David Markson, who is ritually identified as a “postmodern novelist,” died in his Greenwich Village apartment last Friday. He was eighty-two.
Like Levi Asher, I have never been able to read Markson, but it is obvious that he was dear to many of his peers in the fiction trade. After two “Harry Fannin detective novels,” he tasted success in 1965 with The Ballad of Dingus Magee. In the New York Times, Martin Levin described it succinctly: “camp meets the golden West.” It was filmed by MGM five years later with Frank Sinatra in the title role.
But with Going Down, his next novel, Markson undertook his project of “experimental writing.” Heavily influenced by Malcolm Lowry, the novel followed a menage à trois down to Mexico. Also like Lowry’s Under the Volcano, the prose style does most of the work in the novel, although critics complained that it stood at right angles to the plot and characterization. His subject, here and elsewhere, is what he said that Lowry’s subject was: “consciousness under stress.”
His admirers’ favorite was Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988). “Get it?” Amy Hempel wrote in her review. “Wittgenstein . . . was homosexual.” The novel plays with language’s slippery referentiality and the possibility it refers to nothing at all except itself:
Well, the point being that this was the only place in Paris from which he did not have to look at it.
For the life of me I have no idea how I know that. Any more than I have any idea how I also happen to know that Guy de Maupassant liked to row.
When I said that Guy de Maupassant ate his lunch every day at the Eiffel Tower, so that he did not have to look at it, I meant that it was the Eiffel Tower he did not wish to look at, naturally, and not his lunch.