The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Duncan Smith The Age of Oil (1987)


‘The near invisibility, online as well as off, of writer Duncan Smith (1954-1991) is a stark reminder of how thoroughly information can go missing, or never emerge at all. The barely visible traces left by Smith, who published little during his lifetime, can be easily and briefly enumerated: The Age of Oil, his 1987 book of essays, long out of print and extremely rare; a few articles in the back issues of Flash Art, Artforum, Semiotext(e) and Art & Text (most of which were reprinted in The Age of Oil); a catalogue essay for a show of graffiti art at a Munich gallery; a contribution to a book on painter Alain Jacquet, and the text (partly co-authored with Diego Cortez) for a book of photographs of Elvis Presley during his Army years in Germany. The only examples of his writing currently online are two brief essays and his translation of a text by Friedrich Schlegel on the website of Bomb Magazine, which published him while he was alive.

‘Oddly, Smith may be best known not for his writing but for his appearance in Eric Mitchell’s film Kidnapped (1978), an hour-long Super-8 document of No Wave Cinema viewable on YouTube. Yet even here his presence is elusive. The author of a recent article on Kidnapped is at a loss to identify Smith beyond his name: “It’s a hangout movie with Mitchell, actress and No Wave fixture Patti Astor, Mudd Club co-founder and James Chance (of The Contortions) manager Anya Phillips, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks bass player Gordon Stevenson, and the mysterious Duncan Smith.” In other discussions of Kidnapped and the downtown scene, people who are apparently unfamiliar with his writings often misidentify Smith as an artist.

‘None of this would be worth commenting on—after all, history, even recent history, is full of forgotten authors, obscure bohemians and marginal cultural figures—were it not for the fact that Smith was a writer and theorist of striking originality. Valuable in their own right, his experiments with language paralleled and very likely influenced the work of important visual artists of the 1980s. Smith was also a candid chronicler of New York City gay life, pre and post AIDS, and a sharp-eyed observer of American popular culture. Wielding a self-invented style that pushed the strategies of post-structuralism into the realm of experimental literature, Smith mined Freud, Lacan and Derrida to pursue his own obsessive theories of language and society. Beginning in the late 1970s, long before Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, he dared to mix confession and critical theory in a radical manner that is as close to his literary contemporaries such as Kathy Acker as to any postmodern art theorist.

‘Typically, Smith’s essays begin with a fragment extracted from everyday existence—a common phrase, an object, an encounter—which he then subjects to a series of variations and deformations that draw on classical rhetoric and psychoanalysis. The departure point for “Reflection on Rhetoric in Bars” is Smith and a friend being pushed out of a bar at closing time. “Why Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” unpacks the clichéd phrase of the title. The brief text “On Wit” meditates on the significance of the popping of a champagne cork.” Smith’s most favored source, however, is the entertainment industry. The first essay in The Age of Oil, for instance, offers an explanation of Elvis Presley’s propensity to give away expensive cars, which Smith traces back to the singer’s obsession with his mother and his twin brother who died at birth. As in much of Smith’s writing, “An Interpretation of Elvis’s Car Giving” hinges on proper names, and frequently resorts to italics. …

‘Over the next three and a half pages—this is one of his shorter pieces—we learn how the name “Cadillac” can be read as “a virtual rebus of events in Elvis’s life” as Smith uses the brand’s three syllables (“cad” “ill” and “lac”) to uncover the rock ‘n’ roller’s hidden motivations. Elvis’s choice of Cadillacs as gifts is, in Smith’s account, over-determined. His mother, it appears, fell in love with Cadillacs when she saw a “fine lady” drive up to a hospital in one. “This very hospital,” Smith observes, “with its doctors and sophisticated medical technology could have relieved her of the death of Jesse Garon.” With his first paycheck from Colonel Parker, Elvis bought his mother a Cadillac, a car whose name, says Smith, “echoes the name Garon whose bereavement would last all the Presleys’ lives.” For Elvis, Smith speculates, the first syllable of “Cadillac” mirrors his propensity for misbehaving, sparked by his guilt for being the surviving twin: “With cad one is first struck by the association with a cad, a bad boy, a jilter. The radical innocence of a dead infant perpetually stipulated that the evils of Elvis would prove him a cad, a bad boy.” After spinning phrases around “ill” and “lac” Smith arrives, in the penultimate paragraph, at the word “car”: “This car was made possible by Colonel Parker’s deal with RCA, Elvis’s new record company. Car and RCA are anagrams. The car/Cadillac was also the RCA/Cadillac that would be able to buy his mother gifts that filled the lack of Garon.” …

‘There is so much more to be said about Duncan Smith, both his writings and his place in and influence on the New York artworld. I haven’t mentioned his activity as a poet, nor his involvement with the music scene, nor even touched on Days in the Clouds, an unpublished collection of his essays from 1987 to 1991 in which he writes at length, and heartbreakingly, about his battle with AIDS, his experiences as a gay man in New York, and his departure from the city, initially for Cornell to work on his Ph.D, then to Portland, Oregon, where he died. For now, more than a quarter century after his death, it is perhaps enough to break, if only slightly, the silence that has far too long enveloped him and his writing.’ — Raphael Rubinstein



Duncan Smith by Raphael Rubinstein
Everybody Wants Exposure by Duncan Smith
Schlegel on Wit by Duncan Smith
Why Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend by Duncan Smith
‘The Age of Oil’ is out of print, but …



Kidnapped [Eric Mitchell, 1978] Featuring Duncan Smith, Patti Astor, Anya Phillips, Gordon Stevenson.



