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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Please welcome to the world … Dennis Cooper I Wished (Soho Press)

Dennis Cooper I WISHED
Soho Press

‘“I started writing books about and for my friend George Miles because whenever I would speak about him honestly like I am doing now I felt a complicated agony beneath my words that talking openly can’t handle.”

‘For most of his life, Dennis Cooper believed the person he had loved the most and would always love above all others was George Miles. In his first novel in ten years, Dennis Cooper writes about George Miles, love, loss, addiction, suicide, and how fiction can capture these things, and how it fails to capture them. Candid and powerful, I Wished is a radical work of shifting forms. It includes appearances by Santa Claus, land artist James Turrell, sentient prairie dogs, John Wayne Gacy, Nick Drake, and George, the muse for Cooper’s acclaimed novels Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide, and Period, collectively known as “The George Miles Cycle.” In revisiting the inspiration for the Cycle, Dennis has written a masterwork: the most raw, personal, and haunted book of his career.’ — Soho Press

Praise

“May just be his most surreal, disturbing, vulnerable work yet (which is saying a lot).”
—Vogue

“Whatever Cooper represents in the landscape of contemporary literature, he’s without a doubt one of the most vital and important writers to emerge in the past 50 years, and his genius goes far beyond mere taboo-breaking (although it’s very difficult to read one of his deadpan, hardcore novels and not walk away a few degrees less innocent than you were on page one). Cooper’s books are dissection tables of desire; they take a bone saw to the dreams, sexual fantasies, obsessions, youthful delusions, and myths of fame and individuality that have come to define our private and public selves.”
—Interview Magazine

“Surreal and elegiac.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“An elegy for a friend, lover, and muse that resists conventions of storytelling and expands the possibilities of the novel form with daring and vulnerability . . . Cooper’s urgency to relate his friend’s story is felt in every word, image, and narrative move; even the most oddball structural decisions possess tremendous power.”
—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

I Wished is not an easy book by any means, but is in some way a balm to those who also carry the weight of loss, the acknowledgement of how heavy it can be, and how it is also proof of having lived and loved. It is a book about what to do with that weight, how to carry it, how to honor it.”
—Lit Hub

 

READING FROM I WISHED
from the Poetry Project’s New Year’s Day Marathon

 

SIX QUESTIONS FROM DAVID RYLANCE

1. Back in 2012, you set out to write a memoir of George Miles, which was, I think, the first time you decided to try to do that. In the spirit of these questions as sort of a short set of liner notes or DLC for the launch of I Wished, I was wondering: could you fill us in on that prior attempt at writing about George, and the process that got you from there to here? If I’m recalling right, I believe you were intending for the book on George to be a directly nonfictional work at that point. Then, as the novel tells us, last year, you also sat down and wrote out for seven months every last memory you could call up, or thing you could think of, about your friendship, in a process that was also not workable as a book in itself. Can you talk us through the differences between what you wrote last year and what you attempted to do in 2012? And can you take us through what both efforts did, or did not, clarify about what exactly you wanted or needed the book on George to be – beyond it becoming a novel, I mean? More precisely, what was missing in these prior attempts that made them not up to the task of relating – publicly at least – that “complicated agony beneath my words that talking openly can’t handle” you write about in the novel’s opening line? Inferring from later in the book where you briefly refer to the results of last’s year writing as “cathartic crap”, I was thinking it might have been that the original attempts were so inundated by the purgation of the agony part in “complicated agony” that it outright smothered the complication part, perhaps? So that what these first tries delivered in one way, in setting out after this form that was meant to be as artless and non-mannered as possible, they nonetheless drowned in the other, in the reticulation of the emotions, in formalising their intricate nestedness within one another as well as, contrarily, their incongruousness and self-disagreement and uncohabitability; their limitations with respect to the realities they feel toward; the boundaries of their legibility as the emotions – rather than the sentiments – they actually complexly are without aesthetic manifestation’s aid to articulablity, and so on?

— Your questions get far more deeply into the novel than my inarticulateness about myself and my things could allow me to do, so, fair warning, and thank you for that. I had wanted to write a novel about the real George Miles and my friendship with him for a long time, both because his impact roils me like nothing else and because I wanted to extract him from the fictional “George Miles” whom he only resembled physically and emotionally. As I write in I Wished, another long time dream/plan was to write a novel that be would some kind of spin-off from The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. Doing both simultaneously was my intention with the first, discarded novel, but I approached those goals initially in a very different way than I have in I Wished. For reasons I don’t recall, I decided to recount my relationship with George chronologically and as factually and honestly as possible. So that’s what the failed novel was. It started on the night I met George and was intended to chronicle what transpired between us, day by day, up until I found out he had killed himself. It was not an emotional novel on the page, or not in terms of its composure. If anything it was very dry. It read almost like a trial document or something. I was emotionally overwhelmed while writing it, but nothing of that ended up in the writing, which was its disaster. I took a break from writing it at one point, and when I went back and read it over with a degree of objectivity, it turned out to be inert and boring and “who cares”. I had never written that way before, and I had hoped the emotional explosion I was going through while writing it would magically make the tedium of that approach transcendent or whatever, but it didn’t happen. Basically, it inadvertently ended up being a private exercise on my part to force myself to debunk the mis-rememberings and myths about George that had settled into my imagination over the years and to recall our relationship exactly, nothing more.

