Eric Mader-Lin: An Introduction
Eric Mader-Lin is a writer whose works have played a decisive role in the early development of the durationist movement in American literature. That the durationist movement doesn't actually exist perhaps makes this something of a moot point. Nonetheless, Mader-Lin's influence is evident in nearly all major durationist works, as has been documented in recent critical studies of the movement.
Mader-Lin's most important statements regarding his own literary practice are to be found scattered about in his offbeat tome The Clay Testament. Whether read as postmodernist novel or mere crackpot scrapbook, most critics have recognized in The Clay Testament an attempt at structuration akin to that of the Bible: there is a slow development of themes through a variety of genres, an accumulation of myths round several unlikely characters, and a division into separate books within an ironically foregrounded Book.
Generically The Clay Testament might be placed somewhere between menippean satire and theological jeremiad. Its juxtaposition of wildly different types of text, its dependence on different sources put in contrast--"parallel traditions," so to speak--its questioning of how different kinds of discourse relate to the divine--it is these elements that make the work both open-ended, in the postmodern sense, and reminiscent, oddly so, of that supposedly least open-ended book in our literature: the Bible.
Volume II of The Clay Testament, entitled Gospels from the Last Man, has often been considered a separate work in its own right, and is slowly gaining recognition as the high point of Mader-Lin's early work. Unread all across the American Midwest, where the action is set, Gospels remains untranslated in more than fourteen languages, including Hebrew, Serbo-Croatian and Finnish.
In 1996 Mader-Lin moved to Taipei, Taiwan, where he has turned much of his energy to the study of Mandarin. His immersion in this new language completely outside the Indo-European pale has clearly weakened what had already been a questionable English style. The process is documented in the writer's Taipei novel More Lies of Louis, where a substandard and mechanical protagonist (shades of almost Victorian stuffiness) is dropped into a subhuman (actually canine) state. The novel is scheduled to be published in October 2002 under the title A Taipei Mutt, after which two or three large stacks of copies will sit upon a varnished wood floor, having been paid for in part or in full by the author.
It has been suggested that Mader-Lin's turn toward Chinese studies represents an abandonment of his previous literary principles as put forth in The Clay Testament. But those who take this position neglect one of the writer's very early statements (Clay Testament, Volume I) to the effect that the only proper languages of the scribe are "Hebrew, ancient Greek and Chinese." Is this remark merely ironic, as some argue, or is Mader-Lin perhaps only now working to fulfill a commitment already made in the early 1990's? In any case, if we are to judge by what the writer has made public, nothing much has yet been accomplished in Chinese. One practice text published on a web site of student writings is the only thing this researcher has been able to find.
Department of English,
University of Wisconsin, Slim Point
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