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Composing

Harry Mathews' Words & Worlds
Harry Mathews

On exhibit April 5, 2004 - August 31, 2004

Composing focuses on how one of today's most innovative writers actually puts together his literary works. Mathews' drafts, notes, and letters provide fascinating material evidence of his writing techniques—some ordinary, some extremely unorthodox. The University of Pennsylvania's collection includes the Locus Solus manuscripts as well as all of Mathews' typescripts and correspondence through the mid-1990s. 

An online version of this exhibition is available here.

For more about the Harry Mathew Papers at the Penn Libraries.

The Penn Library is grateful to Dorothy Englert and the Kamin family for their generous support of the exhibit and this publication. We also thank Nick Montfort for his superb work in curating the exhibit and Andrea Gottschalk for her fine work in designing the show and the brochure. Prof. Sam D’Iorio of CUNY laid the foundations for this exhibit while a graduate student here at Penn. Finally, we owe Harry Mathews an ongoing debt of gratitude for his encouragement of our efforts and his participation in the project.

Installation views of Composing exhibition

"Maybe writing is never anything else but translation — ultimately, a translation which cannot be identified."

"I've always been as much inspired by poets as by fiction writers, and in fact my reading Roussel enabled me to write prose as if it were poetry."

"Americans are usually very upset when you start talking about literature as words being organized the way you can organize musical notes without reference to anything outside them. ... but ultimately I think only Americans could understand what I'm doing."

"What matters in writing, as in music, is what's going on between the words (and between the notes); the movement is what matters, rather than whatever is being said."

"I think the aim is to write for pleasure even if you're writing about concentration camps and the black death; and the pleasure one imagines is the reader's pleasure."

"All books come from other books, especially when they're drawn from real life."

(Quotations from Harry Mathews are from interviews with Lynne Tillman, Bomb, Winter 1988/98; with Michael Friedman, Shiny, Spring 1986; with Meyer Raphael Rubinstein, Silo, 1978; with John Ashbery, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1987; and the final two are from an interview with John Ash, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1987.)

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