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Post-Retinal

Harry Mathews, 28 November 1996

The Private Worlds of Marcel Duchamp: Desire, Liberation and the Self in Modern Culture 
by Jerrold Seigel.
California, 291 pp., £28, September 1996, 0 520 20038 1
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... Twenty-eight years after his death, Marcel Duchamp continues to generate new readings of his life and work. Jerrold Seigel has absorbed eighty years’ worth of commentary and come forward with a reinterpretation in terms of Duchamp’s personal history. Noting that Duchamp ‘has become a kind of mythic presence in modern culture, a hero whose story we tell and retell for the sake of its exemplary lessons’, Seigel remarks that he ‘is said not only to have undermined the goal of seeking meaning through artistic activity, but also to have dissolved his own subjectivity as an artist ...

Shark-Shagger

Harry Mathews, 2 November 1995

‘Maldoror’ and the Complete Works of the Comte de Lautréamont 
translated by Alexis Lykiard.
Exact Change, 352 pp., £11.99, January 1995, 9781878972125
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... The literary career of Isidore Ducasse, successor to Sade, Byron and Baudelaire and a model for Rimbaud, Jarry and the Surrealists, has been virtually a posthumous one. It has been chronically complicated furthermore by obsessions with the lacunae of his biography, as well as with the interpretation of the two names, Lautréamont and Maldoror, the first of which is a mystery and the second an enigma ...

Formication

Daniel Soar: Harry Mathews, 21 July 2005

My Life in CIA: A Chronicle of 1973 
by Harry Mathews.
Dalkey Archive, 203 pp., £8.99, July 2005, 1 56478 392 8
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... In 1973, the American writer Harry Mathews, who was then in his mid-forties, was living in Paris. He had been divorced by his first wife, Niki de Saint Phalle; the editor Maxine Groffsky, with whom he had spent the last 12 years, had recently left him to go back to New York; his two children had also gone. It was, he later wrote, a time when his life was ‘at an ebb, professionally and privately ...

Red makes wrong

Mark Ford: Harry Mathews, 20 March 2003

The Human Country: New and Collected Stories 
by Harry Mathews.
Dalkey Archive, 186 pp., £10.99, October 2002, 1 56478 321 9
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The Case of the Persevering Maltese: Collected Essays 
by Harry Mathews.
Dalkey Archive, 290 pp., £10.99, April 2003, 1 56478 288 3
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... OuLiPian author is a rat who himself builds the maze from which he sets out to escape.’ Harry Mathews is the only American member of the OuLiPo, to which he was introduced by Georges Perec in 1972. He soon invented what came to be known as ‘Mathews’s algorithm’, a formula for arranging material based on ...

Hound of Golden Imbeciles

John Sturrock: Homage to the Oulipo, 29 April 1999

Oulipo Compendium 
edited by Harry Matthews and Alastair Brotchie.
Atlas, 336 pp., £16.99, March 1999, 0 947757 96 1
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... to the Compendium (very gracefully translated by the Oulipo’s senior foreign member, Harry Mathews): ‘An Oulipian author is a rat who himself builds the maze from which he sets out to escape.’ A year after sharing in the foundation of the Oulipo, Raymond Queneau published what remains to this day the purest example of its intentions, a ...

Anticipatory Plagiarism

Paul Grimstad: Oulipo, 6 December 2012

Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature 
by Daniel Levin Becker.
Harvard, 338 pp., £19.95, May 2012, 978 0 674 06577 2
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... square for the composition of his recursive novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller; a ‘Mathews algorithm’, named for its inventor Harry Mathews, consists of generating content by moving sets of words, sentences or paragraphs through serial permutations (a technique he used to derive the Montagnard ...

Diary

Elisa Segrave: On the Pier at Key West, 18 April 1996

... He’s now in Spain with his wife and two sons. I don’t know under what circumstances they left. Harry Mathews, the first American member of the French writers’ group OuLiPo, is at the party. Harry confirms that a mutual friend of ours, an American writer, was wounded at being described in my book The Diary of a ...

Think Tiny

Mark Ford: Nancification, 17 July 2008

The Nancy Book 
by Joe Brainard.
Siglio, 144 pp., $39.50, April 2008, 978 0 9799562 0 1
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... I tried to do an oil painting using my dick as a brush. Obviously the textbooks omit that one. Harry Mathews, a friend of Brainard’s, explained the concept to his fellow Oulipian Georges Perec, who composed his own Je me souviens (dedicated to Brainard), which was published in 1978, and the genre took off in France too. When Perec died five years ...

Long Live Aporia!

Hal Foster: William Gaddis, 24 July 2003

Agapē Agape 
by William Gaddis.
Atlantic, 113 pp., £9.99, January 2003, 1 903809 83 5
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The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings 
by William Gaddis, edited by Joseph Tabbi.
Penguin, 182 pp., $14, October 2002, 0 14 200238 0
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... Thomas Pynchon (whose interest in entropy, not to mention proclivity for paranoia, he shares), Harry Mathews, Joseph McElroy, Robert Coover and Don DeLillo. Often this distinction between Modernists and Postmodernists is artificial, and Gaddis seems to write in the gap between the two dispensations, between different orders of linguistic ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self, 5 February 2004

Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... sidestepped Postmodern elders such as John Barth, Robert Coover, Guy Davenport, William Gass, Harry Mathews, Paul Metcalf, Gilbert Sorrentino, Ronald Sukenick and Paul West, as well as their heirs, such as T. Coraghessan Boyle, Lydia Davis, Rick Moody, William Vollmann and David Foster Wallace. None of these writers – however popular or ...

Marvellous Boys

Mark Ford, 9 September 1993

The Ern Malley Affair 
by Michael Heyward.
Faber, 278 pp., £15, August 1993, 0 571 16781 0
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... 1961 as part of a special ‘collaboration’ number of Locus Solus, a magazine they edited with Harry Mathews and James Schuyler. (It was here that I first came across Malley’s poems, nestled up against an audacious collaboration between Frank O’Hara and the French language.) Both Ashbery and Koch have included Malley in the curricula of their ...

Tummy-Talkers

Jonathan Rée: Ventriloquists, 10 May 2001

Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism 
by Steven Connor.
Oxford, 449 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 19 818433 6
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... Bygraves (‘I’ve arrived … and to prove it, I’m here!’), Tony Hancock, Gilbert Harding, Harry Secombe, Beryl Reid, Bernard Miles and Hattie Jacques, not to mention the pre-teen Julie Andrews – without ever being upstaged. In performance he would always hit the spot. The secret of his extraordinary popularity was his voice. His high-pitched giggles ...

Even Uglier

Terry Eagleton: Music Hall, 20 December 2012

My Old Man: A Personal History of Music Hall 
by John Major.
Harper, 363 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 0 00 745013 8
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... for Little Tich, who at his peak was pulling in £400 a night. The celebrated Scottish comedian Harry Lauder, who began his career in a rope factory, was at one point the highest-paid performer in the world, commanding $5000 a week on one tour of the United States. Some of his wealth stemmed from his legendary meanness. He once presented a doorman with a ...

Ghosting

Andrew O’Hagan: Julian Assange, 6 March 2014

... president won the Pulitzer Prize? And are the science fiction stories H.P. Lovecraft ghosted for Harry Houdini not the best things he ever wrote? There would be a touch of all this in the strange case of Assange. But there is something else about the genre, a sense that the world might be more ghosted now than at any time in history. Isn’t Wikipedia ...

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