The Boundaries of the HumAnimal in Mason & Dixon

"Two Distinct Worlds"? Maintaining and Transgressing the Boundaries of the HumAnimal in Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon

Thomas Pynchon's postmodern historical novel Mason & Dixon (1997) may not be the first book to come to mind when discussing the ecogothic in the long nineteenth century. After all, its main narrative centers on Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon's westward journey to solve the boundary dispute between William Penn and Lord Baltimore and is primarily set between 1763 and 1767 (albeit filled with anachronisms). This tale is narrated by Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke in a Philadelphia house in 1786. Cherrycoke's spatio-temporal displacement, his positioning after the American Revolution (in Philadelphia, no less) allows him to reflect on Mason and Dixon's assignment after the "War [had been] settl’d and the Nation [was] bickering itself into Fragments."1 At this point in time, the Mason–Dixon Line seemed to have lost much of its symbolic power as an emblem of British colonialism, for merely "eight years" after the Line had been drawn, it was "nullified by the War for Independence" (8). However, the Line was to become the symbol of division in the new-born United States of America over the issue of slavery only a few decades later. As the "mystic Chinaman" (543) Captain Zhang tellingly prophesizes, "Nothing will produce Bad History more directly . . . than drawing a Line . . . through the midst of a People," since it will lead to "War and Devastation" (615). Published at the end of what Henry Luce famously called the "American Century," Mason & Dixon looks into the historical rear-view mirror and discovers one of the founding moments of the American nation. In so doing, the novel suggests that the drawing of the Mason–Dixon line was a "Zero-Point of history" (152) demarcating the "beginning of the West" (445), as Pynchon transforms the Line into an emblem of the many fault lines haunting American culture at the end of the twentieth century.

Christy L. Burns has called Pynchon's superimposing of eighteenth and twentieth-century themes in Mason & Dixon a "parallactic method," which produces "a full and yet contentiously dialectical representation of 'America' as it was in the mid- to late eighteenth century and as it is now" by "synchroniz[ing] . . . the past with the present."2 This interplay between different temporal layers, Burns argues, allows readers to "interpret history as a dialogue between the differences and the uncanny similarities of that time's 'angle' and their own."3 The convergence of these two temporally remote points generates an uncanny moment and unearths a (counter-)historical narrative that has been "massively blocked off" even though the entire nation "ought to normally have access" to it.4 Pynchon thus uncovers veiled histories and the consequences of suppressing them. As Mason understands, "a Ghost" is "nothing more . . . than a wrong unrighted" (68). Thus, a "Collective Ghost" arises from the "Wrongs committed Daily against the Slaves, petty and grave ones alike, going unrecorded, charm'd invisible to history" (68). In the American context in particular, the specters of slavery and the ghostly presences of Native Americans highlight "America as a haunted space troubled by revenants from its history of repression and dispossession."5

Whereas scholars have acknowledged the interconnections between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries Mason & Dixon explores, I would like to point out here that the century sandwiched in-between also proves significant, as the novel chronicles a social, economic, and technological development that transformed America into an "Engine of Destruction" (11), which started to operate at full capacity in the nineteenth century. The boundary line the astronomer and surveyor draw plays a key role in this context, as the "powerful political machine of Manifest Destiny" exploited the "dualistic vision in which the human is entirely outside the natural" (backed by scientific discourse) in order to brush aside the implications of white man's displacement and extermination of nonhuman and purportedly subhuman Others in the nineteenth century.6

Accordingly, my essay will suggest that the Mason–Dixon line harbingers the Westward Movement of the nineteenth century and prophesizes the resultant dark spots on the purportedly clean record that is the forward progress of the American nation. While the expansion toward the (mythical) West had, of course, started when the New World was "discovered" (or even earlier, for that matter), it took full force in the nineteenth century, spurred by technological as well as scientific progress and the attendant hardening of the dividing lines between culture and nature, the human and the nonhuman. Indeed, by highlighting that the group surrounding Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon left behind a "slain Forest" (172), Mason & Dixon suggests that although its narrative may be (loosely) based on historical reality, the novel weaves a much more expansive symbolic web, as Mason and Dixon's progress toward the West becomes a symbolic microcosm of events that would unfold "unto the year 1900, and beyond" (324).