Duncan Smith The Age of Oil
Slate Press

‘A key figure in the Downtown art, film and music scenes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Smith, who died of AIDS in 1991, forged a unique style, a distinctive interpretative apparatus, that pushed techniques borrowed from psychoanalysis and post-structuralism into the realm of avant-garde writing. He was also—though not in this particular essay—a memoirist of heartbreaking effect. In his brief life (he was 36 when he died), Smith had a significant though as yet unacknowledged influence on the course of contemporary art, most notably via dialogues with his friends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Rammellezee, whose art is pervaded by radical wordplay very close to Smith’s); his own work, beyond his writings, includes collages, collaborative projects such as an unpublished photo-text book about the movie Sunset Boulevard created with artist Seth Tillett, and roles in legendary underground films such as Eric Mitchell’s Kidnapped and Underground USA.’ — Raphael Rubinstein



from On the Current Symbolic Status of Oil

Cars, as everyone knows, are powered by oil, a condition that powerful interests have aligned Western countries, America in particular, to for many decades. Oil is the law for a car’s operation, and the law, or as the French would say, la loi, is oil. The loi/law of oil is thus necessary for the American car to go anywhere. And where will the ego goe without oil, without a car? Heretofore the loi has always been cars driven by oil. This is witnessed by the failure of steam driven and electrically powered cars to have any success on the internal combustion machine market, the present-day oil powered cars made in Detroit. Without the loi of oil (conditioned by car companies and oil companies), there would be the likehood of no oil, no oil for egos to goe on. This is the supreme threat to America’s ego for without it nothing will goe, unless America’s interests liquidate the aggressive, oil-hoarding counterpart. Goe over there…

Within the car there is a radio, and within the word car there is the anagram RCA. Originally a company aligned to the technical innovation of transmitting sound over distances, RCA became equatable with the radio. And nearly every car has a radio or RCA (letterally) within it.

Cars and radios are thus in intimate connection, rhetorically a metonymic one. What is interesting is that cars are powered by oil just as radios, in association, are powered by oil. Both are in conjunction with oil, cars burn oil while radios play oil, that is, records, made of oil or vinyl, are played over the apparatus of a radio. The car that burns oil reproduces the radio that plays oil, here records, an oil-derived product. Even the word radio has two essential letters for car.

Again without oil our cars or RCA could not goe. The loss of oil to power our cars is as threatening as the loss of oil/vinyl/records for our RCA, our popular music, played over the car radio, the radio cryptically echoing the car it is contained in. We hear the radio with our cars, noting another similarity between car and ear. Ears hear the car radio. Also, ear is within hear. Since we have ended up identifying with our cars so much, we’ve also ended up identifying with the stars our ears hear, our popular musicians heard on music stations over the radio. Elvis Presley loved cars, which is inevitable since he was signed over to the record company RCA. America loves cars and loves to hear Elvis Presley. The lack of oil will then make loving cars and hearing rock stars an impossibility (since their voices are on an oil/vinyl record).

Ears have wax in them. Wax too is synonymous with oil, as demonstrated by the title for a hit record called Hot Wax, now transformable into Hot Oil. There is already oil in our ears, the wax, enforced by the idea that there is oil in our cars, in our radios. To be close to the music played over the radio seems to be a condition we have already met up with because the wax/oil makes the distantly playing record much more interior and proximate. Popular music resolves this distance by using words in songs that are exchangeable with its listeners. We then presume the sung material to be our very own, our “feelings.” Singing the record to oneself is an introjection, an interiorization of the distant singer. The singer is brought closer to ourselves, just as the unconscious idea is one of already possessing that record inside our ears, but as ear wax or ear oil.

Around the time that cars and radios were assuming their egological power over American citizens, UFO’s were being cited in great numbers. You could surmise this bit of common knowledge to be widespread around the beginning of the 1950s, the beginning of a wide scale introjection of records played on car radios. UFO’s, or flying saucers, were also often cited from people’s ears. Around the time that cars and radios were assuming their egological power over American citizens, UFO’s were being cited in great numbers. You could surmise this bit of common knowledge to be widespread around the beginning of the 1950s, the beginning of a wide scale introjection of records played on car radios. UFO’s, or flying saucers, were also often cited from people’s ears. I’ll venture a correspondence that might illuminate these mutual car/radio/UFO phenomena. A flying saucer is a disco, the Spanish word for saucer or disc. A UFO is often described as a disc-like object, resembling in many instances, a record. Since a record playing on the radio cannot be seen, a UFO can, though very rarely. To see a UFO, to be the lucky person, is also the desire, the delusion to see the disco, disc or record that we never see in a car when the radio plays that record/music we enjoy so much. And that playing record is a burning one, a condensation that accounts for the reported brilliance of UFO’s, the UFO’s that are brightly lit, lit as if on fire or burning. Granted the accounts of people who might have truly seen a saucer, it also bespeaks a delirious curiosity, at heart a desire to see as opposed to hear what those purely heard saucers look like. And their appearance is conditioned by the confusion of burning and playing, transforming the UFO disc into a bright, fiery object.

Furthermore when a radio plays a song, we have no visual equivalent as to how that sound reached the ear, the car’s radio or the radios in our homes. A flying saucer, seen by someone, is the visual transmission of a purely auditory stimulus. And with our reflexes reduced to staring (while driving) so much, the mysterious radio sound is perforce given its sheer visual support, a record that flies into our car. The quickness of the radio signal is also in relation to the UFO, that ultra-fast disc. Crazy as this idea might seem, it fits in with the craziness of the teenagers then who loved to listen to car radios as were those people called “crazy” if they saw a UFO, or fou, the French word for mad or crazy. People who hear pop music go crazy like the people who see UFO discs. A record, a piece of wax, a waxen disc, flies into my ear, a nonidentifiable object, a nonvisual object, the sound. Already crazy with a nonscopic sound in my ear, the record/wax sound makes me crazier and the record/wax/disco/UFO makes me the craziest, since I’m really seeing what I can only hear. Incidentally, a major record and stereo equipment entrepreneur goes by the name “Crazy Eddie.”

When cars goe or drive on tar, they drive over the asphalt on such roads. Without asphalt or tar, there would be no surface for a car to drive on, no tar or oil for a car to drive with and no tar or sound from the records heard over the car radio to listen to. A car travels along a road, a path, a trail. These are the “grooves” on a road, associative with the “grooves” on a record. Road equals record, since both are derived from oil, roads being made of asphalt and records composed of vinyl, derived as asphalt is, of oil products.

