Readerz.Net / David Markson
David Merrill Markson (December 20, 1927 – c. June 4, 2010) was an American novelist. He was the author of several postmodern novels, including Springer's Progress, Wittgenstein's Mistress, and Reader's Block. His final book, The Last Novel, published in 2007, was called "a real tour de force" by The New York Times.
Markson's work is characterized by an unconventional and experimental approach to narrative, character development and plot. The late writer David Foster Wallace hailed Wittgenstein's Mistress as "pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country". While his early works draw on the modernist tradition of William Faulkner and Malcolm Lowry, his later novels are, in Markson's words, "literally crammed with literary and artistic anecdotes" and "nonlinear, discontinuous, collage-like, an assemblage."
In addition to his output of modernist and postmodernist experimental literature, he published a book of poetry, a critical study of Malcolm Lowry, three crime novels, and an anti-Western, The Ballad of Dingus Magee, later adapted into the film, Dirty Dingus Magee, starring Frank Sinatra,
David Merrill Markson was born in Albany, New York, on December 20, 1927.
Educated at Union College and Columbia University, Markson began his writing career as a journalist and book editor, periodically taking up work as a college instructor at Columbia University, Long Island University, and The New School.
Though his first novel was published in the late 1950s, he did not gain prominence until the late 1980s, when he was over 60 years old, with the publication of Wittgenstein's Mistress. From that point, his reputation as a writer steadily grew, so much so that he told an interviewer: "One of my friends told me to be careful before I become well known for being unknown."
Markson died in New York City, in his West Village apartment where, according to the author's literary agent and former wife Elaine Markson, Markson's two children found him on June 4, 2010 in his bed.
Upon David Markson's death, his entire personal library was donated to the Strand Bookstore, according to his wishes.
Wittgenstein's Mistress, widely considered his masterpiece, was published in 1988 by Dalkey Archive Press. Though Markson's original manuscript was rejected 54 times, the book, when finally published, met with critical acclaim. It is a highly stylized, experimental novel in the tradition of Beckett. The novel is mainly a series of statements made in the first person; the protagonist is a woman who believes herself to be the last human on earth. Though her statements shift quickly from topic to topic, the topics are often recurrent, and often reference Western cultural icons, ranging from Zeno to Beethoven to Willem de Kooning. Readers familiar with Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus will recognize striking stylistic similarities to that work.
Amy Hempel praised it for "address[ing] formidable philosophic questions with tremendous wit." A decade later, David Foster Wallace described it as "pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country" in an article for Salon entitled "Five direly underappreciated U.S. novels >1960."
Markson's late works further refine the allusive, minimalist style of Wittgenstein's Mistress. In these novels most of the traditional comforts of the form are absent, as an author-figure closely identified with Markson himself considers the travails of the artist throughout the history of culture. In Reader's Block, he is called Reader; in This Is Not A Novel, Writer; Vanishing Point, Author; in Markson's last novel, The Last Novel, he is known as Novelist. Markson described the action of these novels: "I have characters sitting alone in a bedroom with a head full of everything he’s ever read." His working process involved "scribbling the notes on three-by-five-inch index cards" and collecting them in "shoebox tops" until they were ready to be put "into manuscript form." Markson hoped that these four novels might eventually be published together in one volume.
The first in the “personal genre”, Reader's Block, was published by Dalkey Archive Press in 1996. It was followed by This Is Not A Novel (Counterpoint, 2001), Vanishing Point (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004) and The Last Novel (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007). Of Reader's Block, fellow writer and friend Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "David shouldn’t thank Fate for letting him write such a good book in a time when large numbers of people could no longer be wowed by a novel, no matter how excellent."
The second book, This Is Not a Novel, describes itself in a number of terms:
In This Is Not a Novel, the Writer character states, "A novel with no intimation of story whatsoever, Writer would like to contrive" (p. 2). Reader's Block likewise calls itself "a novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel" (p. 61). Rather than consisting of a specific plot, they can be said to be composed of "an intellectual ragpicker's collection of cultural detritus." The seemingly-random set of quotes, ideas and nuggets of information about the lives of various literary, artistic and historical figures cohere to form a new kind of novel.