2. So, unless I’m forgetting, the only novel you’ve written from start to finish in the past, in step with its final narrative sequence, was My Loose Thread. I’m not sure if I’ve read a comment from you confirming this or if it’s just that there’s a sense of clarity so great from the way time shifts work in I Wished that it seems as if it’s something you’ve already extra-textually corroborated for me, but, whatever the basis, I came away from the novel with a sense of knowing that it would have been written in a non-synchronous order to how it’s finally arranged. Whether right or wrong on that, it’s made me curious as to how the writing of the different parts of I Wished worked in respect to its final internal timeline. Because, well – this is much too overbroad and not equal to the multangular ingenuity in your writing to propose as some sort of serious periodising statement about your books, so please, don’t respond to it on that level. But to, I guess, over-enlarge a point in order to better see it up close before returning it to whatever scale it might actually exist upon in the real world, there was a powerful and insistent poise and propinquity to the way present and past work in I Wished that seemed to accentuate something distinct in its textural design, and made me jot down the note to myself that whereas your novels prior to this have tended to situate their structuration primarily in spatial extensity, central here is the time plane. That it’s chronometrically that the architecture – or, if we’re using time-based technical references, that the reference frame – is principally plotted. That temporal ties between distinct parts of the book are where the connections circuit most electrically together. And that a whole welter of aspects to do with the movements and stases of duration, shift, and translocality in the book’s composition matter as immensely in it as the role of memory itself. Looking at it this way unlocked a whole vista of resonant concepts from the scholarship of time for me: from chronemics, which is the study of how time is used in nonverbal communication and nonverbally in verbal communication; from horology, a more specific field than chronometry which zeroes in on the study of the instruments of time’s measurement, clocks, watches, so forth, and of particular relevance to me in respect to I Wished, just for example, that field’s idiosyncratic use of the term “complication” to refer to any of the elements in a timepiece that you find beyond the mechanisms for seconds, minutes, and hours; on a linguistic level to a particular sensitivity in your new novel for tense, mood/modality, and aspect which are not only just something like language’s watches but are also its instruments of, if you like, temporal “pixilation”, of display resolution with respect to time; in astrodynamics, planetary rotational notions like eccentricity or obliquity or orbital inclination as ways of grasping connectedness between the Dennises and Georges; strength as against inference models of time perception; the debate in the philosophy of spacetime between endurantism and perdurantism; analemmas in astronomy; free falling objects and simultaneity breakdown in time travel astrophysics, I could go on, with the Roden crater something like a monolithic gnomon right at the crux of all this, serving as a sort of chronotopic heartbeat. I definitely don’t expect you to speak to any of that, which is just the sort of general direction that the eccentric orbit of my mental sphere’s rotations will go off on happily deviating as I reread the novel, and I also don’t want to convey a misimpression of the book aesthetically, as oriented toward science fiction or something, which bringing in stuff to do with time and astrosciences can, by way of association, inadvertently do. But, all qualifiers said, and without giving too much away – set against that background, can you tell us a bit about how the order in which you wrote the parts of the book directed the decisions for the ultimate location in time of the chapters? And are you able to speak some about the role that the struggle between your emotions and your aestheticism in writing I Wished that you’ve mentioned in an earlier interview took on in incorporating the real time of writing – or, more accurately, the representation of its real time, which matters immensely to this book in the fascinating degree to which it directly emerges as part of the narrative – into the final compositional arrangement?

— It’s true that My Loose Thread is the only novel of mine that I wrote straight through and whose only pre-sets were in its thematic and poetic aspects but not in the narrative, which flung itself forward as I went along. Every time I write a novel, I make myself start completely from scratch, and my novel prior to MLT had been Period, which was, by contrast, the most disjunctively built of my novels to that point. The same is the case with I Wished compared to its ultra-different, failed predecessor. I just decided to create a situation in writing where I could explode emotionally while staying aesthetically on top of the explosions. So each section was an individual eruption. Sometimes the eruptions fed further eruptions, for instance how the section about identifying with the doomed protagonist in my faulty memory of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter lead me to want to try to solve his/my problem by inhabiting Santa Claus. There were certain starting points I kept in mind in order to make sure the riffs would ultimately unite in some way, most centrally the gun George used to blow his brains out and the wound that left in his head. And many less imagistically pinpointed things such as George’s and my respective failures as artists, how language alternately connected and divided him and me, etc. So, I just wrote a lot of riffs, not thinking about their ultimate order in the novel. I had gotten a little lost in the project around the time when Zac Farley and decided to start making films together and when I became enamoured of composing fiction using animated gifs. So I put the novel aside and concentrated on filmmaking and gif fiction for about 4, 5 years. I didn’t even look at the novel. When I finally went back, it was evident to me how a novel could be made out of the existing pieces and what should go where, and I could tell what I needed to revise or delete or what new sections I needed to write to fill it out. At that point, I felt able to distance the emotionality of the project, and it became a formal exercise to me mostly.

