Pg. 55 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Markson placed a line in the margin next to part of a quote from poet Wallace Stevens on his contemporary William Carlos Williams:     “I have not read Paterson. I have the greatest respect for him, although there is the contrast difficulty that he is more interested in the way of saying things than in what he has to say. The fact remains that we are always fundamentally interested in what a writer has to say. When we are sure of that, we pay attention to the way in which he says it, not often before.”
     And then Markson puts a squiggle to the sentence that Kenner writes in response to Stevens’ reading of Williams:     “This is one of the most extraordinary misunderstandings in literary history.”
—
     So what does Markson think of “one of the most extraordinary misunderstandings in literary history”?
     Where would Markson stand in a Stevens v. Williams deathmatch?
     Well, though we should be careful not to completely conflate the “Novelist” persona in The Last Novel with Markson himself, there are obvious points of similarity between character and author, and the Novelist might offer a point of entry into the novelist’s (Markson’s) thoughts on Wallace Stevens:     The Novelist in The Last Novel (and perhaps Markson himself) thought this of Stevens:     “Wondering if there can be any other ranking twentieth-century American poet whose body of work contains even half the percentage of pure drivel as Wallace Stevens’.” (Pg. 109)
     And yet, Markson’s thoughts on William Carlos Williams also seem to be less than enthusiastic—and we don’t have to use the filter of one of his characters to discover his thoughts here:     On another page in this Hugh Kenner book, once owned by David Markson, Markson wrote in the margin his thoughts on William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore:     “Not if your poetry is not very good—which theirs isn’t.”
     “Tell me honestly, Cal. Am I as good a poet as Shelley?     Asked William Carlos Williams, not long before his death, of Robert Lowell.”     An anecdote found on pg. 178 of The Last Novel.
     Makes me imagine my own scene of WCW on his deathbed:     “Tell me honestly, Dave. Am I as good a poet as Stevens?     Asked William Carlos Williams, not long before his death, of David Markson.”     What would Markson have said?
—
     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 55 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Markson placed a line in the margin next to part of a quote from poet Wallace Stevens on his contemporary William Carlos Williams:
     “I have not read Paterson. I have the greatest respect for him, although there is the contrast difficulty that he is more interested in the way of saying things than in what he has to say. The fact remains that we are always fundamentally interested in what a writer has to say. When we are sure of that, we pay attention to the way in which he says it, not often before.”

     And then Markson puts a squiggle to the sentence that Kenner writes in response to Stevens’ reading of Williams:
     “This is one of the most extraordinary misunderstandings in literary history.”

     So what does Markson think of “one of the most extraordinary misunderstandings in literary history”?

     Where would Markson stand in a Stevens v. Williams deathmatch?

     Well, though we should be careful not to completely conflate the “Novelist” persona in The Last Novel with Markson himself, there are obvious points of similarity between character and author, and the Novelist might offer a point of entry into the novelist’s (Markson’s) thoughts on Wallace Stevens:
     The Novelist in The Last Novel (and perhaps Markson himself) thought this of Stevens:
     “Wondering if there can be any other ranking twentieth-century American poet whose body of work contains even half the percentage of pure drivel as Wallace Stevens’.” (Pg. 109)

     And yet, Markson’s thoughts on William Carlos Williams also seem to be less than enthusiastic—and we don’t have to use the filter of one of his characters to discover his thoughts here:
     On another page in this Hugh Kenner book, once owned by David Markson, Markson wrote in the margin his thoughts on William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore:
     “Not if your poetry is not very good—which theirs isn’t.”

     “Tell me honestly, Cal. Am I as good a poet as Shelley?
     Asked William Carlos Williams, not long before his death, of Robert Lowell.”
     An anecdote found on pg. 178 of The Last Novel.

     Makes me imagine my own scene of WCW on his deathbed:
     “Tell me honestly, Dave. Am I as good a poet as Stevens?
     Asked William Carlos Williams, not long before his death, of David Markson.”
     What would Markson have said?

