The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Rigby 101 presents … Fat Man On A Beach – BS Johnson Returns to Resubmit his Research & Findings (or Buy Me, Public!) *

* (restored/ Halloween countdown post #15)

The novelist cannot legitimately or successfully embody present day reality in exhausted forms. If he is serious, he will be making a statement which attempts to change society towards a condition he receives to be better, and he will be making at least implicitly a statement of faith in the evolution of the form in which he is working. Both these aspects of making are radical; this is inescapable unless he chooses escapism
(Aren’t You Rather Young To Be Writing Your Memoirs)

our hero was squeezed from his mothers womb on the 5th of february 1933. the only occupant to be so (though whether due to RhN or not, he uncharacteristically never found out), true there was to be another lodger, this being the cancer that would kill her (but that happens much later – an important fact – trust me). bryan samuel was promptly taken to his working class hammersmith home, until the blitz, when he would be farmed out with other school children to the country. he didn’t like that, the separation, the first ‘betrayal’.. in fact he was miserable, mostly. {‘She had no right: but she had the power, ah, the power!’ Trawl} So bouts of depression and paranoia start here.. the fiery elephant (as he would later be called.. well not quite but more on that later).. had developed a very thin skin. {in ’A. A.’ BSJ includes a description of himself by one of his pupils, calling him a ‘firy elephant’. BSJ preferred the understanding fiery, though it was more likely fairy (common london parlance)} (is this important? Ed.) hell yes! BSJ has this reputation as a boisterous overbearing, even arrogant pain in the arse.. and maybe sometimes he could be, BUT there was a reason.. he was extremely sensitive; to personal put-downs and maligns, to professional laziness and above all to the development of the novel. he worked hard {I’MANALLorNOTHINGMAN} he worked 100% for accuracy.. he didn’t want to give ‘them’ a chance to bad mouth him or balls things up for him and the future of THE NOVEL.. he was a perfectionist and that unfortunately gets on peoples tits. especially when they are not.

our nest fleeing hero moves here at the relatively late age of 28. as a square it was only three quarters formed due to blitz damage and overlooks an enclosed reservoir. invited to live there through his mysterious lifelong friend / antagonist (and possibly, a major psychological factor in his death, but more on that later). {LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE} listening to the yeah yeah yeah’s Maps when taking this pic, and a huge guy with a johnsonesque face walked past that could have easily been steven (oh yes, he had children.. but that’s around the corner).. did I mention BSJ was obsessed with superstitions and omens? {REQUIREMENTS FOR SUCCESSFUL WRITING: PENCILS (FROM FULLERS BAKERY), A CANDLE ALWAYS BURNING, EVERY NOVEL TO BE STARTED ON BOXING DAY} freudian technique on an autobiographical passage (more on this later) initially declared that ‘This man was simply depressed and suicidal’, to later add {AFTER BEING COHERCED} ‘Looking again, more closely, the final experience mentioned, of seeing a devil which BSJ concludes was a punishment from his Goddess/Muse, could support a diagnosis of psychotic depression. In this condition there can be delusions of punishment and mood congruent hallucinations (either auditory or visual). Ok – I would accept the POSSIBILITY of that.’ andrew hodgkiss [pg 420 L.A.F.E (mentioned in the links)]. {‘I must be the supreme optimist that I go on living inspite of this’} so reason enough to protect himself from outside forces, as (this experience happened in his twenties, so I think he did rather well, in that) BSJ killed himself at the age of 40. {‘That I teeter between despair and suicide doesn’t mean that I don’t see the good things as well; and that I stay alive is the most amazing thing about me’} what’s the story with the goddess? well early on in our heroes early development, he read The White Goddess by robert graves (1948), which has been described as a ‘mad brilliant historical grammar of poetic myth’. no i haven’t read it, but it certainly effected our young johnson, to the point where he saw a physical manifestation of her (he picked her up hitchhiking). IT’S TRUE! {‘I began to feel disembodied again’} apparently (to graves) she is ‘a lovely, slender woman with a hooked nose, deathly pale face, lips red as rowan-berries, startlingly blue eyes and long fair hair’. furthermore graves assures the reader ‘I cannot think of any true poet from Homer onwards who has not independently recorded his experience of her.’ (we may have a few here that disagree. Ed.). actually it does seem a bit confused: he mentions ‘this island’.. and I don’t think he meant the planet earth, and I’m pretty sure that neither of the homers were born in albion. {‘I want to know why you did it, why you – departed – why did you depart from the literal truth? I want to know this.’ In a recorded discussion with his dear friend ghose} our inquisitive hero was a great nitpicker (again the perfectionist) and wanted to get right down to the heart of the matter, he could kick off about anything.. he was a great catalyst at parti|enough, back to this obsession with the white goddess.. well, later in his life (pages) he would mention that W.G. was a bit silly (i’m paraphrasing.. so that’s not exactly true.. and if our self rubbed out hero is looking down.. sorry mate but i’m rushed for space.. and anyway what are you doing up there? you were an atheist!) but he never abandoned it (he was re-reading it in wales just before his last film). oh yes he made films and television too (but more on that later).