3. Above, we spoke about the different temporal registers of writing your new novel, of the time the parts themselves take place in, and the arrangement of that into the overall timeline of the book. But this made me wonder about the subtle ways that the thing that did not eventually become I Wished nonetheless did determine your orienteering of it structurally and your engineering of its internal wiring. To set up this question precisely, though, I want to detour for a moment first to say that if such a close focus on divergences between the sequence of writing the chapters and the sequence of their final collation has put across to readers any sense that the book is at all uncohered or uneven in continuity, well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Quite to the contrary: I found it to be one of the least enisled books you’ve written. Which is why, actually, I mentioned My Loose Thread. Although this doesn’t have the unilinear novelistic throughline of MLT, it was somewhat to my surprise, exactly because there is no obvious similarity between them, that I came away with the experience of I Wished as working far closer to that book’s emplotted continuousness than something more “fragmentary”, like Period, or much more starkly placed at a verge of novel and vignette, like The Sluts. Each chapter in your new novel is, definitely, its own thing and each picks up entirely somewhere else from the others, but, to me, it was the absence of a broken effect between each of them that became all the clearer as I went along and all the more fascinating for it. And that got me thinking about the indication from the book that the writing out of your relationship with George in 2020 was done lineally, or, to quote the novel, “beginning with the night they’d met until the day in 1997 when he found out George had killed himself ten years before without his knowing.” When discussing this earlier, I asked you what didn’t work about the precursors to I Wished and how that influenced your understanding of what the book needed to be. Here, I’m wanting to ask: did the writing of the narrative you composed last year as a start-to-finish text actually produce a sort of chronologically ordered undergirding that ended up, for all its unviability as a book unto itself, a kind of palimpsest to this one? Just in general, to what extent did the “failed” effort end up acting, in spite of its apparent disjunction from I Wished, as a draft for it? And, whatever the overlapping or lack thereof between them, I’m interested in how you might metaphorise a relation between the two? You have that important, eloquent quote from your short story, ‘Container’: “I shove the knot of my feelings as deep as they’ll go into as compact and smoothed-out a prose style as I can build out of what I know. But they don’t belong here, any more than a man’s fist belongs in a boy’s ass.” I feel as though this is very much not what happens here, and that marks a quite definitive and significant move in your style. But, by that same token, nor does the finished creation de-densify and unshape itself so much that it ends up in as unfurbished and overingenuous a state as this prior narrative did. So how would you articulate the book’s ultimate counterbalance to both your aestheticizing and emotionalising sides?

— As I may have already indicated, the first, failed George novel wound up being nothing more than a research project for me. Very valuable research. I couldn’t have written I Wished without it. It forced me to remember my relationship with him precisely. My memories of him had been altered and distorted by how much he had become someone I played with in my imagination. Being forced to recall and recount everything we’d done together as baldly as I could, I came across many instances in our dealings that I had thought peripheral and fleeting but which, in some cases, revealed important information about what our relationship involved that changed my understanding of him. In a sense, he had become a fictional character to me too — someone I had made into a source of importance and who I had accidentally edited to suit my needs. As I write in I Wished, in facing the truth and facts unearthed by that act of transcription, I realised that I have no idea what I meant to him. That was a terrible realisation for me, and representing and examining that realisation became the impetus for I Wished. I had always taken it as a given that George and I were equally important to each other. What I realised was that he was a person who was internally torn apart by his condition and who was artificially unified into a whole person by his medications. I realised that the George I’d known and loved was, for all intents and purposes, a fictional character that he had managed to construct out of his fractured being with the guidance of his pills. I realised that, in effect, I had become the protagonist of my misremembered version of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter with whom I’d so painfully identified when I was young, only instead of my love object moving away to be happy, mine had killed himself. All of that made I Wished seem like the only way I could write about George.

4. James Turrell’s masterwork Roden Crater plays a pivotal role in this book. I say “pivotal” more than perfunctorily as its chapter falling along the very spine of the book as it does makes this profound skyspace an axis on which the total thing turns. But in a key sense, it’s not actually so much Roden Crater as, more particularly, the Roden crater that the artwork is being built in that assumes this fulcral role. Reflecting on what Turrell does, and the kind of art the Light and Space Movement he hails from makes, it occurred to me that Roden would have to be a contender for one of the largest acts of sculpture on the planet – and maybe is the largest enclosed one you can actually walk within, the largest installation ever sculpted. In some respects, I guess, Roden Crater might not be categorised as installation art at all but as a Land Art sculpture, or as being within the art practice that works right at the border where a sculpture teeters into becoming full-fledged architecture or landscape which loosely gets called environmental sculpture, and I think there’s something real to that, a crossover that accounts for the distinctiveness of what Turrell’s doing there in relation to both his other works and to the creations of the Light and Space artists in general. But what intrigues me about this particular piece is that it isn’t very satisfactory to class it as a Land Art piece or even exactly an environmental sculpture because really very little about it is happening on the earth’s surface at all. Or even for that matter is the main creation really going on below it. It all happens overhead. What’s being sculpted is the sky. Or, really more precisely, its apprehension, the chance the sky offers Turrell to deal in a temporal convergence of illusionistic and non-illusionistic space, in the materiality of perceptive duration and gradience with respect to the abstractions of light, colour, and shape, to enunciate pure feeling as wordless thought, a sculpting really of sensuous experience, of phenomenality itself. And in that context, stepping back, the Roden crater itself, with Roden Crater now in it, becomes something like the geometric abstraction that has been generated around the sculpture, that limns it and, for the artistic attention of I Wished, takes on an abstract art form of its own outside it. So that what then plays out in this key chapter is something akin to the commutations between illusionistic and non-illusionistic spacetime that take place within Roden Crater exteriorised and re-enacted, in an apologue, between Roden Crater and the Roden Crater itself. Amidst all this, many things we’ve learnt or will learn about George constellate and it really is such an incredibly fitting thing to exist that it actually made me think, “it’s amazing it’s real already and isn’t something Dennis had to purely invent.” I suppose maybe that very sentence is something of an allegory for George and for your astonished love for him. But what specifically lead you to link George to this artwork in the first place? To get more specific, what I suppose I’m wondering is what guided you there first; your emotions or your aestheticising side? If, indeed, only one did, because, for instance, they may have met their simultaneously in the middle, which would also make a lot of sense. Or was it just something much more random, like, I don’t know, the serendipitous fact that James Turrell looks like he’d make an outstanding Santa Claus?

