Ben Marcus Doing His David Markson Impression

In his early writings, Thoreau called the alphabet the saddest song. Later in life he would renounce this position and say it produced only dissonant music.

Letters, Montaigne said, are a necessary evil.

But are they? asked Blake, years later. I shall write of the world without them.

I would grow mold on the language, said Pasteur. Except nothing can grow on that cold, dead surface.

Of words Teresa of Avila said, I did not live to erase them all.

They make me sick, said Luther. Yours and yours and yours. Even sometimes my own.

If it can be said, then I am not interested, wrote Schopenhauer.

When told to explain himself, a criminal in Arthur’s court simply pointed at the large embroidered alphabet that hung above the king.

Poets need a new instrument, said Shelley.

If I could take something from the world, said Nietzsche, and take with it even the memory of that thing, so that the world might carry on ever forward with not even the possibility that thing could exist again, it would be the language that sits rotting inside my mouth.

I am a writer, said Picasso. I make my own letters.

Shall I destroy this now, or shall I wait for you to leave the room, said his patron to Kadmos, the reputed inventor of the alphabet.

Kadmos is a fraud, said Wheaton. Said Nestor. Said William James.

Do not read this, warned Plutarch.

Do not read this, warned Cicero.

Do not read this, begged Ovid.

If you value your life. Bleed a man, and with that vile release spell out his name in the sand, prescribed Hippocrates.

No alphabet but in things, said Williams.

Correction. No alphabet at all.

The entirety of Chapter 35 of Ben Marcus’s novel The Flame Alphabet. It’s a departure of style from the novel that seems to owe more than a passing nod to David Markson’s notecard novels.


3 thoughts on “Ben Marcus Doing His David Markson Impression”

  1. You may find this amusing.

    Or not.

    I looked up Markson because of your post.

    In the Wikipedia article, specifically in WITTGENSTEIN’S MISTRESS, they claim that Markson is doing his impression of Beckett.

    So, Marcus doing his impression of Markson doing his impression of Beckett.

    Alternatively, the Lit Pub web site claims that Marcus is doing his impression of . . . well . . . Wittgenstein: his TRACTATUS.

    And then there’s Shakespeare, who reportedly claimed no story was ever original. Of course, this may have been an excuse for his habitual appropriation of history and myth. I say this without judgement, without attempting to diminish his relevance or stature in literature or drama or poetry.

    Then again, maybe it’s this:

    Once you begin to travel this literal path, this deconstructed construction, you become saturated in these fragments, intoxicated by the staccato meter, addicted to its cold, disjointed music.

    Or this:

    As a writer, a lover of words, of language, eventually you become aware, disappointed, disheartened by the limitations of even the most complex language.

    As in the passage above: Shelley’s broken instrument of poets.

    So, you try to save it. You take the language and break it down to it’s component parts–grammatical construction, semantic relationships, words, letters, punctuation.

    Then you try to reshape it, restructure it, build it up again, hoping for conveyance, praying it will carry the thought, the idea, the emotion inside of you to its destination:


    Or not.

    Maybe the above is incorrect, fallacious, deliberately deceptive.

    Maybe I should have written something else:



    1. “Therefore good and ill are one.” Heraclitus, Fragment 57

      “There’s nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.” Shakespeare, Hamlet, II, ii

      “Well, um, you know, something’s neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so, I suppose, as Shakespeare said.” Donald Rumsfeld


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