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Wittgenstein's Mistress

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  3,118 ratings  ·  367 reviews
Wittgenstein's Mistress is a novel unlike anything David Markson - or anyone else - has ever written before. It is the story of a woman who is convinced, and, astonishingly, will ultimately convince the reader as well, that she is the only person left on earth. Presumably she is mad. And yet so appealing is her character, and so witty and seductive her narrative voice, tha ...more
Paperback, 279 pages
Published May 1st 1988 by Dalkey Archive Press
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The Third Policeman by Flann O'BrienWittgenstein's Mistress by David MarksonThe Recognitions by William GaddisThe Tunnel by William H. GassJ R by William Gaddis
Best Dalkey Archive Titles
2nd out of 139 books — 53 voters
Infinite Jest by David Foster WallaceSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutGravity's Rainbow by Thomas PynchonIf on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo CalvinoWhite Noise by Don DeLillo
Postmodern Genius
58th out of 443 books — 388 voters

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Community Reviews

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Is Wittgenstein’s Mistress For Me?

The following survey is designed to predict your strength of connection to this very distinctive book. Choose the responses that apply best to you and tally the associated points. Then compare your total with the ranges below to see the course of action recommended especially for you.

1. If offered, I’d choose the stack of pages by a) Danielle Steel, Jackie Collins, and Nora Roberts (1 pt.), b) Lee Child, James Patterson, and Vince Flynn (2 pts.), c) Carson McCul
Jul 10, 2012 s.penkevich rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Just read it.
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Mike Puma
The world is everything that is the case

When looking to purchase a book I always try to buy them used. This allows me to stock my personal library with nice hardcover editions that often cost just as much, or occasionally less, than the price of a new paperback edition while also supporting small businesses that do their part to keep the dream of physical books alive. Used copies of books also come with an elusive presence of the previous owner haunting the pages. Occasionally I will wonder ho
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Jun 08, 2010 Joshua Nomen-Mutatio rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The Patient; The Lonesome; Those Who Fill In The Blanks
Okay, right up front, I read this on the basis that David Foster Wallace, who is unambiguously my literary hero, ascribed extremely high praise to this book. Foregoing any knuckle-biting self-analysis over what effect this had on my perceptions of the book I will just give my thoughts directly.

First off, I think I could accept a description of this book as pretentious, self-indulgent, plotless, etc. All the usual suspects. Large swaths of its content are jumbled thoughts about painters, museums,

But when they succeed, as I claim David Markson's 'Wittgenstein's Mistress' does, they serve the vital & vanishing function of reminding us of fiction's limitless possibilities for reach & grasp, for making heads throb heartlike... ~ David Foster Wallace

I reserve the right to tweak this review at will.

One of many things I love about this book is how ardently it made me want to get inside of the mind of the narrator. A lot of readers have written reviews describing 'Wittgenste
Paul Bryant
Nov 23, 2012 Paul Bryant rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone with a rodent infestation
Beaten senseless by the author's large brains I slumped to the ground. When I awoke I found rats had eaten the rest of the book and they had all died with uncanny expressions of horror on their little furry faces. I wasn't disappointed. This novel was a little too avant for my garde.
Aug 06, 2014 Garima rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: The hidden artist and the crazy philosopher in you.
Recommended to Garima by: s.penkevich
Till yesterday...Castles in the air was just a phrase for me, today I built one and burned it. I gave myself a new name and wrote it on the sand, the waves took with them a different me. I took a ladder and climbed the moon; the yonder earth looked both sad and serene. With colors from nature, I painted an ocean, where the seashells were crooning and pearls were flying. I asked a tree if my words will live, forever is a myth it replied before dying. Am I alone or am I lonely? Such questions I ra
Mike Puma
Mar 25, 2015 Mike Puma rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: you know who you are

David, David, David. How you Wow!* me.** You found your way to me at exactly the right time, and I’m devouring you at a pace McCarthy and Bolaño and Marías could only hope for. Don’t worry Chuck, Bobby, Javi, I’m still yours, but David has earned his place in your esteemed company. I am most pleased that this group seems to have so little in common—other than me.

But first, the obligatory: a MUCH better review is to be found by JN-M here (read it, Like it, then read it again), if I were to quibb

I'm having a quarrel with DFW. He loves this book, and I do not.

It hurts me that we disagree.

But I read the book, read Wallace's argument (this essay) and the flaws that he points out (and forgives) I can't get past. Here is his defense, which I summarize:
-this is one of those novels which cry out for critical interpretation and directs it, like a waltz does in music.