Dominick LaCapra has explained that "attempts to work out 'dialogical' connections between the past and present" allow us to interrelate "historical understanding" and "ethicopolitical concerns."7 Following this idea, I will argue that the apparently senseless project of drawing the Line functions as an ecological allegory, since it "inflict[s] upon [the Earth] a long, perfect scar" (526). This scar serves as a metaphor for the radical division between the human animal and its surrounding environment.8

In one of the earliest ecocritical readings of Pynchon's works (written more than a decade before Mason & Dixon was published), Douglas Keesey notes that

Pynchon is not merely concerned to promote an understanding of ecology, but also wants to attack the barriers to that understanding—for what distorts his characters' vision of their necessary dependence on others in this world is an ideology promoting division, a view of the whole earth as something to be divided up and devoured for the self’s own gain.9

A result of the intricate classifying systems developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which allowed humankind to rationalize the world's complexities, the Line initially demarcates humanity from nature, suggesting that "[t]he place where we are is the place where nature is not."10 However, Pynchon wouldn't be a "good" postmodernist unless he rejected binary thinking entirely. And, indeed, if not earlier, then once the Line metaphorically transforms into a "tree-slaughtering Animal" with "teeth of Steel" whose "Life's Blood" is "Disbursement" (678), readers should have come to understand that rather than simply obliterating the clear opposition between humanity and nature, Mason & Dixon advocates an awareness of human beings' "entangle[ment]" in "a maze of unexpected associations between heterogeneous elements."11

Slain Nature—Haunted Humanity

Already in his classic novel Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Pynchon touched on ecological questions when the character Frans ponders the extermination of the dodo. As a member of a Dutch hunting expedition on Mauritius, Frans wonders whether the feathered beasts don't deserve a fighting chance—"don't I deserve a clumsy weapon for such a clumsy prey?" However, since his fellow countrymen believe "the stumbling birds ill-made to the point of Satanic intervention," they consider the killing of the bird that lacks "a capacity for flight" and "details of Design" a "devotional act . . . whose symbolism they underst[an]d," Frans joins the party and ends up killing hundreds of dodos. After having committed this crime against nature, Frans begins hearing "voices" that "ma[k]e no waking sense," "warning him" of the interconnections between the natural and human worlds—a warning he fails to understand, though.12

In Mason & Dixon, ecological issues are introduced early and remain a constant throughout the book, garnished with short, but illustrative episodes. For example, in their first collaborative project, Mason and Dixon are tasked to observe the transit of Venus on the island of Sumatra. On their way, they spend some time in Cape Town. Their host in southern Africa is Cornelius Vroom, "an Admirer of the legendary Botha brothers, . . . whose great Joy and accomplishment lay in the hunting and slaughter of animals much larger than they" (60). Vroom's fascination with these "gin-drinking, pipe-smoking Nimrods" (60) is part and parcel of his masculine performance, which also involves an appreciation of the "manly" act of killing animals. Of course, "[t]he killing of animals . . . reflects human power over animals at its most extreme."13 However, the "holocaust of immense proportions" that is the killing of animals is not only a problem in itself,14 as the extermination of any species has effects on their ecosystem, if not the biosphere at large.

While the large-scale effects of human intervention in the environment are merely adumbrated at this early point of the novel, this idea is taken up again toward the end of Mason and Dixon's journey in America, when they hear the tale of a young lord who goes fishing and "pulls in a small snakelike thing" (588). When the young lord's friend comes along, he tells the lord to "[t]hrow it back in," but the lord wonders whether "the River's quite the place for it" (588), since he fears it may prey on the fish in the water (which are the lord's to kill). After some back and forth, he "tosses the Worm into [a] Well" (589) rather than back into the river. In the well, the animal quickly starts to grow: "Soon, the water has acquir'd an unpleasant taste, metallic, sour, heavy with reptilian Musk" (589). The beast quickly outgrows the well and begins to feed on "sheep and swine," while "careless dogs, cats, and humans are but light snacks to it" (589). Consequently, "a circle of Devastation appears" around the animal, "pale and soil'd, which no one enters" (589).

