David Markson: Vanishing Point

David Markson: Vanishing Point

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Vanishing Point

Author: David Markson
Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard
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Vanishing Point

Author: David Markson
Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard

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An avant-gardist who squeezes an eerie amount of feeling from tight formal constraints, David Markson writes novels that play like withdrawals from an overinvested memory bank. In This Is Not A Novel and Wittgenstein's Mistress, Markson unspools brief anecdotes about writers, painters, musicians, and philosophers, and twists them slowly around central characters both bound and cocooned by the history that suffuses them. In Vanishing Point, that character is "Author," an aging writer at work on a novel to be constructed from index cards cataloguing more and more anecdotes. "A seascape by Henri Matisse was once hung upside down at the Museum of Modern Art in New York–and left that way for a month and a half," reads the first one, tipping off a litany of evocative tidbits that fall like dominoes. There's no overstating the sameness of Markson's approach, which presents little stories in one- or two-sentence blocks. But there's no overstating the revelatory nature of his patterns, either. Themes snake around the underbrush without ever showing their heads, and before long, it's clear that Vanishing Point is about what it truly means to live in a culture and die in its absence. Among the anecdotes' recurring motifs are quibbles and taunts, futility and defeat, and history's habit of resisting any logic but its own. Some yarns are pointed and leading ("Pope Sixtus IV... was forced to actually issue a bull threatening excommunication for anyone who did not return volumes borrowed from the Vatican library"), while others grab black-comedic handles ("Sir Francis Bacon died of what began as a chill during an experiment to see how long he could preserve a fowl by freezing it in snow"). Still others invoke a disquieting hum: "According to his own wish, Liszt's funeral was conducted without music." The surfeit of cultural information has a dispiriting effect in spells, but that same quality works even more to humanize cultural biggies and find solace in the power of their legends. Vanishing Point comes to an end as devastating as any literary form would seem to allow for, but it also offers a map of the magisterial ways that stories attach themselves to things both alive and dead, said and unsaid.

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