The stylus that plays the record is the car that drives along the road. A record’s turning motion allows the stylus to move. The turntable is powered by electricity, often a transformation of energy from oil. A stylus, besides being a writing instrument, is also related to a ship’s prow, the edge that cuts through water. Every car has a hood, a “prow” of sorts. Ships travel as do cars, one on water, the other on land. Both are called “she.” The car/ship has a stylus, podium, prow that cuts along a path, and thus its mark or trail is made. The wake of churned-up water is the ship’s path as the drippings of oil is the car’s path. The oil drippings of cars are the indicia of a car’s path (not to mention its tire marks). The record’s sound from an LP is the index of a stylus’ path. Sound travels on tar/oil/vinyl records as cars travel on tar/oil/asphalt. Thus a stylus traveling down a record groove is an allegory of a car traveling down a road.

In another vein, without oil there would be no art. In art, there’s the word tar, an anagram. Tar is derived from oil. Painters, of course, use oil to make their art. There are many kinds of oil, or many tars: vinyl, records, acrylic, etc. Artists need tar. Artist-musicians need tar/oil, the same kind of tar that’s involved in the manufacture of records. Painters and musicians employ different art forms or they use different tar forms. Some of them can become a star after becoming successful with their art made of tar, such tar allowing them to goe far. The anagrams arts/tars/star are crucial to the symbols that determine an identification in our culture.

With stars on tars doing arts, the lack of oil threatens their activity too. No oil means no arts, not a single star because of the lack of tars. Again without art or tars or star(s), what will that do to star(ing), what will happen to our sight, since no arts/star(s) will be able to be looked at? What films will we see and what car windows will we look through? As well, no ear wax/oil/tars/arts/star(s) over the car’s radio also means an imminent crisis for our hearing. No records played or burned, no RCA and no car, means no sound heard as it means no oil for cars to drive on. Not being able to see and hear, taken in their sense as drives, is also a lack of the energy or oil to keep those drives goeing. The other drives, the oral and anal, also derive from this collapse of culturally shared images, pleasurewords, mythologies and lois. Thus an ego will then not goe without being driven by the four-wheeled drives of the apertures of our bodies, our bodies that have energy or oil along with the rims or sources from which to discharge that energy: the ears, the eyes, the mouth and the anus. Egos go(es) to drive with oil and aim at oil. Oil drives us from one state of oil to another state/taste of oil.

To taste oil introduces oil’s relation to the third gear of the oral drive, noting another phonic resemblance. America’s addiction to tar is as bad as its addiction to the tar in cigarettes. Even low-tar or ultra low-tar cigarettes resonate with the desire to move away from tar, too much tar, too much oil. Low-mileage cars are really low in tar as some cigarettes are. Low-tar cigarettes are a “rationing” of tar, like the inevitable “rationing” of oil when supplies get low. The oral drive, exemplified by smoking, is also present in the repetitive and pleasurable activity in listening to songs over the radio, on the jukebox, on one’s stereo. Both smoking and listening involve tar/ art and oil/vinyl records. Both are an inhalation, since with smoking one interiorizes tar and in the other, in listening, one can interiorize via the mouth the record’s voice. Resinging a popular song that is played on oil is inhaling a cigarette that has “tar” in it. Introjection is an oral affair, and the record assures us of oral stimulation by the silent, but still vocalized, activity under-goeing when we listen, when we hear the wax in our car that we cannot see. True, the ear wax is invisible, the partition between seeing the ear’s contents and the eye that is to accomplish that act is permanent, unless you were enterprising enough to have a photograph taken of it. Oil is not only in our cars, but in our ears, in our eyes (our stares), and in our mouths. A cigarette, believe it or not, is a small car, an i caret get, an I get(te) a car, or simplified, an I get car. Car’s rhyme with tar could mean I get tar for cigarette, “I smoke cigarettes” can translate into either “I smoke I get cars” or “ I smoke I get tars.” With smoking, the cigarette’s smoke is similar to the exhaust that comes from a car, the remains of burnt-up car oil are also the remains of burnt-up tar. But is the cigarette filter’s passage of smoke the only “exhaust” when we, as smokers, exhale the “exhaust” from our mouth? The exhaust of a car resembles either the cigarette smoke that then passes through the lungs, throat and mouth, as an exhalation, as exhaust. Smoking a cigarette is then an allegory of a car burning oil as both of them spew forth “exhaust.”

Another attenuation of the oral/oil drive. The LP for a vinyl record could bear an i between the letters 1 and p, producing lip. LPs are sung on our lips, our singing reproduces the singing on the record. Lip synch is LP synch, a truism to the argument that our culture is heavily involved in the introjection, the filling of an oral void, of records and oil.

Also, introjecting oil is implicated in the confusion as to whether oil is water or not. Oil is not water, but then water is a liquid, just as oil is.

The fourth gear in the “drive” is the anal drive.

Oil companies have a lot of gold from all the money they’ve made. Gold and oil are nearly synonymous, since their prices affect the status of the world market so radically. Oil is precious, but more precious in its refined state. Black, crude, “dirty,” the oil is originally shitty. Refined, made clean by oil refinery, sewage system plants, the oil loses its shittiness and becomes more valuable, like gold, and circulatable, rather than in its less valuable, “dirty,” crude state.

But if oil is shitty in its crude state and then valuable in its refined state, a hit record, or one of the hits, here was once shit, since shit and hits are anagrams of each other. From crude oil equals shit to refined oil or vinyl equals hits as in the phrase “Top 40 Hits” (Shit), oil will always bear the meaning of its excremental status. Records, as texts, are involved in the problematic of being “extrinsic excrement” or “intrinsic ideality” (Derrida). Oil pollutes too, as in oil slicks or massive refinery plant fires. The dead remnants of prehistoric forests left their rich deposits behind so as to fuel our possessions. Oil is the manure of ancient forests just as it is a manure when “crude” or “dirty” before it is cleaned and refined into the Top 40 Hits (Shit) vinyl LPs. The anal drive completes oil’s four-wheel drive that helps the American (to) drive.

Also the anality of oil is prefigured in the means to mine it. Drilling into the earth to yield the riches (Atlantic Richfield ) withheld by resistant layers of crust obeys sadistic, coprophagic ideas. (Coprophagia is “feeding off dung.”) For the earth to withhold its riches is much like the constipated retention of faeces that enemas or in similar fashion oil rigs relieve.

