Last updated October 24th, 1997
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Team Leyner: The Unofficial Mark Leyner Links Page
Mark Leyner is the most intense, and, in a certain sense, the most significant young prose writer in America. He is the author of I Smell Esther Williams, My Cousin My Gastroenterologist, Et Tu Babe, Tooth Imprints On A Corn Dog and, most recently, The Tetherballs Of Bougainville. As far as I can establish, Leyner is also some sort of cult figure in the US, where he appears on chat shows that we don't get in the UK, and writes for cool magazines that aren't widely available here either.
It's kind of tricky to describe exactly how intense his writing is, at least without lapsing into some sort of lame parody of it, so I've put together this page of hopefully representative samples (and interviews). Like it says at the end of Et Tu Babe (don't worry, I'm not giving anything away here):
"Help disseminate the incendiary words of this visionary warrior...
Seed the Minds of the World with Team Leyner Thought!"
Generally, ML means Mark Leyner (natch), ETB means Et Tu Babe, MCMG My Cousin My Gastroenterologist, TIOACD Tooth Imprints On A Corn Dog (possibly published in the UK as My Date With Di [MDWD?] which either means it'll now get banned, or - we can always hope - perhaps re-issued on a shockwave of minor notoriety).
TTOB means The Tetherballs Of Bougainville, his new one (as of October 1997), which is more than adequately dealt with at Barnes And Noble's Off The Shelf page. This new site features (among other attractions), excerpts and sound clips from the book, a complete bibliography of ML's work, and an illustrated "tour diary", which like any proper diary, has been unceremoniously abandoned after the first week.
Note to British readers: as far as I can establish, "Tetherball" is much like our UK garden sport of "Swingball" (where you hit a ball tethered to a pole), but based around basketball - or maybe volleyball - instead of tennis. Intriguingly, it continues the American tradition of giving highly literal names to pastimes (eg, "skipping" is apparently known as "jump-rope"). Fortunately they don't seem to extend this to real sports, and so "boxing" is not called "punch-man" or anything.
How can you help? Simple, just mail me, Dave Green (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any other links, comments, deeply wounding personal abuse, whatever. But for now, on with the sites!
Something of a rarity, this: an adult CD-ROM, apparently reviewed by ML for the May 1995 issue of Paramour, a webzine devoted to "Literary And Artistic Erotica". I wasn't entirely convinced that it was the real thing - that is, until I reached the phrases "any Mac or PC running QuickTime 2.0 will crash like the Hindenburg", "chanted in a throaty monotone", and, towards the end of his odyssey: "For all my efforts I was rewarded with a blurry little movie in a window showing a nude woman writhing on an office desk while a man in a suit inserts his tongue up her rectum (I wondered if Vivid was trying to make some point about sexual harrassment in the workplace)."
This was the first ML I read. I was in a bookshop in Cambridge (England), I'd heard about MCMG in Mondo 2000 or somwhere (hey, I was young), I tracked down the paperback version and, weirdly, it fell open at this passage. I read it, was impressed enough to buy the book, and was thus mildly disappointed to discover that the rest of MCMG is slightly, but noticeably, not quite as good. Nonetheless, arguably the highlight of ML's pre-ETB career. "In the future every word will be a link," promises the creator of this page, a Star Wars fan named Mike Cuccaro. Please, god, no
Professor Varol Akman, that is, though professor of what isn't clear (maths? literature? computational linguistics?). Sadly, it isn't a PhD in self-explanatory websites. To his credit, Varol has commenced the lengthy, yet rewarding task of transcribing ML's oeuvre (specifically, ETB) for the net. Ultimately I hope to assemble the entire text of ETB purely by hyperlinking together thousands of "fair use" chunks typed in by disparate enthusiasts like this one. Till then, you must content yourself with ETB's having to urinate very badly
bit, and the inspirational all competition - active or potential - must be neutralized
. Two of my personal favourites, the You're playing tennis with your father...
letter, and the Dear Peter Guzzardi
opener (hardback editions only!) appear to have been mysteriously removed from the server.
Brief bio as background for a webchat promoting TIOAC in January 1996. Also contains the usual book-jacket blurb reviews, plus the full text (207 words) of the "Bassinet Mattress Day" piece from TIAOCD. You know, it's the one with the "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Research Institute's women's lacrosse team" and a puff adder "coiled up in the web pouch of a lacrosse stick to eat its molted skin. (We call it dertnatophagy)."
Short but succinct bio/profile from the impressive US-based alt.culture project, which started off as a book but then had bits added to it on the net. Its account of ML's career kicks off with a quote by Gore Vidal, and also uses the phrases "Nietzschean power fantasy", "white-hot textual overkill", and "redress that oxymoron". Don't say I didn't warn you.
An entertaining tale from Tom McFeely, owner of The Book Shelf in Portland, Oregon, about why he believes Leyner may have falsely impersonated fellow authors Paul Auster and Michael Chabon at impromptu signing sessions. Tom says there are "several reports of fake signatures up and down the West coast... I heard he's getting bolder these days. Now he even takes a folding table and chair... He convinces the store owner that he's on tour and just sets up shop. The funny thing is that he sells books. The guy's got charisma." Truth or spoof? You decide.
