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June 6, 2010 10:41 AM   Subscribe

David Markson has died. David Foster Wallace called his Wittgenstein's Mistress "pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country"; but Markson also wrote, earlier in his career, an oddball Western, hardboiled detective fiction (Here is a tribute constructed entirely from text from Epitaph for a Dead Beat), and some uncommonly lusty stuff for a dedicated experimentalist.

Wittgenstein's Mistress initiated a phase of Markson's novel-writing in which he produced texts that (as he described them) were "nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage."; consisting of short quotations or historical remarks, sometimes with shorter commentary. Especially in his last novel, artists, their fates at the hands of critics, and the ends of their lives were the most frequent entries; many conform to the bare pattern "March 3, 1996, Marguerite Duras died on". Along with reflections on his own mortality.

The first link contains many more links, to tribute posts, already-online interviews and reviews, etc. It seems simpler not to reproduce them here, given that they're already collected there; each is worth reading if you're interested in Markson.

No notice yet taken by print publications that I can see.
posted by kenko (28 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
posted by chymes at 10:53 AM on June 6, 2010

An interview from 2008 on KCRW. When I heard this for the first time my first thought was, he sounds so old.
posted by kenko at 10:56 AM on June 6, 2010

posted by mattbucher at 11:02 AM on June 6, 2010

posted by Scotch at 11:06 AM on June 6, 2010

In an interview in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Markson explained the decade-long gaps in his oeuvre as "sheer barnyard laziness". I respected him for that.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:12 AM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've had Wittgenstein's Mistress on my shelf for years on DFW's recommendation (he named it as one of his "5 direly underappreciated novels since 1960"--the others, if you're curious, are here). I was put off by the style before, but this makes me want to look into it again. Thanks for posting.
posted by skwt at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


For years Wittgenstein's Mistress was a touchstone novel for me; just like the Tractatus (from which it takes its gnomic, declarative style), one finds that it is most enlightening to read the silent cognitive leaps between the narrator's statements as being the real gist of the thing. Rereading it a few years ago, I was less impressed than I had remembered being ( Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil has since eclipsed W's M in my mind as being the most important, under-read experimental novel of the last 60 years).

Still, a beautiful, interesting book, and a talented fascinating man.
posted by Chrischris at 11:34 AM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Reader is very saddened.

posted by Bromius at 11:43 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

i recently read wittgenstein's mistress - a fascinating and odd book

posted by pyramid termite at 12:00 PM on June 6, 2010

Well this sucks. Got into David Markson after someone recommended WM as a book similar to Carole Maso's Ava. Loved it, loved This Is Not a Novel, loved Springer's Progress. Dude will be much missed.

posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 12:16 PM on June 6, 2010

Shit. He was one of my favorites. And despite DFW's praise of him, I like to think of David Markson as the anti-DFW.

I remember in an Ask Me question some time back where a poster wanted ideas about what kind of odd novel he/she should read next. I suggested Markson's wonderful Reader's Block, but several other users suggested House of Leaves. I just knew the poster ended up trying to read House of Leaves. That's pretty much the story of Markson's later career: getting ignored while utter crap gets all the attention.

Sorry for the anger, but it just pisses me off that truly innovative work gets ignored.
posted by cropshy at 12:23 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Pants McCracky at 12:32 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of the very best writers of the last 50 years.
posted by bshort at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2010


I read _Wittgenstein's Mistress_ while in Dubai in I think 2003, for the IMF/World Bank meetings. By accident, after finishing it, I left it in the hotel room. I still harbor the fantasy that it blew the mind of some Filipina cleaning lady. It certainly blew mine.
posted by chavenet at 1:42 PM on June 6, 2010

Man, I found a copy of This is Not a Novel for four bucks in the college bookstore during my freshman year. I've read it, kept it, but never really known what to think of it. I don't think I've ever even talked about it with anyone before, but it always, always stayed in my brain.

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:25 PM on June 6, 2010

posted by minkll at 4:16 PM on June 6, 2010

I'm on page 53 of Witgenstein's Mistress. I think it is mostly about a cat. Perhaps cats would be a better way of putting that. It's November now. I can clearly see that it really about art.
posted by zenon at 5:10 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh man lame.

I love Wittgenstein's Mistress and Reader's Block.

Dang dang dang.

posted by OrangeDrink at 8:18 PM on June 6, 2010


I'll remember David mostly as a customer for the bookstore I used to work in in the West Village. He'd come to to kill part of the day, to complain about his health, to talk about how goddamn hard writing was (I remember him claiming he wasn't going to write another novel after Going Down.) He encouraged me in my writing, for no real good reason save for the fact that he was a decent guy. He was always pretty honest about drinking, regrets, etc. I don't think he ever got cynical, just beat as hell. He gave me a sentence to turn into a story, many years ago, said he was too old to write short stories. I couldn't do it anymore than he could (not surprising), but he ended up letting me use it for my webzine. I wasn't surprised by that either, but I couldn't have been more grateful.
posted by Football Bat at 8:23 PM on June 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

posted by myrrh at 8:41 PM on June 6, 2010

posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:37 PM on June 6, 2010

I'm sad. His novel Springer's Progress is one of my favourite books (and has some of the best writing about sex I've ever read). He'll be missed.
posted by hydatius at 3:28 AM on June 7, 2010

Ah, shit. I went away this weekend, and as I was leaving I almost took The Last Novel with me to read on the plane. I passed it up for some trash, and now I'm even more disappointed in myself.

Rest in Peace.
posted by OmieWise at 9:40 AM on June 7, 2010

posted by Chichibio at 2:58 PM on June 7, 2010

Notice taken in print publications.
posted by kenko at 10:47 AM on June 9, 2010

Notice taken in print publications, take two.
posted by kenko at 10:48 AM on June 9, 2010

There's also an obit in the Washington Post today, which is decent, but I can't get to it behind their registration wall.
posted by OmieWise at 1:34 PM on June 9, 2010

posted by jlbartosa at 9:31 AM on June 18, 2010

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