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A Review of: Vanishing Point by David Markson

CENTRAL QUESTION: Does an author disappear ?

A Review of: Vanishing Point by David Markson

Jorge Morales
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“Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage… A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel.”

Author’s description of his latest work in progress.

“Author” being the unnamed narrator of David Markson’s new novel, Vanishing Point.

Description could apply to Vanishing Point as well, saving Reviewer time and effort. Or to Reader’s Block (1996), also by Markson.

“Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage.”

Penultimate paragraph of Reader’s Block, being the narrator’s description of his latest work in progress.

“Reader,” the narrator is known as.

“A seminonfictional semifiction,” says Vanishing Point’s Author.

Referring to the narrator, of course, not to Markson. The quote itself, naturally, refers to the work in progress in Vanishing Point. Or to Vanishing Point. Language can be so imprecise sometimes.

“Obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax,” Author continues. Which is what Reader says of Reader’s Block. Verbatim, more or less.

“Probably by this point more than apparent—or surely for the attentive reader.

“As should be Author’s experiment to see how little of his own presence he can get away with throughout.”

Albany, New York, December 20, 1927.

“I have no wish to imply anything in regard to this coincidence…”

Says narrator Kate in Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988).

“A certain number of such connections do appear to keep on coming up, however.”

This Is Not a Novel (2001). Springer’s Progress (1977). Going Down (1970). The Ballad of Dingus Magee (1966).

“Author has finally started to put his notes into manuscript form.”

First line of Vanishing Point.

“A seascape by Henri Matisse was once hung upside down in the Museum of Modern Art in New York— and left that way for a month and a half.”

Parallels between Vanishing Point and Reader’s Block should be more than apparent by now, Reviewer believes. Possibility that both narrators are the same per- son, now older.

“An upside-down Matisse.”

A line in Vanishing Point not found in Reader’s Block. Presumably another description of Author’s work in progress. Or Author’s image of himself.

Fifty-five.

The times Wittgenstein’s Mistress was turned down by publishers.

Dingus Magee: twenty-two.

“Author had been scribbling the notes on three-by-five-inch index cards. They now come close to filling two shoebox tops taped together end to end.”

Being Vanishing Point’s conceit, described on page one. Conceit being another way of describing a premise or a shtick.

“One’s language being frequently imprecise in such ways, I have discovered.”

Wittgenstein’s Mistress.
Contents of the index cards: Names of writers. Artists. Philosophers. Scientists. Architects. Mystics. Child prodigies. Musicians.All manner of creative types.

And their spouses and lovers. Critics.
The date and place of their births and deaths.

Addresses. Eccentricities. Coincidences.Who slept with whom. Schoolmates. Writers trashing other writers. Connections. Juxtapositions.

Sequiturs.

A list of thirteen major philosophers,“[n]ot one of whom ever married.”

Hypergraphia (see Dostoeyevsky, below). Misunderstood geniuses (see Matisse, above).

Entries devoid of explanation or context: Names, quotes, addresses.

“Schrödinger’s cat.”

Date, time, and location of the Hindenburg explosion.

“Alprazolam.”

Untranslated snippets.

Causes of death. Methods of suicide.

Atrocities.

Hours of fun tracking down references in Google.

“Dostoeyevsky wrote The Gambler in sixteen days. “Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage in ten.

“At twenty-one.

“Donizetti wrote L’Elisir d’Amore in a week.

“The friendship of Crane and Joseph Conrad.”

Correspondence between Auschwitz commander and I. G. Farben, manufacturers of Zyklon B, re: obtaining human subjects to test the efficacy of new cyanide gas pellets.

Questions go unanswered for pages. References are sometimes explained many paragraphs or pages later, or not at all.

“If the sun were to go out,” Author asks, apropos of everything, “how long would we continue to see the sun?”

“Why has Author composed that line as a question when he would have known how to calculate the answer by the age of twelve or thirteen?”

Next page: “Eight minutes, twenty seconds. Give or take.”

“Practically all those interviewed in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster agreed that they had never confronted anything more horrendous.

“Author’s curiosity as to whether anyone thought to inquire of the writer of Slaughterhouse-Five.”

Referring to Kurt Vonnegut, whose Hocus Pocus (1990) shares the similar premise of a narrator who writes his tale on paper scraps of varying length.

“Hypnotic… a profoundly rewarding read.” Said Vonnegut, of Reader’s Block. According to the back cover. Of both Reader’s Block and Vanishing Point.

Seventy pages later, unattributed quotes:“They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building; so I said to them: Be patient.”

And: “The sky will burn at forty-five degrees. Fire approaches the great new City. In an instant a huge scattered flame leaps up.”

Neither one byVonnegut.

Lo bueno, si breve, doblemente bueno.

Author’s missteps. Literal missteps, not literary. Should he see a neurologist? “Portrait of the Artist as an Alter Kocker.” Author’s growing awareness of frailty, mortality. Will novel be finished before Author dies? Will one be able to tell.

Recurring sensation that instead of perusing Author’s three-by-fives, Reviewer is actually reading the backs of Trivial Pursuit cards.

Only seemingly random.A symphonic crescendo of a creative soul’s inability to put increasingly morbid factoids out of his mind. Hypnotic in its repetition, like the music of Philip Glass.

Minimalist. A label Glass rejects. As does Markson.

“A man will turn over half a library to make one book, Johnson said.”

Says Block’s Reader.

Also: “I have a narrative. But you will be put to it to find it.”

And: “That’s not writing. That’s typing.” Said Capote, of Kerouac. Or says Reader, of Block. Or Markson, of his books. Or Editor, of this article.

Kerouac having been an old friend of Markson’s next-door neighbor, back in the day. The sort of coincidence Author traffics in. As does Reader. And Reviewer.

Djuna Barnes?

“Now Barrabas was a critic.”

Ite, missa est.

 

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