The blog of author Dennis Cooper

The Seven Godlike Books of James McCourt *

* (restored/expanded)


Readers of this blog know I don’t tend to love American fiction the way I do the French variety. There have been and will continue to be exceptions to my literary Francophilia, but, generally speaking, I guess my preferences are on the table. The American writer James McCourt is one of the biggest of the aforementioned exceptions. His writing and mine don’t have that much in common, on the surface at least, and yet there’s no other living American novelist from the generations earlier than mine with whom I feel more kinship and whose work inspires in me a deeper affection. When he wrote a very positive review of ‘God Jr.’ in the Los Angeles Times Book Review last year, it was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received. McCourt is that rarest of contemporary American authors — a true iconoclast, a devoted high stylist, and a holder of the unfashionable opinion that prose is a natural extrovert and beauty that deserves the brightest polish, the best accessories, the most extravagant costumes. McCourt’s work has been described as a marriage of Ronald Firbank’s meticulous, delirious camp and Don DeLillo’s maximalist historiography, which wouldn’t be too wildly inaccurate if McCourt weren’t a whole lot more mischevious and uninhibited than DeLillo. If McCourt’s voice happens to strike one’s fancy, there are few more potent language based drugs. Still, his reverential but modestly sized following shows that his books are not everyone’s idea of an island in the sun. Far too many of his books are out of print. The internet is not exactly chock full of McCourt related goodies. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, bewilderingly enough. Building a Day in tribute to his work was no picnic, and you won’t find any youtube or McCourt fan site links below. For a writer as inebriating, fanciful, and entertaining as James McCourt, mine is an awfully straightforward tribute. But don’t let that stop you from investigating his work if you haven’t already. — DC


James McCourt on the Hours Leading Up to the Stonewall Riots, March 9, 2013

James McCourt Discusses His Wild Days at Max’s Kansas City, March 9, 2013

James McCourt on the Opera Fanatics on the Standing Room Line at the Metropolitan Opera

James McCourt on Stalking Jack Kerouac in 1957. March 9, 2013.

James McCourt on the Everard Baths, March 9, 2013

James McCourt on His Upcoming Memoir, March 9, 2013.



Mawrdew Czgowchwz (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975; New York Review of Books Classics, 2002)

Official description: Diva Mawrdew Czgowchwz (pronounced “Mardu Gorgeous”) bursts like the most brilliant of comets onto the international opera scene, only to confront the deadly malice and black magic of her rivals. Outrageous and uproarious, flamboyant and serious as only the most perfect frivolity can be, James McCourt’s entrancing send-up of the world of opera has been a cult classic for more than a quarter-century. This comic tribute to the love of art is a triumph of art and love by a contemporary American master.

‘Bravo, James McCourt, a literary countertenor in the exacting tradition of Firbank and Nabokov, who makes his daringly self-assured debut with this intelligent and very funny book.’ — Susan Sontag

Mawrdew Czgowchwz is a Zuleika Dobson of the opera world. James McCourt is an ecstatic fabulist, robustly funny and inventive, and touchingly in love with his subject. His novel is both special and precious, in the most honorable senses of those words.’ — Walter Clemons, Newsweek

‘The reader must be prepared to follow the silver-tongued writer through an outlandish landscape, unquestioning. Reason would be out of place here. She would upset the ecological balance of a rich and delicate world.’ — John Yohalem, The New York Times Books Review

from the Introduction by Wayne Koestenbaum:

To call Mawrdew Czgowchwz the great novel of the opera queen is less accurate than to call it the great novel of the gay virtuoso gabber—that creature of lists, parentheses, digressions, apostrophes, opinions, and contradictions. Oscar Wilde belongs to this tribe of loudmouths. So do Dorothy Dean, costar of Warhol’s Afternoon, and Charles Nelson Reilly, game-show stalwart. Although McCourt does not hesitate to connect connoisseurship to what a sociologist might call a “gay fan-base,” his novel skimps eroticism, despite its romantic ending, and despite the prose’s nonstop orgasm. Rapture is reserved for the voice of its heroine and its plural narrators (Rodney, Jameson O’Maurigan, Mother Maire Dymphna, and others contribute to the polyphony). Energy’s displacement from eroticism to music has nothing to do with the “closet” or with prudishness, for music is not a code for sexuality: rather, music is a sexuality. …. McCourt’s genius lies in his ability to weave the highest styles of twentieth-century literature and music with the gutsy vernacular of men/women (like Candy Darling and Myra Breckinridge) who modeled themselves after Jean Harlow and died in the process.

