Sunday, September 15, 2002

"It would be an oversimplification to label the contrast between Line and Mound a contrast between modern and ancient ways of knowing, science and religion. A more accurate way to state the contrast would be between heaven-centered vs. earth-centered forms of knowledge, both ancient and modern. The "star-dictated" (601) absolutes of Mason's astronomy or Zarpazo's Jesuit theology, which thrive on neat geometries and stable hierarchies, are juxtaposed with what Zhang and Dixon call the ambiguities and "inner shapes" of earthly realities, including the sheer difficulty Mason and Dixon have making perfect celestial or magnetic measurements in the field and the myriad ways in which mortal human lives and understandings conflict with truths that science and theology claim are universal. Zhang associates these latter forces with "the true inner shape, or Dragon [Shan], of the Land," while for Dixon they represent Tellurick or earth-centered forces, especially magnetism. In the Indian Mound these forces find their most powerful centering, their most direct contact and conflict with the different energies embodied by the measuring of the Line. For Pynchon, the Indian Mound and the Dragon Shan represent not only ancient world views antithetical to Enlightenment science, but are prophetic of how that same science already contained within it anomalies that could only be resolved with the invention in the twentieth century of quantum physics, fractals, and the sciences of chaos and "complex systems" combining both linear and non-linear iterations. Hence we are meant to see in the Mound's Vortex not a unique or exceptional occurrence but an emblem for the infinite number of narrative Vortices or alternative universes already present in any Linear rendering of either space or time. "
Line, Vortex, and Mound: On First Reading Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon
by Peter Schmidt.