November 13, 2008
Harry Mathews - Tangled Up In Blurb
I've been trying to think of a reason to write something about Harry Mathews on here for as long as I've been typing all this nonsense - trying to find something interesting to say about him, or at least to find an interesting link to give to people. I have failed. But my previous post on Paul Griffiths allows me to cast some light on an under-rated part of Mathews' writing - some of the shortest, most haiku-like, most constrained of his output. His book blurbs. I have found over the years that where Harry blurbs, the book is always worth reading. Griffiths gets the following: "I found let me tell you a beautiful and enthralling work, as well as a great success in Oulipian terms." Which is enough for me. Doug Nufer, who I've also posted about before, got "A scientist whose experiments are consistently successful acquires the status of genius, and this is the proper status of experimental writer Doug Nufer." Which, if it were about me, I would have tattooed right across my chest in huge black, Gothic letters. Though, obviously, I would have to change my name to Doug Nufer. Then there was Richard Beard, who received "A wonderful book – hilariously upsetting from beginning to end" for The Cartoonist and "Lovely, funny, touching, and exciting" for Damascus. Now, setting aside the generosity of his compliments, the important thing is that Mathews is always right. All those books were (are) more or less as good as he told me they would be. Yeah, as the Grand Cardinal of English Language Oulipiancy he kind of has a duty to support all members of the church of creative constraint. But unlike the more snotty, academicised wing of this tendency (which I admittedly may have imagined) he seems genuinely to want and foster as broad a church as possible.
In many ways, I think, Mathews is a model of how an author should live his life. He writes exactly what he wants to write when he wants to write it. He doesn't seem to get upset about its reception or the fact that a writer of his skill and talent should be way better known than he is. He appears to do what he does because he loves doing it. And that's reflected in his blurbing and hence support for a kind of writing he genuinely believes offers up a chance to make books new, to liberate readers and writers. So he gives - in his writing and beyond - again and again and again.
I'm sure if I met him he'd turn out to be a right bastard, but luckily I don't need to. I have his books. If you haven't read them, I would recommend you getting them, too.