[WRITER AND PAINTER]
Does the word “glean” have anything to do with shiny objects?
Can German paintings help you fall in love?
Was Psycho, as Hitchcock hoped, a funny movie?
In a downhill-skiing competition between Adolf Hitler and
Eva Braun, who would win?
What’s involved in being a murderer’s sidekick?
Los Angeles-based writer Benjamin Weissman gets up so early that he’s forced to read the New York Times by streetlamp while taking his dogs for a walk. The ironies of a man in his pajamas absorbing the horrific news of the world are not lost on him. In a story from his most recent collection, Headless (Akashic, 2004), a narrator proclaims, “I am commander-in-chief of Saturday morning.” Patriarchy and political delusion runnel together, and even world doom shows its comic edge.
By 7 a.m., Weissman has finished his daily three-hour investigation of violence, fathers, omnipotence, skiing, sexual deviance, Hitler, and Teutonic absurdity, among other fictional themes. Then he draws until noon (he’s also an internationally shown artist and art critic). In the afternoons, he teaches at most of the universities within fifty miles of his home. Evenings, he plays a punishing game of tennis and is rumored to be a serial killer on the court (opponents lose badly, enroll in anger management classes or take Paxil). A comment he’s been heard to make: “If you are going to do anything, whatever it is, why not do it completely and all the way?”
In this same spirit—the metaphysical challenges that make men climb mountains, read Kant, that kind of thing—is the year that Weissman reviewed three hundred porn videos for Adult Video News, a feat of endurance he reserved for Sundays, with the assistance of triple-decker sandwiches, Gatorade, and a remote control with a functioning fast-forward.
In Weissman’s hands, infiltration and engagement are simultaneous. Written under the pen name Leopold Loeb, the porn reviews are poetic, weird, hilarious, formal descriptions that never discount mise-en-scène. From these vignettes to the fiction is no great stretch. In Headless, Weissman transmutes his influences—Thomas Bernhard and Robert Walser—into voices that read as though the Austrian insouciant and Swiss eccentric have been sending letters to Penthouse Forum. In “Enchanted Forest,” a story that brings new meaning to the term “logger’s breakfast,” foreplay takes the form of a menu order: “Four slices of sourdough toast, nearly burnt, buttered like a dairy truck crashed into them, if you know what I mean.”
Weissman sometimes sounds suspiciously like Leopold Loeb. And conversely, Loeb’s voice is Weissman’s, but reframed, sneaked into smutland. Yet despite this subversion, the porn reviews are relatively innocent. It’s in the realm of art that he is a threat: waging war, in high prose style, against good taste.
THE BELIEVER: “Hitler Ski Story” is a funny and bizarre investigation into the Führer’s predicament as a “little man” in modern society. I thought of Barthelme’s treatment of icons like Robert Kennedy and Cortés. Hitler tries to learn the stem Christie technique, fails, and then pisses a swastika into the snow. What prompted you to put him on skis?
BENJAMIN WEISSMAN: Initially, I wanted to write that story from the perspective of a Hitler historian, under the premise that there was new information about Hitler having been a lousy skier, which is sort of the ultimate insult for a Tyrolean. But after seeing photographs of Hitler in the Alps, I couldn’t help but imagine his experience trying to ski. Maybe putting him on skis makes him an easy target for parody and humiliation. But he deserves it. Force him to ski. Have athletic Eva Braun, who really was a jock, show him up.
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