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David Markson Obituary

12/20/1927 - 6/4/2010| Visit Guest Book
David Markson (AP Photo)
David Markson (AP Photo)
NEW YORK (AP) — David Markson, a revered postmodern author who rummaged relentlessly and humorously through art, history and reality itself in such novels as "Wittgenstein's Mistress," and wrote crime fiction, poetry and a spoof of Westerns made into the Frank Sinatra film "Dirty Dingus Magee," has died at age 82.

Markson's two children found him on June 4 in his bed in his Greenwich Village apartment, the author's literary agent and former wife Elaine Markson said Monday. She did not know the cause of death or when he died, but said Markson had been in failing health.

Little known to the general public, Markson was idolized by a core of fans that included Ann Beattie and David Foster Wallace. He was celebrated for his insights and for how he expressed them, often in paragraphs lasting just a sentence or two. "Wittgenstein's Mistress," his most acclaimed work, and other novels were interior monologues on the state of the world and the state of the author's mind. "Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like" was how he summed up his approach, in the novel "Reader's Block."

A native of Albany, N.Y., raised by a newspaper editor (his father) and school teacher (his mother), Markson was an undergraduate at Union College, then received a master's in 1952 from Columbia University. His thesis on Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano" led to a long friendship with the author. Markson also came to know Dylan Thomas (a fellow patron at New York's famous Lion's Head Tavern) and Jack Kerouac, allegedly so drunk when Markson asked for an autograph that he jammed his pen right through the paper.

Markson was ambitious, daring, but also tethered to everyday needs. He edited crime fiction at Dell Books in the 1950s and wrote "entertainments," detective novels, now cult favorites, including "Epitaph for a Tramp" and "Epitaph for a Dead Beat." Commercial success was reached in the mid-1960s with "The Ballad of Dingus Magee," which became the 1970 Sinatra movie "Dirty Dingus Magee."

Able at last to support himself, he completed "Going Down," a thriller set in Mexico and the beginning of his increasingly unconventional style, continued in "Springer's Progress" and mastered in "Wittgenstein's Mistress," published in 1988 by Dalkey Archive Press after being rejected by more than 20 publishers, Elaine Markson said. The novel was narrated by a woman who may be the last human on Earth, her severance from place and time in the spirit of the text itself.

"Perhaps I am no more than 47 or 48," the narrator explains. "I am certain that I once attempted to keep a makeshift accounting, possibly of the months, but surely at least of the seasons. But I do not even remember any longer when it was that I understood I had already since lost track."

Foster Wallace would list the novel as among the most "direly unappreciated" and call it "pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country."

Latter novels such as "Vanishing Point" and "This Is Not a Novel" were increasingly interior and abstract, narrated by an "Author" or "Writer" or "Reader" and looping back from random thoughts about the outside world to the storyteller's mind and to the book itself.

"Markson does away with most narrative conventions — plot, colorful characters, dramatic conflict — to replace them with a collage of very short anecdotes, apocryphal legends, aphorisms, lurid gossip about writers and artists' lives and deaths — as they run through the aging Novelist's fragmented consciousness," Catherine Textier wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 2007, referring to his aptly titled "The Last Novel."

Elaine Markson said she and the author married in 1956 and remained close after divorcing in the 1980s. Besides their two children, the author is survived by three grandchildren. Acting on the wishes of David Markson, his former wife said there will be no funeral, just a private memorial for the family, and that his body will be cremated. He also asked that he receive no public memorial.

"But I'm ignoring his request," she said, adding that a date had not yet been determined.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press
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