Wittgenstein’s Mistress

Do not attempt to read this book in one sitting. I got seasick and had to take frequent breaks from the text, the dizzying mono-tonal statements layered atop mono-tonal statements. It throws out dense intellectual gang signs and begs to be interpreted. The narrator finds herself to be the only living thing remaining in the world, drives around ‘looking’ for people across the world by jumping into abandoned cars that still had gas/battery, or sailing, or rowing. Driving across Siberia by heading dead west and waiting for the sun to be ahead of her, then following it until it set. Living in museums and building fires. Losing her baggage, letting loose hundreds of tennis balls to bounce down the Spanish Steps in Rome, picking up a soccer shirt after her car fell off an embankment. Name-dropping artists (de Kooning, Rembrandt, El Greco, Van Gogh, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Bellini, Fabritius, Pollock, too many more), philosophers (Wittgenstein of course, Heidegger, Kant, Spinoza, Nietzsche, etc), composers (Brahams’ reputation for giving candy to children, Beethoven, Bach…), and all the great characters of the Trojan War era (Helen, Clytemnestra, Cassandra, Achilles, Hector, Menelaus, Penelope, Ulysses…). Repetitions similar to those employed by the Illiad (and also making frequent use of “rosy fingered dawn”). The monotony, the repeating with slight tweaks, the factual statements you’re not sure to believe, it all adds up to an intellectual headache. Luckily, during one of my breaks, I expanded my appreciation for the work by lapping up DFW’s review. Lapping up is probably the wrong phraseology to use for a multi-hour perusing of a 24 page review (it’s DFW, what else do you expect), which I cannot refrain from quoting below. DFW’s thoughts on the book:

For Markson has in this book succeeded already on all the really important levels of fictional conviction. He has fleshed the abstract sketches of Wittgensteinian doctrine into the concrete theatre of human loneliness. In so doing he’s captured far better than pseudobiography what made Wittgenstein a tragic figure & a victim of the very diffracted modernity he helped inaugurate. Markson has written an erudite, breath-takingly cerebral novel whose prose is crystal & whose voice rivets & whose conclusion defies you not to cry. Plus he’s also, in a way it’d seem for all the world he doesn’t know, produced a powerfully critical meditation on loneliness’s relation to language itself.