Late in the course of David Markson’s quirky novel, the equally
quirky narrator Kate decides that perhaps she should write a
novel too.

But then Kate hesitates because, as she notes, any novel she
might write would have only character—and who would want to
read a book with just one character?

Wittgenstein’s Mistress is a novel with just one
character.

I wondered: What if the narrator of that novel also
decides to write a novel, and so on and so on?  
That’s an invitation to infinite regress.

Which reminds me of
Inifnite Jest, a novel by
David Foster Wallace, who called
Wittgenstein’'s
Mistress
"pretty much the high point of
experimental fiction in this country."

This country meaning the United States.  
Although Wittgenstein himself was a British
philosopher.

Well, not really a British philosopher, since he was born in Austria.

But he did most of his philosophizing in Britain.

And Kate probably wasn't his mistress, since Wittgenstein was
homosexual.  

But if he had been heterosexual, his mistress still wouldn't be
Kate, who never met Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Which raises the obvious question: why is this book call
Wittgenstein's
Mistress
?

Kate's style of writing does resemble Wittgenstein’s
Tractatus
Logico-Philosophicus
, a philosophical work broken down into a
series of isolated declarative statements.  The reader needs to do
the heavy lifting to connect them into a meaningful whole.

Wittgenstein's Mistress is a novel broken down into a series of
isolated declarative statements. The reader needs to do the heavy
lifting to connect them into a meaningful whole.

This essay on
Wittgenstein's Mistress is broken down into a series
of isolated declarative statements.

You have to do the heavy lifting.

Kate is isolated too.

Did I forget to mention that she is the last living person in the world?

She is the last living person in the world.

Which makes Wittgenstein's Mistress sound like a science fiction
book.  Sorta like
I am Legend or The Road.

That’s not really fair.  
Wittgenstein's Mistress is more of a
postmodern experimental novel.     

In fact, I’m really not sure that Kate is the last living person in the
world.  Despite what I just said.

She is an unrealiable narrator, and often contradicts what she
just said.  And she might just be crazy.

Just like me.

Well, not the crazy part.  I am not crazy.  But I did just contradict
what I had previously said.

But only because Kate contradicts what she tells me.

That is not to say that she tells me anything.  I just read her book.

And really it’s not her book.  It's a novel written by David Markson.

Who probably wasn't crazy.  And may possibly have never said
something and immediately contradicted himself.

But he probably did.  Because a lot of people do that.

Contradict themselves, that is. Not write novels.

But a lot of people do talk about writing novels.  I've seen that a lot.  
People saying: "I’m going to write a novel some day."

But usually they never do it.

Write the novel, that is.

Assuming that there really are other people.  Which this book might
make you doubt.

It being a somewhat solipsistic book.

Solipsism being a philosophical system in which only the
philosopher exists, and no one else.

Which is sort of like being the last living person on the planet.

Or being really, really lonely.  Which is what David Foster Wallace
thought this novel was actually about.

Which is sad to think about.  Since David Foster Wallace
committed suicide, and might have been really, really lonely
himself.

Which reminds me that Ludwig Wittgenstein had three brothers
who committed suicide, and he considered doing so himself.

Which is quite a coincidence.

Or maybe not, when you think about it.

Which makes it all the sadder.

But a sad story doesn't always make the reader feel sad.

In fact, sometimes a sad story makes the reader feel better.

I think Aristotle said something about that.

But maybe now I am just showing off.

Kate also shows off.  She always mentions famous people she
has met.

Which is strange in a solipsistic novel.

Well, a solipsist shouldn't even write a novel.

Who would read it?

I read it.

And I wasn't sad I read it, even if it is a sad novel.

You probably won’t be sad either.

I mean you won’t be sad about reading the book.  Although you
might be sad about other things.

But that won’t have anything to do with David Markson’s book.



Ted Gioia writes on music, books and popular culture.  He is currently
writing his ninth book,
Love Songs: A Secret History.
Wittgenstein's Mistress

By David Markson



Reviewed by Ted Gioia
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
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Conceptual Fiction:
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Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

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Hothouse

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Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
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Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

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Giles Goat-Boy

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The Demolished Man

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A Case of Conscience

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Dandelion Wine

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Fahrenheit 451

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The Illustrated Man

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The Martian Chronicles

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Something Wicked This Way Comes

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The View from the Seventh Layer

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The Master and Margarita

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Moderan

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A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

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The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

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Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

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Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

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Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

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Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

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The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

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Emphyrio

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

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Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

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The Sirens of Titan

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Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal



Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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