-a cross between fiction, and a weird cerebral roman à clef.

-he was attracted to the book because of the title, noting it woul
Jun 10, 2012 Megha rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Megha by: Thomas Bernhard, sort of
Shelves: reviews

It probably took me less than 20 pages to be enamored with Wittgenstein's Mistress and I turned the last page quite in awe of David Markson.

What we read as the novel is an unbroken series of sentences being typed by a woman, who could be the last animal alive on the earth. One by one she pulls out little threads out of the tangled yarn that her fading and cluttered memory has become. As she unloads her intellectual baggage, she constantly corrects and contradicts herself. We see her struggle to
Sarah (Presto agitato)
Apr 01, 2015 Sarah (Presto agitato) rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sarah (Presto agitato) by: Steve
Kate is the only person living in the world.

Well, what I should have said is the only creature living.

On my honor, there is nobody else. There are no dogs or cats or seagulls or scorpions.

Quite possibly there are no fish either.

I did not verify that for certain about the fish, however.

A part I always liked is when she was living at the Louvre and used the frames to make a fire. She nailed the paintings back into place.

Actually that was at the Tate where she did that.

Helen, being the name of th
the 'message' behind nele azevedo's melting ice people might've been environmental, but for me it's all about death and impermanence and the horrible fleetingness of... everything. of course, for me, the subtext of everything from homer's iliad to the newest kate hudson romcom is death in that everyone involved will someday die, and then the last person to know anyone involved will someday die, and then the last person to know of somebody involved will die, and then the last person will someday ...more
Arthur Graham
Naturally what follows is a review of Wittgenstein's Mistress. Not his actual mistress, mind you (with whom I've never had the pleasure), but merely the book named after her.

One's language is frequently imprecise in that manner, I have discovered.

First, a few facts about the reviewer: 1) Has never read DFW's essay on WM, or anything else by Markson. 2) Is passingly familiar with about 66% of the writers, artists, and composers mentioned throughout, as well as their major works. 3) Has experience
Riku Sayuj

The five star, in all good conscience, should only be awarded after a second run-through and piece-together. I am stunned and throat-constricted after finishing this and need to catch my breath, regroup. I have my notes and a review kernel ready but it does no justice to this novel. I don't want to review it. Instead, I want to read it a thousand times.

Doubtless these are inconsequential perplexities.
Still, inconsequential perplexities have now and again been known to become the fundamental mood of existence, one suspects.

Doubtless this is the passage that works best for me in suming up the experience of reading Markson’s anti-novel.
There’s no plot, no characters to speak of, no structure and no final illuminating revelations about fundamental aspects of human nature.
Unless one considers that we live in a constant state of bafflement, wastin
Ian Klappenskoff

Martin Heidegger
Is not somebody I thought
I once understood.

Whispered Genius
[In the Words of David Markson]

What I believed was
A person was a shadow,
If not a curtain.

On the Beach

A note for myself:
Somebody lives in this state
Of solipsism.

Naming Cats and Dogs

Did you know Rembrandt
Named his cat after the dog
In the Odyssey?

I Looked Her in the Eye

One morning I finally determined not to make a major project out of doing this review.

Now that I think about it, I suspect I've done it while trying not
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
My last review before this was about a novel with only one paragraph.

This time, it is about a novel with no paragraph.

Or maybe with many paragraphs.

I guess it depends on what a paragraph is.

When is a sentence just a sentence, and when does it become a paragraph?

Here, the paragraphs are composed of just one sentence each.

Sometimes not even a sentence.

Just phrases each ending with a period.

So if they're not paragraphs then this novel has no paragraphs.

Just sentences standing separately from each o
MJ Nicholls
This is the first Markson I have read with, at least, his own linear sentences (if not structure or plot). As with certain Dalkey Archive titles, it helps to read around the book first (Foster Wallace’s RCF review from 1990 being a good place to start) to understand the technical philosophy being explored alongside the devastating depiction of loneliness and madness that forms the upfront textual heft. On a prose level, each sentence occupies its own little island of significance, standing alone ...more
I once wrote a letter to Selma Blair and told her she was really good in the movie Cruel Intentions. This was before I had seen the movie, in fact. But she was really nice on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and I wanted her to feel good that someone enjoyed her movie. Even though I was probably not the only one who enjoyed the movie. But I wanted to have something to say to her and since her show on the WB was still a few months off I didn't have anything else to say, factually, expect, "You did ...more
The protagonist, a painter, finds herself to be the last person on earth. More accurately, the last mammal, as even cats and seagulls are nowhere to be found except in bits of tape and pieces of floating ash. For years she wanders the earth alone. Looking for people in store windows. Feeding imaginary cats. Is she mad? Has she imagined all this?

