Discussion → LRB review of The Last Asylum

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    Ann Bogle
    Jan 31, 06:04pm

    I read this review by Jenny Diski of Barbara Taylor's memoir of being a patient of psychoanalysis and other treatments of world and internal suffering:


    The idea of living in a hospital has so little appeal to me that it is difficult to understand how others, many who have never been diagnosed, might daydream about it, admitting it nowhere, not saying it or writing it or showing it openly. It took time to realize that certain women do hold a fantasy of being studied by analysts in a gray manse where they are obliged to live. I wondered without asking two women I knew how that fantasy could arise. I feel that people subjected as patients, not only due to fantasies of their own care, are objects of mild, repetitive experimentation in psychology and science.

    Today I am reading David Markson's type of novel called Reader's Block, composed of one-sentence (often) paragraphs that account for the deaths (many of them suicides) of world artists, including writers and composers. There is a Protagonist confused mostly with the main character, an aspect of a narrator, called Reader.

    Markson's Reader's Block was published in 1996 by Dalkey Archive Press just two years after I had completed my thesis begun in 1991.

    I lived quite a few years not looking for books like it or seeking a sense of agreement that something in writing had taken place, a form of advent.

    Markson sketches against the relief of short sentence-based paragraphs whole lifetimes spent by philosophers and artists, each sentence representing the substance of a separate novel or memoir or biography of each creator's, man or woman's, life. Our access to understanding each sentence as a life story is our experience in striving toward art.

    Here is an example:

    "Bertrand Russell, re having contemplated suicide at sixteen: I did not, however, commit suicide, because I wished to know more about mathematics."


    "During his interlude with George Sand, Alfred de Musset more than once woke up not long after exhausting sex to find her gone from bed.

    Intently at work on a novel."

    The book lasts 193 pages. I gave in my first interview as a writer that I will move geographically again to outdistance reader's block. I find Markson's Reader's Block to be appreciably comprehensive. Ann Beattie contributes a cover blurb.

    Clearly, both reviewer and author of The Last Asylum are writers, as are several of the creators that Markson lists and names who endure hospitals, one of Markson's themes tentatively suggested in his Protagonist or Reader by the narrator.

    In Markson, the difficulty of staying alive as age advances is financial, and the need for adequate finance relates to securing enough physical comfort to permit further writing. Solitude is the narrator's, Reader's or Protagonist's, condition and his basic mystery: how has so much solitude carved its arc around his element, as he finds himself, the incumbent yet experimental writer?

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