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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Currently reading: Mason & Dixon (1997) by Thomas Pynchon

I'm now reading this huge novel ... for the first time, to my shame (my copy has been sitting on my shelves for years now, calling out to me to set aside some time for it).

It's a hoot so far, just 100 pages in. Please don't give away too much (no serious spoilers), but any opinions on this one?


Sean Carroll said...

M&D is my favorite of Pynchon's books. It hits the right balance between metafictional trickery and good old-fashioned fun.

Russell Blackford said...

It's much more easily accessible than a lot of Pynchon's work, despite the use of 18-century English (which actually moderates a bit once the point has been made).

I think it's partly because the main narrative is quite linear, even though within a frame. I recently re-read Vineland, which should be one of Pynchon's most accessible novels, but I found it difficult to follow unless I could give it my complete attention (which I couldn't most of the time for one reason or another). The problem comes from all the flashbacks, flashbacks within flashbacks, digressions within flashbacks within flashbacks, extended metaphors within digressions within flashbacks within flashbacks, and so on. All of this is zany and amusing, but I'd often find myself reading 20 pages and feeling lost. So far, at least, Mason & Dixon is not like that. Mind you, I'm only about, hmmm, one seventh the way through it.

Sean Carroll said...

Later on ... well, without giving anything away, let's just say that it gets less straightforward. But remains affecting and real.

Also! The westward progress of the surveyors is secretly a brilliant metaphor for the collapse of the wave function in quantum mechanics. Yes, an anachronism, but that's hardly a surprise.

Blake Stacey said...

How does one spoil a Pynchon novel? I mean, are spoilers even possible? "Hey, have you reached the part with the clockpunk Jesuit porn? Well, it makes sense in context . . . I think . . . for some value of the word context."

Me trying to explain the plot of a Pynchon novel is like the Paranoids and their girlfriends trying to explain Wharfinger's The Courier's Tragedy.

</strange loop>

Russell Blackford said...

Good point, Blake. Pynchon's work is not exactly based on suspense.

Blake Stacey said...

I think Inherent Vice has more suspense, by any standard sense of the term, than his other works do. It has a pretty linear plot, as well — flashbacks, but nothing approaching Vineland level. (Parenthetically, tangled timelines don't bother me all that much, it seems. Maybe this is a consequence of growing up on movies like Clue and the Back to the Future trilogy.) Even so, I'd say it's as much driven by atmosphere and theme as it is by plot.