Oil is gold and gold is shit. Thus oil is shit, either because it resembles shit (dark, untouchable, nauseating, hidden from view) or because its extremely valued state allows us to compare it with what is the least valued as gold is with shit. Gifts, and the symbology derived from them, obey oblative, anal drive ideas. Oil companies and

oil rich countries give us oil, or they, in their withholding, retain the precious gift. This is sadism in its truest sense. Furthermore, concern over the profits oil companies make propels moral ideas as to a more proper distribution, another facet of the ablative character of the anal drive. The shit/oil/gold should be circulated in equivalent amounts, otherwise retention forces those lacking into accusations of hoarding, another anal motif.

America’s desire to ration its oil supplies demonstrates what attenuations the anal drive can goe to. Frugality and judicious use of oil are not without their sadistic connotations, a sodomy done to all, while elsewhere lurks the greater sadists, Arabia and the large oil companies.

The unseen character of oil, its abstractness, after all this gross materiality, and its transformation into fire, energy, combustion, etc. is another important idea. I’ve already tried to explain that with records/oil played/burned on an RCA/car, the unseen disc of vinyl returns in the form of a flying saucer. Oil’s invisibility returns in the form of a disco/disc/vinyl record that flies into the car/RCA burning or playing the music. This music is the beat that goes/egos on, drives egos on. Oil is usually the fuel that our eyes do not see. Oftentimes it is a simple mathematical quota in terms of the car’s registration that the fuel is low. It can also be the rapid calculation of gallons and fractions of gallons seen at the gas pump along with its calculation into a price at another adjacent window on the pump. Its abstract character is further testified by its facilitation of general movement from one place to another. Oil is simply energy, and that energy makes things happen, but energy is not the thing, the idea, it simply allows the thing or idea or event to take place. Like the crucial distinction in psychoanalysis between idea and instinct, oil is instinct, the drive to which the idea is “soldered.” (Although Freud distinguished the two.) Oil determines the drive’s energy as well as the object of the drive, the oil-related product. The record’s idea, its music, is made possible by its oil/vinyl as are the housewife’s errands made possible by car fuel. Oil drives the car just as ideas are aligned to drives, the economic factors that account for the ideas’ repetition, their persistence. There can be no idea without its concomitant energetic investment, no idea without the pressure that realizes it. Conversely there can be no energy without an idea attached to such a quantity-ridden abstraction, a notion prey to alinguistic, transcendental assertions. Oil neither escapes its idea, its conceptual, linguistic, presentational status nor does it escape its energetic quanta, its reducibility to simple distributions of affects. The word oil is just as important as its unseen combustions, its mysterious pervasiveness that organizes things while at the same time remains invisible to them.

There is the vulgarity of those who stress pure, nonverbal ascensions into absolute energy, vibration, impulse, quanta, etc. They are at once giving an idea to a sensation (a sign too), this distribution of pressures that is never independent of representation, language, speaking subjects, discourse.

The fad of jogging is a near mystical embrace of this idea of pure energy, but why would they be jogging but in a time-bound situation where the deprivation of oil or energy insists that they have vitality, a lot of energy or oil? Joggers presume their freedom from oil at the very moment when their livelihoods are threatened by its absence. The fastest jogger inversely affirms a slowing down of the I go in cars. One reminder: race and car. Eliminate the e in race and permute the rest of the letters into car. Joggers are in a race, a strange car race. Even the ger in jogger echoes car (c and g arc both velar stops). Mania, here in the jogger, is close to mourning, where the oil-ideal (usually an ego-ideal) is now about to become lost forever to the historical specificity of driving oil-powered automobiles.

Other movement manias, the discomania and the roller skating mania, are close to the problem of the disappearance of oil. Dancing in discos and roller skating obey the general idea of movement and lots of it. Disco music is the music that is in our ears whose ear wax is also the oil that constitutes the records played over sound systems. Hearing oil is also moving to it and being driven by it. Dancing and its euphonic embrace, this mania for the ego in perfect self-presentation, is only about to mourn the loss of what makes the dancers goe so energetically, the oil record or the car/ear oil/wax under question. When we dance our cars are driven by oil and when we drive our cars are driven by oil.

Oil as instinct will probably find its greatest threat in the future when no oil makes impossible libidinal contact with others. The freedom for a young man and woman in a car, flaunting parental admonitions against sex, to have that pleasure (and the car/RCA/radio music that serves to express that impulse) is threatened by no more oil. Goeing elsewhere for sex is becoming an archaism, at least when fuel, energy, oil is involved. Granted there will always be libido, drives and instincts, it’s just that oil has tyrannized ourselves, our autos to the point where its exclusion would result in the deprivation of key ideas governing so much human intercourse. No energy (oil) is no sex, a thought related to Ernest Jones’s observation that what the subject fears most is the loss of libido, aphanisis, an idea more threatening than the irreducibility of castration. Will no oil castrate the Western/ American subject so radically as to force libidinal contact into retreat? Will the lack of oil dismiss representation altogether? An impossibility, despite the intimate congruence between its manufacture and the significations surrounding it. No sex, no art, no stars, no records, along with the absence of their energetic foundations, shows the profound anxiety we’re goeing through. Its resolution appears to be intractably elusive, considering oil’s complex impregnation into our culture’s discourse, our intramental and socially exterior selves, our autos. How can our auto/ego let goe of oil?

Some further points.

Having used the phrase “our oil” throughout the text, it appears to be a cryptic device since it works on a variety of registers. America’s oil, the country’s oil, or “our oil” works on a phonic level with the l and r substitutive with each other. Some people have difficulty learning the interval r, since both l and r are liquids. Our oil can reverse into oul oir in light of the transposability of the liquids, thus proving the word our’s proximity to oil. On the semantic level, our oil makes the phonic connection even more binding since we do believe that oil is essential to our selves, our autos, our properties, our cars, our records, stars, arts, etc.

