Chapter 1: 5-11

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Latitudes and Departures
Portmanteau of 'latitudes and longitudes' with 'arrivals and departures'.

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Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs
In Gravity's Rainbow, the arc - or the parabola - always had a sinister implication. In the title alone, the "Rainbow" of "Gravity" is the trajectory of a rocket. An arc is the precursor to utter destruction. Here, Pynchon's first image is again the image of a projectile, flying in a parabolic trajectory -- only this time, it is a snowball thrown by a child. This sets the tone of the whole novel, in the first sentence.

One possible interpretation of this beautiful opening, concerning the 'snow-balls', is that it is a sly reference to the recent (assumed) ending of the Cold War, i.e. that the Cold War is over now ("snow-balls have flown their Arcs"), and that it was all a game, a charade.

At first there seems to be no discernible pattern: caps seem accented to be rhythmically stressed, as in reading poetry.

Uncapitalised nouns in the first paragraph include: shoes, slaps, afternoon, rear, years, table, side-benches, branch, family.

Capitalised abstract nouns include: Arcs, Sides, Descent, Dither, Fly.

The pattern: Significant nouns, reflective of the Germanic roots of Old English. To this day all nouns are capitalized in German, and it was still normal to capitalise nouns in early 18th century English writing - Robinson Crusoe contains a bare handful of uncapitalised nouns, apparently overlooked by the typographer.

By the later 18th century the more familiar nouns - household and familiar objects, indeterminate nouns and those requiring less emphasis when read aloud - were left uncapitalised.

There is a tangential grammatical advantage in that it helps discriminate homonyms - secret is an adjective, Secret is a noun, venture is a verb, Venture is a noun.

mis-matche'd side-benches....Lancaster County"
Lancaster County is one place where wood craftsmen like the Shakers and the Amish settled. Suggests handmade individual pieces?

a sinister and wonderful Card Table [which has a grain called] Wand’ring Heart, causing an illusion of Depth into which for years children have gaz’d as into the illustrated Pages of Books.
Obviously, with this simile, Pynchon links the table to books. This invites the reader to see the entire description of the table as an example of the common postmodernist technique of mise-en-abyme, (literally, “placing into infinity”). Basically, a writer uses this technique to summarise or encapsulate a theme or aim of the entire novel. Thus, in this instance, the reader is invited to see Mason & Dixon itself as possessing “an illusion of Depth […] with so many hinges, sliding Mortises, hidden catches, and secret compartments that neither the twins nor their Sister [nor the reader] can say they have been to the end of it.” That it is specifically a card table suggests the ludic or playful quality so often recognised in Pynchon’s fiction. The text of Mason and Dixon itself, perhaps, is a table upon which the reader plays.

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Christmastide of 1786
sometime between December 25 and January 6. 'This Advent' further down the page, suggests before Christmas Day.

City today might be an Isle upon an Ocean
Cf. the Earth in Against the Day: World-Island.

and the Nation bickering itself into fragments
America then was, politically, a "Nation" of states, each with their own laws, agendas and even currency. In the following year, 1787, a "national" convention was called for. That convention was gathered merely to revise the earlier Articles of Confederation but chose instead to abandon the articles in favor of a completely new document. The Constitution, of course. On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was finished in Philadelphia and Benjamin Franklin urged unanimous acceptance by all the states.

From Wikipedia:

The Mischianza (Italian for a medley or mixture), or Meschianza, was an elaborate fête given in honor of British General Sir William Howe in Philadelphia on May 18, 1778. Howe, the commander-in-chief of the British forces in America during the early years of the Revolution, had resigned his post and was about to return to England. The ball was thrown by his corps of officers, who put up a sum of 3,312 guineas to pay for it. The events, which were planned by Captain John André and John Montresor, included a regatta along the Delaware River, accompanied by three musical bands and a 17-gun salute by British warships, a procession, a tournament of jousting knights, and a ball and banquet with fireworks display. The site was Walnut Grove, the rural seat of Joseph Wharton of the great Philadelphia Whartons.

The crowd of over 400 guests included Admiral of the Fleet Richard Lord Howe, the general's brother; General Henry Clinton, commandant at New York and Howe's replacement; Peggy Shippen, future wife of Benedict Arnold; Peggy Chew, daughter of Benjamin Chew; Rebecca Franks, daughter of loyalist David Franks; Lord Cathcart; Banastre Tarleton; and Wilhelm von Knyphausen, Hessian general.