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 164 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Markson placed a check next to a mention of writer Louis Zukofsky.
—
     Louis Zukofsky was an American poet, born just a few months before fictional Leopold Bloom took his fictional stroll.
     Zukofsky, born Jan 23rd, 1904, and died May 12th, 1978, is probably best remembered for his long poem "A".
     "A" is an 826-page poem that took Zukofsky pretty much his entire lifetime to complete.
     He seems like just the kind of interesting yet underappreciated and oft-overlooked writer that Markson would have found things to say about in his Notecard Quartet.
     To my surprise, Zukofsky was not written about anywhere in Markson’s books.
     In fact, the only spot where he appears in any of Markson’s novels are his mentions at the very back of the book in Markson’s two Dalkey Archive releases. And this is solely because in the back of their publications Dalkey has a page of “Selected Dalkey Archive Paperbacks” and Louis Zukofsky’s Collected Fictions is one of those listed.
     But in Markson’s actual writing, he is conspicuously absent.
—
     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 164 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Markson placed a check next to a mention of writer Louis Zukofsky.

     Louis Zukofsky was an American poet, born just a few months before fictional Leopold Bloom took his fictional stroll.

     Zukofsky, born Jan 23rd, 1904, and died May 12th, 1978, is probably best remembered for his long poem "A".

     "A" is an 826-page poem that took Zukofsky pretty much his entire lifetime to complete.

     He seems like just the kind of interesting yet underappreciated and oft-overlooked writer that Markson would have found things to say about in his Notecard Quartet.

     To my surprise, Zukofsky was not written about anywhere in Markson’s books.

     In fact, the only spot where he appears in any of Markson’s novels are his mentions at the very back of the book in Markson’s two Dalkey Archive releases. And this is solely because in the back of their publications Dalkey has a page of “Selected Dalkey Archive Paperbacks” and Louis Zukofsky’s Collected Fictions is one of those listed.

     But in Markson’s actual writing, he is conspicuously absent.

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 42 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Markson placed lines in the margin next to the following:     “And into Gatsby, the North Dakota parvenu with mysterious sources of wealth, went much that was pertinent to a Minnesota parvenu who had found he could write himself out of debt at will ($1,500 per story: $1,500 shreds sliced from his talent)—a knack denied to James Joyce and Joseph Conrad. Into Gatsby went much of his awe at his own Midas touch, and his knowledge of the complex bond that secured Zelda Sayre to him with hoops of gold, and guilt for his squandering of talent and material, squandering he was powerless to arrest because he was also powerless to manage money. ‘I don’t know anyone,’ he wrote Max Perkins, ‘who has used up so much personal experience as I have at 27’; used up, he also said, on ‘trashy imaginings’; but the new books (Gatsby), he said in the same letter, would not be like that.”
—
     Oh, Fitzgerald squandering his talent on his “trashy imaginings.”
     “I had been only a mediocre caretaker of most of the things left in my hands, even of my talent, Scott Fitzgerald said.”     From Markson’s Reader’s Block, pg. 179.
     But Gatsby “would not be like that.”     Fitzgerald assured Max Perkins.
     The Great Gatsby received positive reviews and was somewhat of a commercial success upon its release.
     And yet, it never had the kind of commercial success his novels This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned received.
     Gatsby and Fitzgerald were both pretty much forgotten by the time of his death.
     “F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a sequence of heart attacks.     His most recent royalty statement showed seven copies of The Great Gatsby sold during the preceding six months.”     So says Markson in This Is Not A Novel, on pg. 114.
     And on pg. 37 of Vanishing Point, Markson explained:     “Not long after Scott Fitzgerald’s death, Scribner’s let The Great Gatsby go out of print.     And then rejected the collection called The Crack-Up.”
     Maybe Fitzgerald was “only a mediocre caretaker” of his talent, squandering plenty of it on “trashy imaginings,” but he was right:     Gatsby “would not be like that.”
     Even if there were times when the book wasn’t appreciated, when it didn’t sell much, and when it went out of print, The Great Gatsby is now often cited as one of the greatest American novel of all time, if not THE greatest American novel.
     Too often great artists aren’t appreciated til long after their deaths.     A point Markson makes throughout his oeuvre.
     Sadly, Fitzgerald didn’t get to see the rise of his literary import in the last half of the 20th century, and died thinking of himself as somewhat of a failure, but still, it’s a happy ending for a “mediocre caretaker.”
     He has been vindicated.
—
     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 42 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Markson placed lines in the margin next to the following:
     “And into Gatsby, the North Dakota parvenu with mysterious sources of wealth, went much that was pertinent to a Minnesota parvenu who had found he could write himself out of debt at will ($1,500 per story: $1,500 shreds sliced from his talent)—a knack denied to James Joyce and Joseph Conrad. Into Gatsby went much of his awe at his own Midas touch, and his knowledge of the complex bond that secured Zelda Sayre to him with hoops of gold, and guilt for his squandering of talent and material, squandering he was powerless to arrest because he was also powerless to manage money. ‘I don’t know anyone,’ he wrote Max Perkins, ‘who has used up so much personal experience as I have at 27’; used up, he also said, on ‘trashy imaginings’; but the new books (Gatsby), he said in the same letter, would not be like that.”

