Madsen, Svend Age


Madsen, Svend Age
(1939-)
   A Danish novelist and dramatist, Madsen started out as an experimental writer but gradually turned to a more accessible narrative technique, which includes using psychological realism when appropriate. He has, for some time, been one of Denmark s most productive writers, and his popularity has soared in tandem with his increased use of more traditional techniques.
   Madsen had his literary debut with the novel Besøget (1963; The Visit), which was followed by Lystbilleder (1964; Images of Desire), Otte gange orphan (1965; Eight Times an Orphan), and Tilføjelser (1967; Additions). These novels all deal with the familiar modernist themes of meaninglessness in an existential void, and they offer portraits of characters, many of them first-person narrators, who are devoid ofsubstance until they are, so to speak, narrated into being.
   The Danish reading public had understandable difficulties with these narratives, which presented them with characters unbounded in terms of time and space, without history and geographical attachment. Starting in the late 1960s, Madsen changed his focus from the characters lack of anchorage in space-time to a certain relativism of meaning. The short story collection Maskeballet (1970; The Masquerade) and three novels were published during the next few years: Liget og lysten (1968; The Corpse and the Desire), Tredje gang sa tar vi ham (1969; We ll Get Him the Third Time), and Sæt verden er til (1971; Let s Assume the World Exists). By exploding traditional structures ofmeaning and unmasking habitual ways oflooking at the world, Madsen manages to create a sense of freedom for his characters and thereby give them hope.
   The novel Dage med Diam eller livet om natten (1972; tr. Days with Diam, or, Life at Night, 1994) is structured according to the principle of choice. At regular junctures in the text the protagonist has to choose one thing or another. Subsequent to the presentation of the choice, the narrative splits as each of the choices is followed up and the respective consequences presented. A series ofdifferent narrative pathways is thus created in the text, and individual readers can choose those paths ofreading that appeal to them and lead to happy or sad endings, and so on. The idea ofchoice is thus enthroned as the ruling principle both in the activity ofwriting and in that ofreading.
   Madsen turned to social criticism in his novel Tugt og utugt i mellemtiden (1976; tr. Virtue and Vice in the Middle Time, 1992). The book has a clearly recognizable setting in space and time (the Danish town Ahus in the 1970s), but the narrator is a historian of the future who from a temporal distance of approximately 200 years tries to re-create its society and culture, including the cultural phenomenon known as "the novel, for intellectual reasons. Much of Madsen s humerous and satirical accomplishment in this book consists in the tension between what the reader knows to be the actual features of the culture that is being reconstructed and the sometimes wildly inaccurate reconstructions by the narrator/historian.
   Madsen published a large number ofnovels in the years since Tugt og utugt i mellemtiden. By allowing characters from earlier books to come back in later ones, he has managed to weave a narrative fabric that is not delimited by the boundaries of his individual texts. This fabric is in principle without bounds and is limited only by Madsen s ability to add new books to it.
   One of Madsen s most interesting recent novels is Kvinden uden krop (1996; The Woman without a Body), in which a dying woman is able to come up with an invention that transfers her spiritual and mental essence into the body of her husband, with the result that the two of them share one mortal human body. A number of ludicrous situations ensue, until the two ofthem are killed by the police. Rather than regarding the ending as a symbol for the limitations of the kind of fiction that Madsen writes, it is possible to think of their death as an attempt to purify literature of its fantastic elements.
   Some of Madsen's humor is connected with his overt metafictio-nality. In the novel Levemåder (2004; Ways of Living), a budding writer is portrayed as working on a book that seems identical to Levemåder. This is not an original metafictional motif on Madsen's part, but his use of it underscores his belief in the interconnectedness of all objects and experiences. Madsen has also written scripts for stage, television, and radio.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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