— First, your characterisation of Roden Crater’s relationship to the novel is extraordinary and true, and I thank you for explaining that as I can’t wordily. I should say I’ve never been to Roden’s Crater, and it’s not yet open to the public, so I daydreamed it into place, which is why it was ideal for the fairytale setting. There’s the obvious relationship to George’s head wound, which I also never saw and only know about from a third hand report and which might not even have existed outside of the fairytale that the novel builds around it. In the novel that wound is kind of like Mars relative to the speculations about Mars back when it was still just a red dot in primitive telescopes. So there’s that, and placing George both there and in the future, since Turrell’s project didn’t exist when he killed himself in 1987, is the most ambitious of the novel’s “what ifs”. What if Santa Claus did exist, and what if he had singled out George as the most worthy recipient of his benevolence, and what if he’d been able to turn George’s life into a fairytale, and what if George had been encouraged in his artistry by a great artist within that fairytale, etc., would that have been enough to save him? It’s me asking, in a round about way, if I had completed my Cycle novels before he died, and if he had read them, and if they had been great enough, would that have saved George? And the fairytale is me facing the fact that the answer is no.

5. There’s an interesting moment late in the book where you list the various substitutions or avatars in your work for George. “George, David, Kevin, Ziggy, Robin, Chris, Drew, Sniffles, Egore, Dagger, George.” What stood out to me is that you end in the list here at the end of the cycle, at Period. George, of course, continued to command immense influence upon you in the novels after that point. But I’m not sure I’ve actually ever seen asked anywhere what the processing of George in your fiction between then and now has concretely involved. Can you talk about it? I might be blanking, but it seems like there aren’t any surrogate Georges after that point, for instance, the cycle perhaps having seen them serve their full purpose. So that his presence gets more composite and abstractly thematic, maybe? Though definitely not a leaving behind of George, I think it would be fair to say that I Wished is a point of redirection with regard to him. But how much in retrospect was Period – which always did feel like a sort of gravesite for George, although very much not a place to bury him, if that makes sense – already a point of redirection? And how would you say I Wished reorients you not only from the cycle, and the way George features in it, but from the afterlife of his influence since then too?

Period was a kind of tomb for George, but, more than that, it was a kind of magic trick that tried to make him disappear. And magic tricks are illusions that don’t actually work, and I was obviously aware of that. I learned that George had committed suicide in 1987 before right before I started writing Period in 1997. The Cycle was to have had a very different ending until I learned that. So, I guess in a way it stored and hid him more than buried him. You’re right that George hasn’t been either a character or the model for a character in my novels since then. No doubt he has informed some, but not consciously or deliberately. I’ve written poems about him. I’ve felt no need to build characters out of him. That doesn’t mean he has been out of my mind and imagination. I understand why people want to see I Wished as a kind of addendum or final part of the Cycle, but that was not my intention whatsoever and I don’t see it that way at all. I wanted to write a novel about my friend. I write about the Cycle in the novel because those books and why I wrote them are so ingrained in his and my relationship. Near the end of his life, he knew that I was going to write the Cycle for him. We talked about it a lot, what it might be, how he would be represented in it, and why. Some of our best and deepest and most revealing conversations about our friendship were occasioned by our discussions around my intention to write those books. That, and because I wanted to distinguish George from “George” for the reader, are why the Cycle is referenced. But I don’t see I Wished as having any relationship to the Cycle otherwise.

6. “I want to know that all my love for him is worth it or find someone who’ll convince me he was no one much, or who’ll say, “He never mentioned you,” or that he referenced me offhandedly enough that it’s clear I didn’t mean that much to him, and that’s the hope, and that’s the fear, and I know that’s only semi-interesting to read, but it’s very hard for me to even do this.” At the end of such an arduous writing process, I Wished is so involving because in some ways, it feels, as you were writing it, you were also in some sense being a reader of it, as though it were writing itself outward to you as your own novel, though definitely not, in the sense that phrase means ease and effortlessness, “writing itself”. So, to close us off, here’s a totally simple question that for sure won’t be any trouble to answer at all. How much has the novel itself already told you what you want to know? A sinch, right? Of course, I’m not expecting you to be able to answer that question directly, even if only because, outside of any such knowledge the book might have given you being unlikely to work that way, it also would detract from the whole complicatedness of the thing as a novel to be explored by readers to just bluntly blurt out an answer, were it even possible. But I sometimes feel as though the experiences we’ve had with our most intimate others in the past, recollected in the right ways, in due course, can end up sending a message with a new knowledge to us, belatedly, from them, from them as they were. In that sense, I’m interested in how the book acts on you as a sort of recipient of it. How it might be read as a message not only from you, about George, to the world, but about the relationship to George, from George as memory, to you.

— The novel didn’t tell me what I want to know. It clarified what I want to know. It made me realise I’ll never know what I want to know. Now I just want to hear plausible theories. That’s the only goal left.

 

YOUNG GEORGE


George, the year we met, 1967


George, as seen on the cover of ‘Period’, Photos: 1968


George, 1969


DC and George, 1970


George, 1971



letter from George, 1971

 

EXCERPT

from XMAS (1970)

