distance from the events he describes, his I perhaps going back to where chapter 1 ended (11). At the very least he is dependent on recollections offered by Mason and Dixon, ‘how they remember’d meeting’ (14); or even his own memory, ‘too often abridg’d by the Day’s Fatigue’. If the previous chapter has questioned the way in which historical traces might be taken for granted, here the authenticity of so-called personal accounts might be undermined.

What follows that opening is a detailed account of the meeting in Portsmouth, Dixon very much the outsider on Mason’s beat. The narrative offers a commentary on constructions of ‘native’ and ‘foreign’, and Durham might even be another country – for example, Dixon ‘pronouncing the forms of You consciously, as if borrowing them from another Tongue’ (16), shortly after the joke designed to emphasise a shared identity based on constructed difference (15-16); and cf the subsequent distinction between ‘Grape people and Grain people’ (18).[1] To begin with, Mason, as putative expert, speaks of a ‘Contract between the City and oneself’ (14) – by which he means the learned behaviour of city life, the ability to interact with strangers on a regular basis without coming to blows.[2] One might infer that Mason, for example, is the author of, as presented in the text, ‘Dixon’s clear Stupefaction’ – a take in line with the dismissive attitude he demonstrated previously (13; and cf ‘some shambling wild Country Fool’ on 17). In chapter 2 the narrative invoked the region behaviour that, according to Goffman, governs interactions; here, there is another take on the way people might read each other. It is, therefore, worth noting (a) the narrative’s association of Mason (the astronomer) with a macrosociological approach to interaction; and then (b) the way Dixon picks on that ‘peculiar station in Life’ (16). And so Mason mocks the way Dixon speaks, in response to which Dixon wonders if Mason has spent too much time as a scientist (‘alone on top of that fam’d Hill in Greenwich’, 15), not enough time with people (experiences that would allow him to question generalising norms).

In the space of a couple of pages, Mason’s status has been questioned, Dixon’s subversive potential on display – for example: ‘Takes an odd bird to stay up peering at Stars all night …’ (16). Here, according to Dixon’s mocking line, what is ‘odd’ about Mason is the absence of oddity, another way of questioning the superior status accorded the scientist: ‘On the other hand, Surveyors are runnin’ about numerous as Bed-bugs …’ etc (17).

By the end of this first phase of the chapter, Mason and Dixon have negotiated a relationship based on the need to prepare, so to speak, for their departure: ‘We’re sailing to the Indies …’ etc (18). Whatever the differences that might separate them, they now have a something in common as they anticipate the privations of travel – hence the need to share a ‘civiliz’d Drink’.

[3.1.2] All at once, out of the Murk, 18-20

Without a formal section break, a new phase is signalled by the passage of time: ‘As the day darkens …’ etc (18). Artificial light is accompanied by noises imposed on the characters (‘the sounds of the Stables and the Alleys grow louder …’ etc); and what is signalled is shared experiences. Abruptly, the narrative is less concerned with characters’ perceptions of each other as the setting becomes one they must confront together. Hence, as the paragraph ends: ‘Mason and Dixon become aware …’ etc.

This transitional phase brings, ‘out of the Murk’, the ‘somewhat dishevel’d Norfolk Terrier’ – as though Mason and Dixon have, somehow, crossed over into another world. Here, the reader is positioned with Dixon, attention drawn to Mason’s ‘Magnetickal Stupor’ (19) and, down the page, his likening of the dog to ‘an Actress one admires’. If the first phase of this chapter, then, played with the discursive arrangement of cultural difference, not least the regional factors that would mark Dixon/Durham as somehow foreign, what has been introduced here is Mason’s openness to new, what might be called irrational, ideas: ‘Isn’t it worth looking ridiculous …’ etc. The reader is still positioned with Dixon (‘There is something else in progress …’ etc, top of 20) as he speculates; however, he does so on the basis of shared experience, ‘remember[ing] himself, after his father passed on’. The Dog will eventually lead them to ‘the one [Mason] must see’ (25) and the naming of Rebekah that will both conclude this quest of sorts and provide a narrative strain that distances Mason and Dixon from events that surround them.

[3.1.3] Provisions for survival in a World less fantastick, 20-23

As they pursue the Learnéd Dog Mason and Dixon are confronted by ‘a sudden, large Son of Neptune, backed by an uncertain number of comparably drunken Shipmates’ (21); at this point Mason and Dixon are exposed as ‘the ones with all the strange Machinery, sailing in the Seahorse’, their reputation, it seems, preceding them (cf Dixon’s earlier ‘odd bird’ reference to astronomy, bottom of 16). For Bodine, the dog provides a business opportunity, ‘to keep the Savages amused’ – cf Cherrycoke’s role in keeping the children similarly ‘amus’d’, or distracted (bottom of 6). However, a little later in this phase, the Dog will boast of his free-born status: ‘No one owns me’ (23).

