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Mathews, Harry

Entry updated 12 May 2020. Tagged: Author.

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(1930-2017) US editor, translator, poet and author, mostly in Paris from the 1960s; co-founder of the experimental journal Locus Solus (1961-1962), he was an early advocate of Oulipo, most of his exercises in this discipline being found in his Poetry; The Orchard: A Remembrance of Georges Perec (1988) is a nonfiction homage to his partner in Oulipo, Georges Perec.

Mathews is primarily of sf interest for his first three novels, all of them at least partially decipherable in Oulipo terms (see also Fantastika), but escaping in each case the tyranny of play, which can lead to apophenic assumptions of the storyable in texts not actually connected to the world as normally perceived. The Conversions (1962), however, unpacks hints of a coded history of the world as a never quite decipherable conspiracy whose strings are pulled by Secret Masters; the tale adumbrates the early work of Thomas Pynchon. The Communications system that provides clues is more important then their solution, just as various experiments and Inventions are more important for their colour than their substance. The protagonists of Tlooth (1966) – escapees from a Siberian gulag in a huge biomorphic vehicle constructed out of many bicycles – engage in a Fantastic Voyage in search of at least one surreal McGuffin; the novel plays similar meta-linguistic games with gender (its protagonist only being revealed as female at the end of the tale, among other rhetorical turns). The third of these exorbitant quest novels, The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium (1975) is an epistolary tale, one of whose correspondents writes in a radically mutated English; the tale focuses on another secret society, The Knights of the Spindle, whose currency manipulations shape the world.

In such later novels Cigarettes (1987) and The Journalist (1994), fantastic elements are hidden within nets of "realistic" storytelling. My Life in CIA: A Chronicle of 1973 (2005) is a spoof memoir. [JC]

Harry Mathews

born New York: 14 February 1930

died Key West, Florida: 25 January 2017

works (highly selected)

collections and stories



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