That alone would've been a good premise for a novel. But Markson takes that premise as just the backdrop, the starting point for many other investigation
This is one of those damned pomo novels which defies any attempt at snappy categorization. It has a heavy influence from Wittgenstein both in style and philosophy, and talks a lot about being alone in the world and how names and facts lose their meaning.

To be frank, it's rather overwhelming, and I'm not really ready to articulate what I think about it yet. Writing about abstract concepts like history or philosophy is easy to me. Writing about people is hard.
I have to admit that I admired this much more than I enjoyed it.

I admired it for its ability to do so much with so little. Markson's novel is written, as you probably know, as a sequence of short paragraphs -- often just one sentence per paragraph -- that relate the thoughts of protagonist Kate in a spare, simple, lucid style modeled (at least superficially) on Wittgenstein's Tractatus. The content of Kate's musing is, if this makes sense, spare in a way directly analogous to its style. Most of
May 04, 2015 [P] rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: bitchin
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 have 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 Wittgens
Holy crap. Blimey, that is one hell of an impressive piece of writing. I have no idea how he pulled it off - how do I end up having a powerful, concerned, empathic connection with the narrator, when she can only truly be seen out of the corner of your eyes. How does one invent such a structure? looping like a slinky slightly stretched and laid horizontal on the floor...

Thank you to all my new goodreads friends whose plundered shelves gave this to me.
LONG overdue for a reread.
12AUG12. Someone read the foregoing five-word review and told me "Long overdue for a REVIEW!" which flummoxed me a bit because I thought I had at least jotted a few thoughts in here. Not only had I not commented here (apart from the reread comment), I haven't commented on my personal page! What the hell damn guy! W's M is on my list of lifetime favorites, and yet now that I've sat down to write I find myself glaring into an empty "What did you
Dec 13, 2007 Carolyn rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those I loathe.
Is there a negative three stars rating? If this was the last book on earth, and destroying it would mean that all future generations would be illiterate, I would DESTROY IT and save all those unborn children the senseless pain of attempting to take any point away from this author's vulgar display of hoity-toity "I know all about art and greek mythology, so I'm going to talk about it but mix it up just enough for you to buy that I know SO MUCH MORE ABOUT IT THEN YOU that YOU MUST BE STUPID. And i ...more
A mind is a terrible thing to have.
Nick Craske
My head is suitably bent-out-of-shape after reading this peculiar avant garde piece of writing. Inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstien's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a classic 20th century book, about 70 pages, consisting of remarks on the essence of language, the nature of The World, of logic, mathematics, science and philosophy and ending with comments on ethics, religion and mysticism. It's quite a mind-bending reading in itself but is written with logical precision and often poetic intensity.

Vit Babenco
Although influences are rather apparent - Molloy by Samuel Beckett and The Recognitions by William Gaddis - David Markson is quite on his own here and Wittgenstein’s Mistress is a psychedelic slumber of reason. “To sleep, to dream...”
“Doubtless these are inconsequential perplexities. Still, inconsequential perplexities have now and again been known to become the fundamental mood of existence, one suspects.”
A philosopher's existence is a sick joke.
Today I was walking around the Met, thinking of her.

2013: 4 years later, I still think about this book so frequently that I feel it would be dishonest of me not to bump it up to 5 stars.
S. if I have been appointed curator of all the world."

This book is one continuing monologue of a woman named Kate who is convinced she is the last remaining person (and animal) on earth. She has given up looking for other people, but many of her reflections concern traveling the world in search. Finally persuaded of her isolation, her companions become her thoughts and musings on artists, paintings, music, writers, characters of myth and philosophers.

She tells us Wittgenstein was too difficu
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Literary Fiction ...: Wittgenstein's Mistress 40 22 Sep 10, 2014 10:08AM  
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David Markson was an American novelist, born David Merrill Markson in Albany, New York. He is the author of several postmodern novels, including This is Not a Novel, Springer's Progress, and Wittgenstein's Mistress. His most recent work, The Last Novel, was published in 2007 and received a positive review in the New York Times, which called it "a real tour de force."

Markson's work is characterized
More about David Markson...
This is Not a Novel Vanishing Point Reader’s Block The Last Novel Springer’s Progress

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“Was it really some other person I was so anxious to discover...or was it only my own solitude that I could not abide?” 41 likes
“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.” 24 likes
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