Cult American writer DENNIS COOPER is used to stretching the bounds of good taste. But his new book Guide is about more than sado- masochistic sex and casual drug use, he says. Words: Toni Davidson
For all Dennis Cooper‘s charm. his quiet. self-effacing giggle and hazy. lazy Los Angeles drawl. the
writer has attracted extreme reactions. Earlier work like Wrong,
Closer and Try. populated by screwed up. ‘blank generation’ characters with their mutilated. scatological death-wish desires. has provoked vehement murder threats and hate mail. Cooper has been labelled homophobic by gay rights activists and even contemporary English ‘literary outlaws‘ such as Will Self have been unable to see past what Self describes as ‘obsessive dwellings‘. dismissing Cooper‘s writing as hardcore homosexual porn.
And yet Cooper‘s work has produced a kind of iconic worship in the States. where he is widely read and extravagantly praised. critics and readers alike falling over themselves to match and compare him to other ‘ghoulish geniuses‘ like Genet. Bataillc and Burroughs.
Cooper is philosophical about accusations that he simply grafts sadomasochistic sex and casual drug use onto his prose to shock his readers.
‘A lot of people are just going to see that and nothing else.‘ he says. ‘but I wanted Guide to explain and explore the complexities of the issues involved — why such things are there. how much they are real. how much they are not real. encouraging people to read in between the lines. And I guess people who Dennis Cooper have attacked me in the past just ignore me now. saying: “Oh God. Dennis Cooper‘.’ Another one of those horrible books." ‘
The fourth book in a loose cycle of five novels. Guide shows Cooper‘s evolution as a writer. The prose has matured into crisp. elegantly crafted minimalism. The stark nastiness of his short stories in Wrong is replaced by a brooding lyricism. while still incorporating his trademark fascinations with human perversity. teenage nihilism and indie music.
Guide depicts a drug addled urban landscape populated by disaffected ‘beat-me teens‘ mouthing street philosophy and ingesting whatever stimulants
98 THE lIST 6—19 Mar 1998
‘I guess people who have attacked me in the past just ignore me now, saying: “Oh God, Dennis Cooper? Another one of those horrible books.“
Dennis Cooper: gets up the nose of Britain's literary outlaws
they can get hold of. They all get a mention here. but LSD is the main narrative impetus — with (‘ooper structuring the book in such a way that it parallels and indeed recalls a previous ten hour acid trip.
‘I tried to construct a form in the writing that reflected the drug haze.‘ he says. ‘lt‘s disorientating at first but hopefully the reader will get into it and once you‘re there all the book‘s little tricks will work on you.‘
One of the many tricks (‘ooper plays on the reader is to involve thinly-disguised. real life personalities in his fiction. mutating fantasy with reality. Name checking bands like Guided By Voices and Pavement. he adds his voice to theirs alongside wild prose that has one character collaging photos of famous people‘s body parts — Leonardo Di (‘aprio‘s legs and James Duval‘s stomach — and has another drugging and raping one Alex Johns of an English band called Smear.
‘Yeahf confirms Cooper. ‘I heard Blur really liked the book and Alex was meant to interview me but he was just as nervous about meeting me as l was of him. In the end the record company stepped in to call a halt to it. But that's okay. next time the band come to LA I'll just walk up to him. tap him on the shoulder and say hello.‘
Guide by Dennis Cooper is published by Serpent's Tail at £8.99.
The write stuff
From her heady days at The List to her experiences in Argentina, prize- winning writer Miranda France has certainly travelled. Her first book is Bad Times In Buenos Aires.
NAME: Miranda France. AGE: 31.
PREVIOUS JOBS: I did the usual sort of waitressing with a bit of freelance journalism and then as I got more journalism [including Art Editor at The List] I did less waitressing and was finally able to give that up.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: l’d gone to Argentina for a couple of years to work as a foreign correspondent. When I came back I saw an advertisement for the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for people to write about a culture they find alienating, which fitted the bill in my case. I wrote an article called ‘Bad Times In Buenos Aries‘ and won the prize and was lucky enough to be commissioned to write a book on that basis. So, it was quite painless, really.
DAILY ROUTINE: I would usually try to do a ten till six day but I spend a lot of that time doing housework and making tea, wasting time basically. The only thing I would say in defence of that sloppy way of living is that it's sometimes while you're making the tea or lying on the sofa despairing that you actually have a good idea. But when I was writing the book, I probably wouldn‘t have done more than four or five hours a day of concentrated writing. I spent quite a lot of time in the library on research. INFLUENCES: I don't know if I could say that I particularly had an influence but the writers I like are Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
AMBITIONS: To do what I enjoy and to be recognised for it, I suppose. FEARS: That the ideas will dry up, that you make a commitment to do something then are not able to do it. I worry about signing on the dotted line and then finding I can’t do it.
INCOME: It varies so much, it would be about £15,000 to £20,000. (Brian Donaldson)
I Bad Times In Buenos Aires by Miranda France is published by Weidenfe/d & Nico/son at f 78. 99.