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WILLIAM G. LITTLE Figuring Out Mark Leyner: A Waste of Time Paradoxically, for a negation to be 'truly' negative, it cannot be true, since this will always make it a kind of positive. Positivity is resisted, therefore, not by negativity, but by indeterminacy (which, therefore, naturally cannot 'resist' it). ... If it is always the case that a negative can be cashed in as a positive, there is always the uncertainty as to what that value will be, which may amount to an uncertainty about whether or not it is a positive value. Steven Connor, "Absolute Rubbish" 'hat good is mark leyner? Is his writing positive or negative ? Is it a waste of time? One cannot begin to figure out Mark Leyner's recent novel Et Tu, Babe (1992) without addressing these concerns about evaluation since the text itself spends much time figuring up Mark Leyner's value. In the novel—a first-person narrative about a massively built and hugely famous writer named Mark Leyner1 who thrives upon the fast-lane lifestyle and image-oriented culture ofcelebrity —nothing about the larger-than-life author is a waste of time. In fact, even the most seemingly inconsequential or negative issuances from this character get literally "cashed in as positive"; one of his "discarded deodorant sticks with a stray armpit hair" (79) is bought by a Japanese industrialist at a Sotheby's auction for an outrageous sum. Likewise, the novel's title suggests that the real Mark Leyner's fictional issuance, no matter how critical it may be ofcontempoary culture's drive to aestheticize the commodity and commodity the aesthetic, is bound to be made fit for consumption with the same ease, if not for the same price. The title's blend of lofty Shakespearean rhetoric and HollywoodArizona Quarterly Volume 52, Number 4, Winter 1996 Copyright © 1996 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1610 136WiUiam G. Little agent smarminess would seem to announce a transgressive postmodern text whose aesthetic value cannot be easily determined or positivized since it collapses distinctions between high and low forms of culture. Yet its tone is accusatory, implicating the reader in a plot to submit the text to the normalizing mechanisms of the marketplace. The title seems to say to the reader: "You too, as soon as you invest in this book, conspire to commodify Mark Leyner." In one respect, then, Et Tu, Babe details the impossibility of making art that is a total waste of time. In other words, it rejects as idealistic the goal of producing cultural activities or events that remain uncontaminated by economic principles of objectification and utilization. Steven Connor, in the essay cited above, outlines how the twentieth-century preoccupation with creating absolute rubbish—a preoccupation evident in such texts as 'disposable' Dadaist ready-mades and 'transient' performance art pieces—marks a recent manifestation of the long-standing desire to conceive ofart as a sanctuary for self-grounding value, a cradle of non-economic activity uncorrupted by the grubby forces of investment and calculation. He then stresses how the notion of art as a realm of sublime uselessness or absolute negative value has become increasingly difficult to hold onto when, in his words, "the rise of the masscultural market and increasing commodification of the cultural sphere threatens more and more to contaminate its autonomy" (58). Et Tu, Babe takes this threat one step further by appearing to abolish altogether the idea of art's autonomy. Specifically, it depicts late capitalism 's implementation ofwhat Connor calls the "law ofpositive value," a law that defines as economic even the most degraded or disintegrative attempts to escape "the contingency ofeconomic exchange" since such projects are assumed to realize a goal, to secure some kind ofbenefit, or to produce a valuable (positive) outcome. Leyner cleverly documents the way cultural products and activities are now instantly subjected to such capitalizing ratios. At one level, his narrative reads like the manic manifesto of a writer who treats his craft as a corporate enterprise . Moreover, the text incorporates numerous images of elements considered refuse by official culture—bodily discharges, social discards, media dreck—only to show how even the most seemingly negativized stuff gets quickly positivized for profit...


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pp. 135-163
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