The awareness of geographical distance already established when discussing Dixon’s northern origins is developed on a broader scale; but there is still an emphasis on how information might be transmitted. And so, ‘I’ve been out more than once … there’s a million islands out there’ (21), Bodine speaking with one kind of authority – cf Mason ‘coming the Old London Hand’ at the start of the chapter (14). Here, Bodine’s authority comes up against another kind, as displayed by Mason: ‘I’ve heard they eat dogs out there’ (21). Earlier, of course, Mason mocked Dixon over the missed opportunity to witness a hanging: ‘what’s the first thing they’ll ask …’ etc (15). Here, the Dog goes on to cite ‘[t]ravellers return’d from the Japanese Islands’ (22). And then a dispute between Dog and Lunarians (22-23) returns the reader to the opening of the chapter and Dixon’s fears: ‘How can Yese dwell thah’ closely together, Day upon Day, without all growing Murderous?’ (14).

[3.1.4] The net Motion of the Company, cries in Concert, 23-25

The Dog twice denies he is owned by anyone (23-24), which claim should be aligned, firstly, with the earlier reference to dogs ‘learn[ing] to act as human as possible’ (22); but also, secondly, with the subsequent reference to the Dog being ‘drawn by the smell of Blood in the Cock-Pit’ (24). One might see the latter as a reference to the Dog’s nature, that is, he shares with the fighting birds ‘this pure Edge of blood‑lust’. But any ‘blood-lust’ on display is that of the human audience also; and the Dog must ‘yawn yes of course, seen it all before, birds slashing one another to death’ – merely one kind of ‘Work’ (according to Mrs Jellows, 25) to be linked to another, the ‘assorted sounds of greater and lesser Ecstasy’. And so, in the rest of this paragraph, a soundtrack both avian and human in origin blurs any distinction that might easily be made between human and non-human, for example: ‘the demented crowing of fighting-cocks waiting their moment, cries in Concert at some inaudible turn of a card …’ etc.

However, none of this activity, it seems, is to involve Mason and Dixon, who remain, somehow disinterested (in spite of Dixon ‘growing increasingly desperate for a drink’, 24). What does interest Mason is Dark Hepsie (according to the Dog, ‘the one you must see’). Earlier, the Dog ‘recognises [Mason], tho’ now he is too key’d up to speak with any Coherence’ and arranges a meeting ‘later, out in back’ (19). A page later, he ‘leads them at a trot out of the stables, out of the courtyard, and down the street …’ etc (20). At the bottom of 21, following the appearance of Bodine and Lunarians, the Dog again prompts Mason (‘pushes [his] Leg with his Head…’ etc). There is momentum here, a sense of purpose that carries Dog and Mason/Dixon forward, until (‘the Dog butting at Mason’, 25) they reach their goal and the first direct reference to Rebekah. Finally, here: ‘Somehow the Learnéd Dog has led him to presume …’ etc.

Moreover, Mason is ‘[u]nable to abandon her’ and also ‘eager to be aboard a ship …’ etc. There is an echo, then, of Cherrycoke in the first chapter. Firstly: ‘he has linger’d’ and ‘finds he cannot detach’ (8). And then the account of his departure from England in 1.2: ‘Tho’ my Inclination had been to go out aboard an East Indiaman …’ etc (10-11).

If the purpose of the chapter has been to describe the first meeting of Mason and Dixon it has done so by linking them with reference to their respective family histories (go back to Dixon recalling his father on 20). The fast-forward to Mason’s ‘confess[ion] months later’ (25) recalls the intrusive narrative of the previous chapter: ‘A few months later …’ etc (12-13). In the current chapter, progression is inseparable from both the Learnéd Dog (as a guide – Hepsie is ‘this Dog-reveal’d Crone’) and distractions on offer at The Pearl of Sumatra (24-25).

Another key feature of the chapter is the role played by sensual, particularly aural, phenomena. Dixon’s perspective is prioritised at significant moments and the reader is aligned with him as an outsider in an alien environment. Throughout, the world imposes itself sensually and the reader is necessarily distanced by an inability, for example, to hear what is presented. One might understand dialogue as language, for example; one cannot hear it. In chapter one, Cherrycoke’s role as narrator emphasises an oral tradition in which storytelling requires a listening subject; and the current chapter opens with Mason mocking Dixon’s accent (15). The Dog’s appearance is signalled by ‘a dozen mirror’d Lanthorns [that] have leapt alight together’ and then ‘a sprightly Overture’ (18); they are interrupted by ‘[a] small, noisy party … working its way up the street and into Ear-shot’ (21); the impact on sailors of Mrs Jellow’s voice is noted (23). In The Pearl of Sumatra Mason/Dixon gradually make sense of what is happening, ‘after a while’ (24); and the subsequent paragraph begins with ‘the smell of Blood’, going on to ‘assorted sounds’ (top of 25).[3]

