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Wittgenstein's Mistress Paperback – March 1, 2006

3.6 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this unsettling, shimmering novel, the reader is immediately drawn into the world of a woman who has gone mad because she is the last surviving creature on earth. Sitting at a typewriter in a beach house day after uncharted dayshe keeps no calendar or clocksshe pours out her thoughts on music, art and ancient Greek legends, and remembrances of her travels across the globe in abandoned cars, looking for other living beings. But after a while, some discrepancies creep into her rambling, compelling monologue: an accident that she first says took place in New York now occurs in Leningrad; memories become distorted by imaginings. Were they ever really memories in the first place? By the end of this seamless stream of consciousness, there is no distinction between fantasy and reality, past and present. Markson (The Ballad of Dingus Magee) keeps the reader off balance and finally unsure of even the foundation of his character's madnessperhaps she is alone only because she believes she is.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A work of genius . . . an erudite, breathtakingly cerebral novel whose prose is crystal and whose voice rivets and whose conclusion defies you not to cry." --David Foster Wallace

"Addresses formidable philosophic questions with tremendous wit . . . remarkable . . . a novel that can be parsed like a sentence; it is that well made." --New York Times Book Review

"I can't think of the last time I held my breath when I read a book, waiting for the author to make one slip. Markson is as precise and dazzling as Joyce. His wit and awesome power of observation make this fictional world utterly convincing. I couldn't put this book down. I can't forget it. While Markson himself would deplore the use of a cliche, all I can say is that this book is original, beautiful, and an absolute masterpiece. Anyone who reads it can't think about the world the same way." --Ann Beattie
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (March 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564782115
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564782113
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When I found myself describing to my friends the beguiling concept behind this book, I had to grin in spite of myself. The last person on earth sits down and starts to write, in a very particular style, whatever is on her mind. The inevitable questions flooded me: "how did everybody die?" "What about animals?" "What does she do for food?" And while these questions are certainly at the back of one's mind as one pores over her mental effluvia, it is much more entrancing to follow her trains of thought about philosophical questions, historical puzzles (not puzzles so much as head-cocking queries), and anecdotal information about great western artists, from Homer to Rembrandt to Martin Heidegger. Certainly the idea of being the last person on earth for years and years is appealing and frightening in and of itself; but what makes this such a fascinating book is that the narrator "was" an artist, and, without any real audience left, challenges the whole idea of the inherent value of knowledge, or for that matter beauty. Anybody who had fun with epistomology in philosophy class will like this one; also a treat for art majors, as a healthy literacy with art history is helpful in following those trains. A great read, slow in the middle, but utterly digestible on the whole.
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Format: Paperback
"Wittgenstein's Mistress" is a complex novel of simple sentences in short paragraphs describing thoughts that are all over the maps of history, the arts and the world itself. Presumably, the novel's structure is inspired by Wittgenstein's "Tractatus," a series of short propositions, sub-propositions, sub-sub etc. presented in a logical sequence culminating in the final proposition, "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." Similarly, the narrator of "Wittgenstein's Mistress," a one-time artist who has come to believe she is completely alone in the world, presents a series of short descriptions of whatever pops into her head as she's typing. Places, people, works of art, episodes of history give rise to anecdotes, apocrypha and tid-bits about other places, people, etc -often inaccurate but always illuminating both our world and hers.
The narrator forms this jumble of information into innumerable weirdly wonderful, laugh-out-loud syntheses. For example, a story that Rembrandt's students painted on his studio's floor images of gold coins, which Rembrandt would stoop to pick up no matter how often the trick was repeated, leads to the recollection that Rembrandt eventually had to declare financial bankruptcy. The narrator then combines these two anecdotes with the fact that Rembrandt lived in Amsterdam as a contemporary of the philosopher Spinoza to produce an imagined conversation between the two famous men in a corner shop. " `Oh, hi, Rembrandt. How's the bankruptcy?' `Fine, Spinoza. How's the excommunication?' "
Sprinkled among these fractured observations are obscure hints as to how and why the narrator has reached the point of what can only be madness.
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Format: Paperback
My, my, what a book. Such a difficult journey, for me: the endless art, historical and literary references were daunting. And the one-sentence-paragraph style and internal dialogue subject matter so jarring, especially after having just finished reading Infinite Jest (Wittgenstein's Mistress was a DFW recommendation). But I read on, aided by episodes of hilarity (such as the scene in which various painters and cats convene in the narrator's brain, or the speculation about whether Penelope really would have waited around for Odysseus' return) and moments of harrowing poignancy (the gravestone promised by a husband on a son's grave existing in the mind but not in reality). Well, it's hard to describe. But the last twenty or so pages were so intimate and frightening in their sadness as to make you want to reach into the book and hold her head to somehow stop the lonliness. Don't give up on this book.
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Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian born philosopher and Cambridge professor (1889-1951): “Was convinced that language creates a picture of the real world and that most philosophical problems are merely the result of philosophers’ misuse of language; experience only seems complicated because of our confused descriptions of it, which represent knots in our understanding. Untangle the knots and, according to the theory, philosophical questions will simply dissolve. [p. 326. An Incomplete Education. (1987) Judy Jones & William Wilson.]

It seems to me David Markson’s novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988) is an attempt to untangle Wittgenstein’s philosophy as laid down in his book (Wittgenstein’s) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, via the workings of the mind of a mid-aged woman, Kate, left alone in the world – all alone. Her mind’s workings, or “inconsequential perplexities” (= anxiety); is the subject matter of the story. There is not really a plot in the conventional sense. Kate puzzles over (among many other things) a book she found in a carton of books, in the basement of a house she’s taken to living in, on the beach of the northeast coast of Italy, sometime in modern times because there are cars and trucks for the taking and driving and playing of music in tape decks (electricity and all power energy is defunct.) There are tennis balls, rackets, and a court. Perhaps a domestic cat has survived with her. She remembers, if not always accurately, the history of writing, philosophy, art, and music. The book she puzzles over is titled Baseball When the Grass Was Green (a real book) which throws her for a loop, or ties her mind in knots.
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