I WAS FIRST INTRODUCED to the writing of Dennis Cooper about fifteen years ago, when I found his books in the “Local Author” section of the Los Feliz Public Library. Reading his early novels from the George Miles Cycle — Try, Frisk, Closer, and Guide — I remember being in turn entranced and (occasionally) horrified, sometimes having to literally hold a book away from my face during particularly gruesome sections (a scene where a character’s entire ass is cut out of their body remains especially vivid in my mind). Whatever the subject matter, what I most took away from Cooper’s work was the tautness of the prose itself, the lyric force and balance of each line. Cooper is an ultimate stylist, capable of making such elements as drugs, sex, and violence flow into something, very often, transcendent. This is not surprising considering the emphasis Cooper places on “voice,” that element of literature so revered, but less discussed in the practical terms of construction and grueling work.
Since his days as a local author, when periodically I would recognize him at such neighborhood haunts as the Onyx Cafe and Skylight Books, Cooper now spends most of his time in Paris, where’s he’s lived on and off since 2005. His most recent book, The Marbled Swarm, his self-proclaimed “French novel,” continues in the vein of previous works, but with a prose that is more dense, layered, labyrinthine, and affected; it’s a kind of complex, incestuous family drama played out in secret passageways and haunted chateaus. Besides his output as a writer and editor (he founded the imprint Little House on Bowery for the publisher Akashic in 1994) Cooper also maintains a blog, The Weaklings, to which his devotion — he replies personally to every comment — is infamous. In addition, he frequently collaborates with theater director and artist Giselle Vienne on productions. Together they were included in this year’s Whitney Biennial, which closed earlier this month.
I met with Cooper at his Los Feliz apartment late last year when he was in town on a book tour for The Marbled Swarm. We spoke about his process for writing that book and others, teenagers, and charisma, as well as aspects of Cooper’s early life in Los Angeles, when he was program director for the literary center Beyond Baroque in Venice and publisher of a magazine, Little Caesar. As I had found him on a previous occasion (we’d met once before in Paris), he was incredibly generous, humorous, and inspiring to talk to.
— Kate Wolf
Before I learned the marbled swarm, or rather, spoiled its chances with my inattentiveness and patchy wit, then screwed up both of my impeding lives, I believed I was my family’s chief ingredient, if not for evidence more solid than my highly complimented looks, then with total confidence.
— The Marbled Swarm
Dennis Cooper: The initial goal was to really compress my voice. I’d been working with a flatness and a plainness — I’d gotten interested in hiding all the m...read more