Refers to "new book" MCMG, so the earliest of the lot, and arguably still the definitive ML interview. McCaffery went on to write Storming The Reality Studio; A Casebook Of Cyberpunk And Postmodern Science Fiction (published Jan 1992), in which I'm fairly certain ML appears. ML holds forth on his distinctive style ("I won't settle for anything less that maximum, flat-out drug overkill, the misuse of power"), high culture vs pop culture ("personally I could never see the difference between Popeye and Thackeray"), keeping the TV on all the time ("sensory overload is my environment. This is what makes me feel serene") and his hero, Marcel Duchamp ("He wasn't just some freaky weirdo throwing a bunch of shoddy stuff into a museum, and so his work was profoundly troubling, even to people who hated what he was doing, because its beauty and elegance couldn't be denied.")
Held around the time of the "trade paperback" version of ETB - 1992-ish, I reckon. From Anti-Matter magazine, which (promisingly) covers mainly the PC industry and science fiction. Though last I checked (October 1997) the site hadn't been updated for a while, and even featured a pre-N64 games console comparison concluding "I prefer the Saturn so far, with the Playstation coming in second." Oh yeah, the ML interview - topics include: reviews of "fake books" (what the?), why he doesn't do "sequels", getting more "mainstream", and the seminal Keith Richards interview from Spin magazine which, annoyingly, I can't find on the net and, one day, will find time to type in.
I'd advise visiting this one with your images switched off, as some idiot has put a splotchy grey background behind black-on-white text. Alt-X is, apparently, "where the digerati meet the literati" - maybe next time they could invite a graphic designer along too. The interview's dated 1994 (probably early '94), to promote the paperback edition of ETB. Some slightly bizarre questions ("Your theory of writing seems to be about expansive language rather than reductive language like someone such as Samuel Beckett...") - but some good stuff nonetheless, on ML's daughter, poetry, drugs, Keith Richards (again) and Michael Jackson ("One thing I noticed is his extraordinary color. He's like a Kabuki actor, porcelain.")
Speed magazine, you'll be reassured to hear, is yet another online mag devoted to a "critical investigation of technology, media, and society" (yawn). Terrible pseudo-cyberpunk graphics, too. I'd place their ML interview somewhere in 1994 (between the publication of the piece on the Menendez Brothers in the New Republic and the publication of TIOACD). Overlooking the interviewer's apparent obsession with "risk taking", the main topics include: "the great theater of office politics", the problem of establishing the "veracity" of modern media, and ML's TV and movie projects - "one's a sit-com, and the other is a movie treatment that I wrote about a family that has a terrarium of tiny people."
March 1995, launch of TIAOCD. A webchat, so not exactly a coherent line of questioning, but still some fun responses, including: "I work on the sentences like a hundred generations of ants building a pyramid", "I've been told by William Vollmann and Martha Stewart that I resemble Harry Connick Sr before his Slimfast debacle", and "I've been offered the first nude centerfold in The New Yorker." Also hints that ML has an upcoming book (presumably TTOB), which, we learn, "purports to be an autobiography. It takes place entirely in junior high school... the most pathetic and ugly time in the human life. The book is like this... it's as if Proust's Remembrance Of Things Past was remade by Wes Craven and Jerry Lewis."
Again around TIAOCD launch-time, early 1995. This is on Pathfinder, and therefore part of some Time Warner publication, but if you can make any sense out of their gibberish URLs, you're a better man than I. A very quick chat, but surprisingly incisive, containing ML's age (then 39), and questions like: "What are you reading right now? A guide to hair coloring, a book on capital punishment - my next novel opens with my father being executed by lethal injection - a biography of Sonic Youth and copies of Corrections Today, Gastroenterology and Packaging World." Also contains the phrases "produces his maniacally imaginative prose with the fastidious zeal of some mad jeweler agonizing over the most minute facet of every sentence" and "when I ate cereal, I read everything
on the box."
Got any comments, additions or too much free time on your hands? Then for heaven's sake mail me at email@example.com. Cheers.
You know how TIOAC's Young Bergdorf Goodman Brown is apparently based on the Puritan adventure Young Goodman Brown, by 19th century author Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864, also wrote The Scarlet Letter)? Well, don't even think of going here otherwise. Dr Robert Delius Royar teaches creative writing (and practises a little of his own) at a university in Eastern Kentucky. Here he compares and contrasts the two pieces, and makes a powerful argument that "using one literary artifact as a lens for another helps us guide students to experience the greatest powers and dangers of the human imagination." Actually not a bad effort, though does anyone still genuinely use the phrase "temporary autonomous zone", which I thought was a recognised cyberpunk cliche even back in Hawthorne's time?
Does Phillip Wise (Dept of English Canterbury University, Christchurch, New Zealand) not get it - or what?
Of course there's bloody "Schwarzenegger Imagery in Mark Leyner's Et Tu, Babe" - probably all those bits where he's talking about "Arnie", body-building, or maybe the sequence where they replace all the major actors in popular movies with, you've guessed it, computer-generated Schwarzeneggers. Let's face it, that "imagery" ain't too hard to spot, though I must admit I can't recall the finer points of Phil's argument, because the site was down when I tried to go back to it. But - another piece of Arnie imagery coming up now - I really can't see myself saying "I'll be back."
The syllabus for English majors at Rutgers, which I guess is some American university. I have no joke here, I just like the paragraph:
We will begin with two novels on the "problem of marriage": Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate. Then we'll read two novels about modern society and culture, Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall and Mark Leyner's Et Tu, Babe. We'll end with the "exploding of narrative form" in two novels by Vladimir Nabokov..."