Quoted: Mark Leyner on Modigliani, Armpits


Anyone familiar with the prose perversions of Mark Leyner — a man whose most recent novel was titled The Sugar Frosted Nutsack — knows that his books are not normal things. His forthcoming Gone With The Mind, for instance, bills itself as a work of memoir; it’s set in the quasi-abandoned food court of a sad mall. Leyner’s brain spews up all sorts of high-and-low references, from critical theory to video games, Proust, the late poet Mark Strand, and contemporary reality television. But the new book is of special interest, perhaps, in that it interweaves a melange of artistic references: Japanese Noh theater; depictions of the Pietà (and an explanation of how the Crucifixion was “one of the greatest nonfiction readings ever given”); and Andy Warhol (a “pale, pimply sphinx.”)

As a teaser for the books March 8 release, here’s Leyner tracing a peculiar sexual inclination to a particular painting (maybe Nu couché?). The author certainly has an alternate future as a professional art critic, I’d say.

I’ve had an armpit fetish since I was a boy, and I think its origin was this Modigliani painting of a recumbent woman with one arm lifted behind her head that was hung above the wall in my childhood bedroom in Jersey City. There’s the visual allure…the, uh…the uh, iconography of that exemplary gesture of sexual surrender, of surrender to one’s own pleasure…and then there’s just the whole erotics, the appreciation, the connoisseurship…I’m trying to think of a word here that doesn’t make it seem overly perverse…the fondness for the animal smells of the human body. In Elizabethan times, lovers would stay in touch by exchanging peeled apples which had been soaked in their armpit sweat before they parted company. Napoleon famously wrote Josephine from one of his military campaigns, “I will return to Paris tomorrow evening. Don’t wash.” And Anton Chekhov wrote, “I don’t understand anything about the ballet; all I know is that during the intervals the ballerinas stink like horses.” Well, I don’t understand anything about Chekhov, but I can only assume he meant that approvingly. And I was watching the reality show Couples Therapy on VH1 the other night, and there was this whole poolside conversation between Jenna Jameson and her boyfriend, MMA-trainer John Wood, about men’s fixations on women’s armpits.

So, it’s not just me.

—Scott Indrisek (@indrisek)

(Photo: The cover of Gone With The Mind, from Little, Brown)