Friday, May 31, 2013

From Wittgenstein’s Mistress

From David Markson’s novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988). Kate (can she really be called a narrator?) types:

Was it really some other person I was so anxious to discover, when I did all of that looking, or was it only my own solitude that I could not abide?

Wandering through this endless nothingness. Once in a while, when I was not mad, I would turn poetic instead. I honestly did let myself think about things in such ways.

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me. For instance I thought about them like that, also.

In a manner of speaking, I thought about them like that.

Actually I underlined that sentence in the book, named the Pensées, when I was in college.

Doubtless I underlined the sentence about wandering through an endless nothingness in somebody else’s book, as well.
And a few pages later:
In spite of frequently underlining sentences in books that had not been assigned, I did well in college, actually.
And later still:
Actually, I did well in college, in spite of frequently underlining sentences in books that had not been assigned.

One is now forced to wonder if underlining sentences in Kierkegaard or Martin Heidegger might have shown more foresight, however.
And why does Kate handle these names as she does?
Incidentally, there is an explanation for my generally speaking of Kierkegaard as Kierkegaard, but of Martin Heidegger as Martin Heidegger.

The explanation being that Kierkegaard’s first name was Søren and in typing that I would repeatedly have to go back to put in the stroke.
I am very keen on Wittgenstein’s Mistress, having made it through 153 of its 240 pages in a day. The novel makes me think of Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days (which I hadn’t thought of in years): Kate, like Winnie, is a voice filling a void. And I think of the organization of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and of a Wittgenstein aphorism: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” Kate is putting the world together, sentence by sentence by sentence. Trying out and correcting or qualifying or abandoning ideas, she resists solipsism even as she’s stuck in it.

The sources of Kate’s underlined sentences: Blaise Pascal (1623–1662): “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.” Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900): “Irren wir nicht wie durch ein unendliches Nichts” [Do we not now wander through an endless Nothingness?], from Die fröhliche Wissenschaft [The joyful wisdom]. Tyler Malone traces both sentences to Markson’s copy of William Barrett’s Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy.

I once joked that for many years everyone who went to college owned a copy of Barrett’s book. I did, and still do.

I mean, of course, that I still own a copy of the book, not that I am still going to college.

Markson’s books went to the Strand Book Store after his death in 2010.

By which I mean the books that Markson owned, not the books he wrote, although they or some of them could very well have been among the books that he owned.

A copy of Wittgenstein’s Mistress could very well have been among them.

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