if our fledgling director is making tv as well as everything else by now, we can situate him round the corner, {‘a pawnlike move from one square to another’} with wife virginia and steven, overlooking a slightly larger (and fully formed) square which suprisingly contains quite a grand church (the name of which I didn’t bother to get.. tune being the specials Much too Young, at click), did i mention he was commissioned to write ‘experimental’ plays {HOW I HATE THAT WORD} by the RSC around this time, he based one on a severe critique of the church hoping it would be one of the final nails in its coffin (unfortunately, unsuccessful in both mission and deployment). {‘Whose Dog Are You’ WAS NEVER PERFORMED BY THOSE SAD RSC TOFFS BUT WAS USED IN ‘BS Johnson vs God’ A FEW YEARS LATER} (is there any point to this rambling? what did this novelist write and why do you rate him? Ed.). {I AM A POET.. IT SAYS SO IN MY PASSPORT} funny you should say that.. our troubled hero asked himself the same thing, often. ‘Is there any point to any of this’. he was a big fan of beckett (and joyce, who he believed kicked off a new form of novel that was being ignored). {‘joyce is the einstein of the novel’} in a round-a-bout way i found our troubled hero through beckett. in that biography by james knowlson, with the story about SB winning the nobel prize and giving some of the money away to some experimental english writer who bought a sports car with it, i think it mentions that BSJ punched holes through his pages, so i was thinking boyd rice and what he did to his early singles.. anyway turns out the car story was a lie, probably by ‘them’ (the only money beckett gave BSJ was a £100 when our destitute hero was about to sell letters of their correspondence at sotherbys). oh yes, they became friends, drinking talking whenever they were both in paris, though they fell out once when BSJ foolishly put a SB quote on one of his books {CMODE} not impressed was HE, but they seemed to have patched things up in the end as the last number BSJ called before killing himself was beckett’s. {TO NO ANSWER, HE BEING INFAMOUS FOR DISLOCATING THE BLOODY THING} so anyway, duly noted and awhile later i finally found & read Xtie Malry.... instantly realising i was dealing with a massive force, I have been searching out his (until recently rare and expensive) work ever since.. that’s the last i want to talk about me.. can we get back to the hero now? {”.. there are not many who are writing as though it mattered, as though they meant it, as though they meant it to matter.”} so where is the product? well you should have been around when he was. he never really sold that much.. he constantly argued with his publishers about the lack of sales, the connection between sales and writers profit.. actually he wangled being one of the first english authors to be paid a salary (£1200 over 3 years for 2 books.. bit like a footballer really.. did I mention he wrote footy reports for the papers too?). with this payment our explorative hero was told by publisher2 that if his novels didn’t rake in the money he’d have to start writing something less ‘difficult’.. well that’s a long story.. and anyway he sacked them – the first of many – before that happened.. (our pragmatic hero would prove to be rather good at this.. not even sparing himself.. he will sack himself mid trilogy). {‘Life is chaotic, fluid, random; it leaves myriads of ends untied, untidily’} the real problem with this conveyor belt of publishers and agents was their ignorance of his rights as an author and all output: not just the novels but the poetry, theatre, film, radio and tv commissions. to their dismay (or sometimes relief) he’d feel ‘betrayed’ and down would fly the guillotine with never a stay of execution.. and he’d be onto the next. i guess in those days doing multimedia just didn’t wash.. beckett commented something like.. all his outputs probably meant that his poetry wasn’t realised for it’s greatness. {*COUGH* (he has a point, you lazy bastard. Ed.) point taken *shuffles feet*} i think our busy bee hero would have to agree he certainly squeezed a lot in.. did I mention he worked for trade unions / the labour party / various socialist groups? YES! as a propagandist.. here he is on the set of his film Unfair!, target: the ‘1970 industrial relations bill’

