Tuesday, April 10, 2007

28 hints from or about Harry Mathews

'For an American author to be called "experimental," "avant-garde" or merely "difficult" has pretty much always been a curse. Americans like their writers to tell a good story, not dick around with form or process. Maybe that’s why Harry Mathews, one of the masters of experimental American fiction, has spent so much of his adult life in France.'

Late in the summer of my eleventh year, I decided to butcher our neighbors' Afghan hound. One afternoon I went out to stalk him as he prowled around backyards, hoping to lure him with a red plastic bowl full of sugared water that had been laced with poison. I caught up with him just when he'd soiled our very own cosmos patch, an event that was actually a bright spot in the proceedings because it justified them.

"In Cigarettes, Mathews takes us more interestingly than ever into that unfinished work of art, the self, exposing powerful dependencies and subtleties in a cast of characters distinct and poised yet half-groping toward others and themselves. The plot, the tale, the laying bare, are intriguingly stages and timed in a novel as imaginative as it is disturbing." -- Joseph McElroy

When I have one of these frightening lunatic ideas, each is a kind of knot. I have no idea what's going to be in the package. In my first three novels and in the earlier stories here, one knot I wanted to untie was the prestige of high culture. People used to accuse me of being erudite — too much archaeology, history of religion, theology — when my point was how utterly irrelevant they and their apparent mysteries were.

'Harry Mathews was, after Marcel Duchamp, the second American chosen for membership in the French literary society known as the Oulipo, which is dedicated to exploring new possibilities in literature, in particular through the use of various constraints and algorithms. Mathews considers many of his works to be Oulipian in nature, but even before he encountered the society he was working in a parallel direction.'

An exclusive evolutionary vortex of world excursions: the Chronogram for 1998

Note: The
rule of the chronogram is that when all letters corresponding to Roman numerals (c, d, i, l, m, v, and x) are added together, they produce a sum equivalent to a specific year of the Christian calendar.

"(My Life in the CIA) is an honest account by someone (he seems at the time to have been a bit of a ne’er-do-well) who tried to play spy without knowing what the word meant and landed himself in boiling-hot water. The book‚ which is as exciting as any novel‚ proves a useful moral: leave this business to the pros." — Colonel Raymond Russell (ret.)‚ Counterintelligence Corps‚ U.S. Army

A man of sixty-eight years is lying on an unmade bed masturbating. The room, filled with packing cases and furniture in disorder, is in a beautiful house overlooking Cape Town; the man has just taken possession of it. Throughout his life, whenever he has moved, he has found that until he masturbated in a new dwelling he cannot think of it as home. His wife urges him to get on with it.

On a sunny Wednesday morning in early May, rigorous of mind and sound of body in spite of advancing years, Sir Joseph Pernican set forth on his quest. He felt, in addition to confidence, a provocative unease. The familiar man who had provided his instructions had signified that the clues he would find on his way would take unexpected guises; divining them would depend on his accepting them attentively and without prejudice.

" Tlooth is a brilliant book, in a very special way. . . . While the method of telling it is quite sober, and the language plain, what actually happens is totally bizarre and wonderful. The descriptions that are blandly handed to you show an imagination and an ingenuity that are often just astonishing. The details are sometimes very savage and scabrous. . . . But the book has nothing to do with modish sick humor. . . . It is, for all its incidental excesses, fantasy, pure and simple." -- Harper's

Among my early memories of women taking their clothes off before making love, one stands out: that of certain modest Parisian prostitutes who, wishing to maintain their bosoms’ firmness and elevation, kept on their brassieres while shedding (with the occasional exception of their stockings) everything else. ... The vision excited my curiosity not by its eroticism but as a first glimpse of the ways women themselves perceive their bodies.

'A testament to refined taste, the magazine Locus Solus was impeccably edited by John Ashbery (Issue 3/4), Kenneth Koch (Issue 2), and James Schuyler (Issue 1 and 5). Harry Matthews, whose poetry shows a strong affinity with these New York School poets, published the magazine in France. Locus Solus took its name from Raymond Roussel’s classic, which betrays the editors’ affinity for the avant garde, the European, and the highly intellectual. First and foremost, the magazine served as a vehicle for the New York School poets to express and to spread their artistic aesthetic.'