     Oh, Fitzgerald squandering his talent on his “trashy imaginings.”

     “I had been only a mediocre caretaker of most of the things left in my hands, even of my talent, Scott Fitzgerald said.”
     From Markson’s Reader’s Block, pg. 179.

     But Gatsby “would not be like that.”
     Fitzgerald assured Max Perkins.

     The Great Gatsby received positive reviews and was somewhat of a commercial success upon its release.

     And yet, it never had the kind of commercial success his novels This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned received.

     Gatsby and Fitzgerald were both pretty much forgotten by the time of his death.

     “F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a sequence of heart attacks.
     His most recent royalty statement showed seven copies of The Great Gatsby sold during the preceding six months.”
     So says Markson in This Is Not A Novel, on pg. 114.

     And on pg. 37 of Vanishing Point, Markson explained:
     “Not long after Scott Fitzgerald’s death, Scribner’s let The Great Gatsby go out of print.
     And then rejected the collection called The Crack-Up.”

     Maybe Fitzgerald was “only a mediocre caretaker” of his talent, squandering plenty of it on “trashy imaginings,” but he was right:
     Gatsby “would not be like that.”

     Even if there were times when the book wasn’t appreciated, when it didn’t sell much, and when it went out of print, The Great Gatsby is now often cited as one of the greatest American novel of all time, if not THE greatest American novel.

     Too often great artists aren’t appreciated til long after their deaths.
     A point Markson makes throughout his oeuvre.

     Sadly, Fitzgerald didn’t get to see the rise of his literary import in the last half of the 20th century, and died thinking of himself as somewhat of a failure, but still, it’s a happy ending for a “mediocre caretaker.”

     He has been vindicated.

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.


     Pg. 106 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Kenner claims re: Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams:     “She and a frantically busy physician who kept a typewriter screwed to a hinged leaf of his consulting-room desk, to be banged up into typing position between patients: not ‘poets,’ not professionals of the word, save for their passion: they were the inventors of an American poetry. The fact is instructive.”     Next to which Markson places some lines and replies:     “Not if your poetry is not very good—which theirs isn’t.”
—
     Surprisingly, even though they are both mentioned in his last four novels often enough, Markson was apparently not very fond of the poetry of two of the biggest Modernist poets:      Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams.
     When Markson criticizes authors in the margins, such as in this instance, or the constant barrage in the margins of his DeLillo novels, I think of something he said in his KCRW interview about what most of the little “intellectual odds-and-ends” are in his tetralogy:     “Most frequently it’s despairs and defeats, or sometimes even rotten reviews, and sometimes even from their peers (who should be kinder).”
     “Not if your poetry is not very good—which theirs isn’t.”
     Should Markson have been kinder in the margins of his books?
     Eh, I prefer knowing his honest opinion…
—
     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 106 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Kenner claims re: Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams:
     “She and a frantically busy physician who kept a typewriter screwed to a hinged leaf of his consulting-room desk, to be banged up into typing position between patients: not ‘poets,’ not professionals of the word, save for their passion: they were the inventors of an American poetry. The fact is instructive.”
     Next to which Markson places some lines and replies:
     “Not if your poetry is not very good—which theirs isn’t.”