{‘Socialism not given a chance [balance sheet is incremented £311,398]’ CMODE} he was even possibly (and unknowingly (of course, of course)) hanging out with the Angry Brigade.. well that’s what MI5 thought.. why else would they tap his phone? why eh why? so paranoia builds on paranoia.. hang on! you’ve alluded to autobiography a couple of times now.. and truth.. what’s that about? did this novelist write one? well no and yes. (now what? Ed.). look this is important.. we have a young lad who very early on realised something wasn’t right.. he had a problem.. he had a problem with his communities problem (during the blitz evacuation he sees the lie of class (system).. the ignorance forced upon him (a gifted child taking exams but not told what for – access to university it turns out – a far fetched idea for someone of his strata at the time, but still), these and other ‘betrayals’ ran deep). so later with inner ambition and while working a clerk type job he went (sorry he does go on.. follow our familiar device to the form of ‘report’ if you really want to know more † Ed.). {ARE YOU TRYING TO PUSH MY BOOKS OR WHAT?} dear misunderstood hero, i just read another bad review about your writing.. I might just give up on you.. on this, and realise I was wrong.. most of your contemporary literary types seem to be quite sure you’re output was just gimmick and trickery (more on this later). I REPEAT (AND QUOTE SARRAUTE).. LITERATURE CAN ONLY BE KEPT ALIVE BY RADICALLY REDEFINING IT.. ‘A RELAY RACE, THE BATON OF INNOVATION PASSING FROM ONE GENERATION TO ANOTHER’, I WAS SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE WRITING ESSENTIALLY, THE 19TH C. NARRATIVE NOVEL.


“Shall we for ever make new books, as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another? Are we for ever to be twisting, and untwisting the same rope? For ever in the same track-for ever at the same pace?” Sterne

Travelling People
(1963 / 64 / 67)

each chapter is written in a different mode (third person, epistolary, stream of consciousness &c.). concerns henry henry, who goes to work in a north wales resort and his love and hatred for those there. BSJ came to be ashamed of this as he felt it mingled fiction with autobiography in a dishonest way.

“Original … in the way that Tristram Shandy and Ulysses are original.” – Anthony Burgess, Yorkshire Post


Albert Angelo
(1964 / 67 / 87 /*)

fragmentary and episodic narrative (featuring the infamous hole cut outs on pages 147 and 149). concerns a frustrated architect surviving as a supply teacher. he wanders the night streets and daily deals with a growing aggression in the classroom. darkly funny and the beginning of BSJ’s ethic.

‘ of the best writers we’ve got.’ – Adrian Mitchell, The Sunday Times


(1966 / 68 /*)

no plot or invented characters (though name changes), internal monologue of a trip BSJ took on a deep sea fishing boat. usually held up by fans to critics that say he was all about ‘trickery’. in a way his most poetic and conventional novel.

to shoot the narrow trawl of my mind into the vasty sea of my past. BSJ

‘vividly described in semi-blank verse’ – Evening Standard


The Unfortunates
(1969 / 99)

interior dialogue that combines realtime with memories of a friend. 27 unbound sections to be shuffled and read randomly. contained within a box (influenced by saporta’s Composition #1, though BSJ would say he believed his control over the form was superior).

involves heartbreaking memories of his friend tony tillinghast (who died of cancer in his late twenties) while reporting at a familiar, to both, football ground.


House Mother Normal
(1971 / 73 / 86 /*)

ten different points of view on a single event.. each more fragmented and extreme (in both description and words placed on the page).

wickedly funny and a seeming move away from writing ‘nothing else but what happens to me


Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry
(1973 / 74 / 84 / 85 / 01)

author / main character interaction. use of diagrams to convey important information.

a fast paced dark comedy where the anti-hero* clerk invents a technique to counter his hatred for the world. (*surely not by the end. Ed.).


