5 Reasons to read more David Markson

So we’re half way through summer. Which this year means I’m mid way through writing my MA thesis on David Markson. I am getting weary of Markson. So I thought that in order to re-ignite my enthusiasm for the project, I would tell the world a few reasons why everyone should read more David Markson.

Well, probably not everyone, his work is not for all. But it is pretty great.

1. Reading Markson will make you feel that you’ve learned something

Did you know that Arnold Schoenberg’s father was a shoemaker?

That Jean Harlow died aged twenty-six?

Or that the Times Literary Supplement described The Waste Land as “Parodying without taste or skill. Very near the limits of coherence.”?

Markson’s work, especially his final tetralogy are full of interesting tidbits of information relating to literature, the arts, philosophy, and other subjects. He was a relentless collector of odds and ends. He may just help you win that next pub quiz.

2. His prose is some of the most elegantly written out there

Markson writes some fantastic sentences. His characters puzzle out the meanings of existence, memory and knowing, and through his precise use of syntax and delayed meaning, Markson manages to keep his reader glued to the page.

The following are from Wittgenstein’s Mistress:

“Still, how I nearly felt. In the midst of all that looking.”

“Doubtless these are inconsequential perplexities. Still, inconsequential perplexities have now and again been known to become the fundamental mood of existence, one suspects.”

From Vanishing Point:

“Exceptionally shy, Virgil was known to be.

In part because of a stutter.”

“Toulouse-Lautrec’s first teacher was the portrait painter Bonnat.

Who called his efforts abominable.”

3. He has a great sense of humour

Markson has an excellent, if wry, sense of humour. Often poking fun at people from history who have thought themselves to be masters of their particular craft. But he also reflects this humour upon his own life, especially with regard to his own advancing years. Himself, as well as his characters, often find themselves out of place, being ridiculed despite their aptitude or greatness.

4. He would go out of his way to help someone that he admired

Markson did not just poke fun out of elements of the literary and artistic canon. If he really admired something he would do all he could to praise them. Even in his first novel, the detective fiction Epitaph for a Tramp, that he later referred to as ‘entertainments’, he manages to shoehorn in the following:

“And thus it is my conclusion that The Recognitions by William Gaddis is not merely the best American first novel of our time, but perhaps the most significant single volume in all American fiction since Moby Dick, a book so broad in scope, so rich in comedy and so profound in symbolic inference that—”.

Such was Markson’s admiration for Gaddis, that he managed somehow to insert some kind of reference to the author within the vast majority of his books.

5. David Foster Wallace described Wittgenstein’s Mistress as “pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.”

Enough said.



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