[3.1.5] Fate, meet Men of Science … Men of Science, meet Fate, 25-29

The Dog’s name is now revealed (‘Fang, as he now apparently wishes to be known’); and then ‘with an expressive swing of his Head, [he] makes a dignified Exit’ (26). The name, given here for the first time, draws attention to his canine status, while the ‘dignified Exit’ might be said to emphasise anthropomorphism.[4]

Hepsie goes on to talk of fate in association with the ship sailing on Friday before Dixon makes out her disguise: ‘a shockingly young woman’. His nature as a ‘country Lout’ means ‘he can’t keep from flirting’ and he will, when they separate, earn an amiable Nod’ (28). Given Mason’s distraction, this is another moment when the text reminds the reader of their alignment with Dixon. Down the page on 26, ‘she cackles, as the young fancy the old to cackle’, followed by ‘Hepsie [is] too ʼpert by Decades’; but Mason seems not to have noticed. Top of 27 Dixon is ‘nudging Mason urgently with his Toe’. Mason, meanwhile, remains distracted and ‘clutching his head’. If Hepsie is performing, so is he, it seems, albeit unawares. Hepsie is then described as ‘the young Impostress’ in the middle of a passage in which Dixon is trying to reason with Mason: ‘ʼtis the Age of Reason … we’re Men of Science’.[5]

When Bodine asks Mason and Dixon what Hepsie said, they can remember little (28). Which might be a reminder of Cherrycoke as narrator. The chapter opens with a reference to Cherrycoke and the twins (14) but there has been nothing since. The chapter ends with Mason ‘earnestly needing a further Word with Hepsie or the Dog’; but he ‘can find no trace of either, search as he may’ (29). Has he imagined all?

[1] On this reference to drinking and status see Colin A Clarke, Consumption on the Frontier: Food and Sacrament in Mason & Dixon, in Hinds (ed), Multiple Worlds, 85. Other discussions of characterisation and status relevant here include Kathryn Hume, Mason & Dixon, in Inger H Dalsgaard, Luc Herman and Brian McHale (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; and David Seed, Pynchon’s Intertexts, in Dalsgaard et al (ed), Cambridge Companion.

[2] In the late-C19th Durkheim’s functionalism aimed to describe social change by distinguishing between what he called mechanical and organic solidarity, the latter being generally comparable to Mason’s contract here. See Emile Durkheim, Readings from Emile Durkheim, Kenneth Thompson (ed), London: Routledge, 2004, 23-47. For a recent discussion of Durkheim’s ideas, see Peter Thijssen, From mechanical to organic solidarity, and back: With Honneth beyond Durkheim, European Journal of Social Theory, 2012, 15 (4).

[3] One might refer to Pynchon’s (re-)writing of phenomenology here, just as earlier, he has borrowed from a range of sociological traditions. Any such discussion is impossible without reference to Martin Eve’s account in Pynchon and Philosophy, although I would not agree with the view that Pynchon shows himself hostile to critical theory. See Martin Paul Eve, Pynchon and Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Foucault and Adorno, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian, 2014. If Pynchon quotes from particular theories, plays with them as ‘ways of seeing’, the current chapter demonstrates that ‘seeing’ is always a problematic affair. If Mason/Dixon are presented as experts who have been taught to subscribe to objectivity and a scientific method associated with the Enlightenment, Mason as astronomer and Dixon as surveyor, each devoted to the kind of rigorous classification and measurement that positivism takes for granted (still – we live, after all, in the age of something called ‘big data’; and some will speak of ‘metrics’ with orgasmic delight), the current chapter offers a deconstruction of such certainties, just as chapter 2 challenges conventional notions of reliable historical sources (or traces).

[4] In this study, a key point of comparison will be the work of John Gray, so this might be a good time to quote him – in Straw Dogs, for example, he argues against any simplistic distinction between ‘human’ and ‘non-human’ if that means a hierarchical arrangement. See John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, London: Granta Books, 2002. One might also cite Burns on the conflict between reason and imagination as a key feature of the narrative throughout, part of what he calls a parallactic method. See Christy L Burns, Postmodern Historiography: Politics and the Parallactic Method in Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, Postmodern Culture, 2003, 14 (1).

[5] On science and anti-science throughout, see William B Millard, Delineations of Madness and Science: Mason & Dixon, Pynchonian Space and the Snovian Disjunction, in Copestake (ed), American Postmodernity. The essay on Snow is part of the Pynchon middle period discussed earlier.