See the Old Lady Decently

first part of the trilogy based on his mother (to be completed with ‘Buried Altogether’ & ‘Amongst Those Left Are You’). diverse and fragmentary involving imagined scenes, taped transcripts, poems, real-time writing descriptions


“Something for everybody! If you do not like this part, or that part, or the other, then skip ahead or back to a part you did enjoy. It is no part of my intention to provide a continuous narrative, no, that you can get from television at the turn of a switch, who can compete with that? No, my purpose is to reflect with humility the reality of the chaos, what life really seems to be like.” – BSJ

*BSJ Omnibus (2004)

Hafod a Hendref
08/71, unpublished

Once at Gregynog, not long after
arriving, we walked across a field
maculate with snow lambing blood

and amongst the scattered animals
came upon a lamb so newly born
it had not yet laid eyes on its dam:

some instinct set it steadily
towards us as though we must have caused
the monstrous expulse it had suffered
were the womb to which it could return –

I should not stretch the image too far
for my purposes; but certainly
it parallels the raw helplessness

I fell in moving towards your so
much benigner and more properly
valued older civilisation:

a feeling I have hardly had since
bribing glass in hand outside a pub
I was a child, waiting for parents

more BSJ poetry

to night school and gained qualifications to get into Kings (not bad for a ‘street kid’ and better still he ended up being the editor of the institutes artistic rag Lucifer – not only radicalising it artistically but also overseeing accounts and expenses and successfully gaining more grants for the loss making institutes banner of creative output. during this time he went out with a muriel starkey (see ’Trawl’) which wasn’t so successful.. infact it became the ULTIMATE ‘betrayal’. {‘.. that it was the loss I wanted, the self-suffering, not her, or I would have surely gone out and found her again and made it work.” The Unfortunates} oh did I mention he went on to become the poetry editor for Translantic Review during the 60’s-70’s.. the largest european english circulation quarterly.. in fact when he died they folded as they thought no-one else could take his place, such was the regard our dynamo hero was held. (we still have some loose threads here. Ed.). It seems we do, and as i fear the reader of this blog report maybe getting bored, i’ll address these lapses here and now, and as efficiently as possible: {THERE’S A GOOD CHAP} ‘trust me’ – his final novel was intended to be the beginning of a trilogy, an effort to commemorate his beloved mother, who he’d watched slowly die of cancer and built upon his fears of carnal decay and loss. the effort of accruing the material, the planning and remembering is thought to have been one of the factors in his suicide. {ROT DAY BY DAY, HOUR BY HOUR} ‘more on that later 1’ – michael bannard was the last person BSJ visited the night before his death. MB had many years early prophesised that our sensitive hero would fail in all relationships with woman as the WG wouldn’t allow them, and that he would die at the young age of 29 (admittedly this was after a failed come-on by MB, still, the ‘curse’ heavily effected BSJ). {‘It was as though god had made another ballsup and had made Samuel’s other half almost a man instead wholly a woman’} ‘motl 2’ – BSJ believed that if a novelist really had something to say then it should come from an internal place that could not be fictionalised. he took beckett’s ideas on creating fictional characters as ‘wasted […] when I have me, on the premises, within easy reach.’ and concluded and enforced a self restrictive policy of writing ‘nothing else but what happens to me’ {of A.A he critically wrote that his hero ‘defecates only once during the whole book: what sort of paradigm of the truth is that?’} ‘motl 3’ – here again BSJ would prove to be ahead of his time using avant guarde techniques for television programs and inventing his own techniques for film (though more often than not, would be dropped when the power of invention changed hands – some of these techniques would later be used by luminaries such as woody allen and lindsay anderson. Fat Man On A Beach was his final film and is a brilliant anarchic mix of anecdote, philosophical musings, silly jokes and surrealist site gags (the ICA occasionally show it and I believe surviving copies of all his films are available for loan at the bfi). {THANKYOU FOR NOT MENTIONING THAT ABORTIVE RECENT TAKE ON CMODE} ‘motl 4’ – BSJ would (have to) constantly defend his inventiveness and varied use of form, he stubbornly believed he always used the best suited techniques to overcome the problem of conveyance.. in a letter to gordon williams explaining the use of black pages in TP: ‘The section in question is taking place in interior monologue, in the man’s mind, right? So how in words can you convey he’s dead? He can’t say after the event I’m dead, now can he? How would you have dealt with this problem? Is not this simple device the best solution to the problem?’ {”Form is not the aim, but the result. If form were the aim then one would have formalism; and I reject formalism.”} biography (and generally the best repository) / brief overview (with extracts) / brief overview (with quotes) / biography Like a Fiery Elephant book review / BBC4 audio review of Like a Fiery Elephant / library searches / BSJ flickr images / buy U.K / buy U.S

