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David Markson's Tetralogy (also known as the Notecard Quartet)[1] is a series of four novels by David Markson. The first in the series, Reader's Block, was published by Dalkey Archive Press in 1996. It was followed by This Is Not A Novel (Counterpoint, 2001), Vanishing Point (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004) & The Last Novel (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007). The books continue in the highly-stylized, experimental and minimalist style of his previous novel, Wittgenstein's Mistress, which was hailed by David Foster Wallace as "pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country."[2]

Of the first book, Reader's Block, fellow writer and friend Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "David shouldn’t thank Fate for letting him write such a good book in a time when large numbers of people could no longer be wowed by a novel, no matter how excellent."[3]

These chaotic novels, composed of quotes and facts but little character or plot, are difficult to describe. They may not even be novels in the strictest sense of the word. The second book, This Is Not A Novel, describes itself as any one of these possible genres or forms of art:

  • "A novel"[4]
  • "An epic poem"[5]
  • "A sequence of cantos awaiting numbering"[6]
  • "A mural of sorts"[7]
  • "An autobiography"[8]
  • "A continued heap of riddles"[9]
  • "A polyphonic opera of a kind"[10]
  • "A disquisition on the maladies of the life of art"[11]
  • "An ersatz prose alternative to The Waste Land"[12]
  • "A treatise on the nature of man"[13]
  • "An assemblage [nonlinear, discontinuous, collage-like]"[14]
  • "Nothing more than a fundamentally recognizable genre all the while"[21]
  • "Nothing more or less than a read"[21]
  • "An unconventional, generally melancholy though sometimes even playful now-ending read"[21]

Described in Markson's New York Times obituary as "wry, elliptical novels probing the scattered mind of the artist and the unruly craft of making art,"[22] the four books that make up the tetralogy are composed mostly of intellectual odds-and-ends about artists, writers, composers, performers, and even sports figures. The books themselves have little plot or action or characterization. In This Is Not A Novel, the Writer character proudly announces, "A novel with no intimation of story whatsoever, Writer would like to contrive."[23] Reader's Block likewise calls itself "a novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel."[24] Rather than consisting of a specific plot, they can be said to be composed of "an intellectual ragpicker's collection of cultural detritus."[25] This seemingly-random set of quotes, ideas and little nuggets of information about the lives of various literary, artistic and historical figures all cohere together to form a new kind of novel.

The books were created by Markson over a period of a decade and a half (from the early 1990s to the late 2000s). He did so by "scribbling the notes on three-by-five-inch index cards" and collecting them in "shoebox tops" until they were ready to be put "into manuscript form."[26]

The only real character present in the tetralogy is an old, male writer--modeled after Markson himself[27]--who can be thought of as the organizer of the odds-and-ends that constitute the text of the tetralogy. In Reader's Block, he is called Reader. In This Is Not A Novel, he goes by the name Writer. Vanishing Point gives that character the name Author. In the last novel of the tetralogy, The Last Novel, he is known as Novelist. It is of this "old man's preoccupations"[21] that the tetralogy can be said to be about. Markson explained it as: "I have characters sitting alone in a bedroom with a head full of everything he’s ever read."[28]

Further analysis shows that this "nonlinear, discontinuous, collage-like"[29] series of books is not a chaos of randomized facts, but actually a carefully arranged and interconnected poetic rumination on life, death, aging, sickness, loneliness and, perhaps most importantly, the role of the artist in society.

One important sidenote is the question as to whether the four books should even be grouped as a tetralogy at all or whether they should be viewed as completely separate novels. Markson seems to promote seeing them together, but he also makes an important note in The Last Novel, the last novel of the tetralogy, "Wondering if there is any viable way to convince critics never to use the word tetralogy without also adding that each volume can be readily read by itself?"[30] Though it is important, as he suggests, to remember that each novel can be "readily read by itself," he doesn't deny though that they do also form a tetralogy.

References Edit

  1. Reading Markson Reading, About This Site
  2. http://www.salon.com/books/bag/1999/04/12/wallace/ Salon, April 12, 1999, "Five direly underappreciated U.S. novels >1960"
  3. Vonnegut, Kurt. Timequake. Putnam Publishing Group, 1997. Pg. 40. ISBN 0399137378
  4. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 18. ISBN 1582431338
  5. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 21. ISBN 1582431338
  6. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 23. ISBN 1582431338
  7. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 36. ISBN 1582431338
  8. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 53. ISBN 1582431338
  9. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 70. ISBN 1582431338
  10. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 73. ISBN 1582431338
  11. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 86. ISBN 1582431338
  12. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 101. ISBN 1582431338
  13. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 111. ISBN 1582431338
  14. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 128. ISBN 1582431338
  15. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 147. ISBN 1582431338
  16. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 170. ISBN 1582431338
  17. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 171. ISBN 1582431338
  18. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 173. ISBN 1582431338
  19. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 184. ISBN 1582431338
  20. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 185. ISBN 1582431338
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 189. ISBN 1582431338
  22. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/arts/08markson.html New York Times, June 7th, 2010
  23. Markson, David. This Is Not A Novel. Counterpoint, 2001. Pg. 2. ISBN 1582431338
  24. Markson, David. Reader's Block. Dalkey Archive Press, 1996. Pg. 61. ISBN 1564781321
  25. Reading Markson Reading, Pg. 104 of David Markson’s copy of On the Iliad by
  26. Markson, David. Vanishing Point. Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004. Pg. 1. ISBN 1593760108
  27. Palleau-Papin, Francoise. This Is Not A Tragedy. Dalkey Archive Press, 2011. Pg. xxvii of the Introduction: Markson is quoted as having said: "How much of myself is in there? It’s all me. Especially in Reader’s Block, all that personal stuff re: Reader and/or Protagonist, ex-wife, ex-galfriends, children, lack of money, isolation, messed-up life, and/or some items dictated by novelistic necessity—and of course there is necessary invention there also, e.g., a house at a cemetery—but even little items like a couple of yellow stones from Masada or a reproduction of Giotto’s Dante—I plucked up whatever was ready at hand. Is that laziness, or is it what they speak of as using what one knows? Take your pick." ISBN 1564786072
  28. http://portable-infinite.blogspot.com/2010/07/david-markson-interview.html Portable Infinite, Interview w/ David Markson, 07/09/2010
  29. Markson, David. Reader's Block. Dalkey Archive Press, 1996. Pg. 140. ISBN 1564781321
  30. Markson, David. The Last Novel. Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007. Pg. 161. ISBN 1593761430

External links Edit

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