Since the 1960s Harry Mathews and Robert Kelly have been two of the finer experimenters with the form and function of contemporary American literature. Naturally you never heard about them the way you do mainstreamers like Updike or Roth or whosit; of course neither made that 100-best list last summer. (I'd put at least one of Kelly's prose poem collections, A Transparent Tree, and one of Mathews' novels, The Sinking of the Odradeck Stadium, on mine. In case anyone's asking. And Mathews' A Singular Pleasure is absolutely the funniest and most endearing book anyone will ever write about jerking off.)
I also think neither of them has ever quite gotten the press of other experimenters more or less their contemporaries, to whom their work could be variously compared?Barthelme, Pynchon, Coover, Gass, Gaddis, Merwin. Not that either man is obscure or unknown, but I've never gotten the sense that either was exactly celebrated as he should be. I don't know what I'd want for them?MacArthur millions, surely; a parade would be nice. I'm talking even back when reasonable men could still agree to describe a piece of writing as "experimental," "postmodern" or even "avant-garde," and it was a good thing, there still being a sense, left over from the Modern, of progression in the of forward momentum, of the culture naturally evolving toward some better self. Lost now, of course. Vanity of a civilization come to its end. Tell it to the Incas.