The Last Novel by David Markson


this is a little strange: i saw markson read a month ago at the 92nd Y. i’ve loved him for a long time, partly out of a romanticized notion that these books portray of the long-suffering and isolated genius. i was a little surprised to see not someone who was particularly cranky, but someone almost describable as cheery… something struck me: that the protag of these books is definitely a character, perhaps an exaggeration (vonnegut evidently called up markson after the last one, concerned about markson’s ‘mental condition’) but definitely something markson *uses* (as he may also don, of course, some role when reading out in the public) — but my sense was that these characters are more just that, characters, than works of autobiographical fiction. …on the other hand, the *rest* of the book is intensely autobiographical, the detritus and gems — the graph, the mark — of a reading life. so i discovered that markson is both more and less artificial than i had assumed…

i also realized *how much* he is editing and sequencing, even more than i’d thought — they gave out a page of his heavily marked up manuscript — to create his music(al) of the artist’s life.

(i also had the thought, easily wrong and maybe silly to mention, that markson was not, had not been, at least in this last decade, critically or socially or financially ignored. at least not as much as i’d assumed. but that invitations to the right parties and publications (though maybe not grants) had indeed come his way, and that maybe out of stubbornness but more out of some form of integrity, he had refused them. and done so in some kind of shoulder-shrugging automatic way–kind of like how bunuel describes the morality of the surrealist, i.e. impossible to describe but very judging and very exact.)

reading THE LAST NOVEL has all kinds of pleasures: the stumbling on the familiar, the echoes of course, feelings of smugness and admiration for what respectively you knew and what markson knows, the terrible (and yet somehow expectedly so) difficulties of being an artist and of aging both. it goes by fast and can be happily reread.

(here’s something: i’d once thought up a personal category of experience i dubbed the ‘trivially profound’ and had placed there things like sunsets and mountains, those experiences of the ineffable that are deep but with which you can do nothing. those experiences just are, almost impossible to even comment upon. then i realized maybe the word ‘trivially’ was both redundant and misleading. all profundity is un-useable in this way — thus perhaps trivial, but still of course vital, foundational, basic… markson’s work might be like this for me.) (what, of course, auden means too when he says poetry makes nothing happen.)

he said he had vowed after the last one not to do another–but did somehow anyway… that he had one more, at least, in him.


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