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An Interview with Dennis Cooper
by David F. Hoenigman

Dennis Cooper was born on January 10, 1953 and grew up in the Southern California cities of Covina and Arcadia.

In 1976, he founded Little Caesar Magazine and Press, which he ran until 1982. In 1985, he moved to Amsterdam for two and a half years, where he began his ten year long project, The George Miles Cycle, an interconnected sequence of five novels that includes Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide, and Period.

His post-George Miles Cycle novels include My Loose Thread, The Sluts and his most recent novel, the highly acclaimed God, Jr.

Other works include the short-story collection Wrong, a collection of poetry titled The Dream Police and All Ears: Cultural Cristicism, Essays and Obituaries.

Dennis Cooper currently spends his time between Los Angeles and Paris. His latest work, a limited edition collection of new poems, titled The Weaklings is available now from Fanzine Press.

DH: What projects are you currently working on?

DC: There are a bunch. I just finished writing and putting together a book of short fiction called 'Ugly Man' that'll come out next summer. I've been collaborating on theater works with a French director named Gisele Vienne for a few years. We've made four works together so far that are touring around Europe these days, and we're just beginning to work on the fifth one now. Also, I'm hoping to direct a porn film this fall. It's been kind of a lifelong dream of mine to make a porn film. I've written it, and the producers are trying to arrange the financing right now, and hopefully that'll happen before the end of the year. It's tentatively called 'Nurse'. And I'm always working on my blog, which has turned into kind of a big, time consuming project. And I'm in the very early stage of working on a new novel too. So those are my main projects at the moment.

DH: Is it right to assume that 'Nurse' is unconventional porn?

DC: You definitely could say that. But it's a porn movie, and it knows its job is to harden cock, so it's not artsy fartsy or a deconstruction of porn or anything counterproductive. But it's more imaginative and has a more unusual structure than in normal porn, and it will hopefully have the kind of psychological and emotional depth that goes along with having sex and that conventional porn either avoids or pretends doesn't exist. It has a fair amount of dialog, some of it kind of complicated, and some strange settings, and there are some situations and sex in it that'll be considered pretty edgy, I imagine. I've always thought porn was a kind of under-explored, virgin medium that was ripe for interesting ideas and upgrades, and if my movie actually gets financed and made -- and financing has been the tough part, though I think its going to work out -- I can say that it won't be like any porn that came before it for better or worse.

DH: How did you meet Gisele Vienne? Was it her idea or your idea to collaborate?

DC: In 2003, I was living in LA and about to come to Lyon, France to do a reading and give a lecture. Gisele was a fan of my novels, and she read somewhere that I was coming over, so she wrote to ask me if while I was in France I'd consider working with her for a few days on a possible collaborative theater piece. She was already kind of a rising star in French theater then, but I didn't know her or her work. But I was a fan of the noise music artist Pita aka Peter Rehberg who creates the scores for her work, and the samples of her earlier work that she sent me on DVD looked interesting, and I'd done a number of theater collaborations back in the 80s with the American director/ choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones and loved doing that, and there just didn't seem to be any reason not to try it with Gisele. We worked together for three days and made most of what ended up being our first piece 'I Apologize'. We presented a little work-in-progress performance, and the curator of the Avignon Festival was there and immediately booked the show for the festival, which is kind of a really big deal, so we decided why not do a second collaborative work. Not long after that I happened to end up moving to Paris for this extended time for other reasons, and that facilitated us working together more, and we've ended up becoming something of a team, I guess.

DH: Can you tell us about 'Ugly Man' ? Also, what's the novel you're just starting about?

DC: Technically, 'Ugly Man' is a collection of the best of the short fiction I've written since my only other book of short fiction, 'Wrong' back in the early 90s, but most of the work was written in the last several years. But it's a cohesive and different kind of book because they're almost all black comedies. I've worked with comedy in my fiction forever, but before it's mostly been placed far down in the mix of the novels' machinations and used more as a kind of device or drug geared to distract or sedate or prepare readers from/for the more difficult material. In 'Ugly Man', comedy is in the foreground and so the prose itself ends up having a friendlier false front kind of appearance, if that makes any sense. In that way only, I guess it pursues a tone I was starting to work with in 'The Sluts'. So I guess that's the story. On the novel, it's too early to really be able to say anything about it. It hasn't found exactly what it's going to be yet. I'm mostly in the initial experimenting phase, trying to find an appropriate style and structure and stuff for what I want to do.

DH: And your blog?

DC: That's been a strange thing. I didn't want to do a blog. I only started it because the guy who runs my official website held a poll asking people who visited the site what they'd most like the site to add, and a blog by me is what won, so I gave it a shot. It started out just being a kind of shapeless, random thing, but people started posting comments, and I started answering them on the blog, and it gradually evolved into a giant project where I do these elaborate posts six days a week about whatever interests me and also talk to whoever has left comments the previous day. And this quite large and ever changing community has formed there over the past three years: all kinds of people from all over the world, many of them writers or artists or musicians or filmmakers, as young as 13 and as old as 70-something. There can be up to 200+ comments left there every day, and, as of about eight months ago, the blog was getting 80,000 to 100,000 hits a day, and I think the number's much higher now. I have an open invitation to anyone posting or reading to guest-curate posts, so the blog is something of a shared space now, although I still put together most of the posts there. So it's accidentally become the biggest project I do. It's a huge amount of work that's basically like a non-paying full time job. In a way it feels like a crazy thing to be doing, but it's very interesting on many levels, and people seem to get a lot out of reading it, and the people hanging out on the blog seem to feel a lot of encouragement in their own work from me and from others there, and I suppose that aspect of giving support to other daring artists is enough reason to make the blog a priority in itself. I guess I see the blog as a kind of combination of an art project created by me, a magazine, a kind of left field encyclopedia, a club house, a workshop, a classroom, and others things as well.

DH: What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of your work?

DC: Well, it would have to be the sex/violence axis. I'm one of those writers who's known by name and reputation by a fair amount people, but most of them have never read my work. And the common criticism from them and from people who've maybe skimmed or even read a book of mine without paying much attention is that I'm a bad boy writer who's out to shock as a way to be chic or draw attention to myself or something. There's this central problem, especially in the US and UK, where the kind of disruptive subject matter that my work often addresses is seen as unserious in and of itself and even more dismissible when its dealt with in an explicit way. There's a very rigid sense of the high and the low, and if something is too overtly disturbing or provocative without being properly neutered by good taste-based writing and conventional linguistic finery, it's viewed as either amateurish or as a prank. One of the reasons I became a fiction writer was to try to examine really harsh and blinding ideas/dilemmas in an intricate and complicated and hopefully more complete than usual way because I was personally haunted and confused, and I didn't see anyone doing that in literature who wasn't European and/or already dead. Coming at writing fiction in the US as a kid with European literature and rock music and experimental film as my guides and role models, I didn't understand the vast conservatism of American fiction and its readers. So my work's been snagged a bit in that uncomfortable context. And then add the fact that my work is experimental in form and has a cast of mostly homosexual characters and is bent on respecting the culture and thinking and emotions of teenagers, who are also considered to be an unserious topic, and my work ends up causing a lot of problems for itself. People can't seem to deal with all of those things happening in the work at the same time, and the sex/violence immediately stands out to them because it's inherently glaring and ripe for objections, I guess.

About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of
Burn Your Belongings.

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