Santa Claus does nearly anything he wants because his whole existence is a falsehood. He’s completely nice because benevolence is built into his character, and he’s also screwed since altruists are self-destructive. He manifests every act of niceness that could be given to a character in fiction, but the acts seem passionless and automatic to our minds because whoever built him either forgot to give him motivation or else thought his premise would only seem realistic if it functioned out of nowhere.
—-For all the magnanimity, his powers are de facto and burdensome in private. For instance, no amount of selflessness could melt the endless snow and ice that boxes in his outpost of a life into a navigable path, much less a “worth it once you get there” Mount Everest–y kind of thing. That power would be implausible. His kindness makes him lonelier and less real, if anything. He knows a billion people telepathically, but they don’t realize he’s overhearing  them. He’s like a hidden microphone. They think everything he does for them is disembodied magic.
—-He’s just the circumstance that causes everyone to get some things they love once annually. They don’t care about him whatsoever or wonder what he’s feeling when they look at illustrations of him. His fault entirely. He’s so nice and nothing else in concept that every portraitist for generations has rendered him with such a shine he automatically deflects thought, and no one even tries to undermine the pleasure he portends with an analysis.
—-To nearly everyone, Santa Claus is a self-sustaining bore of vast utility, a kind of machine padded and disguised with human attributes that gives out treats as blindingly and without meaning as the sun. He’s like the sun dressed up for Halloween: more fattening than fat, unconscionably jolly, with stop sign–colored clothing and no sexual inference whatsoever. No one cares if he’s as happy as his features look, or if he’s sick or mentally ill just so long as he’s dependable. He’s not even a he. He’s an it.
—-People think Santa Claus is so abstractly nice he doesn’t differentiate between the targets of his kindness. They think he just skims their billions of requests and answers by necessity. They think he’s not just moral but inhumanly objective and that, to him, they’re traditionally good or bad and, thus, deserve to be rewarded every year or not. They think he thinks in the most average suppositions. They think his brain is almost a computer and his heart is like a Christian church. Actually, they don’t even think that. They just think about gifts or no gifts.
—-This is a secret, but Santa Claus does in fact evaluate his audience and pick out favorites. Whoever made him left that loophole. His mind grows hopelessly enamored with the twists of certain minds he reads on rare occasions, just as we real humans fall for dreamy bodies that have someone else coincidentally inside them. Given his unbelievability and laughable appearance, he knows he’ll never warrant love for real, so he tries to pinpoint people whose reaction to his charity is so unsolvable that, upon responding, he thinks the equivalent of “huh.”
—-Since Santa Claus is a kind of genius, he needs to love someone who’s very complicated. Yeah, his generosity is actually love. That’s not a typo or a slip. It’s love without the bombast of eroticism, or at least without the oomph that makes having sex love’s ultimatum. Sometimes he thinks that means his love is true and pure, and sometimes he masturbates like anybody else. His emotional deficiency is a big, tragic secret that would be obvious if people loved where gifts come from. Or if they didn’t think politely asking is a form of caring.
—-If Santa Claus can do almost anything, why won’t he? Why doesn’t he fly his sleigh into the real world all the time? Why won’t he give his favorites the gift of liking nice old men and then schmooze them to befriend him? Why won’t he use his superpower to manipulate his favorites into loving Santa Claus and make them want to move into the middle of the freezing, bleak nowhere to live with him? Because that wouldn’t be kind. His kindness seems so absolute to those who benefit from it, but it’s a saintly ruse wherein he hides his loneliness. No one ever thinks to look for pain there.
—-One day, to stave off a depression, Santa Claus decides he’s an artist. He knows enough about contemporary art through handling wealthy folks’ requests to guess that fabricating people’s wishes into objects and then manipulating people who are in the wishers’ inner circle to fork the objects over and take credit for his kindness is sufficiently subtextual to qualify. He knows enough about humanity to understand that, for artists, making things that sell for millions is a decent substitute for being personally loved. He would really, really like to feel like that.
—-Art upgrades Santa’s self-defeating kindness into an associative conceit and makes him feel even more connected to his favorite human, who is, like him, an artist by default. George is the favorite’s name. He’s 14 now, but Santa’s liked him since he asked to have the moon fitted with giant Mickey Mouse ears as his gift for Xmas 1965. George began to call himself an artist when he reached the age when other people wanted more than others’ names and looks as an ID because the only other option was a depressive kid who plays guitar ineptly and is a massive drag to be around.
—-George counts as Artist by Santa’s self-serving definition  because the things he wants are physical impossibilities, and his wishes are too misappropriated to qualify as anything but art that’s . . . what’s that term . . . conceptual. I.e., things that are the things they offer technically but, when recontextualized into a space that’s meaningless without them, become ingredients in viewers’ newly activated thoughts or, in George’s case, that make him not depressed. A pill that cures cancer would qualify, for instance. But even if they’re art, George’s hopes are like the chimneys through which Santa Claus supposedly can but doesn’t scrunch.
—-So George the artist never follows through. Or, rather, he fashions art’s equivalent with every thought he has, but the things that art traditionally inhabits are just too solid to be piggybacked. His ideas remain construction sites, either eking out on a guitar that he can barely play or over-embroiling in his mind. Those who think artists must deliver stuff to qualify assume he’s just a wannabe who stares a lot. Or, and this is key, if they’re like Santa Claus and feel ambivalent about the object’s vaunted status, George is like the concept of, oh, Michelangelo without the disappointing, dated things he actually made.
—-Sussing George’s fantasies for reciprocating doodads with a checklist in his mitt is the most invigorating thing that Santa Claus has ever felt. George wants items from the real world that challenge even Santa’s knack for manufacturing. Or, rather, things for which even Santa, the Zeus of gifts, can only supply the faulty parts. It forces him to think about his talent literally. George wants things wherein the things’ assembling, which is Santa’s forte, is more like handing things-to-be a menu. For instance, George wants a gun, or rather his imagination wants to put a gun at the disposal of his hands, which would consequently do his far-fetched bidding.
—-In other words, George wants a gun that would manifest his way of using it. It could be cocked and raised and pointed at his head, all within the lexicon of real guns’ functions, but his mind would cause his hand to make the gun’s blast as benevolent as he alone believes it would be. What George needs from Santa Claus or anyone isn’t just a gun but for the world to watch and think, Okay, that’s scary on the surface, but, more important, I wonder what he’ll want when he employs it, not that I want to be there and find out. Huh.
—-To give George the gun he wants, Santa Claus would need to turn the world into his illustration à la everything about Pinocchio that makes a piece of wood become a boy and causes children in the real world to think a toy is secretly a universe for the book’s duration. It’s a brilliant proposition, but since Santa’s affability is allinclusive, he can’t just turn mankind into a foil, but he wants to. George is asking, in effect, to have his body formed into a kind of introverted or inverted Santa Claus, but one whose altruism is entirely focused on himself rather than on a billion people.
—-George is Santa Claus without the willingness to compromise and the reliance on the power of suggestion and the longing for secondhand appreciation from an audience. Still, Santa would excitedly turn gift hounds around the globe into a rapt, amoral crowd scene, and even render them in CGI, fuck them, and even give himself a little gift—love, George’s—but George only loves things that look like things that are unrealizable, and Santa has the stupid, overly articulated image problem. He’s useful, but he’s not George’s type.
—-Santa’s tortured. What the fuck is he to do? When Xmas comes, he reluctantly surrenders to the strictures of his practice and searches George’s friends and family for someone who has awesome gift ideas that he or she would pass out with sufficient thoughtfulness to land near George’s bull’s-eye. Someone who could lend Santa’s silly workshop’s lame-o gifts’ effect an undue amazingness. Someone who won’t handicap their impact by using them as a currency to buy something untoward from George, for instance sex. And he weirdly finds someone.