biography (and generally the best repository)

brief overview (with extracts)

brief overview (with quotes)

Biography Like a Fiery Elephant book review

BBC4 audio review of Like a Fiery Elephant

library searches

BSJ flickr images

buy U.K

buy U.S





p.s. Hey. Caution: This post is haunted. Any ghost you encounter should be immediately materialised for your own safety and enjoyment. ** David, Ah, I see. Hope you’re upswinging wildly. My friends seemed functional to semi-functional yesterday, so fingers crossed. I’ll go through my email tomorrow. I’m way behind. I’m a stressfully otherwise engaged dude until tomorrow. Bon, feel-good Wednesday! ** Dominik, Hi!!!! I’m slightly less stressed as things seem to be going okay, but we won’t have the final version of the Haunt game until just before the event starts, so why I’m less stressed is a mystery. Anyway, I’ll give you whatever scoop there is tomorrow. Oh, that’s true, the haunt town’s urban sprawl is making your mayorship is trickier by the day. Probably worth it? Thank you for the guardian love. I will lean on it the entire day and night. Your love today is a glimpse/screenshot of our Haunt’s backyard featuring the evil teenager character before his goth clothes were rendered onto his primitive but menacing body, G. ** Misanthrope, Hi. Yeah, you should stop giving him money for sure. One of the awful things about heroin is it makes its users lie through their teeth without the slightest qualm, even if they were Honest Abe types before. I don’t know, man. That’s scary and painful to even read about. Big love. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, B. No, I haven’t seen ‘Deerskin’, and I really should for no doubt many reasons but also because my collaborator/friend Adele is in it. Huh. Thanks for the tip. ** Jamie, Hi, Jamie! I’m kind of nervous, naturally, but I’m okay. Hopefully the event will be the fun thing we intend. I feel pretty sure we’re going to do this thing again in some form, so you’ll probably see it one way or another. No way we put so much work and effort into something that only lives once. I did know that about John/Castle. And I can tell you, as a friend of John’s, that it thrilled him to bits. Yes, please, not another ‘House of Leaves’, ha ha. Thanks for the wishes. You have a great, non-hampered day up there. Love, me. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Yes, that was Castle’s class act. ** Okay. Years and years ago the great friend of this blog Rigby101 made this post about BS Johnson, and its strange if inadvertent appropriateness to Halloween is only one of the reasons I’ve brought it back. See you tomorrow.


  1. Dominik


    Today, I’m just slipping in here to send you all the luck and whatever else that affects the happenings in the world for tonight. I’m so glad to hear that you’re feeling a bit less stressed! I hope everything’s gonna go smoothly and the Haunt will be a huge success!

    Ah, I can’t tell you how much I wish I could see your – for now naked but soon-to-be goth – evil teenager in action! Thank you for this love!! Love locking up “Bad Luck” and “Shit Happens” ‘til tomorrow noon, Od.

  2. David

    Spotted yesterday… that ‘Doctor Robert’ (blow monkeys) spelt backwards is ‘TREBOR ROT COD’… so I’m not just good at chewing bread and throwing it at the wall… (the thing I did as a boy) i Watched the M Night Shyamalan film ‘old’ yesterday… enjoyed that… I like him and his films… noticed ‘I wished’ is only available on audio in the US amazon and not the UK… … hoping to read it in Birmingham as I am there for 2 weeks soon… and purchase the audio at some point… I’m seeing John Lydon (of the sex pistols) Monday giving a talk at the Town Hall…. should be interesting!! cheers for this post!!! ××

  3. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Haunted indeed. Or psychic? I talked to Rigby this past Friday and he mentioned B.S. Johnson. Weird, no? I’ll be talking to him again this Friday, I’m sure. Rigby, not Johnson. I’m going to text him and tell him about this re-run. He’ll find it hilarious.