This episode illustrates the ways in which human intervention in the environment, spurred by the utter disregard for the interrelated networks driving an ecosystem, may not only go awry, but, in fact, will even negatively impact humans (who are, of course, part of the environment). The young lord, significantly a crusader (i.e., the personification of an imperialist colonizer) who ends up in Transylvania (i.e., symbolically becomes a vampire who sucks the life blood out of his victims), is oblivious to the large-scale effects of his seemingly minor crime against nature, which, however, initiates a chain reaction that results in the emergence of a "Zone of emptiness" (590) devoid of life (other than the giant worm). In addition, the episode presents an exemplary cautionary tale which demonstrates how humanity breeds the monsters it consequently tries to eradicate again. "Monsters," Jeffrey Jerome Cohen has tellingly argued, "are our children. . . . And when they come back, they . . . bear self-knowledge, human knowledge."15 Whereas Cohen here highlights that all monsters are human creations, some monsters' human origins are more easily traced than others.

Indeed, irrespective of the question of what would have happened if the young lord had not tossed the worm into the well, the tale is "meant to convey by Symbols certain secret teachings" (594). One of the men concludes that the worm must represent "a much older magic, and certainly one the Christians wanted to eradicate" (595). In a sense, this is true. While the young lord goes on to slay the worm, arguably re-asserting humanity's claim to the top spot in the worldly Chain of Being, the fruit of the young lord's loins and the following eight generations all die prematurely. While, in the tale, this unfortunate development is rationalized by curses laid upon the lord, one may also argue that the worm's toxic presence close to the castle literally poisoned the lord to the point that it resulted in genetic damages. In this way, mankind's interventions in the environment, fueled by an ignorance of ecology, are shown to have unwanted long-term effects on humanity.

Mason and Dixon's line presents a similar human intervention in nature. As "Geomancer" Zang explains:

Ev'rywhere else on earth, Boundaries follow Nature,— coastlines, ridge-tops, river-banks,— so honoring the Dragon . . . within, from which Land-Scape ever takes its form. To mark a right Line upon the Earth is to inflict upon the Dragon's very Flesh, a sword-slash, . . . impossible for any who live out here the year 'round to see as other than hateful Assault. (542)

In this utterance, Zhang highlights the ways in which "humanity lays claim . . . to the . . . establishment of order where all before was without form and void."16 However, he implies that it is a "futile attempt to subordinate a world that is sublimely insubordinate."17 The phrase "hateful Assault" implies that humanity’s actions are bound to provoke a counter-attack by Gaia, which—it is assumed—mankind cannot resist (suggesting that humankind is haunted by the abstract specter of Nature's wrath). However, the reality of life on planet Earth, Mason & Dixon suggests, provides sufficient tactical weaponry to shake the rationalist worldview to its very foundations.

The (Not-Quite) Animal (Not-Quite) Other

Elizabeth Jane Wall Hinds has outlined Mason & Dixon's relation to classifying schemes in the late eighteenth century, explaining that one of the driving forces behind the systematization of the world was to "taxonomize[] hybridity out of official existence."18 Before humankind became enlightened, "folks . . . believed . . . all kinds of things had been possible," since "[t]he laws of nature had not been so strictly formulated back then."19 The rational(ized) human, however, "engaged in . . . the description of a static, hierarchic nature."20 Mankind thus introduced "a gulf between mind and Nature" and, consequently, "relegated hybridity to the popular sphere of 'monstrosity.'"21

Accordingly, the monsters Mason and Dixon come across during their journeys are not wolves, bears, or other predators, since these animals are easy to classify in the Linnaean system; rather, the truly monstrous beings they chance upon are creatures that defy categorization. For example, when Mason and Dixon (and readers) encounter a talking dog at the Cape of Good Hope, Mason remarks, "[t]his dog . . . is causing me ap-pre-hen-sion," because talking dogs are "creatures of miracle" that ought not exist in material reality (20).22 While, for readers, the appearance of the Learnéd Dog primarily has a comical effect, for Mason, quite the opposite is the case. By verbalizing his uneasiness with confronting the dog displaying human qualities, the British astronomer (relayed via Cherrycoke, relayed via Pynchon) conjures up the Freudian notion of the uncanny in two ways: On the one hand, Freud defines the uncanny as "nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established."23 On the other hand, Freud explains, "an uncanny effect is often and easily produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality."24 Apparently, man's best friend falls into the established and unambiguous category of "dog," while talking dogs belong to the fantastic. But this particular canine is different, as his ability to use human language moves him ever closer to the category of "human," while his existence in the material reality of the fictional world further questions existing ontologies. To top it off, the Learnéd Dog does not parrot; he cannot just repeat words without comprehending them—he has acquired the ability to reason:

