Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

The Anarchist Miracle and Magic in Mason & Dixon

Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

The Anarchist Miracle and Magic in Mason & Dixon

Article excerpt

From early in Pynchon's career, the magical and the miraculous have been central themes. In The Crying of Lot 49, Jesus Arrabal defines a miracle as "'another world's intrusion into this one'" (120), a phrase Oedipa Maas echoes when she wonders "[i]f miracles were ... intrusions into this world from another, the kiss of cosmic pool balls" (124). Arrabal, an anarchist revolutionary, applies this concept to the spontaneous formation of revolutions, which he idealizes as "'[a]n anarchist miracle'" (120). In "Is It O.K. to Be a Luddite?" Pynchon suggests that the concept of miracle has broader implications within his own oeuvre, aligning himself tentatively with the "Luddite hope of miracle" as embodied in "fictional violations of the laws of nature--of space, time, thermodynamics, and the big one, mortality itself" (41). (1) The concern with miraculous, otherworldly occurrences extends throughout Pynchon's career and culminates in Mason & Dixon. That novel abounds in miraculous events, what the Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke refers to as "Might-it-bes, and If-it-weres,--not to mention What-was-thats" (618), including spiritual or quasispiritual revelations, oracular predictions, disembodied voices, and ghostly, demonic and angelic presences. As Brian McHale puts it, "Like the world of Gravity's Rainbow, with its angels, its voices from beyond, its revenants and cases of demonic possession, the world of Mason and Dixon is all but overrun by interlopers from elsewhere" (MDZ 56).

In addition to an interest in the miraculous, Pynchon exhibits a concern throughout his oeuvre with magic--both a generalized sense of enchantment and specific traditions of occultism such as feng shui, kabbalah and ceremonial magic. This concern manifests itself in a variety of ways, including Pynchon's speculations in The Crying of Lot 49 on the "high magic to low puns" (129) and the occultist allusions throughout Gravity's Rainbow. In Mason & Dixon, Pynchon laments the loss of miraculous and magical possibilities caused by the Enlightenment science informing Mason and Dixon's project to map and demarcate America. At the same time, Pynchon attempts to reconnect with these lost possibilities in America through the representation of miraculous occurrences. These moments constitute anarchist miracles in that they cannot be absorbed into any existing religious or spiritual ideology or even proved to be true, and they contribute to a larger project of fictional magic within Pynchon's narrative. (2) For Pynchon, magic is the re-opening of possibilities in the metaphysical and the sociopolitical realms.

Two passages from Mason & Dixon illustrate the theme of a loss of the magical and the miraculous accompanying the protagonists' explorations. The first is an often-quoted commentary by Cherrycoke on colonial America:

      Does Britannia, 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 Westward, 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 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. (345)

This passage, with its tone of lament for the loss of subjunctive hopes, has led McHale to expound at length on Pynchon's vision of "the American West as subjunctive space, the space of wish and desire, of the hypothetical and the counterfactual, of speculation and possibility" (MDZ 44), and to explore the ramifications of various narrative threads cast in the subjunctive and the alternative spaces these subjunctive passages create. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.