Iran anagrammatizes into rain. Rain is from the air, whereas oil is from the ground or oils are from the soil. But Iran is in a desert where there is little rain. Oil’s difference to water is also implicated in the question whether the Persian Gulf has water, drinkable or nondrinkable, or oil within the waters of the gulf. Is the Persian Gulf made up of oil? Since, empirically, it’s saltwater, our desire believes the Persian Gulf (as in the Gulf Oil Company) to be composed of oil, an immediate explanation for its oil-rich status. But Iran and its Persian Gulf neighbors are in an arid, desert-ridden land. They only have oil and saltwater, and none of them are drinkable. America, however, has water, fresh, drinkable water in great quantities but none of the great quantities of Persian Gulf oil, made into an even greater quantity because of the equation of the gulf’s waters with the wealth of the oil near its shores. The rain or water in Iran is its oil that does not come from the air but from the ground, even in our delusion from the oil-rich Persian Gulf itself, the sea, the saltwater. Saltwater already has a mineral in it just as it could possess oil: oilwater for saltwater shows a mixture of mineral with water.

I wrote this essay during the hostage crisis in Iran. Then, in 1980, nearly every American politician ran for office. “I ran” is a conceivable phrase to have been uttered by a presidential candidate in the ‘80s elections. “I ran against Iran” forms a neat cryptophor in the narration of a campaigning ego. And that ego will have to goe far on oil in a car to assert why Iran is something he (in specular opposition) is running against. “I go” becomes the same as “I ran” (aren’t some candidates joggers, an “ I ran”?), but with Iran being the aggressively counterposed party , the I go/ego/I ran of an American presidential candidate will have to outdistance Iranian policy, a difficulty since the politics of oil make that running, going and driving a tremendous problem.

Iran’s oil anagrammatizes into the opposition no Israil. Either America gets Iran’s oil at the expense of Israil/lsrael or refuses Iran for the sake of Israel.

The Arab oil cartel is a cryptophor working against those cultures that have lots of cars but no oil. A cartel of oil rich countries makes Americans in particular angry over what will not let car(s) run on their needed fuel.

America’s president, (Jimmy) Carter, remixes into car tar, another cryptophor that would explain our current repetition of an oil-based economy. (His predecessor was car-related: Gerald Ford.) Carter/car tar cryptically advocates cars powered by tar, even though this man set up a Department of Energy. Its secretary, Mr. Schlesinger, is from the army; from the occupying forces to the question of “force” or energy in general, he is still in the same role. For force to be used against the cartel that will not let our cars goe needs someone intimate with force, energy, drives in general. If we were to “occupy” or to “besetzen” Iran, for example, it would be true to the Freudian idea of economy, the economic factor in his metapsychology. To occupy Iran is the very thing that determines occupation, Besetzung, mistranslated by James Strachey as “cathexis.” The cathexis of oil in our daily lives shows how much oil is on our minds. Our occupation with oil will lead us to occupy oil, to occupy the countries that have oil. The occupation of Iran is only the intramental equivalent of an occupation, a hyper-occupation (Überbesetzung), the same kind of energy that makes joggers and disco dancers goe so fast. James Schlesinger’s position in the Energy Department makes him the Defense Department’s chairman all over again, simply because he will advocate “occupation,” or oil, America’s energy that is now about to loose occupations, to loose peace, to loose a machinery of signs, all to countries that America has to occupy for its occupation to continue. A beaten Iran will be occupied and the beat will run on and the occupation will continue its simultaneously pleasurable and unpleasurable drive.