McCourt’s subsequent works go even farther into the lunatic fringe, the only place where I feel at home. To the reader who enjoys Mawrdew, I highly recommend McCourt’s other novels, Time Remaining and Delancey’s Way, and also his short-story collection, Kaye Wayfaring in “Avenged.” It is not pejorative to call a work of art “minor.” Deleuze and Guattari, in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, claimed that Kafka himself was a minor writer, and more important for being minor. Robert Walser, too, is subaltern: a writer’s writer, with the melancholy of music’s minor keys. Like other noble practitioners of that strain of modern literature (an elect galaxy including Firbank, Schuyler, Butts, Cavafy, Pessoa, and Rhys), James McCourt has the gift of not assuming that writing is a way of being polite, accommodating, or sociable. Although his novels give comic delight, they also are willing to perplex their readers, and to suggest, in their language’s bejeweled barbed wire, that pleasure is beyond our capacity to understand, and that we turn to literature not to see our desires made lucid, but to see a reflection of our transports at their most difficult.



Kaye Wayfaring in Avenged (Viking, 1985)

Description: It is October, a peak fall day. Kaye Wayfaring sits on a rock high in the Ramble of Central Park, smoking raw Luckies, considering impetus.

Impetus is what she will need to plunge into Orphrey Whither’s ”Avenged,” ”based on a Diderot tale already once brought to the screen as ‘Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne’ (Robert Bresson, director, France, 1944),” of which the harried unit press agent had written in the release for the first day’s shooting, ”another dimension is revealed in the geometry of human lust,” continuing, ”Never before has desire so bruised, so scalded so cruelly.”

Kaye Wayfaring, ”two-time Oscar nominee (for ‘We Are Born, We Live, We Die’ and for ‘Way Station’),” sits, broods, smokes, considers ”Avenged.” H. Q. P., ”that seasoned, trusted metropolitan arbiter and public scold,” had ventured to write of her: ”So on , so forth ; vivid and particular. No actress in these past two weary decades has displayed so deft a form. Wayfaring does deliver – in the Sullavan-Stanwyck-Lombard tradition, with offhand, odd resemblances to, among others, Irene Dunne, Frances Farmer and, eerily, Jeanne Eagels. Kaye Wayfaring is something of a navigator. Impetus is her concern.”



Time Remaining (Knopf, 1993)

Official description: From the author of Mawrdew Czgowchwz … and Kaye Wayfaring in “Avenged” … – two wildly brilliant, moving, electric stories of gay life in New York during the last twenty-five years. The first story introduces Delancey, performance artist and, in his words, “one of the sole survivors” of a band known as the Eleven against Heaven. Delancey’s recollections of four decades in the flamboyant New York wilds – spirited, defiant, festive, bright as paint (or acid) – are filled with the force of longing and the melodrama of remembering.

Delancey’s prologue sets the stage for the title story, “Time Remaining,” in which the formidable Odette O’Doyle – semi-retired transvestite ballerina, veteran of foreign wars, and polymath recorder of the stories of valiant lives – assumes the spotlight. On a midnight train to Long Island’s South Fork, Odette reports on his just-completed mission: he has deposited the ashes of eight of the former “Eleven” in various rivers, canals, fjords, and harbors of Europe. Through the ceremonies of time, travel, ritual re-enactment, and eternal return, this renegade celebrant officiates at something very like an Irish Catholic wake. He recalls a glittering chain of outrageous adventures and a terrible history of decimating disease and death while conducting a private service of reconciliation and renewal.

Time Remaining is a moving, defiantly hilarious solemnization of life and love in the age of AIDS.