     Surprisingly, even though they are both mentioned in his last four novels often enough, Markson was apparently not very fond of the poetry of two of the biggest Modernist poets:
     Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams.

     When Markson criticizes authors in the margins, such as in this instance, or the constant barrage in the margins of his DeLillo novels, I think of something he said in his KCRW interview about what most of the little “intellectual odds-and-ends” are in his tetralogy:
     “Most frequently it’s despairs and defeats, or sometimes even rotten reviews, and sometimes even from their peers (who should be kinder).”

     “Not if your poetry is not very good—which theirs isn’t.”

     Should Markson have been kinder in the margins of his books?

     Eh, I prefer knowing his honest opinion…

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.


     Pg. 135 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Kenner wrote:     “Robert Cohn, for instance, is presented in the second sentence of The Sun Also Rises as a man insufficiently aware of pugilistic hierarchies:     Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn.”     To which Markson responded:     “That’s hardly the meaning.”
—
     That first sentence of The Sun Also Rises (“Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton”) can be found on pg. 199 of Markson’s Springer’s Progress amongst a number of other first sentences of famous novels.     Had he made a list of second sentences of famous novels, I wonder if that of The Sun Also Rises (“Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn”) would have made the cut.
     In that second sentence, according to Hugh Kenner, Cohn is presented as “a man insufficiently aware of pugilistic hierarchies.”     But if you side with Markson, and I tend to, “that’s hardly the meaning.”

—

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 135 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Kenner wrote:
     “Robert Cohn, for instance, is presented in the second sentence of The Sun Also Rises as a man insufficiently aware of pugilistic hierarchies:
     Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn.”
     To which Markson responded:
     “That’s hardly the meaning.”

     That first sentence of The Sun Also Rises (“Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton”) can be found on pg. 199 of Markson’s Springer’s Progress amongst a number of other first sentences of famous novels.
     Had he made a list of second sentences of famous novels, I wonder if that of The Sun Also Rises (“Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn”) would have made the cut.

     In that second sentence, according to Hugh Kenner, Cohn is presented as “a man insufficiently aware of pugilistic hierarchies.”
     But if you side with Markson, and I tend to, “that’s hardly the meaning.”

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.


     Pg. 182 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Markson placed a check in the margin, which is either making note of:     “Olson turned incoherence into a style.”     Or:     “Since his death in 1970 transcriptions of tapes have been printed like sacred oracles.”     I can’t be sure which.
—
     Neither the fact of turning “incoherence into a style,” nor the fact of his “death in 1970” and subsequent “transcriptions of tapes” can be found in Markson’s final four novels, his Notecard Quartet.     In fact, the only mention I can find of Charles Olson in Markson’s Notecard Quartet comes from pg. 93 of The Last Novel:     “Does having been six feet eight inches tall make Charles Olson the tallest known poet?”     
—
     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 182 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Markson placed a check in the margin, which is either making note of:
     “Olson turned incoherence into a style.”
     Or:
     “Since his death in 1970 transcriptions of tapes have been printed like sacred oracles.”
     I can’t be sure which.

     Neither the fact of turning “incoherence into a style,” nor the fact of his “death in 1970” and subsequent “transcriptions of tapes” can be found in Markson’s final four novels, his Notecard Quartet.
     In fact, the only mention I can find of Charles Olson in Markson’s Notecard Quartet comes from pg. 93 of The Last Novel:
     “Does having been six feet eight inches tall make Charles Olson the tallest known poet?”    