'Tis the Age of Reason, rrrf? There is ever an Explanation at hand, and no such thing as a Talking Dog—Talking Dogs belong with Dragons and Unicorns. What there are, however, are Provisions for Survival in a World less fantastick. […] Once, the only reason Men kept Dogs was for food. Noting that among Men no crime was quite so abhorr'd as eating the flesh of another human, Dog quickly learn'd to act as human as possible,—and to pass this Ability on from Parents to Pups. (22)

Pynchon evidently pokes fun at the enlightened worldview here, for the dog's explanation is nearly too rational: He, as a talking dog, should only exist in the realm of fantasy, like "Dragons and Unicorns." However, according to the Learnéd D., dogs at some point in history began to understand that to mimic human actions would bring them (categorically, but also emotionally) closer to humans. Accordingly, they have passed down this knowledge from generation to generation. At some point, some canine fellows concluded that the closest they could get to human beings was by acquiring human language and the ability to reason—all for the sake of survival. In other words, the Learnéd Dog's monstrous liminality—inhabiting a twilight zone between man and dog—results from the biological drive to survive in the everlasting struggle for life that is the survival of the fittest. Interestingly, Charles Darwin noted that as a result of the struggle for life,

variations, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if they be in any degree profitable to the individuals of a species, in their infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to their physical conditions of life, will tend to the preservation of such individuals, and will generally be inherited by the offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive.

Hence, the Learnéd Dog introduces a slant of nineteenth-century evolutionism into the mid-eighteenth century, questioning the clear divisions Mason and Dixon's journey seeks to establish. Yet the canine does not simply reiterate Darwinian evolutionism, either. After all, he stresses that puppies do not just inherit the ability to act human; dogs "pass this Ability on," which implies canine history and, thus, culture. Accordingly, by being nearly too human-like, the talking dog emblematizes the anxiety that the Other may not be so different from the Self, after all, and that, consequently, the line separating nature from culture, human from nonhuman, may be random, too.

The novel further develops the entanglement of human and nonhuman, nature and culture, the semiotic system and material reality—all interrelated in ways more intricate than simple binaries would suggest—when Mason and Dixon come across an incarnation of Vaucanson's Canard Digérateur, the infamous mechanical duck built in 1739 which simulated the process of digestion. A French chef named Armand Allegre narrates that Vaucanson decided to afford "his Automaton a Digestionary Process" so that the "end result could not be distinguish'd from that found in Nature" (372). Eventually, the chef explains, the duck underwent a "strange Metamorphosis" that "sent it out the Gates of the Inanimate . . . into the given World" (372). Since Allegre became famous for his duck dishes, the feathered beast approached "the terrible Bluebeard of the Kitchen, whose celebrity [was] purchas'd with the lives of [its] race" one day (375). If the chef wanted to "deflect" the duck's "Wrath" (376), Allegre would have to bring her the "other Duck, which Vaucanson has kept ever on hand" (376), the duck suggested. When the chef failed to do so, the duck "began paying regular visits" (378). The mechanical duck started to, quite literally, haunt the French cook. While the duck is "artificial and deathless" (380), it simultaneously lives, seeking a man-made mate, clearly evoking the brief episode on the monster's bride in Frankenstein (1818).

Like the Learnéd Dog, the mechanical duck exists beyond strict binaries. As Wolfgang Kayser notes in his book The Grotesque in Art and Literature (1957), "The mechanical object is alienated by being brought to life."26 After all, "[t]he best . . . technology" generally exists "in opposition to the traditional image of what is . . . living."27 Yet by interweaving technology and the animal, Mason & Dixon invites its readers to recognize the ways in which animals became embedded in the emerging industrial environment. As Akira Mizuta Lippit explains in Electric Animal (2000),

[T]he idioms and histories of numerous technological innovations from the steam engine to quantum mechanics bear the traces of an incorporated animality. James Watt and later Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Walt Disney, and Erwin Schrödinger . . . found uses for animal spirits in developing their respective machines, creating in the process a series of fantastic hybrids.28