    Yeah, I had that discussion with David yesterday about lying. I even said, “You probably don’t even think you’re lying now, but you are. You said the same exact thing last week and the week before and the week before…and you really know you don’t mean a damn thing you’re saying right now, even if unconsciously.”

    He needed $200 yesterday because he “messed up and owed a guy.” That turned into $100 to help him to Friday. Which turned into $20 so he doesn’t get sick. Erp. I’m just like, dude, you’re ridiculous. Also pointed out how when I give him money, everything goes out the window and he flies off the rails.

    Anyway, yeah, he starts the outpatient treatment on Thursday and the new job on Friday. He’s promising he’s going to do both and be on time to both. We’ll see. I have my doubts. Big doubts.

    In better news, I’ll be going to see my friend’s daughter in her high school’s production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on Saturday, followed by a bonfire at my friend’s house.

    I need to find a way to get to see The French Dispatch. It’s only at art houses or whatever here, which means traveling into DC or going to VA, which I really don’t feel like doing. Ugh. But I might. I’d prefer to see it on the big screen, where I feel movies should be seen. We’ll see.

  4. Bill

    Hope Rigby is hanging in there in our second pandemic year. These days I can’t look at “BS Johnson” without thinking about Boris, argh.

    The image from your Haunt is very lovely. Look forward to seeing more.

    I’m reading M.J. Nicholls’ wacky and inventive Scotland Before the Bomb. After a series of wacky vignettes, up pops an informed overview of Alex van Warmerdam’s films. Wow.

    Doing some tricky surgery on some code for the gig. Hope I don’t break anything that I can’t fix quickly.


  5. _Black_Acrylic

    @ DC, all the best for tonight! Hope all that stress (and/or lack of it) provides a big pay-off.

    Finished a short story for tomorrow’s class. It may not end up getting submitted anyplace but still, it’s good to have the first thing done for a long while. Name of it is Startup Wars which may not be such a good title. Comedic account of murder in a Shoreditch studio flat/boardroom. Anyway I await feedback!

  6. David Ehrenstein


  7. T

    Hey Dennis, just wanted to slip in to wish you all luck and its related good vibes and energies for your haunt even tonight, although I realise that of course you won’t read this until its retreated into the past, but then you might be in the throes of presenting it or charming the people who might give you money for the film right the minute now as I type this (exactly 22:00) so I guess I can offer a prayer or a seance that it goes as well as you could have hoped! Let me know how it went 🙂 I loved that final gif, and this post reminded me that I need to read BSJ, who’s artistic world has been teasing me for too long, and he seems like a pretty sound guy with sound ideas from this post. Thanks to Rigby101! Wishing you a Thursday which is like a game of table tennis played by two phantoms who are high on nitrous oxide, xT

  8. Rafe

    I can’t wait to read some of these books! The poem you copied in was great, and I read some of his other ones online, too. I like how he gives the reader permission to skip ahead etc–cool he was changing the structure of writing in an awareness of other types of consumable media. Also yeah, studying is going ok, though its a little difficult not to stray away from the prompts. There’s also always charcoal on my face

  9. Steve Erickson

    I hope tonight’s haunt went well! Was it filmed?

    Did you see that the “I don’t care about sample clearances” edition of the new JPEGMAFIA is on Bandcamp? He also declared there that he’s unhappy being signed to a major label – big surprise – and starting with his next album, he will only self-release his music.

  10. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – Hope the haunt event went superbly today. You happy with everything? Fingers crossed for you guys.

    Enjoyed the BS Johnson post – and the ghost at the end. Recently read ‘Christie Malry’s Double Entry’ and loved it. ‘Albert Angelo’ is on the shelf to grab soon. The guy seems due for a resurgence. Shame his first and last novels are out of print. Have you seen any of his films?

    Looking forward to seeing you and Zac in class later.

  11. David Ehrenstein

    Davy the Fat Boy

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