p.s. Hey. If you haven’t heard and/or care, John Waters has picked PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT as one of the 10 best films of 2018 (!), and here’s the evidence. ** David Ehrenstein, Yes, the secret of the buche. And, yes, it was as intense here on Saturday as it looked on the news, if not more so. And I live in the war zone. There were smashed store windows and burning cars, etc. on my street and all around me. It was wild to say the least, the most violent, damage-causing insurgency since ’68. The protesters, the ‘yellow vests’, or the real ones, were not the violent ones. It was a lot of Far Right infiltrators and restless kids from the suburbs who snuck in and went crazy. Not sure what’s going to happen. Macron realises he can’t keep blowing the protests off, and there are supposed to be public meetings to find a solution. And there’s the real possibility of martial law being imposed. We’ll see. It was fucking nuts. ** H, Hi! I’m good. Yes, the two-part white ‘levitating’ on is on my ‘probably but view in person’ list. My weekend was riotous, literally. I hope yours was less so, not that it wasn’t interesting. ** JM, Hi, man! Ouch and quadruple ouch, but, yeah, whew too. I guess you can think and type at least. Speedy recovery. Half-Japanese, Half-French patisseries are the best. My fave Parisian patisserie, Sadaharu Aoki, is precisely that. And they’re so cool that they don’t even do a buche. I return your hi to head, heart, and almost all of your organs. ** Misanthrope, Hi. Get one. You’re a buche traditionalist with flair. I can do that too. Ah, like Tekashi69, jeez, well, that’s promising … not. He may just have to crash and hopefully not burn at this rate. Or outgrow it, but he’d better get a move on if that’s the way. ** Christian Füllemann, Hi, Christian! Welcome to here! Thanks a ton for coming in. Thanks about the post, and especially about ‘God Jr’. Very kind. I’ve only been able to glance at your drawings so far due to the speed with which I need to do the p.s,., but they look fantastic, kudos(!), and I’ll go look more closely when I’m through here. I like your English. Obviously, please hang out here any time. It would be a pleasure. ** Keatwa, Wise words. I think you may be the first I’ve ever known who likes fruitcake. I can not deal. The fruitcake-y buches, and there are a bunch, get my pass. Epcot is terrible, very depressing. Or maybe cool because it’s so depressing? Oh, yeah, Kiss is doing a farewell tour, right? I never saw them. I think I was too old for them or too snooty or something. Did writing start? ** Bill, Hi. The Hatsune Miku concert was really good, really odd, strangely very touching. Huge crowd, extremely into ‘her’ and committed, waving flashlights over their heads that changed color depending on her outfit. Pretty great. And with a weird edge because it happened at the same time the riot was going on. I had to walk for almost an hour through trashed streets and burning cars to find an open metro station to get there. Did you see Maggi Payne? ** Steve Erickson, Having listened to most of the 1975 album once, what it reminds me of most is Super Furry Animals’ great ‘Rings Around the World’ album, but not as cogent and interesting thus far to me. Anyway, I’ll go read what you think of it. Everyone. Mr. Erickson has reviewed what seems to be the cool, buzz-outputting rock platter du jour, The 1975’s A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS, so go check his opinion here. ** Kat, Kat! Whoa! How incredibly awesome to see you, my old pal! I’m good, busy with interesting projects, doing fine. And you? I can’t remember exactly where you live now — Canada? — but we might be showing PGL in Toronto at some point if that’s at all accessible. So great to see you!!!!!!!!!! Lots of love, me. ** Nik, Hi, N. The red panda buche definitely seems to be the popular choice. Interesting. It’s not one of my faves, but I will rethink that now. Thus far, I’m definitely getting the one at the top of the post. That’s my fave, hands down. The other picks are still cloudy. I do like the snowy landscape/floating cloud one. I’ll see what I can find about New Saloon. Thanks! Yes, it’s a tricky balance: outline vs. writing. I never pre-plan character and plot and stuff like that, only formal ideas. If I don’t have a ton of room to move when I’m writing, I can’t write, basically. Even with the George Miles Cycle books, which were extremely planned out, I gave myself huge room to play, diverge, break my own rules and so on. For me, it’s really almost all about the editing. I let myself do whatever is necessary to get a draft down and trust that I can shape and finesse it later, which has pretty much always worked. One of the huge pains of this TV script is that I can’t work that way. Yes, I think the way you’re thinking about your writing is sensible and could definitely work. It doesn’t sound so far off from how I approach mine really. Is it getting any easier? ** HaveANiceLife, Hi! No, your earlier comment didn’t register as far as I can tell. Oh, wow, okay … absolutely off the top of my head, some particular films by female directors that I really like are, hm, … Michelle Memran ‘The Rest I Make Up’, Lucrecia Martel ‘The Headless Woman’, Marie Menken ‘Go Go Go’, Barbara Hammer ‘Optic Nerve’, Maya Deren ‘Ritual in Transfigured Time’, Angela Schanelec ‘The Dreamed Path’, Catherine Breillat ’36 fillette’, Marguerite Duras ‘Destroy She Said’, Leslie Thornton ‘Peggy and Fred in Hell’, Ulrike Ottinger ‘Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press’, Peggy Ahwesh ‘Strange Weather’ … I just ran out brain gas. But there would be a lot of others. Does that help? ** Damien Ark, Hi, Damien. Hm, well, … I think you know what I’m going to say. If you want to be a writer of difficult, unusual fiction, you need to have a lot of belief in what you’re doing, because, yeah, it’s hard, and I, and every writer, I guess, started as nobodies. ‘Closer’ went through many, many rejections before it found a home. I believed in it. and I kept searching, and if I hadn’t found a publisher, I would have found a way to get it out there myself. And the only reason I wasn’t a total nobody when it was being submitted is because I self-published my own books at the beginning and gained a tiny name that way. I don’t believe in the idea that the only way forward as a writer, especially if what you’re writing dooms itself to some degree by its uniqueness, is by the usual publishing route or by predetermining what your work’s path will be and then quitting if it doesn’t take that path you expected. You really can’t know in advance what will happen to your work — who’ll want to publish it, who’ll read it, etc., etc. If your work is unusual, it will need to find an audience by an unusual method. So, really, it’s about how much you believe in what you’re doing and how much you’re willing to fight the conventions that run the world to get it out there and to the readers you believe will want it. It’s very tough. Many, probably most writers give up. That’s one way to go. It’s really about how committed you are to what you’re doing. That’s my thought about your situation at the moment. ** Wolf, Wolfie! The buches howled your name! Oh my god, your awesome reviews! Thank you from the totality of my heart. Ha ha, the bear, yeah, that makes sense, and it seems to be the by far popular choice amongst the readers here. Strangely, I guess, it doesn’t do that much for me, although I am now rethinking it. For me the ‘for sure’, definite one is the one at the top. That’s locked in. After that … I’m into the cloud/landscape one, but I want to see it in person. I’m a bit suspicious. The last one is by this chef guy who is kind of great genius of pastries in Paris right now, so I think that one is pretty definite, although the very bottom one you like is only edible in a restaurant, and that’s a problem, but the other one by him, the homelier one, can be bought, and I think that one will make the cut. I’m still debating about the others. Come over here and eat some with us! Thanks about the John Waters thing,. Yeah, we’re thrilled. Speaking of, Zac and I will be back in London before long because the ICA is going to show PGL, I think in early January (?), it’s not set yet, and I want to see that show at Cabinet that has my gif novels in it, so, long story short, hopefully you’ll be there and free for some hanging out. I’ll let you know the scoop. Big love from the war zone that is the 8th arr. of Paris at the moment. ** Sypha, Yep, Xmas is inevitable now. The winter landscape one is on my to-see and possibly buy list. Ooh, I’ll go check MISTY THULE. Awesome, thank you. Okay, ha ha, a big classic Sypha post sounds great. Just hit me up with it when the time feels right. Thanks, James. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Yeah, the panda is the star. Odd that I’m not so excited by it, but I’m going to look at it in the store window and see if that wakes me up. ** Kyler, Hi. I live in the middle of where the action was taking place, but I’m fine. Apart from cars and buildings being set on fire, the violence was all between the police and the extremists among the protesters. Crazy, crazy stuff. ** Okay. Why am I spotlighting a book that’s extremely out of print and all but forgotten and very pricey to get hold of? Because it’s a crazy, great, funny, weird, brilliant, addictive book that — rumors have it — Semiotext(e) might be republishing at some point. Give it a look. See you tomorrow.


  1. Dennis,

    Did you see Permanent Green Light has made John Waters’ Top Ten list Best Films for 2018 ? It’s in Artforum!


    I saw the Artforum posting on the Nine-Banded Books website. I truly believe Chip Smith is plastering you with bro-love to help you forget that one off-color nastygram he sent you so long ago, hopefully the bromance is working on you, Nina Simone-style. Chip loves you, ha ha. Anyway, Congratulations to you and Zac! The top ten man, wow!

