08 April 2012

Wittgenstein's Mistress

by David Markson. 

In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.
      Somebody is living in the Louvre, certain of the messages would say, Or in the National Gallery.
      Naturally they could only say that when I was in Paris or in London.  Somebody is living in the Metropolitan Museum, being what they would say when I was still in New York.
      Nobody came, of course.  Eventually I stopped leaving the messages.
      To tell the truth, perhaps I left only three or four messages altogether.
      I have no idea how long ago it was when I was doing that.  If I were forced to guess, I believe I would guess ten years.
     Possibly it was several years longer ago than that, however.
     And of course I was quite out of my mind for a certain period too, back then.
     I do not know for how long a period, but for a certain period.
     Time out of mind.  Which is a phrase I suspect I may have never properly understood, now that I happen to use it.
     Time out of mind meaning mad, or time out of mind meaning simply forgotten?
     But in either case there was little question about that madness.  As when I drove that time to that obscure corner of Turkey, for instance, to visit at the site of ancient Troy.
      And for some reason wished especially to look at that river there, that I had read about as well, flowing past the citadel to the sea.
     I have forgotten the name of the river, which was actually a muddy stream.
     And at any rate I do not mean to the sea, but to the Dardanelles, which used to be called the Hellespont.
     The name of Troy had been changed too, naturally.  Hisarlik, being what it was changed to.
     In many ways my visit was a disappointment, the site being astonishingly small.  Like little more than your ordinary city block and a few stories in height, practically.
    Still, from the ruins one could see Mount Ida, all of that distance away.
    Even in late spring, there was snow on the mountain.
    Somebody went there to die, I believe, in one of the old stories.  Paris, perhaps.
    I mean the Paris who had been Helen's lover, naturally.  And who was wounded quite near the end of that war.
    As a matter of fact it was Helen I mostly thought about, when I was at Troy.
    I was about to add that I even dreamed, for a while, that the Greek ships were beached there still.
    Well, it would have been a harmless thing to dream.

* * * * * *
      Lately I have often merely stopped typing and then started again, without putting in that it is tomorrow.
      . . .
      Something I doubtless did put in, somewhere, is that I once knew a great deal about many painters.
      Well, I knew a great deal about many painters for the same reason that Menelaus must surely have known a great deal about Paris, say.
      Even if I seem to have skipped Rogier van der Weyden and Jan Steen.
      Somehow I would also appear to know that Bach had eleven children, however.
      Or perhaps it was twenty children.
      Then again it may have been Vermeer who had eleven children.
      Though possibly what I have in mind is that Vermeer left only twenty paintings.
      Leonardo left fewer than that, perhaps only fifteen.
      Not one of these figures may be correct.
      Fifteen paintings do not seem like very many, especially when several of them are not even finished.
      Or are deteriorating.
      Then again it is perhaps quite a lot if one is Leonardo.
      Actually Vermeer left forty paintings.
      Brahms had no children at all, although he was known for carrying candy in his pocket to give to the children of other people, when he visited people who had children.
      And at least we have finally solved the question as to which life of Brahms it was that I read.
      Surely a history of music written for children, and printed in extraordinarily large type, would place emphasis on the fact that somebody being written about in that very book was known for carrying candy in his pocket to give to children when he visited people who had children.
      Even if Brahms had not done this very often, surely it would have been emphasized there.
      In fact it is not even impossible that Brahms hardly ever carried candy in his pocket to give to children.
      Very possibly Brahms did not even do this more than once in his life, and the entire legend was based on that single incident.
      Helen ran off with a lover only once in her life herself, and for three thousand years nobody would ever let her forget it.
      Here is some candy, children, Brahms doubtless said, once.
      Brahms gave candy to children, somebody write.
      The latter statement is in no way untrue. Any more than it is untrue that Helen was unfaithful.
      Although when one comes right down to it, who is to say that Brahms may even have not liked children?
      Or even disliked them, to the extreme?
      As a matter of fact quite possibly the only reason Brahms ever gave candy to any of them, even the once, may have been so they would go away altogether.
      Actually, Leonardo did not have children either, although nothing appears to have been said about candy either way, in his instance.
      Still, so much for your basic legend.

* * * * * *
     Have I mentioned that I have taken to building fires down hear the water, after my sunsets, incidentally?
     I have taken to building fires down near the water, after my sunsets.
     Now and again, too, looking at them from a distance, what I have done is to make believe for a little while that I am back at Hisarlik.
     By which I really mean when Hisarlik was Troy, of course, and all of  those years and years ago.
     So that what I am more truthfully making believe is that the fires are Greek watchfires, where they have been lighted along the shore.
     Well, that certainly being a harmless enough thing to make believe.    
     Oh. And I have been hearing The Alto Rhapsody again also, these days.
    Which is to say the real Alto Rhapsody this time, what with all of that having finally been sorted out.
     Even if it is still hardly the real one either, naturally, being still only in my 
      But still.
     And at any rate it is far too chilly this morning to be fretting about inconsequential perplexities of that sort.
     In fact it is far too chilly to be typing here to begin with, actually.
     Unless I might wish to move the typewriter closer to my pot-bellied sove, some way.
     Although what I really ought to do before doing that is to go out to the spring again, to tell the truth.
     Having completely forgotten about the rest of my laundry, which is spread across various bushes.
     So that by now there could very well be some new skirt sculptures out there, even.
     Even if Michelangelo would not think them that, but I think them that.
     And even if I will more probably leave the rest of the laundry where it is until I am feeling less tired, on the other hand.
     Doubtless I will not trouble to move the typewriter, either, when one comes down to that.
     Once I had a dream of fame.
     Generally, even then, I was lonely.
     To the castle, a sign must have said.
     Somebody is living on this beach.

  (pages: beginning 7-8, 123-125, conclusion 239-240)

NYTimes review of Wittgenstein's Mistress.

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