On the other hand, the duck introduces a different ontology, an alternative way of conceiving of the ways in which the world operates. Indeed, at some point, even "Time . . . no longer matters to her" (637), as Allegre becomes haunted by thoughts of the duck, yet its mechanized body absent. By transcending the iron grip of (mechanized) time, the mechanical duck ascends to the spectral sphere. In Specters of Marx (1993), Jacques Derrida famously explains that the "spectral moment . . . no longer belongs to time,"29 before elaborating on the specter: "[T]his non-object, this non-present present, this being-there of an absent or departed one no longer belongs to knowledge. At least no longer to that which one thinks one knows by the name of knowledge."30 But whereas for Derrida, the specter is caught in a never-ending play of signification, Mason & Dixon points toward the possibility of a deeper understanding outside the semiotic domain that Mason and Dixon may reach if they embraced the unknown—an ancient knowledge out there in the uncivilized world, barely accessible to human beings.

The Innocence of Animals

Mason & Dixon's constant establishment and concomitant transgression of boundaries creates "a continual impression of instability and uncertainty" about the borderlines between the civilized and controlled (white) man-made environment and chaotic nature inhabited by animals and "lower" forms of human beings.31 This deconstructive (for the lack of a better term) gesture culminates when Mason and Dixon's party reaches the Allegheny Crest. "Across it," the surveyors are warned, "things are not so civiliz'd" (467). With the barbaric threat and the growing awareness that their scientific knowledge cannot help them comprehend the world looming large, the two scientists come to understand that they have, in fact, produced "two boundary lines, one 'straight,' and one, about a thousandth of a Mile longer, 'curv'd'" (468).

These two lines symbolize a problem inherent to Mason and Dixon's project. As Gábor Tamás Molnár has explained, while "[t]he Line . . . looks straight when viewed from the surface of the Earth or on a two-dimensional map," when looked at "[f]rom a geometrical" perspective, it becomes a "parabolic curve." "The difference between the two," Molnár continues, symbolizes "the difference between a human point of view and a superhuman one." In other words, while the Line was meant to settle the score once and for all, to represent an objective Truth, there never was merely one line, to begin with. Thus, the novel's "geometrical metaphor . . . connotes the cosmic insignificance of human existence, the negligible restrictiveness of human perspective for the broader claims of scientific truth."32

Here, Mason and Dixon's problems with accurately drawing the Line symbolically converge with the line separating colonized and civilized America from its barbarian Other, which, the novel suggests, is also hard to maintain. Tellingly, the farther the expedition moves westward, the more Mason and Dixon come to understand that there is "too much, out here . . . to mark the Boundaries between Reality and Representation" (429). While this quotation may be considered the quintessential slogan of postmodernism, the blurring of two ontologies that should be clearly kept apart underlines the central problem faced by the two scientists—where to draw the line? Or, as one of the Mohawks whom the British meet toward the end of their journey wonders, "Why are you doing this?" (641).

In hindsight, Cherrycoke diagnoses that "what [they] were doing out in that Country . . . was . . . ultimately meaningless" (8). Historically speaking, this is certainly the case. "Americans are familiar with [Mason and Dixon] only by a quirk of history: the line that they drew happened to become a symbolic marker that divided slave states from free states."33 As a result, outside of Pynchon scholarship, "only a few dated articles have been written" about the two British explorers.34 However, it is exactly this concurrence of historical circumstances that allows Pynchon to extrapolate the trajectory of the American nation from this historical moment: "Going west" was "all Futurity" in the 1760s (499); but during their journey toward the future, the British exploration leaves behind "a clear sign of Human Presence upon the Planet" (219), heralding the advent of the Anthropocene.

Commenting on The Crying of Lot 49 (1965), Tony Tanner has observed that "[t]he great subjunctive premise underlying Pynchon's work is . . . had America taken a different path."35 Mason and Dixon's exploration emerges as possibly the final moment in American history when the nation could have taken the road eventually not taken. During the latter part of the journey, a member of Mason and Dixon's party tellingly points out, "This Age sees a corruption and disabling of the ancient Magick. Projectors, Brokers of Capital, Insurancers, Peddlers upon the global Scale, Enterprisers and Quacks—these are the last poor fallen and feckless inheritors of a Knowledge they can never use, but in the service of Greed" (487–8). Faced with the coming of global capitalism, the British explorers come across a number of forking paths at which history, emblematized by their journey, could have taken different paths.