M&D Chapter 2

[2.1] Obedient servants, 12-13

The short second chapter introduces Mason and Dixon as they introduce themselves to each other, in letters that feature here as ‘traces of the past’.[1] A narrative commentary separates the two letters, perhaps a kind of surveillance in which the reader is complicit.

Chapter 1 dwells on Cherrycoke as storyteller and, in his own words, ‘untrustworthy Remembrancer’ (8); and the novel’s first (explicit) reference to Mason and Dixon (‘It’s twenty years …’ etc, 7) comes within a story told to entertain the children, where ‘poor Mason’ might alert the reader to the identity of ‘a Friend of years ago’ earlier (6), before the more explicit reference (‘And now Mason’s gone’, 8 – the paragraph that builds to Cherrycoke’s self-deprecation, above) a page later.

Just as the first chapter ends with Cherrycoke’s I liberated from the setting that has established him, the two letters feature the Is of Mason and Dixon; and the narrative goes on to challenge the (surface) veracity of both letters (‘A few months later, when it is no longer necessary to pretend …’, 12; ‘Mason in turn confesses …’, 13). If Cherrycoke introduces Mason and Dixon as names that are already significant, easily recognisable to the knowing reader of chapter 1, the letters re-introduce them as not-yet-significant; and the narrative insert exposes the two about-to-be protagonists, drawing attention to artifice (on Dixon’s part) and a less than sympathetic first impression (on Mason’s part), in each case information not immediately apparent to the letters’ (intended) readers. It is interesting that, when they first appear in the text, Mason and Dixon are, then, associated with the kind of region behaviour described by Goffman, specifically the difference between front and back regions (on- and off-stage).[2]

The point Jenkins makes is that history-writing recontextualises the trace; the letters, say, are no longer what they were, a private communication between two strangers negotiating a new relationship.[3] Another way to regard recontextualisation might be to go back to the furniture described at the beginning of chapter one, also traces that have been, so to speak, relocated (5-6). Not least, recontextualisation follows the narrative passage separating the letters. Dixon’s admission that he ‘[w]ent thro’ twenty Revisions’ (12) suggests a shift from one kind of introduction to another, revisions emphasising self-conscious performance designed to impress. Consider Cherrycoke’s storytelling and his need to perform in order to impress. Similarly, Mason’s letter refers to ‘your universally good Name’ (13), following the earlier (but subsequent) confession ‘to having nearly thrown the Letter away’. One letter (Dixon’s) can be reread by what comes after; while the other (Mason’s) might be undercut by what has preceded it. In each case the meaning of historical artefacts is both contingent and unstable.

[1] See Keith Jenkins, Re-Thinking History, London: Routledge, 2003 (first published 1991), 26; also Michel Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, in Donald F Bouchard (ed), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, New York: Cornell University Press, 139-164. As a related example, consider the critical reception to M&D as traces – see Charles Clerc, Mason & Dixon & Pynchon, Oxford: University Press of America, 2000, 9-38.

[2] Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Penguin, 1990 (first published 1959). Goffman’s work in the 1950s and 1960s is certainly relevant to the evolution of Pynchon’s writing generally. In relation to surveillance and what impression management might mean in contemporary society, see Trevor Pinch, The Invisible Technologies of Goffman’s Sociology From the Merry-Go-Round to the Internet, Technology and Culture, 2010, 51 (2).

[3] Jenkins, 26-27. Hence the key role, he goes on, played by ‘epistemological, methodological and ideological factors’; the past (mistakenly called ‘history’) does not speak for itself, and historians are not innocent, disinterested reporters. This discussion of traces, of course, complements Smith’s introduction to Pynchon’s take on history-writing (Smith, Pynchon and History, 1-17).

M&D Chapter 1

[1.1] Here have come to rest (5-10)

The first chapter opens with a sentence that brings the action indoors, events outside now concluded: ‘Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs …’ etc (5). The household is, it seems, warm and welcoming; although the narrative quickly reveals that its destination is ‘a comfortable Room at the rear of the house, years since given over to [the Children’s] Carefree Assaults’.[1] Like the furniture (for example, ‘a long‑scarr’d sawbuck table’) children ‘have come to rest there’, that is, abandoned, or dumped, or simply distanced from the adult society that, by implication, is threatened by embarrassment. This room is where Cherrycoke will be discovered (‘It has become an afternoon habit’, 6), pressed into service to keep the children entertained and distracted, and quiet. If the children are not quite feral, they nonetheless have to be controlled; and the earlier ‘Carefree Assaults’ are replaced (bottom of 6) by ‘Juvenile Rampage’ to explain Cherrycoke’s fear of instant dismissal (‘and Boppo! ’twill be Out the Door with him’, 7). He has been given his targets, and performance management reviews are, perhaps, a frequent occurrence. Usually, according to Pliny: ‘They pay you money to keep away’ (9). However, the presence (on 9, unannounced) of Uncle Ives suggests that Cherrycoke’s entertainments don’t just appeal to children.