'Composed of a series of letters between a husband and wife, The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium is a brilliant comedy. Newly wedded Zachary McCaltex (a librarian in Miami) and Twang Panattapam (originally from the Southeast-Asian country of Pan-Nam, but residing in Italy) try to trace the whereabouts of a treasure supposedly lost off the coast of Florida in the sixteenth century, while navigating a relationship separated by an ocean as well as their different cultures.'

John Ashbery: One is supposed to ask questions about a writer's work, but I thought I would ask you about your life, which I know very little about. As so often with one's nearest and dearests, their biographies have enormous lacunae in them. I don't know, for instance, very much about why you went to Harvard, or why you left it. I don't know why you studied music. I don't know why you went to Majorca. If I knew, I've forgotten all these things.
Harry Mathews:
p.s. Hey. Today and tomorrow are my crazy days, as I said. I'm out of here in a few minutes, and I'll be supervising the recording of the radio play until lateish tonight. So I'll be briefer than ever today, probably, if I can help it, but, beginning on Thursday, things will return to normal around here on the p.s. front. I went to Antler's reading at Shakespeare and Co. last night. She only read a handful of poems, as it was a group reading, but they and she were great, in particular a new longer poem based around the demise of Anna Nicole Smith. Then she and Wolf and some friends of Antler's and I hit a cafe for a while. Needless to say, I'm sure, they're both as incredible in real life as they are here, and it was a lot of fun. So, yeah, wish you'd all been there, etc. Now on and quickly I go. ** Statictick, I'll check in with Akashic to make sure all is okay on the trailer, etc. And I'll hunt my email for the new improved photos. Thanks, dude. ** Atheist, Is that the proposal for the male prostitution book? Well, all the luck in the world, but there's no doubt you're going to ace it. All the brainstorming here you need, of course, of course. Inquiring minds want to help, etc. ** Vomitingghosts, Really glad you like Chris's work. Oh, I have a little surprise for you tomorrow. ** David Ehrenstein, Yeah, I know, and I get the Rufus Wainwright thumbs up stuff, but his stuff just rubs my ears and sensibility the extremely wrong way. I expect I'll come around one of these days. On your what constitutes gay test, I'm pretty gay on the films and books front, and almost hetero on the music front. So I guess that means I'm ... bi? Ozu boyfriend look, that's great. Oh, I got an email from the mighty Tosh, still in Japan, but returning to our fold next week. I've missed him. He sounds A-okay. ** T.pkendall, Bad, bad way? How? We're all ears here, if you need us. ** Nick, I think you can safely skip the Bacon Brothers stuff from what I've heard. It's in the same world as the Jeff Bridges album. I'd like to hear a lot more about and from The Communion. I searched your blogs for a link to some sounds, but missed it, if it's there. ** Bernard Welt, More and more I'm thinking bears need to be seen and not heard. What's with this aesthetics police stuff? I thought all bears were going to be like Nayland Blake the Bear. I'm thinking they're not deserving that title. I'm thinking they should start calling themselves the Hefties or something more prosaic. Bob Mould goes to bear night? But he's all slimmish now, isn't he? And when he and I were friends, his boyfriend sure wasn't a bear. A prep. Curious. ** Maximum etc., Hey, cool, thanks. I hope Chris vS saw all the nice words about him. ** Teenagekicks, That's the first I've heard of DList. Hm. Your page is nice. My look was too quick for a general understanding. I'll investigate further. Hm. ** Antler, Well, you ruled last night, didn't you? Yes, you did. I hope we'll get to hook up again before you split. ** Adjoun, You know and like Gombrowicz? Cool. Yeah, the South American diaries are my favorites. Pretty and so scalding. Say hey to the Destroyer guy for me. Not that I know him or anything. It's a fan's hey. ** SCHIZZ, I really need to watch the Genet film again. When I saw it years ago, I was severely disappointed, and kind of shrugged at it, but I think I