For example, at one point, "Dixon is sent out into Darkness variable as Moon, thick with predators bestial and human, Indians upon missions forever secret from European eyes, all moving easily among this Community of the Night, interrupted only by the odd unschedul'd Idiot" (468). In this brief episode, Dixon symbolically becomes the Other, invading what Zofia Kolbuszewska has called the "pre-lapsarian" American wilderness, which "precedes any signification."36 In this way, Mason & Dixon makes explicit how processes of Othering always rely on one's perspective and how the Other must be inscribed into the Self in order for the Self to define itself. The Self results from the interplay between the Other and the Self, as much as the Other only emerges in relation to the Self. Everything is "invisibly connected" (429). As Mason nearly gains a deeper understanding of the world, he also anticipates Transcendentalist thinking. After all, about eighty years later, Ralph Waldo Emerson would proclaim that "every part and particle is equally connected."37

Dixon has a similar moment of near-clarity after having returned to the Old World. Dixon, sick and seemingly floating in a twilight zone between life and death, recounts his trip to "Terra Concava," where he encountered a civilization "who live underground and possess . . . magickal powers" (740). One of the gnome-like creatures told Dixon:

Once the solar parallax is known, . . . once the necessary Degrees are measur'd, and the size and weight and shape of the Earth are calculated inescapably at last, all this will vanish. We will have to seek another Space. . . . Perhaps some of us will try living upon thy own Surface. I am not sure that everyone can adjust from a concave space to a convex one. Here have we been sheltered, nearly everywhere we look is no Sky, but only more Earth.— How many of us, I wonder could live the other way, the way you People do, so exposed to the Outer Darkness? Those terrible Lights, great and small? And wherever you may stand, given the Convexity, each of you is slightly pointed away from everybody else, all the time, out into that Void that most of you seldom notice. Here in the Earth Concave, everyone is pointed at everyone else,— ev'rybody's axes converge,— forc'd at least thus to acknowledge one another,— an entirely different set of rules for how to behave. (741)

The inhabitant of the underworld suggests not simply an alternative way of living, but a different kind of thinking about life. Since "ev'rybody's axes converge," life in the hollow earth is defined by connections; because "everyone is pointed at everyone else," the civilization down below emerges as a kind of organism, an assemblage of individual bodies, which are, on their end, assemblages of connections on the molecular level. Each body is, effectively and affectively, part of the next, part of the environment. However, their marginal status (and their belief in the rationalist dogmas of the day) keeps Mason and Dixon from embracing the knowledge potentials they uncover during their journey, thus setting the path for history to come.

Tellingly, Claire Jean King concludes her recent book Dangerous Crossings (2015) by stressing, "In ecological terms, time is indeed short. But there is still a chance to open ourselves to each other, to see each other. There is still time to become and act together,"38 which uncannily resembles the gnome's words. Yet despite such brief modicums of hope, "[t]he story of America that Pynchon tells . . . is inevitably the story of exponentially increasing exploitation undertaken in the name of progress."39 Indeed, as King underlines, "neoliberal policies, language, and values have pervaded American culture and society" to the point that the "growing environmental awareness notwithstanding, the commodification and instrumentalization of animals and the earth intensifies."40 This continuing exploitation of Earth's natural resources is rooted in humankind's unwillingness to "see the patterns that would reveal our dependence on the natural world, nor are we commonly aware of the systems within which we are deeply embedded. Our attention, entrained on objects and focused on flat screens, is far removed from the dynamic and animated nonhuman world."41

"[S]upposing Progress Westward were a journey, returning unto Innocence," Mason muses at one point, then the journey's "Limit" would be "the innocence of the Animals with whom [Native Americans] must inter-act upon a daily basis" (427). This aside, which promises a much deeper insight into the actual workings of our entangled world, is, however, quickly brushed aside, as Mason goes on to speculate that due to constant threat posed by nature, a "Torpedo may hold for [Native Americans] greater appeal than [one] may guess" (427). Here, a (romanticized) life in harmony with nature becomes replaced by the introduction of tools in order to enforce human dominance of and human control over the nonhuman world. This, Mason & Dixon suggests, is the road America decided to take in the eighteenth century and has diligently followed ever since.


