Lethe Water

I’ve been very slowly progressing through Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon since early summer. It’s really the same way I got through Gravity’s Rainbow- though I have not yet given up and started over from the beginning.

There is one passage that finds the two surveyors outside of Philadelphia at the site of an indian massacre where certain of the townsfolk slew a defenseless group of natives, the reason being, or given, that some of their relatives killed relatives of marauders. Mason is trying to fathom this hallucinated, cruel offshoot of England, an apparent den of all the darkest and most unreal impulses, and he comes up with this passage:

Acts have consequences, Dixon, they must. These Louts believe all’s right now,- that they are all free to get on with Lives that to them are no doubt important,- with no Glimmer at all of the Debt they have taken on. That is what I smell’d,- Lethe-Water. One of the things the newly-born forget, is how terrible its Taste, and Smell. In Time, these People are able to forget ev’rything. Be willing but to wait a little, and ye may gull them again and again, however ye wish,- even unto their own dissolution. In America, as I apprehend, Time is the true River that runs ’round Hell.