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 211 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Markson placed a line and a check next to the following negativity towards Vladimir Nabokov:     “But Pale Fire is a mirthless hoax and so is its successor, Ada, or Ardor: ingenious ships-in-bottles riding plastic seas to the awe of teaching assistants.”
—
     Similar negativity towards Nabokov can be seen on pg. 73 of Markson’s This Is Not A Novel:     “The precious, pinchbeck, ultimately often flat prose of Vladimir Nabokov.     The fundamentally uninteresting sum total of his work.”
—
     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. 211 of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Markson placed a line and a check next to the following negativity towards Vladimir Nabokov:
     “But Pale Fire is a mirthless hoax and so is its successor, Ada, or Ardor: ingenious ships-in-bottles riding plastic seas to the awe of teaching assistants.”

     Similar negativity towards Nabokov can be seen on pg. 73 of Markson’s This Is Not A Novel:
     “The precious, pinchbeck, ultimately often flat prose of Vladimir Nabokov.
     The fundamentally uninteresting sum total of his work.”

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. xviii of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:
     On which Markson wrote a line in the margin next to the following paragraph from the introduction (which explains his choices for who he includes in his study of American Modernist writers):      ”It is neither a survey nor an honor roll. There are distinguished bodies of achievement—Robert Lowell’s, Robert Frost’s—through which the vectors it traces do not pass. There are representative careers—Hart Crane’s, Thomas Wolfe’s—that point capital morals but have less pertinence than the oft-told Fitzgerald story. And Cummings, the supremely experimental, trifler with the sacred upper-case font, dissociator of Aesop’s very grasshoppers into the hopping letters of its busy name? Yes, the book’s theme is tanegntial to what interested Cummings, but does not encompass him because Cummings finally altered no verbal environment except his own. What the book leaves out should help underline the pertinence of what it includes. Permit that principle, and we shall get on very well.”
—
     What interests me so much about the fact that Markson marked this paragraph is that it feels like a point of entry into his own Notecard Quartet, his final four novels (Reader’s Block, This Is Not A Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel).
     ”What the book leaves out should help underline the pertinence of what it includes.”     A line that could describe Markson’s final four novels quite well.
     Though it could appear to those unfamiliar with Markson’s world that the various little nuggets of information on writers and artists that fill the pages of those final four novels could just be thrown together haphazardly, there is a definite method to Markson’s madness.
     In his Conjunctions interview, Markson explained:     ”When Reader’s Block came out, Kurt Vonnegut called me, two-thirds of the way through, and said, ‘David, what kind of computer did you use to juggle this stuff?’ I told him what I’d done, and he called me when he finished it and said, ‘David, I’m worried about your mental condition.’”
     Of course, what David Markson had done was meticulously compile the book through working and reworking various tidbits on notecards.
     His process is perhaps best explained in the following KCRW interview excerpt:     ”I’ll tell you something. It’s difficult. I dig out these bits and pieces  of intellectual trivia. But they’re hard to come by. I go to a certain  bookstore here in New York—The Strand—frequently. I’ve been going  there all my adult life. And a few of the managers or other people  suddenly will hand me a book they think I can use. Sometimes they are  collections of anecdotes or quotes and I’ll go through the entire  collection—a book of 500 pages—and maybe once in a while I’ll find  something I’ve already used, but I’ll find one or two things. And one or  two of these people have looked at me in astonishment. One of them  looked at me and said, ‘Boy, you certainly only take the crème de la crème.’ And I guess that’s it, I must be gifted with an eye or an ear to  spot the right quote. In fact, when I make these, I make notes of these  things on index cards. And then I rewrite the index cards and rewrite  the index cards—except for direct quotes. But I would say, as they’re  pilling up, one behind the other—I use the tops of shoeboxes—but every  third one, every second one, that I have managed to let myself select,  every second one of those has a question mark down in the corner: ‘Is  this really good, do I really want it?’” 
     So in summary of this and other comments he’s made:     Markson is very selective in his first round of the process (in what he tidbits he makes marks next to his his books).     And then he gets even more selective of what makes it from the margins of books to notecards in the second round of the process.     And then in the third round of the process he weeds out every other notecard.
     So it is important to know that those four final novels of Markson’s aren’t filled with just scattershot tidbits, but were painstakingly crafted through constant emendations.
     What the books leave out should help underline the pertinence of what they include.     
     (And evaluating what these novels leave out and what they include is a big part of why I created this blog in the first place.)
—
     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.

