Londinium revisited reading Levé's Suicide & Markson's The Last Novel
This takes place where «the people sleep, sleep in the daytime. If they want to, if they want to.»—a song that was once running through this bLogger's head in the city we used to live in when we were thinking of living in yet another. On the way to this city where people sleep in the daytime if they want, bLogger brought 2 books: SUICIDE by Edouard Levé & THE LAST NOVEL by David Markson.
Both books are by dead authors so bLogger feels okay saying their names, unlike the previous few posts. In the city we went to last weekend where bLogger purposely neglected to say the name, there was an earthquake this weekend, so maybe he cursed it. Bologna. There, bLogger said it.
«Novelists personal genre.»—David Markson writes in THE LAST NOVEL. «For all its seeming fragmentation, nonetheless obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective tissue.»
But first bLogger read SUICIDE, on a plane from FCO to LHR, not THE LAST NOVEL. The bLogger will get to Markson later on the return flight. Serendipitously, the style of Edouard Levé in many ways reminds bLogger of David Markson—fractured parcels of paragraph-based information, though with Edouard Levé the pointillist, non-linear info-chunks are chunkier, more ruminating. And where Markson name-drops left & right, Levé rarely utters a proper noun. In lieu of story there's that certain fragmented encyclopedic style, a self-characterized constellation: «A dictionary resembles the world more than a novel does, because the world is not a coherent sequence of actions, but a constellation of things perceived. It is looked at, unrelated things congregate, and geographic proximity gives them meaning.»
Edouard Levé wrote SUICIDE & delivered it to his french publisher on October 5, 2007. On October 15, 2007 he lived up to his words & killed himself. So (with this knowledge in mind), though written in 2nd person, to his friend that committed suicide, this short novel reads like a suicide note to himself.
A marketing gimmick that takes cajones, you might say. Ensuring the immortality of your name by dying. It's hard to imagine what bLogger would've thought about the book if he didn't know beforehand what happened to the author outside the book, the two actions (writing SUICIDE & then committing suicide) are now inseparable, part of the same work. «You are a book that speaks to me whenever I need it.»— Edouard Levé says about his friend. «Your death has written your life.»
All the accompanying photos here are from this place where people sleep in the daytime, if they want to. The bLogger took more revealing/identifying photos before when first visiting this city. First impressions of a place you've never been are best, thinks bLogger. Photos of places by people born & raised in these places are clouded & biased. Just like «writing what you know» is bullshit advice.
A lot is said about suicide in SUICIDE. And you can only wonder if these were things Levé was working through with himself, whether he knew all along how it would end. Not that there is a sense of grief or despair— Levé is for the most part detached & philosophical in his suicidal ruminations.
The book is addressed to his friend that committed suicide, but in reading it becomes like you (the reader) are talking to a dead Levé: «Your suicide makes the lives of those who outlive you more intense. Should they be threatened by boredom, or should the absurdity of their lives leap out at them from the curve of some cruel mirror, let them remember you, and the pain of existence will seem preferable to the disquietude of no longer being.»
Beneath it all is perhaps Levé's contemplation of mortality via authoring books. «You thought time would sort them all out, and that it's better to read authors from the past who are published today than to read today's authors who will be forgotten tomorrow.»
This is not the first time bLogger has waxed about suicide. This from our last UK trip.
«Your father, standing back, felt most guilty. But his guilt was your final humiliation: he appropriated your death for himself by holding himself responsible.»
Not all the philosophizing is in regards to suicide & death. In remembering his friend, Levé elucidates his finest qualities. «Yet those buildings, those sidewalks, and those walls did belong to someone, though nothing forced you to acknowledge this fact. The opacity of local languages and customs would prevent you from knowing, or guessing, to whom it was that they belonged. You used to drift through a visual form of communism, according to which things belonged to those who looked at them.»
Things bLogger has been thinking about lately in regards to art & authorship. More recognition needs to be restored to the observer, the reader, the art lover. Less capturing, rehashing & claiming as ones own.
In the end though, the book lost momentum—it had his interest at first, then tapered off & ended on a long poem that fell flat, in this bLogger's eyes. Granted, last words are a hard thing to pull off.
Some real things (outside of books) we did in this city where people sleep in the daytime, if they want to (besides the usual flâneuring & eating, though no sleeping in the daylight hours):
3. Went to some bookstores & stocked up:
4. Also brought back a kilo of Keen's cheddar cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy & filled our bellies with food & beer from Borough market, Brick Lane & other less memorable spots (wouldn't count London as a culinary destination).
On the return trip bLogger read THE LAST NOVEL by David Markson. Like Wittgenstein's Mistress (which he blogged about from the shores of Lake Malawi) & This is Not a Novel (which he blogged about from DUMBO), The Last Novel is a collage of obscure bite-sized anecdotes. The only difference being that Markson seems even more obsessed with death than he was in This is Not a Novel, detailing the dates & locations of the deaths of many artists & writers.
The Last Novel was indeed the last book David Markson wrote, though unlike Edouard Levé he did not die by his own hand. At least not that we know about—the NY Times obit says: «the cause of death had not been established but that he had had cancer».
«Old.Tired. Sick. Alone. Broke.» Markson declares. «All of which obviously means that this is the last book Novelist is going to write.»
Yes, Markson refers to himself as Novelist. And every so often throws in anecdotes about his health or how he threw his cat out the window. And then twenty pages he'll admit to not even having a cat, so you have to be paying attention.
«The earliest known reference to London by name, dated as long ago as 61 AD—in Tacitus.» is one such anecdote.
And here's an anecdote found by flipping to a random page & pointing with eyes closed: «At least one of Modigliani's sculptures was carved from a discarded construction-site stone—because he could not afford to pay money for something better.»
«From a letter of Petrarch's, ca. 1352, in which he mentions having been reminded of some task or other by the town clock. By this recent invention we know measure time in almost all the cities of northern Italy.»
This caused bLogger to stop reading & wonder what life must've been like before clocks. How did people meet each other, except at sunrise or sundown? Wondering if having a vague sense of time might be healthier.
«I don't think anybody should write his own autobiography until after he's dead. Said Samuel Goldwyn.»
«He who writes for fools will always find a large audience. Said Schopenhauer.» Markson could've been a tweeting contender.
«Als ick kan.» were the last words Markson wrote. Two pages before he refers to it vaguely as something van Eyck said, but isn't clear. According to wikiquote it means «I do as I can.»
Lately this bLogger has been thinking that: All you can do is do what you do. In fact, he thought to tweet it a few weeks ago, but didn't think it was something that could be understood out of context. From a book-mongering context, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink.
June 4, 2010. David Markson died on.