I am dying to know:
If "Gravity's Rainbow" landed on your desk, what would you make of it? I ask because, as far as literary fiction is concerned, experimentation is often a big part of enduring literature. How open are agencies to experimental work? Do they give it a close look over, or would this type of writing be an auto-reject. How would "The Recognitions," "Infinite Jest," "Ulysses" etc. fare coming from an unknown?
They would get rejected, by not by everybody. I don't care much for literary fiction, but I like to think that I know when a paragraph is just written well, or turns the craft of reading up on its head (as Pychon is known for doing, often contradicting himself, speaking to his readers, or doing historical fiction with known inaccuracies). Against the Day is hard. You have to think. And then when you're done thinking, you've accomplished something (hopefully). Perhaps my favorite piece of literary fiction is As I Lay Dying, but the only reason is because I was forced to read it line-by-line in high school and try to interpret it as I went.
Writing at the highest level has the trick of writing both appealing prose and putting substance behind it. In our hectice lives, we might not have the time I had to start pulling apart Faulkner's paragraphs and seeing how they were tragic and comic at the same time. We might just say, "No one will read this. Reject." Or the author might not know how to write a good query letter and might not send a sample page or two with it, so we'll never read them at all.
Literary fiction is very, very hard to break into, so generally agents don't make a lot of money on the first sale, so they're not entirely interested (especially if the text is above them - who wants to try to edit Joyce?) in this person as a client. That's the harsh business angle look at it.
I wouldn't say I wouldn't reject Pychon if I saw him labeled as someone else, but he would be noticable above all of the thrillers that start with the protagonist waking up too early in the morning and then complaining about it.