     Pg. xviii of David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner:

     On which Markson wrote a line in the margin next to the following paragraph from the introduction (which explains his choices for who he includes in his study of American Modernist writers):
      ”It is neither a survey nor an honor roll. There are distinguished bodies of achievement—Robert Lowell’s, Robert Frost’s—through which the vectors it traces do not pass. There are representative careers—Hart Crane’s, Thomas Wolfe’s—that point capital morals but have less pertinence than the oft-told Fitzgerald story. And Cummings, the supremely experimental, trifler with the sacred upper-case font, dissociator of Aesop’s very grasshoppers into the hopping letters of its busy name? Yes, the book’s theme is tanegntial to what interested Cummings, but does not encompass him because Cummings finally altered no verbal environment except his own. What the book leaves out should help underline the pertinence of what it includes. Permit that principle, and we shall get on very well.”

     What interests me so much about the fact that Markson marked this paragraph is that it feels like a point of entry into his own Notecard Quartet, his final four novels (Reader’s Block, This Is Not A Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel).

     ”What the book leaves out should help underline the pertinence of what it includes.”
     A line that could describe Markson’s final four novels quite well.

     Though it could appear to those unfamiliar with Markson’s world that the various little nuggets of information on writers and artists that fill the pages of those final four novels could just be thrown together haphazardly, there is a definite method to Markson’s madness.

     In his Conjunctions interview, Markson explained:
     ”When Reader’s Block came out, Kurt Vonnegut called me, two-thirds of the way through, and said, ‘David, what kind of computer did you use to juggle this stuff?’ I told him what I’d done, and he called me when he finished it and said, ‘David, I’m worried about your mental condition.’”

     Of course, what David Markson had done was meticulously compile the book through working and reworking various tidbits on notecards.

     His process is perhaps best explained in the following KCRW interview excerpt:
     ”I’ll tell you something. It’s difficult. I dig out these bits and pieces of intellectual trivia. But they’re hard to come by. I go to a certain bookstore here in New York—The Strand—frequently. I’ve been going there all my adult life. And a few of the managers or other people suddenly will hand me a book they think I can use. Sometimes they are collections of anecdotes or quotes and I’ll go through the entire collection—a book of 500 pages—and maybe once in a while I’ll find something I’ve already used, but I’ll find one or two things. And one or two of these people have looked at me in astonishment. One of them looked at me and said, ‘Boy, you certainly only take the crème de la crème.’ And I guess that’s it, I must be gifted with an eye or an ear to spot the right quote. In fact, when I make these, I make notes of these things on index cards. And then I rewrite the index cards and rewrite the index cards—except for direct quotes. But I would say, as they’re pilling up, one behind the other—I use the tops of shoeboxes—but every third one, every second one, that I have managed to let myself select, every second one of those has a question mark down in the corner: ‘Is this really good, do I really want it?’” 

     So in summary of this and other comments he’s made:
     Markson is very selective in his first round of the process (in what he tidbits he makes marks next to his his books).
     And then he gets even more selective of what makes it from the margins of books to notecards in the second round of the process.
     And then in the third round of the process he weeds out every other notecard.

     So it is important to know that those four final novels of Markson’s aren’t filled with just scattershot tidbits, but were painstakingly crafted through constant emendations.

     What the books leave out should help underline the pertinence of what they include.     

     (And evaluating what these novels leave out and what they include is a big part of why I created this blog in the first place.)

     David Markson’s copy of A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers by Hugh Kenner is owned by John Harrison. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © John Harrison.