1. A line or place at which two things are joined. 2. Anatomy- a. A tract of nerve fibers passing from one side to the other of the spinal cord or brain. b. The point or surface where two parts, such as the eyelids, lips, or cardiac valves, join or form a connection. 3. Botany- The surface or place along which two structures, such as carpels, are joined. Also "commissure". American Heritage Dictionary

Northern Liberties
located north of Center City (specifically, Old City) and is bordered by Girard Avenue to the north and the Delaware River to the east. The district first gained limited autonomy from the township by an Act of Assembly on March 9, 1771. The Act provided for the appointment of persons to regulate streets, direction of buildings, etc. By March 30, 1791 a second Act enabled the inhabitants of a portion of the Northern Liberties to lay taxes for the purpose of lighting, watching and establishing pumps within those bounds. Wikipedia, excerpted.

Spring Garden
Spring Garden District is a defunct district that was located in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. The district ceased to exist and was incorporated into the City of Philadelphia following the passage of the Act of Consolidation, 1854. Spring Garden appears in Varie’s map of 1796 as a small settlement between Vine Street and Buttonwood Lane.

Germantown was originally the Borough of Germantown, a town in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania and is today a neighborhood in Philadelphia, about six miles northwest from the center of the city. The neighborhood has been fully built up as a part of an urban city, but is rich in historic sites and buildings that have been preserved. Many of these are open to the public. Germantown stretches for about two miles along Germantown Avenue northwest "though there is no universally recognized exact boundary".

as impossible to calculate... as the Distance to a Star
Because of the very small changes in parallax involved, start distances were not calculable until 1838, by which time the instruments were sensitive enough to measure it .
The statement ignores that Sun is also a star; from the Transit of Venus data from 1761 and 1769, Lalande got a figure of 153 million kilometres (±1 million km), only 2.27% off the correct value of 149,597,870,691 ± 30 metres

Transit of Venus History of Astrometry

Wicks Cherrycoke
An ancestor of Gravity's Rainbow's Ronald Cherrycoke perhaps?

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Just a descriptive word like "Bam!" or "Pow!"

Winter's Block and Blade
Block and Blade could just as well be synecdoche, alluding to the Guillotine [more likely execution by beheading with an axe, the guillotine has no block], and implying that the harsh Winter would mean Cherrycoke's death. A 'block' is also the heavy composite wooden table used by butchers.

Compare 'the knives of the seasons', used twice as a metaphor for decay in GR (first on p5).

An Herodotic Web of Adventures and Curiosities selected
The density and web-like nature of Herodotus’s The Histories closely resembles Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. Herodotus lived in a time of transition, and would have composed his history before Socrates, Plato and Aristotle interrogated commonplace assumptions about the world and asserted their own unifying (and totalising) philosophies. His status as pre-Socratic perhaps mirrors Pynchon’s own as post-Enlightenment. Herodotus's method is to present numerous truths which, according to J. Evans, would probably have been composed from memory (Herodotus. 17). This led to him being demonised in the ancient (and, following their example, modern) world as being a greater writer of fiction than non-fiction, first implicitly (though transparently) by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian Wars, and second explicitly (though clumsily) by Plutarch in The Malice of Herodotus.

Plurality, multiplicity, heterogeneity are epithets commonly applied to both Pynchon and Herodotus. Herodotus also mirrors Pynchon in his use of the fantastic. As mentioned above, his fabulist anecdotes, such as the "great ants, in size somewhat less than dogs, but bigger than foxes" that dig gold and eat camels (Herodotus 3. 102-4), have led to Herodotus being branded the father of lies rather than the father of history, the label given to him by Cicero. A more rigorous reading of the two texts side by side will undoubtedly uncover greater and deeper associations.

Darkness (Latin). It also refers to a Christian church ritual commemorating Christ’s death. It begins with light and ends in total darkness – perhaps like the novel? It is certainly reminiscent of theories of entropy, prominent in The Crying of Lot 49, and used so often by critics to elucidate Pynchon's novels. In some versions of the service, the Church is gradually stripped of icons, ending in total plainness.

A piece whose size and difficulty are already subjects of Discussion in the House.
Needlework is also use self-referentially in The Crying of Lot 49.