Review: ‘I Go Back to the Mais Oui,” the first of two stories offered here, presents a summation of 40 years of gay life in New York by protagonist Danny Delancey, thereby providing a context for the much lengthier “Time Remaining,” which follows. In that piece–a novel, really–Danny is joined by Odette O’Doyle, an ancient, wise, all-knowing drag queen who has lived through those 40 years. As they ride the midnight train across Long Island, Odette unbeads his pearls, dropping story after story from his personal epic. And what an epic! McCourt presents us with an encyclopedic view of gay New York, from high to low culture, from Frank O’Hara, Judy Garland, and the Everard Baths to ACT UP and the Clit Club, leaving no queer stone unturned. For some, Odette’s discursive, anecdotal, manic soliloquy may be off-putting. But taken together, these brilliant stories add up to a life, one full of wit and anger, courage and love.’ — Library Journal

* Podcast: James McCourt interviewed about ‘Time Remaining’ on NPR’s Bookworm
* James McCourt reviews The Collected Stories of Noel Coward



Delancey’s Way (Knopf, 2000)

Review: Few literary writers take on Washington, D.C., probably for fear of stumbling into tired satire or overblown intrigue. James McCourt is undeterred by these risks, however, and successfully avoids them. Delancey’s Way presents a whirl of D.C. players and hangers-on in an elaborate, at times paranoiac, portrayal of the city that smacks of Marcel Proust and Don DeLillo. Delancey’s Way derives its energy from its carnivalesque language. The scenes, whether set in a cab from Union Station or a masked ball at the Library of Congress, entail characters discoursing to one another in lively harangues. As the novel progresses, one character after another goes gonzo, spewing references both classical and kitsch, and sprinkling every fourth sentence with foreign phrases. The reader—or listener—becomes an awed witness to these wild and virtuoso verbal performances. In response to a comment from Ornette, the jazz-playing redactor of race, Delancey thinks, “Where that came from I couldn’t have told you”—and then realizes he’s not writing this story, it’s writing him, and that’s just how things happen in D.C. — Review of Contemporary Fiction

Review: “Sometimes this book is funny, and sometimes it’s very funny. What it is, is an acidic romp through the political high and low roads of Washington, where the President is known as POTUS and Hillary (sometimes) as FLOTUS, with a wacky cast. The book is dense with allusion–political, literary, filmic, operatic, mythological, and more–uncommon in today’s watery literary scene. The writing can veer from plain to stream-of-consciousness to labyrinthine. Thus, the same page can yield “Clinton is a masochistic hick out of Dogpatch turned high toned sadist,” and “Clinton as Clint Eastwood–the quintessential Quantrill’s Raiders personality.” — Library Journal

* James McCourt profiled and interviewed about Delancey’s Way by Patsy Southgate


I never went to bed early in my life.

Until a minute ago . . .

You might have known it would all start out that way.

The first sentence I heard in my own head on the Metroliner to Washington. I’d put down Democracy (you know, the novel of Washington by “Anonymous” turned out to be written — depending on your politics, or your psychic — by either Henry or Clover Adams), gone to the back of the club car and from the window watched the tracks seeming to issue in two steel ribbons from underneath the train, then returned to my seat, a permeable signifier full of metaphoric dread, and succumbed to a little nap, tired of others’ voices and of my own plans.

No systematic chronicle, I told myself as I drifted off, but more a rambling disquisition, with copious historical discussion and many anecdotes.

I never went to bed early in my life. Until a minute ago. Two lies, a sentence and a phrase, in the forced conjunction (or dual emphasis) of which there arises a tensile ambiguity — between the stronger and the weaker force — that sparks narrative. Always a forced conjunction, a duality, since what is a true sequence (this/that) if not an uninterrupted flow of conscious-radical-unconscious ideation-pulsation, lasting from the moment of birth until the moment of insanity and/or death? Nothing.




