Dear David Markson

by Ben Marcus

[Note: Twelve years ago, Albert Mobilio of Bookforum asked me to interview David Markson.  These are the questions I sent. Unfortunately the interview was never completed.]


David Markson


Dear David Markson,

Thanks for taking the time to respond to these questions.  If any seem uninteresting to you, please disregard them and I’ll send others.   As you can see from recent issues of Bookforum, the interviews are published in a straight Q&A format, with a short introductory paragraph.  I am a serious admirer of your work—I think it is brave, devastating, and original.  This is what I will try to communicate in my short intro and questions.  I hope that we can construct an interesting conversation together.  If you need to call me, please try xxx-xxx-xxxx.


Ben Marcus


There’s an intriguing shift from Wittgenstein’s Mistress to Reader’s Block.  Reader’s Block contains almost no setting, and no real time-based narrative.  In one sense, this might be described as a shift from dramatization to exposition, which is curious, because in some low-lying writing cultures, exposition is supposedly deadly, inert territory.  Yet you have replaced scenes—the typical currency of fiction—w/ anecdotes of historical facts, and you’ve stopped vying for verisimiltude, in the conventional sense.  Exposition has become the means for a new kind of drama.  How did this become appealing to you as a form for fiction?


During the heyday of metafiction in the sixties, writers like Barth and Coover were practicing a craft-conscious form of narrative, drawing our attention to the way the piece of fiction was made.  Thirty years later, in Reader’s Block and This is Not a Novel, and now in Vanishing Point, you seem to have done something entirely new with what was once known as metafiction, which had long since been abandoned by writers who found it too cerebral and dry, limited in emotional range.  How is that, for you, a self-conscious literary mode seemed the best way to yield so devastating a result?  Metafiction would have seemed like one of the least likely places to encounter such an emotional book.


What are the interesting problems that occur for you while writing a novel?


Does the word experimental mean anything to you?  How do you locate yourself in the contemporary fiction culture?  Is originality something you value and consciously pursue?  And, if so, what are the risks for you?


The title of your book, Reader’s Block, draws attention to the fact that a reader can fail at something too.  The book evokes something not so frequently discussed: readerly ability, willingness, motivation.  While it would seem dangerous to become nostalgic for a time when reading was a skill and not just the opening of a slack orifice, it does create a challenge for an artist who happens to work with language.  Is being demanding a function, or a necessary result, of writing artistically?  If the actual ability to read and decipher a sentence is diminishing, does that concern you as a writer?  And do you have a particular relationship, at least in theory, to readers?


In This is Not a Novel, do you believe the claim of your title?  Are you proposing a new genre of fiction, or are you more interested in the irony, the way a potent fiction can be concealed in something we might otherwise view as fact-based?


Vanishing Point takes the expository, informational urge further than any of your previous books.  It is almost entirely an assemblage of historical facts, lyricised into chilling, miniature statistics.  Does this approach, as a compositional strategy, present any problems for you?  I was wondering how you construed momentum, a traditional, valued attribute of the novel.  You nevertheless achieve a tremendous, almost crushing feeling of closure.  How have you conceived the order of your material, and when is it that you are finished?


Vanishing Point has almost entirely escaped its metafictional context, exemplified by references to a character called Author, who is writing a book.  Could a novel work for you that is purely a collection of stylized historical anecdotes?  How crucial to you are the references to Author?

9.  Could you discuss how you use grammar to turn simple facts into loaded elements of your novels.  It strikes me that, through style, you find the dramatic core of a statement that, if phrased differently, might seem compeletly intert.