A Jabot is a ruffle on the front of a woman's blouse or a man's shirt.

Darby and Cope
These are the actual names of the Mason and Dixon's "chainmen" on the expedition. Darby is a character name repeated in Against the Day.

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Secret Relation
His private journal. (relation = narrative or account def)

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Dick Turpin
Richard Turpin (bapt. 21 September 1705 – 7 April 1739) was an English highwayman whose exploits were romanticised following his execution in York for horse theft. Turpin may have followed his father's trade as a butcher early in his life but, by the early 1730s, he had joined a gang of deer thieves and, later, became a poacher, burglar, horse thief and killer. He is also known for a fictional 200-mile (320 km) overnight ride from London to York on his horse Black Bess, a story that was made famous by the Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth almost 100 years after Turpin's death.

The crime of "Anonymity"...Gaol...Exile
With this description of the Rev's 'crime' of exposing power with the intention of being anonymous, and seeking exile as a way of avoiding prison, there is an implication that Cherrycoke's voice is Pynchon himself.

It also a very Foucauldian statement. In "What is an Author", Foucault points out that “In our culture […] discourse was not originally a product, a thing […] it was essentially an act.” Literary texts used to be valorised without there being any question of an author; rather, in the middle ages it was the medical texts that were given the status of authorship. This state of affairs was reversed around the 17th-18th centuries, contemporary to Cherrycoke's supposed misdemeanours, which perhaps helps us explain Pynchon's inclusion of the story here.

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my name had never been my own
Bestowed by 'Authorities', there is the implication in the following lines that one is "owned"---like a collar around one's neck---by those authorities.

entire loss of Self, perfect union with All
Satirizing certain Eastern religious beliefs? Or embracing them?

Captain (John) Smith, of The Seahorse
HMS Seahorse was a 24-gun sixth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy, launched in 1748. She is perhaps most famous as the ship on which a young Horatio Nelson served as a midshipman in 1773. Captain James Smith took command of it in October 1758.

A Captain John Smith wrote An Accidence, or the Path-Way to Experience(1626) and offered elemenatary instruction on seamanship in Sea Grammar (1627) an enlarged version of the first book. Cited in a footnote to The Tempest, Arden edition. A different Captain Smith (Captain Edward John Smith) was at the helm of the RMS Titanic on its only voyage.

Keep away from harmful Substances, in particular Coffee, Tobacco, and Indian Hemp. If you must use the latter, do not inhale.
A clear reference to Bill Clinton's oft-quoted statement that he had tried marijuana in his youth, but "did not inhale."

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Under the naval watch system, the middle watch or midwatch is between 0000 and 0400.

Jean Crapaud
Literally, John Toad - but in British parlance 'Johnny Frog'.

Annotation Index

Latitudes and Departures

1: 5-11, 2: 12-13, 3: 14-29, 4: 30-41, 5: 42-46, 6: 47-57, 7: 58-76, 8: 77-86, 9: 87-93, 10: 94-104, 11: 105-115, 12: 116-124, 13: 125-145, 14: 146-157, 15: 158-166, 16: 167-174, 17: 175-182, 18: 183-189, 19: 190-198, 20: 199-206, 21: 207-214, 22: 215-227, 23: 228-237, 24: 238-245, 25: 245-253


26: 257-265, 27: 266-274, 28: 275-288, 29: 289-295, 30: 296-301, 31: 302-314, 32: 315-326, 33: 327-340, 34: 341-348, 35: 349-361, 36: 362-370, 37: 371-381, 38: 382-390, 39: 391-398, 40: 399-409, 41: 410-421, 42: 422-435, 43: 436-439, 44: 440-447, 45: 448-451, 46: 452-459, 47: 460-465, 48: 466-475, 49: 476-483, 50: 484-490, 51: 491-498, 52: 499-510, 53: 511-524, 54: 525-541, 55: 542-553, 56: 554-561, 57: 562-569, 58: 570-574, 59: 575-584, 60: 585-596, 61: 597-607, 62: 608-617, 63: 618-622, 64: 623-628, 65: 629-632, 66: 633-645, 67: 646-657, 68: 658-664, 69: 665-677, 70: 678-686, 71: 687-693, 72: 694-705, 73: 706-713

Last Transit

74: 717-732, 75: 733-743, 76: 744-748, 77: 749-757, 78: 758-773

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