 

LINKS

@ SOHO Press
ALTRUISTS ARE SELF-DESTRUCTIVE – AN INTERVIEW WITH DENNIS COOPER BY JAMES NULICK
DC/’I Wished’ on Wake Island
DC/’I Wished’ @ Interview Magazine
DC interviewed re: “I Wished” @ AnOther Magazine

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. Starting today, my novel is real, so please score and read it, thank you. ** David, Hi. First I have to find a cake. The French don’t really do cakes, or I mean American style cakes, which is what I want to shove in my face, should it come to that. Big up! ** Misanthrope, Well, yeah, the ‘top’ gay indie presses … I probably don’t even know them. I get the feeling they mostly publish romance novels and gay-themed thrillers and sci-fi books, or I don’t know. You’ll find somewhere. Good use of your gift card there, ha ha. Yeah, the exterminator tried traps first but they didn’t do squat. Then they boarded up every hole in the wall, and that kind of worked. I don’t what method finally finished the poor little things off, and I don’t want to know. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. ** Dominik, Hi!!! You might like Moritsugu’s stuff. I can see it. Oh, what’s going on with SCAB, if that’s okay to ask? No love that’s ever concocted by my noggin would be religious. Religion has been pretty much the most uninteresting thing in the world to me since I could think. Thanks, I’ll let you know if your love did the trick. This had better be the last one, though. I’m done with that shit. Love with a lot, and I mean a lot, of novocaine, G. ** Sypha, No, ultimately, you’re right, but you have to admire their combination of tiny brains and so much cleverness. ** Bill, Hi. Yes, he has to crowdfund his films these days, but I guess he would given the market du jour. I liked ‘Fresh Kill’ too. I like her films. I met her back when she and Zac and I shared a producer (that rapscallion Jurgen Bruning), and she was super nice. Thanks about my canal rooting! ** T, Cool, glad you liked it. Thank you for the pub day well wishes. I did mark it, at least here, as you see. It’s always kind of a scary occasion for all its goodness. Hopefully see you next time with fixed mouth. Enjoy a pain free day, man. ** Steve Erickson, Here, hear, on your insurance coup. I want to see the Bjorn Andersen doc. I have to go find it. It must be somewhere nefarious by now. ** Armando, Hey, man, good to see you. I’m doing pretty decently. In Paris … for me, lots of projects in motion, which is, you know, ideal. How are you? Thanks about the book. Take care, buddy. ** Right. My new novel + you = ? See you tomorrow.

31 Comments

  1. Hi!!

    Happy, happy birthday to “I Wished”!!!!! I’ll only dive into today’s post once I’ve read the book itself – which will happen as soon as my copy arrives. I can’t wait, agh!! Congratulations, Dennis!!

    And to prolong the celebrations: the new issue of SCAB comes out tomorrow. Your question was timely. It’s strange to publish an issue that only contains pieces that have already been seen on their own – I like the new routine, but I miss the excitement now. Maybe even enough to go back to how I used to do things. We shall see soon.

    I find religion pretty interesting, in the sense that I’m amazed how much it controls our society. But I never could believe in any religious teaching either.

    Yes, I’m definitely wishing you a love full of Novocain! Love emerging from its retreat and blasting his healing energies your way, making this appointment the last one for a very, very, very long time, Od.

  2. Congrats Dennis on the new novel! I ordered it yesterday. I hope you’re celebrating in some way today?

  3. Hi Dennis, this is truly the post of all posts! I love it, but it’s also very depressing to engage with, and the book is even more so… I haven’t been able to read anything else since I read I WISHED. I hope you found writing it cathartic. These photographs of George are just so beautiful, angelic, and somehow knowing… I also love George’s letter, especially the final line ‘Things have to be hunted for and found.’ Not too sure about that final word though, is it ‘found’? Anyway, just here to send some love your way for what might be an emotionally difficult but artistically rewarding week. Take good care of yourself xoxo

    PS Literally everyone I know is obsessed with I WISHED. I hope you’re scheduled to do some more readings etc…

  4. @ DC, major congratulations are in order! My copy’s on its way over here and I can hardly wait. This is my fave cover by a long chalk, not that a book should be judged on such things lol.

  5. Hope your surgery went ok Dennis… I had the worst ever pain in my gums and teeth after my first jab…. pain was beyond agony…. lasted about a week… I originally ordered ‘I wished’ through Amazon.. now changed the company so I can pick it up ‘somewhere’ as the postman can’t always get in…. (it will now be left down the road under some stones outside the local off-licence…. or actually in a reputable store that I often pass on my run)

  6. Dennis, Oh, wow, you have something coming out? Had no idea.

    Congrats, Big D!