Wayfaring at Waverly in Silverlake (Knopf, 2002)

Description: After skewering Clinton-era Washington in Delancey’s Way (2000), McCourt, stylistically rambunctious and metaphysically inclined, descends on 1980s Hollywood and rejoins diva Mawrdew Czgowchwz (the subject of his first novel) and movie star Kaye Wayfaring, Mawrdew’s daughter-in-law, mother of twins, and the focus of an earlier short story collection. In this set of interlocking tales, each a droll riff on one of the seven deadly sins, Kaye, who misses her dear, departed friend, Marilyn Monroe, has just flummoxed everyone by appearing in a wildly successful rock video and is now working on a movie about an Irish pirate queen. Such story elements are deeply embedded within a fizzing hubbub of witty conversations spiked with Hollywood trivia and mysticism that morphs into jousts, reminiscences, and philosophical disputations to form a scintillating montage not unlike those of novelist Paul West. As for McCourt, all his canniness and irony can’t conceal his love for Hollywood and its obsessions.

: ‘In Wayfaring at Waverly in Silver Lake, his hilarious deconstruction of the Hollywood signs, James McCourt is, as usual, erudite, recondite, and absolutely right.’ — Fran Lebowitz


As out beyond long tinted windows Los Angeles lay gleaming in the bright air, while in the studio commissary the televised women’s Olympic marathon neared culmination on the multiscreen background wall, Leland de Longpré, Hyperion Pictures’ controversial new chief of concept evolution, was speaking words of caution and concern to the chief of publicity over lunch.

“Vanity of vanity, all—”

“But I didn’t say ‘vanity,’ ” the chief of publicity, purposedly attuned to words, objected. “I said ‘pride.’ And please don’t tell me they’re the same thing, because even if I don’t know exactly what vanity is, I do know what I think it isn’t.”

“True enough,” the strategist allowed (managing, his lunch partner thought, to sound both affirmative and not). “The Dodgers, it must be said, brought to Los Angeles a cohesive focus, enforcing a civic pride that had never been provided by the self-serving motion-picture industry. I’ve even heard it said the Dodgers in effect brought to bear on their adopted city the mysterious assimilative pride of Brooklyn—never to be confused with the exploitive vanity of Manhattan—thus creating, principally, but not entirely, through the Jewish factor, the atmosphere for the construction of a new civilization in what had been a desert.”

“As a matter of fact,” the publicist continued, boldly staking out his own territory, conceptually speaking, “whenever I’ve heard the word—‘vanity’—all I’ve thought of really is a piece of set decoration—one of those boudoir units with big round deco mirrors. Jean Harlow had one in Dinner at Eight.”

“It would seem clear,” Leland continued, relentlessly, “that vanity is not, all said and done, to be confused with devotional intensity. Devotional intensity is not vain; quite the opposite.”




Queer Street: Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947-1985 (W.W. Norton, 2003)

Official description: Beginning with the influx of liberated veterans into downtown New York in the golden age before McCarthyism, Queer Street tells the explosive story of gay culture in the latter half of the twentieth century. Coming out himself in the “buttoned-up/button-down” 1950s, McCourt positions his own experience against the whirlwind history of the era, summoning a pageant of characters that includes Harry Hay, Judy Garland, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Truman Capote. In a learned but lively voice, McCourt highlights the major events of the period: the landmark eruption at the Stonewall Inn, the AIDS crisis that brought an end to a century of bathhouse culture, the ascendancy of the Christian right, and finally the social acceptance of gays that paradoxically marked the demise of queer culture.

Review: ‘The book is less a memoir or a social history of the neighborhoods and meeting places of old gay New York than a thick scrapbook of the distinctive gay cultural styles, sensibilities and forms of literacy that reached their apogee in postwar New York and Los Angeles, where the plays, songs, films and stars that constituted so much of the gay métier took shape. Drawing on his preternatural command of that postwar gay cultural universe, Mr. McCourt brings a learned queer eye to the oeuvre of gay icons ranging from Bette Davis, Judy Garland and Holly Woodlawn to Luchino Visconti, Douglas Sirk and Ronald Firbank (a fey novelist of the 1910’s and 20’s whose style Mr. McCourt’s may most closely resemble), as well as Susan Sontag’s famous 1964 essay on camp, the riches of opera and the cultural poverty of the standing-room line at the new Met compared with the old.’ (Read more) — The New York Times Book Review

Brief excerpt:

