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The Last Novel

The Last Novel - David Markson Imagine a person came up to you and started talking in one-sentence paragraphs.

Rather than following the normal pattern of speech in which data is parsed into fragments, short exclamations, and longer asides, everything they said consisted of a one sentence point.

Assuming that such a person could reference Ancient Greece, Osamu Noguchi, and Virginia Woolf, such an achievement might be actually fairly impressive.

Some people think that grammatical conventions exist for a reason, inviting a discourse and emphasis of ideas based on the content of the referred to topics.

Possibly the very attempt to break convention itself contains some aesthetic merit.

Individuals following highly idiosyncratic patterns are sometimes believed to be schizotypical.

The relationship between language, thoughts, ideas, history, convention, knowledge, and mental illness remains disputed and argued over.

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Okay, there's the 7 sentence mock-up of David Markson, lifetime New Yorker, distinct and 'genre specific to the artist' meta-style. The bad news is that to a degree, what Markson is doing is kind of rude. It's patronizing to consider conversation or the writer-reader relationship to be a sort of machine-gun succession of ejaculations poured out one didactic sentence at a time on the hapless reader. Most of us speak in short sentences. At times, given the complexity of ideas, we rely on compound sentences. Meaning from short phrases. If a person sees you merely as a waste-basket or trashbin, perhaps they'll pour everything out to you in quick one liners. (The default assumption being that you, the listener or reader, is too stupid to understand balancing of ideas or paragraphing of emphasis. But that's the negative type of Markson analysis.

Switch case: best possible presentation. David Markson, the reclusive artist-of-artists or writer-of-writers has produced a truly distinctive ('novel' so to speak), meta- fiction/non-fiction genre-bending work that is a touchstone for writers and heavy bibliophiles, a rare and elusive work that is understood mostly by the actual creators of writing material rather than the general public. Earning series upon series of 5/5 ratings and breathless accolades from top readers/reviewers, Markson creates what nobody else does, ranging over three thousand years of human history, in one sentence reflecting on the catacombs and cave paintings during the French Resistance, on another exploring society's mistreatment of the artist (perhaps the most common motif in the work), artistic rivalries, science/art divide, treatment of scientists, and the infinitely complex relationship between art, society's knowledge of art, history of art, and meaning, and the creative person her/himself. We go from Poe's final 72 hours to Nietzsche's. We meet Wittgenstein, Schopenhauer, Claude Lorraine, artists commenting on artists to arrive at a sweeping, unified overview of epistemology and aesthetic influence in one neat book. We understand artists at times over-rate themselves. We find that the best works do indeed require at times effort on the part of the viewer/reader/listener.

Well, where does Markson fit between these above two extremes. Probably closer to the sympathetic reading. A book exists by itself as its own entity; if the style or content is tiresome, it can be put down. Whatever hostility (however justified) the reader feels in being machine gunned one sentence paragraphs 5000x repeatedly is counterbalanced by the unique aesthetic affects Markson derives. Much more than [b:Wittgenstein's Mistress], this is in fact a philosophy handbook masquerading as a novel, and the author, through his own asides about 'this is the last book' and 'poets are either too easily read or too difficult' makes it clear he knows what he is doing.

one pretty stellar review:
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/28661278

good bad review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/373898632

4/5. interesting conceit and avant-garde 'genre-bender,' that draws on a huge well-spring of classical knowledge. only 3 references to Japanese philosophy/artists (Hokusai, Noguchi... was it ukiyo-e); Markson hasn't read any Eastern philosophy apparently and can't explain 7 different types of Zen, so overall the work is unbalanced-- (why mention Whistler if you don't know Whistler wanted to be considered a Japanese artist?); anecdotes do check out; an additional pleasure to be read with Wikipedia. immense, wide-ranging from ballet to Jonathan Lethem (!) references.