However, before the appearance of Cherrycoke, or any other human character, the furniture in this playroom has featured, its provenance – and therefore, indirectly, family history – described at length. In particular, there is ‘a sinister and wonderful Card Table’ (5) offering ‘an illusion of Depth’ that ties it to ‘the illustrated Pages of Books’ designed to keep children occupied. The tales that Cherrycoke will tell (top of 7 onwards) must compete with such entertainment. One might infer a choice between books with pictures designed for the pre-literate child – whether or not that state still applies to the twins; perhaps they simply have no patience for reading – and an oral tradition, here represented by Cherrycoke, one dependent on performance: ‘Thus, they have heard …’ etc. All in a text that draws attention to its construction as words on the page.

Tenebrae with her ‘Needlework, a piece whose size and difficulty are already subjects of discussion …’ etc is differentiated from the twins (‘[a]nnounced by Nasal Telegraph’), their every gesture seemingly disruptive: ‘Pitt licking Gobbets of Philadelphia Pudding from his best Jabot’ and ‘Pliny, whose least gesture sends Cookie-crumbs ev’rywhere’. Named, then, Tenebrae is associated with modest self‑control (she remains silent about her work’s ambitions), while the boys are allowed to be boisterous. Age and maturity, or conventional gender socialisation? Either way, one should think here of ‘docile bodies’.[2] However, if Tenebrae has, thus far, internalised, appropriate behaviours, she has also acquired ways to resist those prescriptions, for example, the knowing playfulness she exhibits on 8. Interaction between Cherrycoke and Tenebrae here (‘… replying to her Uncle’s Twinkling with the usual play of Eye‑lashes’) suggests complicity, a bond of sorts; and the remainder of this first section deals with another kind of discipline, Cherrycoke’s imprisonment in London for, as he puts it, ‘certain Crimes of my distant Youth’ and ‘the Crime they styl’d Anonymity’ (9). This too is a form of resistance, a reaction to ‘Crimes I had observ’d, committed by the Stronger against the Weaker’. And so, if Cherrycoke begins this section isolated with the children, away from adult society, a mere household servant, he ends it describing incarceration ‘among the Rats and Vermin’ (10). Coercion or manipulation, the latter a form of negative reinforcement to persuade Cherrycoke to avoid the punishment that would be expulsion.

[1.2] Keep your memory working, 10-11

The first chapter concludes with a short section featuring Cherrycoke as narrator (‘Tho’ my inclination …’ etc, 10). If 1.1 has emphasised limits placed on his movements, either in his sister’s home or in prison, 1.2 allows him to free himself, so to speak, his voice elevating him above time and space. However, he continues to describe the way ‘those who controll’d my Fate’ were able to frustrate his intentions. In the telling, he might have chosen Bedlam over ‘a small British Frigate sailing alone, upon a long voyage, in a time of War’, the latter nonetheless seeming a better option. Further, his lack of freedom means he is powerless to resist the ‘no doubt well-meant advice’ (11) – if such ‘advice’ reminds the reader of the ‘moral usefulness’ (7) that guided selection of the tales he has been telling Tenebrae and the twins (‘[t]he Youth, as usual, not being consulted in this’), Cherrycoke is again linked to the children as lacking the self-discipline that would grant freedom (supposedly) and independence (ditto).

If, then, the purpose of 1.2 is to explain how Cherrycoke’s movements were, at the time of which he speaks, limited, the extent to which he is freed by the text’s adoption of I is surely significant. I have suggested this personal discourse resembles the voiceover in a film. Emphasised is the voice of the storyteller whose allegiance to the truth has already been questioned; but one might also note the importance of the story as what might be called escapism – for both its audience and the narrator himself.[3]

[1] With reference to the opening page, both Hinds and Smith focus on childhood as innocence, but don’t consider the way in which, within the house as opposed to outside, there is a perceived need to contain such innocence. See Elizabeth Jane Wall Hinds, The Times of Mason & Dixon, in Hinds (ed), The Multiple Worlds of Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, Suffolk: Camden House, 3-4; and Smith, Pynchon and History, 165-166. See also Zofia Kolbuszewska, Childhood as Metaphor: Motif as Narrative Device in Mason & Dixon, in Pynchon Notes, 56-57, 2009, 229-241. Elsewhere, Malin offers an alternative page-by-page account of the novel’s opening. See Irving Malin, Foreshadowing the Text, in Brooke Horvath and Irving Malin (eds), Pynchon and Mason & Dixon, London: Associated University Presses, 27-42.

