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.