    I will be in San Francisco on the weekend of Feb 2-3, and very much look forward to seeing PGL on the big screen! Will you post the official screening place on DC’s, once you are ok’d to do so? I’m really looking forward to seeing your film, Dennis! Please tell me it will be screening at the Castro theater 😛

    I received a package from Thailand this past weekend… a signed copy of Bosun by New Juche. So many great books on my TBR pile, but when will I ever get the time to read all my new books? I have such a severe case of Tsundoku!

    and now Duncan Smith, yet another author I’ve never heard of … your blog is always an education, Dennis. Thank you.

    Much love,

  2. Dennis, I feel really dumb now — I hadn’t read your p.s. / comments section yet when I posted the John Waters list this morning … please forgive me! >> whips Japanese fan open with a flick of the wrist and coyly covers eyes <<

  3. Nice to see this Duncan Smith tribute following World AIDS Day. We’ve lost so many great people, I sometimes can’t recall who’s still alive.

    I hope you’re stocked up on food, Dennis, cause you shouldn’t leave your apartment until things have calmed down.

  4. Congrats on the Waters plug! Does it seem like PGL will be returning to New York next year? If so, I’d like to write a review for Gay City News.

    I can’t imagine what it feels like to live in the midst of a street riot. I’ve read about what’s going on in Paris, and I know there’s a tradition of rowdy protest there (Chris Hayes has pointed one difference between such situations in Europe and the US is that here, there’s always a real chance someone will bring a gun and start shooting.) Martial law sounds just great – I’m so sure that’s not a backdoor plan to control minority youth.

    I haven’t heard that Super Furry Animals album and I’m not that familiar with the band, but I’ll look it up.

    As movies by women go, my favorite is Vera Chytilova’s DAISIES. It’s the best film I’ve seen from the amazing ’60s Czechoslovak New Wave and it’s beautiful, funny and angry at the same time.

  5. Dear Mr Cooper, I have been reading your blog for ages; it’s one of the reasons God invented the internet. A question: do you know if there’s any chance of getting Duncan Smith’s writing back into print? The bit you posted is fabulous. Thanks!

  6. Please ignore previous, I missed the bit about Semiotext(e). I should write them and ask they to … please! Sorry for cluttering your comments.

  7. Sorry to hear you’re in the middle of the riot war zone, Dennis. Hope things have calmed down significantly…

    Duncan Smith seems mysterious indeed. Wonder what he’d think of Miku. I went to the Maggi Payne concert, nice set as usual. Biggi Vinkeloe headlined the 2nd set, with some local improvisers.

    Sunday night was Laurie Anderson/Fred Frith, doing her stories from radio plays. Then just enough time to catch part of the last evening of the Recombinant Fest:


  8. I’ve looked up RINGS AROUND THE WORLD, and it can’t be streamed on Spotify or downloaded on iTunes. Physical copies are available on Amazon, but so expensive that it’s clearly out of print, and you can download it there, but it costs $19! Weird.

  9. Hi!!

    I’m a little bit late but – the beauty pageant!!! Huh, this year’s contestants are strong, I could hardly choose! Okay. My number one (both because of its looks and its flavors) is Yann Couvreur’s, with the little foxes. It looks crazy good! But I also really like Nicolas Paciello’s cone and the ice-cream Santa-sled from Picard. Mm. Which ones are on your list?

    Looks like our situations with the snow were quite similar, then. Now we have nothing but rain all day…
    If I happen to have the right company I quite enjoy going to Christmas Fairs, especially in the evening. The one in Paris sounds absolutely magical! Years ago, I visited the Fair in Vienna and it was gorgeous.
    Fuck yes! How was the Hatsune Miku show? I’ve seen a bunch of videos of her but I’m sure it’s a completely different experience when you’re actually there. When I first heard about holographic stars I thought like… what a convenient and scarily high-tech way of being a singer but I guess it’s not about that at all. It seems like both the celebration of what technology is capable of and massive, 3D fanservice. How were all the Cosplayers and otakus?

    My weekend was a whole lot of nothing but the good kind of nothing for a change. Lots of reading and The Wire and so on. Now, I’ve only got 14 more days to go as a full-time employee at the shop. (Which I prefer dead, yes, your bet was right, haha.) From January, I’ll only work there part-time, ’til around 1 in the afternoon, to support myself at the beginning of my private practice (I don’t think I’ll have enough clients at first to turn a real profit). This whole prospect feels so energizing. I’m also slipping into my usual, cozy Christmas-mood, haha. My brother arrives on the 20th so in less than 3 weeks!

    Well, have an amazing week, Dennis, and see you on Friday as usual!!

    Oh, and congratulations on making John Waters’ list!!! ‘PGL’ is soaring!!

  10. Coopameron!!
    What say you? The powerful panda plebiscite left you lukewarm and you’re angling for the alien buttplug? Well, I do declare. Just when I thought I knew you, you surprise me again. Does my sarcasm look big in this?
    I am actually not completely against popping in a Eurostar and coming over for dinner; when are you Bûching it?

    Very much enjoyed Duncan Smith’s paean to plastic (it’s ‘alliteration in P’ day, didn’t you know). It’s pretty Ballardian,huh? That’s a high compliment coming from me. I have this collection of Ballard interviews in from of me and I’m waiting to finish Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism to start it, haha. What a wild ride my book-life is. Can’t wait!!

    Ah, your gifs, that’s what it is then. We were very confused by the minimalist, some harsher souls might even say nondescript, Cabinet invite. ‘It’s got Dennis in it!’, we exclaimed. But we couldn’t figure out what they were showing from you. Is it on until January? Just checked; affirmative, until the 12th. We thought we might go this weekend but if you’re coming over in January we’ll wait I guess. Very chuffed about that ICA thing for you, dude! It is sure, or not quite? Anyway, the offer to crash at ours is still standing of course; that second bedroom / study thing is starting to look pretty cool if I don’t say so myself; you’ll have to come over for tea and scones at least! Do keep us posted.