[2] See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Penguin, 1991 (first French publication 1975). A good explanation is provided by the passage on ‘the body as object and target of power’ and ‘projects of docility’ in the C18th (136). See also Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality 1, Pelican, 1981 (first French publication 1976). Here, Foucault outlines the way ‘mechanisms of power’ changed at that time: there was now ‘a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them, rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or destroying them’ (136 – is this page number a coincidence, or do They …). As an interesting study of biopower, see Majia Holmer Nadesan, Governmentality, Biopower, and Everyday Life, Routledge, 2008. Useful as commentary is Chapter 5, where Nadesan writes, for example, of ‘the human sciences … function[ing] as forms of power governing evaluation of the behaviour of self and others’ (179). Biopower is always to be distinguished from coercion and imprisonment. On the development of Foucault’s thought after Discipline and Punish, see Stuart Elden, Foucault’s Last Decade, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016. On Foucault and power in relation to Mason & Dixon, see Georgios Maragos, G., (2014). ‘For every They there ought to be a We’: The (Almost) Equivalence of Power and Resistance in Mason & Dixon and Against the Day, Orbit: A Journal of American Literature, 2014, 2 (2).

[3] I am also thinking of what Collado Rodríguez has written about the difference between first- and second-level narrations. See Francisco Collado Rodríguez, Mason & Dixon, Historiographic Metafiction and the Unstable Reconciliation of Opposites, in Ian D Copestake (ed), American Postmodernity: Essays on the Recent Fiction of Thomas Pynchon, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2003.

1

What starts here will become a page-by-page commentary on M&D, similar to the one I have already completed on AtD. Generally, I shall work out what I want to say about the relationship between two novels that, arguably, represent Pynchon’s major achievement.

Reading is always rereading, of course. When M&D was first published it appeared seven years after VL and 24 years after GR, and was seen by some as ‘a return to form’ after the aberration that was VL. Even then, reading M&D led inevitably to a reappraisal of each the earlier novels; in time, this has allowed the construction of a middle period for Pynchon, beginning with the short texts published in the early‑1980s (including the Introduction to an autobiography known as SL). In this middle period, I would suggest, there is a more explicit interest in narrative as narrative, the telling of stories. If, then, GR concludes the early period, texts of this middle period make up a transitional phase that leads to the late period of 1984 Foreword, AtD, IV and BE. Those who maintain GR is Pynchon’s ‘masterpiece’ might too readily dismiss the last two novels on that list, and even AtD as well; but one should be able to see how these texts mark Pynchon’s thinking through of the relationship between his fiction and the politics of the post‑1989 world.

And it should go without saying that, if reading is always rereading, no (re)reading can ever be more than provisional.[1]

2

I first read M&D when it was published in May 1997. Publication coincided with, for me, a long weekend following the British general election that led to Tony Blair’s appointment as prime minister. Relieved to see the back of a Conservative government, I nonetheless ignored the news and spent the weekend reading Pynchon’s new novel; like many others, I never had any confidence in Blair as a Labour prime minister. Tom Watson says we should stop dissing Blair; I would simply point out that, even without mentioning the Iraq War, a government that frittered away a 179-seat majority and five million votes might – tactical voting in 1997 notwithstanding – have a little explaining to do, and should have achieved rather more than it did, had there been any intention to seriously be a Labour government.

And no, it isn’t irrelevant to mention this election and government here. Shortly afterwards, Blair fell into line as the Clinton government’s makeover of NATO found an excuse to bomb Kosovo.[2] Blair it was whose ‘doctrine’ (‘I can have one if I want it; you don’t have to be president’) justified a foreign policy based on the rhetoric of some kind of universalised humanitarianism;[3] and one can see how this contemporary writing of ‘universal rights’ (always, of course, to be honoured selectively) had already found its way into M&D as, on their travels, Mason and Dixon confront racism (or racisms). Subsequently, when the ‘blurb’ for AtD, hinting at the novel’s concerns with globalisation, was published in August 2006, I suggested that a key narrative concern might be less to do with ‘location’ than with the way transition and movement became as important as named characters. M&D had already juxtaposed its narrative of space (the journeys undertaken by Mason and Dixon) to one of time (Cherrycoke as a – possibly unreliable – narrator), and Pynchon’s concerns were apparent from the outset.

Chapter 1 of M&D, for example, is split into two sections, the second of which offers a narration by Cherrycoke, now distanced from the family setting that, in the first few pages, has confined him. His narration here lifts Cherrycoke out of both place and time, resembling as it does the voiceover that, in a film, will mark the transition to a flashback (commencing in Chapter 2). One can see, then, straightaway, an interest in confronting C18th pastiche with the way the film medium has shaped perceptions of storytelling more generally.[4]

3

If M&D is now 20 years old, the world that produced it has become a world in which the publication of AtD was not only possible but might coincide with that of The Shock Doctrine. One should address the relevance, to AtD’s focus on power, of discussions since 2001, of ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘terrorism’.[5] If terrorism in the 1960s and 1970s was, supposedly, a product of affluence within Western societies, by the time Pynchon could put Bush II into both the Foreword and AtD, Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ had come up against Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’ as US hegemony was problematised anew.[6]

Previously, Nixon had appeared in both GR and VL as the post-1945 Bretton Woods system underwent some modification. Publication of M&D in the mid-1990s, then, can be tied to historical processes that, 20 years on, make the novel different (as any text must always become different); while reference here to the Blair government has been a reminder that, currently, British politics is being transformed, the neoliberal paradigm dismantled, even as, globally, US foreign policy goes on invoking ‘liberal democracy’ as a more seductive ideology.[7]

Next up … Chapter 1.