    Ordered my copy last night, along with some other stuff.

    Fucked up thing is that three of gift cards were peel offs and then I tried to peel off the fourth one that turned out to be scratch off only and fucked up two numbers. My only recourse would be to take it back to the store where it was bought with the receipt, which I wasn’t given. $25 down the fucking drain. Oh, well, but that’s my life. Typical Misa stuff.

    I’ve got to get out of this funk. It’s not sadness or depression or anything (I think), just ennui, laziness, bleh bleh meh meh eek..

    Something will click and I’ll be back on my game. Otherwise, everything’s okay.

    I’ll keep plugging away at the writing and the querying and the submitting. I’ve got ambition (I think) and I’ll keep on keeping on.

    Enjoy the day, Dennis. It’s a big day.

  7. I wish for I wished. Very much looking forward to your book. Congrats!

  8. Hello Dennis! I haven’t posted here for like centuries but I had to write to say I read ‘I WISHED’ and it’s so amazing. Maybe your best novel yet? Truly, it’s so special. I feel like I need to read it again to absorb it all. It’s like reading the most honest and heartbreaking thing ever written but also a philosophy book at the same time. I don’t know. Congratulations Dennis and talk soon! xxxOscar B.

  9. Happy birthday to your new novel, Dennis. Hard to believe it’s been like, what, a decade since THE MARBLED SWARM? How time flies… anyway I ordered it at work before I left for my trip, so now I’m just waiting for it to arrive. Should be soon. I had hoped to have DUNE finished before yours came out, but after half a month I’m STILL reading it, so… DUNE will just have to be put aside for a few days, ha ha. I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve finished it (your novel, that is, not DUNE, ha ha).

    Sorry to hear that your dental woes are still ongoing. Yesterday I finally had that crown put in so the root canal was finished (only took 2 months). Sadly when they reviewed the X-rays they found ANOTHER damn abscess on the tooth right next to the one they finished, so I’ll have to go through another 3 sessions to get that fixed (luckily, the tooth is still intact so no restoration will be needed). They also found a big cavity in a tooth on the bottom row, so they’ll need to fill that as well. As Bart Simpson would say, “Aye Caramba!”

  10. Hi Dennis,

    Such a beautiful reading of The Crater. I literally cannot wait for my copy to arrive – maybe we could do something for 3:AM (baby pending)? I could do a wee review/interviews?

    Did the package make it to you in Paris? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on A Humument.

    Stay well, my friend!

    Chris

  11. Congratulations on the novel release, Dennis! My copy is hopefully on its way to the bookstore as I type. I better call them in case it arrived and they’re too busy to call me.

    Got email that Joy Williams’ new novel is out! Wow, this is such an exciting month for new books.

    Interesting you met Shu-Lea Cheang. Was the Bruning project Fluid0? I have to catch up on her post Fresh Kills work, but they’re not so easy to come by.

    Hope you find some satisfactory cake, Dennis. Germans do make cakes that may work for you.

    Bill

  12. EXCITED FOR THIS!!!!

    Hope you’re staying safe and feeling well! xoxox

  13. I hope you made it through surgery OK and are not experiencing too much pain by the time you read this.

    Congrats on the publication! Do you have a round of interviews lined up in the next week?

    My review of LITTLE GIRL, a documentary about an 8-year-old French trans girl, came out yesterday: https://www.gaycitynews.com/little-girl-documentary-transgender-france-countryside/

    THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOY IN THE WORLD is not very good. It’s moving, but the direction and editing feel massaged in a manipulative style – lots of shots of Andresen in the forest or beach as someone talks about tragedy on the soundtrack -to wring out emotion. Bjorn Andrésen’s life is depicted as an endless parade of misery, structured in three acts, but the film barely touches on his passion for music. (He studied music composition in school and made a living as the keyboardist for a pop group for years. He also became a pop star in Japan just after the release of DEATH IN VENICE.) It also acts as though all gay men are creeps lusting after teenage boys.

  14. Hi Dennis,
    Congrats on the new novel! So excited to read it. I work at the public library in mid-Missouri and we have two copies here. Thrilled that my other favorite writer, Joy Williams, is releasing her new book today as well, not to mention my fav band, HTRK, also releasing a new album this week. So much good stuff.
    Take care!
    -Adam

  15. Hey Dennis!
    I read a lot of this post through tears (I find the way you talk about George Miles and your relationship with him very affecting), but enjoyed every bit. I only got halfway through the excerpt then ordered a copy and stopped reading for spoilers sake. Those interview questions were so heady! And your answers were great. I was laughing at the Santa stuff as I’ve been thinking about Ari and Xmas and what I tell her (I loved the myth of Santa as a kid, but I do find that big lie quite…dishonest, haha). I’m so excited to read I Wished. If you had to make a wish for this book, what would it be?
    Apart from being probably in a strange space from having a new book come out, how are you? I’m okay, still having health things and still trying new medications. It could be way worse though. Ari is learning to talk and that’s a very funny, very very cute thing.
    I wish you a great day.
    Lots of love,
    Jamie

  16. Hey Dennis – Huge congrats on ‘I Wished’ entering the world. A friend lent me a galley a while back and it’s brilliant. One of your very best. I admire how fresh it feels, breaking different ground than your other novels. I reserved a copy at my local indie bookstore and looking forward to re-reading it.

    Love the interview with David Rylance – was that done for the blog?

    Have you seen ‘Annette’ yet? Curious to hear your take on it.

    I’m still muddling through the days, slowly feeling like I’m starting to get my feet under me.

