Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Idiot Appears at Shih-Da, Keeps Talking

COVID-19 notwithstanding, I was glad to be invited by Professor 蘇子中 of National Taiwan Normal University’s English Department to teach a two-hour class for their English undergrads. He wanted me to introduce my work to students, talk to them about genre, and prod them toward new ideas for writing. I gave the talk May 1, and planned to include a couple writing activities in class, of which we finished one. (No surprise there: I usually overplan.)

I’m posting my class handout, along with a few examples from the animal exercise below. Many thanks to Shih-Da for the invitation. First time teaching there.


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Playing the Genre Games

Eric Mader / 枚德林 with 蘇子中教授

My books:
A Taipei Mutt
Idiocy, Ltd.
(Ch. tr. 2018: 白痴有限公司)
Minor Scratches

I have worked many years on short prose writing, especially a genre often called “the prose poem”. Much of my work focuses on humor, absurdity, or breaking down borders between genres. Often my work drifts into a black humor or (intentionally) idiotic ranting. Today we’ll joke around a bit, in writing, and I hope you let your weird side come forward. Try to bring out and develop whatever crazy ideas you get. 反差萌.

I. Literature: What is literature? We all have some idea of literature, and many people will say they think literature is “boring”. There are obvious reasons for that. What are these reasons? But the truth is: We all live in language (which is the stuff all literature is made of) and one of the most interesting parts of everyone’s everyday life is how language works or breaks.

The borders of “literature” are thus wider than most people think. All of us, whether we think we like literature or not, do literature when we experience particularly strong language that breaks open the world in some new way.

II. Genre: What is genre? We know about the traditional “literary genres”, but we also live in multiple “everyday genres”, and these can be very good to use as material for writing. They can be used for literary writing, and many current writers do so.

If you want to have fun with writing, the main thing is: Write it down. Use your “everyday language” and push it into new, more revealing directions. Be satirical. Have fun with it. And: Keep an archive, even if it’s just a notebook.

[Reading: “Idiots”]


1) Choose an animal, an interesting one, and write the name of the animal on your activity paper.
2) Write down five or six adjectives, verbs or nouns related to that animal: what it’s like, what it normally does, etc.
3) Write down something nobody would associate with that animal.
4) Now put your animal in some place where it interacts with humans. See if you can bring in the odd element you used for #3. What can you imagine your animal doing? Or: If your animal could talk, what would it say or what would it tell humans?

[READING: “Newlyweds”]


1) List five things you think are very annoying about life in Taipei. Try to list your pet peeves. Or: Five things that annoy you about: how people behave, certain laws, certain places or companies or types of people.
2) Emperor.

V. There are many ways to make a game out of writing. Go research the group OULIPO. Here’s a simple puzzle:














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The pieces below were written in class. One student typed out and sent me the classroom work, the two others are from professors who attended. I post them in the order I received them. Can you tell which is the student?


L. Chang

A penguin was in my bathroom this morning. I discovered this after I was woken up by the sound of something pounding on the bathroom door. When I looked into the bathroom, I saw a penguin. An angry penguin. It kept running round and crashing into things. When the penguin saw me, it started to screeching loudly right to my face. I didn’t know why it was so irritated. Maybe it was the weather. I live in Taipei City, where it is 30℃ outside during this time of the year. I tried to splash some cold water on the penguin to calm it down, but that just angered it even more. It rushed at me and knocked me down. My knees hit the floor and I even got bruised. In the end I gave up. I sat down by the penguin. Somehow it started to quiet down. We just sat by each other in silence. Then after a while I realized the penguin was not moving anymore. I checked on it and found that it was dead. Maybe it was the heat. There was nothing I could do for it. I felt sad, even though I only knew him for one day. I buried him in the park near my apartment.


T. Su

Do you think I am a close relative of Mickey Mouse? No! I hate showbiz. My talents are even more engaging and deadly. I like night. I am the Prince of all Evils. I like spreading diseases. I prefer being an invisible messenger of death to being the cute and smart Star-Chef in Ratatouille. Creating a small dish of delicacies does not interest me. I like things spectacular and on a grand scale. The Black Death is my signature work. Don't make me look cute and smart. That's not my style. I am a free soul. I like trespassing, breaking borders, messing things up, and exploring different spaces and realities. "Anyone can cook"—it’s no big deal. My motto is: Anyone can spoil the world. 


J. Chang

The life of a hamster is a tragedy. To be precise, its life is a comedy for people who watch it, but a tragedy for itself, because for all the hours that it spends running on the little wheel inside its cage, it never goes anywhere. We may thus say the hamster is a tragic hero, as it has the hubris to think it could go somewhere and do something, but the reality is it will never make it. The hamster is a modern Sisyphus. Instead of forever rolling the stone uphill, it keeps jogging on the wheel. We should pay homage to the hamster!

More cowbell on 白痴有限公司

English edition: Idiocy, Ltd. Dryest humor in the west.


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