might have been expecting a more Anger-ish sensibility or something because I seem to be the only huge Genet fan who doesn't think highly of it. Your thoughts? ** Math t, Hey. How's it? Chris von Steiner is having a show in NYC in January. I don't know the details, but I will, and you will. ** 5stringsA, An Easter Egg hunt would really hit the spot. Years ago, this rich art collector in LA got a bunch of well known-ish artists and writers together to design and make Easter eggs supposedly just for fun, and then she wouldn't let us have them, and they're probably in some fucking museum now. They all turned out kind of ugly and stupid, at least. ** Joe Mills, I totally think you're geared up to write fiction. That's what your yesterday's posts said to me. Fantastic stuff. The Queer Eye guys are my other Achilles heels, so thank goodness you stopped short of contextualizing them with me. Wow, am I really straight acting? Gosh, thank you very much. You're going to be so surprised when I come flaming up to you in Glasgow squealing your name. I bet you're pretty straight acting, no? Can you 'pass'? I bet. ** Thomas Moronic, Wow, you're just Mr. Fantastic News. That's awesome about Bruce's likely use of your music, Thomas. Listen, if this blog had any part in electrifying your art, that means a lot. As I've said before, in some ways my ultimate goal for this place is that it in some small way inspires and help people to do their own art. So, yeah. Sure, I get inspired, not, inspired, not, etc. I think it's a pretty normal and healthy rhythm. Or I hope so since I'm in a long inbetween phase. Oh, one last thing, your band so is, so up my alley. Needless to say, its/your music is a total balm. Yum. ** SYpHA_69. I'm dying to see 'Grindhouse.' No sign of its upcoming release here, though. Its soft opening, as they say, was weird news. Am I the only person who's past the saturation point on Will Ferrell? ** Victor Sierra, Maybe I'll be the one with the story for my grandchildren, or, well, quasi-grandchildren, I guess. Don't forget about your own spectacular future. Anyway, I'll try to get the Madrid or not thing sorted out. ** Rigby101, TG's playing the night of 'Kindertotenlieder'? The past vs. the future. You decide. No, if you spring for TG, totally understandable. The timing sucks, actually. But 'Kindertotenlieder's playing three nights, isn't it? Problem solved? ** JW Veldhoen, I spied emails from you in my box. Awesome. I'll get on them my first spare minute, and write you. All novels hermetic? Absolutely. The more the better, that's all. ** Imnotstopping, That Joe Brainard show looks amazing. You going to get to see it? Damn, I wish I could. ** Marc, Seriously, finish that novel for million reasons. Check out Gombrowicz's journals. That flat diet coke aspect isn't there. They're less stiff and a lot more loosely venomous and fun. Thumb through a copy at The Strand or something and see what you think. ** Mark, Growing up is weird, right? Looking in the mirror and seeing a newer face, weird. Anyway, you look great. ** Insidetheroar. I'm glad you're feeling better. I tried to get a clearer pic of you from Antler last night, but she was discreet, so you're still an amazing mystery or mysteriously amazing or ... you get the picture. ** Antonio, Do I love New York? Well, yeah, how can you not? Does anyone not love it apart from people who live in Utah maybe? I wouldn't live there again if you paid me. Four plus years was plenty. But love it, sure. You scored some good classes. Not a clinker. What's 'enlightenment fiction'? I'm blanking. Is that a fancy name for a gay lit class? Oh, hardly, Antonio says smirkily, echoing my thoughts and reflecting my lowgrade irony. Knowing Antler doesn't like her picture taken, I left my camera at home so I wouldn't be tempted. But Wolf took some pix with her big ass camera, so ask her. I'd rather do Breakfast Day. All those Days you want are already in the works, not. Do you miss the days when people used to say '...., not' all the time? Not me. The other day on French TV they had a three hour long show paying tribute to Jean Michel Jarre. He was there with his Cher-like 61 year old proto-18 year old's face. Christ, does his music suck. Don't tell me you like it. Don't. ** I'm late, late, late. Have a harry day. See ya.