Friday, June 12, 2020

Wittgenstein's Mistress is an infuriating read

I have been reading David Markson's book, Wittgenstein's Mistress, and I can't for the life of me decide if it's good or bad, whether I like it or not, or anything about it at all.
It's an "experimental novel" and an infuriating read, but that's not in itself a bad thing, is it? The closest I can come is that, if you don't like Samuel Beckett, you probably won't like Wittgenstein's Mistress, because there is a distinctly Beckettian (or sub-Beckettian) vibe to it, stylistically.
There is no real plot to the thing. A woman (yes it's a man writing from the point of view of a woman - stop reading now if that is a trigger for you), who may or may not be the last person alive, wanders around an apparently empty world, sleeping in major art galleries and beach huts. As she wanders, she muses on the art, philosophy, literature and music she comes across or remembers (or misremembers). She corrects herself constantly, her shifting memories and her grammar and even what she has only just written. It is a kind of stream-of-consciousness piece, but a very deliberate one, complete with transparent edits. It is replete with non sequiturs, false starts, circular arguments and obsessive meanderings.
To give a reasonably representative sample:
To tell the truth, it has actually already gotten to be the day after tomorrow.
Or even more probably the day after that.
Moreover it is raining.
In fact it has been raining since the morning on which I threw out my red roses, which I did not put in either.
By either, of course, I mean also not having put in the days.
See what I mean about infuriating?
Some of the snippets and factoids she gives about artists and writers are actually quite interesting, but unfortunately you are never quite sure if they are true or not, as she herself freely admits.
Somehow, I would also appear to know that Bach had eleven children, however.
Or perhaps it was twenty children.
Then again it may have been Vermeer who had eleven children.
Though possibly what I have in mind is that Vermeer left only twenty paintings.
Leonardo left fewer than that, perhaps only fifteen.
Not one of these figures may be correct.
See? Infuriating.
We do get to hear a little bit about the real history of the woman, even if obliquely, and mainly towards the end of the book. But I don't want to give too much away...

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