[1] For the application of Hayden White’s ideas on historiography to Pynchon’s fiction, see Shawn Smith, Pynchon and History: Metahistorical Rhetoric and Postmodern Narrative Form in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon, Routledge, 2005. This book is one of the many excellent ‘recent’ (or ‘recentish’) studies of Pynchon’s work. However, in preceding Pynchon’s last three novels, of course, Smith’s take on M&D in particular illustrates the point I have tried to make here.

[2] For a summary and references, see my recent post, Labour and NATO.

[3] See, for example, Mark Bevir and Ian Hall, The rise of security governance (in Bevir and Hall eds, Interpreting Global Security, Routledge, 2014).

[4] Henry James might be of interest to Pynchon for his narratives of European‑American culture clash, something he has in common with Nabokov; but his books also foreground, as a feature of literary modernism, the montage that is more obviously a feature of film. On film and fiction, see Seymour Chatman, Coming to Terms The Rhetoric of Narrative in Fiction and Film, Cornell, 1990. Consideration of film and narrative is one way of linking M&D to VL before it and both AtD and IV coming after it.

[5] Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Penguin, 2008 (first published 2007). The writing of global politics as Pynchon made his way from VL to M&D to AtD and beyond is central to any reading of the novels. On neoliberalism, see David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, OUP, 2007 (first published 2005); Yanis Varoufakis, The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy, Zed Books, 2015 (first published, 2011); or Simon Springer, The Discourse of Neoliberalism: An Anatomy of a Powerful Idea, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. On terrorism, see Mike Davis, Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb, Verso, 2007; or Lisa Stampnitzky, Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented ‘Terrorism’, CUP, 2013.

[6] See, for example, Perry Anderson, American Foreign Policy and its Thinkers, Verso, 2015.

[7] Nonetheless … as accounts of an emergent alternative democracy, see Naomi Klein, No Logo, Fourth Estate, 2010 (first published 2000); and Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Penguin, 2015 (first published 2014). Further, on television, making for an interesting comparison, there has been The Newsroom (Aaron Sorkin, 2012 onwards) as a successor to The West Wing (Aaron Sorkin, 1999-2006).

Publication of the Chilcot Report in July confirmed Britain’s participation in what most people now agree was a mistaken if not criminal venture. Some consideration of the ‘lessons of history’ has been unavoidable, but efforts to rewrite history in self-serving fashion have been laughable. Owen Smith might now insists he would have voted against the Iraq War, even though, in 2006, well before he had to try to shore up left‑wing credentials, his views were somewhat different. Others might claim they were victims of ‘flawed’ intelligence. If only we knew then, etcetera. Of greater import, perhaps, has been the irritation expressed by those long fed up of having to defend ‘Blair’s war’ – it’s time to move on (for example, David Miliband in 2010; or Blair himself in 2011; or Hilary Benn last December). There is, after all, something so unfair about the anti-war brigade who will keep going on about it. The past is the past, get over it.

What this discussion reveals, of course, is a profound ambivalence about the role played by history in political discourse. Ignore history when it is more convenient to do so; and, whenever possible, rewrite it because it now suits us to remember. Benn has been criticised (for example, here and here) for the way he dragged the Spanish Civil War into the Syria debate. If his speech showed that history can always be exploited and spun to provide authority to otherwise empty rhetoric, the same might be said whenever Smith challenges Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on NATO and Trident. Here, Smith insists that Britain has a duty to remember its place in the world, as though this ‘place’ is fixed for all time. Because it suited him, Smith could invoke history, albeit one dependent on a no doubt sanitised version of what Britain, in past decades and centuries, did get up to. If nothing else, this should be seen as remarkable complacency on the part of one who would be prime minister.

