WITTGENSTEIN’S MISTRESS BY DAVID MARKSON

In the beginning, I worried about the style.

It looks like How It Is, is what I told myself upon opening the book.

Naturally I did not want to read something that appeared to be so much influenced by How It Is.

How It Is being the Samuel Beckett novel I least enjoyed.

Generally speaking, I like Samuel Beckett a lot, but How It Is did confuse and bore me a little.

Although, upon reflection, Wittgenstein’s Mistress is nothing like How It Is.

Markson’s novel is actually influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Being a philosophy graduate, I have rolled around on the floor, so to speak, with Wittgenstein’s book.

Yet I cannot speak about it with any authority. For it confused and bored me a little.

The most I can probably say about it is that it consists of short declarative statements.

Wittgenstein’s Mistress also consists of short declarative statements. Hence the title, I suppose.

Wittgenstein’s Mistress is not, however, a philosophy text, like Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. It is a novel by a now dead American.

The novel by the now deceased American includes plot and characters. As novels tend to do.

I ought to point out that Wittgenstein’s Mistress serves up less plot and fewer characters than most novels, which is not to say that this is a bad thing.

There is only one character, if I am being honest. Her name is Kate.

There is only one character if you choose to ignore the cat.

The cat, however, may not actually exist. So it may be wise to ignore it.

Kate believes herself to be the last person on earth, which probably explains why there are so few characters.

There is a very real sense of loneliness in the book, as one would expect of course.

This is emphasised by Kate’s search for a probably non-existent feline.

Kate’s desire to reach out and connect with another living creature moved me very much.

Which is to say that there was something in the idea of the last person on earth searching for a probably non-existent feline that had a strong emotional effect upon me.

If you consider that we live in a society where a good number of our species go to great lengths to avoid other people, Kate’s predicament seems all the more moving.

I should point out, however, that Kate’s predicament may not be all that it seems.

It is possible that Kate is not the last person on earth.

It is possible that she is suffering from some form of madness precipitated by a tragic or painful event.

As one progresses through the book there is a gradual revealing of, or hints at, some kind of personal crisis, which may account for her madness. If she is, indeed, mad. Which she may not be.

It is to Markson’s great credit that one comes away from the novel without a definite opinion.

Markson allows just enough of a peek into Kate’s personal life to create some doubt as to the veracity of her claim.

Her claim being that she is the last person on earth, of course.

Perversely, for a novel about the last person on earth, reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress made me feel less alone.

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