  17. Just ran out to grab a copy for my Amtrak trip tomorrow. Looking forward, and congratulations!

  18. Hi Dennis sorry I have not commented recently. I have been super busy helping family members, working, and there were multiple tornadoes but thankfully I did not lose power, have any flooding, damage, and I was not out in them. I was in a flash flood in 1995 and it was not something I want to experience again. Congratulations on your book!

  19. Merry Christmas, Dennis!!!!

  20. Hi Dennis — Mega-congratulations on the new book! I just ordered my copy and eagerly await its arrival. I hope things are also progressing with the home haunt movie and pandemic-madness isn’t creating insurmountable barriers.

    I’m currently gathering materials for the release of a long, strange piece I made over 16-ish months of pandemic isolation. If you’re interested in hosting it, I can let you know when it’s all ready–hopefully before the end of the year if not sooner…

    BTW – I saw our mutual friend O.B. De Alessi’s MUDMONSTER, which I remember you listed among your recent favorites. So good!

  21. Hey, Dennis,

    The biggest, happiest birthday to “I Wished”. I haven’t commented on here for a while, though I have been keeping up with the posts, because of everything I’ve had to deal with and process since finally moving (I’m writing this from my tiny dorm room in the city), but I just had to be here today, given how long I’ve been anticipating this book. Immediately after classes today I went down to Barnes & Noble and hunted down the first copy I could find, bought it immediately, and took it home—it’s sitting on my bed right now. I’ve put everything else aside (at the moment that would be mainly Hervé Guibert’s journals) to read it. Very excited, is the drift of what I’m saying. I hope this finds you, deservedly, in the best of spirits. They’re well-earned. Much love, many thanks, and cheers a thousand times over.

  22. Proust had Albertine. You had George Miles. I had Barry Prince.

    Cue Babs!

  23. Thank you, Dennis. We needed this. Can’t wait to delve in. Of course, the two of us will have to draw straws as to who gets at it first! My hope it to rig the drawing in my favor…but I’m powerless in the face of Jules charms. I hope the dentistry disappears from your concerns soon. You are truly loved. M&J

  24. Dennis! It’s been a long time but today seemed like the day to drop in and say hi. My copy of the book is waiting for me downtown and I’ll get it as soon as I can get there without using public transport (our covid cases are very low comparatively but I’ve become even more of a recluse aside from work).
    I don’t want to read much about it, I’ll come back around to the interviews etc after I read it. I’m so looking forward to it!
    Life here is much the same but I do have something I’d like to mail to you if there’s an address?
    Hope you are well! Kx

  25. Hey Dennis, congratulations on the new book! I’m looking forward to reading it. It seems like a very intense one in a way different than others I’ve read.

    I haven’t read in ages aside from esoteric stuff, though I recently read for the novella cover commission which had a lot of similarities to your work actually. I’d recommend it to you quite a bit but it’s not published yet.

    Hope the book proves to be a success, I really look forward to it

  26. Indescribably excited… ultra-kudos.
    I’m like, pretty sure I preordered ages ago, but slightly worried I didn’t. Hope you’re reveling in the glow

  27. Dennis!

    Whoa too long, man; I forgot when i quit facebook it disconnected me from you and others that made that site worth it sometimes. Took the opportunity today with the new book to finally peek my head in here and say hi again finally. Just ordered the book and cannot wait to dig into the new work. Always look forward to having my head changed by you anew.

    Hope you are well my friend; think of you often. I’m up in Baltimore now so much closer to nyc if you end up back there for promo or what have you; i’ll keep my eyes peeled and be back here more often too. It all moves so fast doesnt it.

    big love, blake

  28. Well, your book was the deciding factor on whether or not to take the train today. Couldn’t decide, so if it arrived before the train, I would go; if not, I wouldn’t. Didn’t want to take the long train ride without the book. So it arrived much later – and glad I stayed in the city. And very glad to have the book. I’ll read slowly and savor it. Congrats Dennis. Very glad to know you.

  29. 700 years after the departure of the genius Dante Alighieri, the “Supreme Poet” of Italian literature and this same month also the last of the geniuses left on the planet, publishes his long-awaited novel ‘I wish’ Te celebro, te admireiro, te adoro y sí, I do not contact him more often because he imposes on me the grammatical construct he has created.

    I consider you far above Dante himself, you have become over the decades a supreme icon. I just ordered ‘Wrong: A Critical Biography of Dennis Cooper’, I’m thirsty to see you again when the mass media storm has calmed down your activity a bit. It is time, you have always motivated me to keep fighting for my dreams, your luminescent energy has marked my own life trajectory. Now that I take a lot less medication I think it’s time to see each other again and ‘be’ just ‘BE’ friends in Paris. I embrace you with the energy of a wounded child, my dear cursed writer, I love you. I wish you a lot of positive energy, I’ve just commissioned your new novel as well. You have awakened the animal that one day hid because it was wounded, if you have returned.

  30. From my Facebook: “Today it rains in Paris: This week there is a historic event for high literature. My dear, dearest, Dennis Cooper whose grammar is more dangerous than all the assembled ‘Beat Generation’, more luminescent than the Sade Marques. This month, 700 years ago, the last breath of the great genius of Italian literature, Dante Alighieri. However, this month we celebrate in the world of high literature, the return after ten years of the most cursed of writers. I wish him the best.
    He, the last of the enigmas of the last fifty years, has returned after ten years unpublished. ‘ I Wished’ is a testament, the heresy of a genius who has returned with the force of ejaculation from a fiery volcano”.
    Congratulations!!!!!! teacher, friend, mentor and delicate human being. Bravo! Because yes, the best is yet to come!

    THIS: https://www.anothermag.com/…/dennis-cooper-i-ve-never…
    AND THIS ONE: https://www.them.us/story/dennis-cooper-i-wished-interview

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