    Hope the madness recedes a bit in Paris. This ‘gilets jaunes’ business is very interesting but sadly I’m feeling a bit pessimistic about it, mostly because I feel like there’s no cohesion, or even less than in previous massive protests. Getting 3 quarters of the French to be loudly pissed off about a centrist government is mathematically easy; getting anything out of it much less so. But I hope Macron gives in a bit, at least on some fronts.

  11. I’d never heard of Duncan Smith before today but will keep very alert for the Semiotext(e) release. Thanks for the heads up.

    This afternoon I went to see the Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters at the DCA cinema which I really enjoyed a whole lot. The film’s a mashup of feral outlaw kids caper meets wholesome family drama and it’s been getting all the kudos, prizes etc. I’d say it fully deserves those accolades because I loved it.

  12. Congrats D! New job is really cool. Interesting post today. Really happy to know that AIDS is dead and passe as dirt. “Got a man of the people says keep hope alive. Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive…” I don’t know if people are so in love with earl really I mean its nice stuff but it will pass. I wish there was something to the Freudian stuff but theres not really, its all propaganda. Sad Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accords, meanwhile… “Paris is burning… cant you see it from afar?” I see this great moment in history all around me, however, it is only the seeds of religion and the beginnings of a new facism. Haha, I’m just talking stuff. Writing is almost ready. “Mhm… hm… mhm… doesnt like fruit-cake – Naughty… Epcot Center – Naughty… Cool ass movie – nice… Handcuffs22 – Naughty!”

  13. Hi Dennis. I appreciate the response. Yeah, I know it sounds horrible and there’s that, “Well, then, you’re not an artist if you give up this easily” kind of thing, but I guess I didn’t realize being an artist meant writing and submitting random stuff to hundreds of magazines and random stuff to get a name, spending months talking to random artists to find the right name or whatever, then you might succeed to get one thing out there. The whole process just seems entirely impossible, especially when you have other things going on that consume life (work, school, poverty, just trying to survive so you can eat food and drink water). I really don’t want to write for people or for a magazine (especially an online magazine that 10 people might read) and write unauthentic stuff for the sole purpose of “getting my name out there”. I know I sound extremely negative and I’m sorry, I really am, but I’m actually trying to be as positive as possible over this. I guess I’ve just now realized that my dream of being an artist that I’ve had from my earliest memories alive were all futile and my entire existence has been for null. It feels like I might as well not even exist on this planet at this point.

  14. Dennis, Smith is on to some Illuminati shit right here! Okay, not, but his essay up above very much reads like it with the numerology and the anagrams and all that. It does indeed make for some very fun, thought-provoking reading.

    Okay, I’m the opposite: go out in the streets and fuck shit up!!!!!!!! I’m kidding. Jebus, Paris of all places. And over a fuel tax? Really? I’m sure there are other things too, but that’s all I’ve read about. I guess it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    And of course, today we have Duncan Smith writing about oil. I see what you did there. 😛

    Seriously, all safety to you and everyone else there. If it were happening here, I’d stay the fuck inside myself.

    It does seem, though, that they’re shutting down the whole DMV here for Bush 41’s funeral. I get Wednesday off. No riots or protests, though I’m sure some people will, but they’ll be few and far between. Strangely, Trump’s been the biggest boon to former modern presidents than anyone. “Well, yeah, back in the day, President X, he wasn’t soooo bad…”

    They’ll probably dig up Nixon and re-bury him to great fanfare. “He was misunderstood, not such a bad guy looking back…” 😛

    Yes, LPS, time to shit or get off the pot, no? Ugh. Man, he’s so fucking pleasant most of the time. And then stupid shit. Ol’ Tekashi69…I mean, I loved/love Jim Morrison, but I never thought it okay to push a woman’s head into my crotch, you know.

    Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, which I grew to love eventually, comes to mind seeing all this in Paris. Though this seems to be even more intense. I wonder what will happen. Fingers crossed for you guys that it dissipates and something good comes out of it.

  15. Exciting that this will potentially be reprinted, would like to get my hands on a copy.

    Yeah things okay here, a few projects in the works. The day job is stressing me, might be changing employers soon.

    Crazy about the political unrest in your hood. I remember when we were in Seattle May 1st would usually turn into a pseudo war zone a few blocks from our place. Kinda fun…

  16. Dennis, third post in one day, but I have to apologize for the post I made earlier. I was losing my shit, very depressed, and not thinking straight when I wrote that. Sorry for ranting and raving, being whiny and all that. You’re such a supportive person and (imo) very empathetic and deserve better words on your blog.

  17. The Age of Oil excerpt chimed with Bataille in my brain from start to finish. Also Marky Mark’s forced ingestion in Three Kings, and the guy this week who said gas should be $.50/gal while driving a propane-propelled forklift.

    Fried chicken and gasoline forever.

  18. Tage Starheim Smith/Savage

    June 19, 2019 at 6:05 pm

    Duncan was my uncle, he is the son of Dr. Lendon Smith, my grandfather- “the children’s doctor” a frequent guest on Johnny Carson. Unfortunately, my only memories of him are of him looking like a zombie character from a Hyronomous Bosch painting at Christmas dinner, due to his suffering from AIDS. I learn new things about him all the time from relatives. I used to have a copy of his book, but have since lost it.

    For more about Duncan’s life:


    Here’s a film he starred in, produced/directed by his childhood friend, Matt Groening of Simpsons fame:


  19. Just read this piece on Duncan Smith. He was my uncle. I never got to know him that well. He is the son of the late Dr. Lendon Smith, a physician and minor TV personality, and obviously my grandfather. I would have loved to have picked his brain about the whole No Wave scene- I’m a huge fan of Glenn Branca and Von Lmo. The family boast is that he hung out with Debbie Harry and saw the Ramones.

    To learn more about Duncan check out this video:


    He also made a short film in High School with his childhood friend, none other than Simpsons creator, Matt Groening:


    Also, my Aunt Tracey Smith was a talented essayist in her own right. She died in 2006, but was in some of the same circles as her kid brother, Duncan. You might want to look her up as well. A lot of the stories about Duncan I heard from her.

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