To take one example to illustrate how this approach is problematic – it might be argued that, far from simply repeating the boast that Britain’s place in the world is no more than confirmed by membership of the UN Security Council, there is clearly a case for reforming the (‘anachronistic’) UNSC (see, for example, here, here and here). Clearly, the UNSC produces authority rather than simply describing it. Any consideration of the history of the world since 1945 will mean acknowledging the extent to which the UN has changed and reasons why. At the very least, one should remember that history has had to be written, and that means interpretations fought over. Kundera put it well when he said the struggle against power was the struggle of memory against forgetting; and so, if that means not forgetting Britain’s part in the Iraq War, it also means remembering why Britain can still call itself a great power. In common with most politicians looking to make cheap flag-waving points, Smith thinks Britain has a responsibility to pretend it is still 1945; but perhaps a greater responsibility is for politicians to acknowledge how and why that is no longer the case.

This post was first published on heavymetalpolitics.com (18/9/16)

 

It does seem that Britain takes for granted its membership of NATO. A few weeks ago, in one of his last acts as prime minister, David Cameron was quite gung-ho; and Owen Smith has attempted to exploit what he hopes is Jeremy Corbyn’s vulnerability on the issue. Of course, Cameron was hoping to big up his own role as a statesman who can shape debates on what they like to call a global stage, and one should expect nothing else of a Conservative leader. However, it might be a good idea for Labour politicians to be rather more thoughtful; and it has been evident that, the more they try to articulate a progressive foreign policy, the more evasive they become when they can no longer avoid mentioning NATO: what is the purpose of the alliance if, as they keep telling us, the world has changed? In what follows here I give two brief examples of how leading Labour figures have tied themselves in knots – former leader Ed Miliband, anticipating success at the last general election; and former foreign secretary Robin Cook, perhaps inadvertently tracking the failure of a so-called ethical foreign policy after 1997. One conclusion becomes unavoidable – as with Trident, the more Corbyn challenges conventional thinking, the more a serious discussion becomes possible.

Ahead of the 2015 general election, Miliband outlined the foreign policy he proposed for the next Labour government, insisting on the continued importance of NATO, even though he acknowledged that ‘[t]he threats we face now are not generally the old threat from single states’. He went on to list three such threats, or challenges: those from terrorism, mass migration, and climate change, all issues that undoubtedly require international co-operation. Unfortunately, Miliband’s argument lacked conviction as he insisted on co-operation while refusing to even consider what this might mean in relation to NATO. Miliband spoke of ‘reshap[ing] our great country’s relationship with our allies and partners’, but failed to specifically address Britain’s relationship with the US or the latter’s domination of NATO and ‘the West’ generally (for my discussion of the ‘special relationship in action recently, see here). Looking ahead, given his inability to say anything different, one might expect that a Smith leadership – in government or in opposition – would be similarly compromised.

NATO remains a problem because of the refusal of politicians to confront its continued existence. There are few, like Corbyn, who have been prepared to ask the obvious question. Following the Warsaw summit in July it was obvious that ‘Europe’ was far from united on how to face the so-called challenge of Russian aggression. On this occasion, Cameron attempted to make Europe – or Western Europe, or some kind of European alliance – synonymous with NATO; and it should be clear to anyone not in denial that, following the end of the Cold War, NATO and the EU have worked in concert in expanding into Eastern Europe.[1] Rather than easy anti-Russia rhetoric, there should be a more careful consideration of Europe’s relationship with the US when the latter, post-1989, has been encouraged, under successive presidents, to see itself as the only game in town.

It is, then, worth revisiting the idea of an ethical foreign policy as introduced by Robin Cook when he became foreign secretary in 1997. At that time Cook described what he called a Mission Statement, and the first of his four stated goals, perhaps predictably, confirmed Labour’s ongoing commitment to NATO: whatever British foreign policy was going to be, there was little likelihood of any challenge to US hegemony. The subsequent bombing of Kosovo, justified as an act of humanitarian intervention, no more than confirmed US leadership of NATO, and it is difficult to pretend that action ever had any other purpose.[2] This example is pertinent to the present discussion because Cook is, perhaps, best remembered now for his opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003: in his speech in Parliament, resigning from the government – he had been Leader of the House since 2001 – Cook noted that the Iraq invasion didn’t have the support of NATO (or the EU or the UN Security Council). He brought up Kosovo to argue that legal justification on the basis of humanitarian need followed from a consensus among the different organisations he named. However, rather than contrasting Iraq and Kosovo as examples of British foreign policy getting it wrong after getting it right, Cook would have done better to highlight their similarities and observe that, on each occasion, it was a desire on the part of the US to assert hegemonic control that determined action. On each occasion, Britain’s only consideration was whether or not to fall into line. The challenge for a future Labour government, then, will be to find a way to avoid ongoing subservience to US global ambitions.

This post was first published on heavymetalpolitics.com (17/9/16).

[1] Frank Schimmelfennig, The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric, 2003; Luis Simon, Geopolitical Change, Grand Strategy and European Security: The EU‑NATO Conundrum, 2014.

[2] Tariq Ali ed, Masters of the Universe?: NATO’s Balkan Crusade, 2000.