01 Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, 6. Subsequent references to Mason & Dixon will appear parenthetically in the text. Capitalization and italics adopted from the original text unless noted otherwise. | return to main text |
02 Burns, "Postmodern Historiography," par. 1. | return to main text |
03 Ibid., par. 3. | return to main text |
04 Sedgwick, Coherence, 12. | return to main text |
05 Benea, "Native American Ghostliness," 162. | return to main text |
06 Cronon, "Trouble with Wilderness," 17; Cohen, "Monster Theory," 8. Jody Emel has illustrated the parallels between the displacement of Native Americans and wolves as a result of the bison's decimation in the nineteenth century. As she notes, "Reading the military journals of officers tracking the last small groups of free Comanches along the canyons of the Llano Estacado in West Texas is remarkably like reading the accounts of government hunters tracking the last remaining southwestern wolves" (98–9). | return to main text |
07 LaCapra, History, 9–10. | return to main text |
08 Upon meeting Dixon prior to his journey to America, another character remarks, "'tis said tha'll be going to America, to build them a Visto of an Hundred Leagues or more …?" Dixon replies, "Sort of a long Property-Line . . .. Both sides want the Trees out of the way" (234). Tellingly, the border between the United States and Canada, likewise, consists of a twenty-foot "no touching zone" in which all tress have been removed. Due to limited growing season, the trees in the Alaska–Yukon border area are cut every fifteen years; however, farther east, trees are cut every five to six years in order to ensure that the border remains visible. | return to main text |
09 Keesey, "Nature and the Supernatural," 85. | return to main text |
10 Cronon, "Trouble with Wilderness," 17. | return to main text |
11 Latour, "Re-Modernization," 36. | return to main text |
12 Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, 109–10. | return to main text |
13 Animal Studies Group, "Introduction," 4. | return to main text |
14 Ibid., 3. | return to main text |
15 Cohen, "Monster Culture," 20. | return to main text |
16 Cowart, Dark Passages, 6. |
return to main text17 Millward, "Delineations of Madness and Science," 114. |
return to main text18 Hinds, "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral," 180. | return to main text |
19 Pynchon, "Luddite," 40. |
20 Christie, "Ideology and Representation," 3. | return to main text |
21 Iser, Fictive & Imaginary, 94; Hinds, "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral," 180. | return to main text |
22 Tellingly, when Mason first sees a Native American moving into the unconquered wilderness, "it ma[kes] him dizzy" (647). As Mason explains, "[T]hey put me in a State of Anxiety Unnatural," for they are "out of all Measure" (647). | return to main text |
23 Freud, "Uncanny," 241. | return to main text |
24 Ibid., 244. | return to main text |
25 Darwin, Origin, 77. | return to main text |
26 Kayers, The Grotesque, 183. | return to main text |
27 Zielinski, Deep Time of the Media, 6. | return to main text |
28 Lippit, Electric Animal, ch. 6. | return to main text |
29 Derrida, Specters of Marx, xix. | return to main text |
30 Ibid., 5. | return to main text |
31 Rodriguez, "Historiographic Metafiction," 77. | return to main text |
32 Molnár, "Science/Fiction," 447. | return to main text |
33 Parrish, Civil War to the Apocalypse, 165. | return to main text |
34 Clerk, Mason & Dixon & Pynchon. | return to main text |
35 Tanner, American Mystery, 224. | return to main text |
36 Kolbuszewska, Poetics, 131. | return to main text |
37 Emerson, "Over-Soul," 207. | return to main text |
38 Kim, Dangerous Crossings, 287. | return to main text |
39 Parrish, Civil War to the Apocalypse, 153. | return to main text |
40 Kim, Dangerous Crossings, 7. | return to main text |
41 Sewall, "Beauty and the Brain," 265. | return to main text |


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Copyright Notice

This is an accepted manuscript of a book chapter published in Ecogothic in Nineteenth-Century American Literature, edited by Dawn Keetley and Matthew Wynn Sivils in 2018, published by Routledge, available online here. This chapter is archived on my personal website in accordance with Routledge's Green Open Access policies.

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