“I hate to be a pill, to piss on smoldering embers, no matter how warming, but the facts are these: it was neither Larry Kramer’s hysterics, the courageous reporting of the New York Native, Everett Koop’s blinding-hot moral flash or anything else that turned the tide of AIDS recognition in America and of AIDS research funding by the American government. It was nothing less or other than Ronald Reagan’s sentimental – goddamnit – feelings for a fellow guy he just happened to like a whole hell of a lot from their Hollywood days, a guy called Rock Hudson who came down with the goddamn thing. And if you don’t think them’s the facts, go look them up. As our story winds down to a close, darlings, in the year 1985, rather than cut AIDS funding by ten million, Ronald Reagan – or more probably Nancy, as Ronnie was already, courtesy of Alzheimer’s, more and more lunching out, though not in public – was upped to one hundred million, and, get this right please, a 270 percent increase in AIDS funding. You see, darlings, all that heaven allows written on the wind by tarnished angels is an imitation of life.”

* Podcast: James McCourt interviewed about Queer Street on NPR’s ‘Bookworm’
* A profile of James McCourt from Time Out New York



Now Voyagers (Turtle Point Press, 2007)

Description: Now Voyagers
is James McCourt’s long awaited sequel to Mawrdew Czgowchwz. Like his earlier novel, Now Voyagers delights in the whys and wherefors of celebrity and is a tribute to the triumph of art and music; love and humor. ‘Tragic wisdom, we discover, can also be le gai savoir, and James McCourt has made a real specialty of transforming intricate wisdom into no more than discerning frivolity, no less than divine frenzy; as he puts it: a running-neon paradigm of the quintessence of diva-dienst! For the purposes (if that is not too grandiose a word) of such fiction, fun is fun, but folly a kind of fate. How I envy Mawrdew’s new readers, though remaining helplessly content as a repeat defender.’ — Richard Howard

Visit Turtle Point Press



There was a time,” she then said, “time out of mind.”

“So to begin,” he replied, “at the beginning alike of the story and its solemn telling. Only what we’re actually up to here in this stately room as the hour of the wolf approaches is more in the nature of the good old Invocation in Medias Résumé. And so far from our topos being of a time time out of mind, we’ve got it on both our minds big time and why not, so? Aristotle says. After this comes the construction of Plot, which some rank first one with a double story. That’s us front and center, right down the line.

“But yes, for the listening world the standard model of the universe of fable always kicks in with Fado, fado, once-upon-a-time, Il y a, Es war, ci-fu-all requisite portal tropes of children’s stories, of creation fables, of foundation protocols, and the sonorous sagas of the impossibly valiant. Nice to know we’re in with the right crowd, anyway, so far as posterity goes-although enforst, parfit, whilom, and eftsoons we must forcibly abjure, lest we tip our hand too early and queer the pitch altogether. How does that sound? Yawpish enough, think you, for the general populace?”

“You’ve captured my attention-but the story is you always have.”

The clock of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower four blocks away on Madison Square had just struck eight familiar tones, signaling the half hour, in this instance half past eleven on the signal evening of June 16, 2004. In the front parlor of 47 Gramercy Park North, two old friends had sat down together at an old walnut oval Sheraton table to regroup their forces: S.D.J. (The) O’Maurigan and the woman once known (as she would have it, but in truth known still to the knowing world such as it was) as Mawrdew Czgowchwz, oltrano diva of the twentieth century, lately registered in the civic directory as Maev Cohalen, MAPA, psychoanalyst at New York’s Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies and psychotherapist for the cadets and teaching staff at the Police Academy on East Twentieth Street.

The friends, elected affinities and denizens both of the night and the city, had just come in from an evening at Symphony Space on Upper Broadway, having participated in the boisterous Bloomsday centennial reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. (He had enacted Simon Dedalus from “The Wandering Rocks” and she Gertie MacDowell from “Nausicaa.”) Now, in their one-room preceptory they had begun the work of the midnight hour, the examination of a collection of tapes dating back forty-seven years to the nineteen fifty-six-fifty-seven theatrical season, and a dusty manuscript entitled MNOPQR STUVWXYZ, unearthed earlier in the day from what they called the press, a large mahogany cupboard on the top floor of the town house. Each looked to the other uncertainly, wondering what had they done, what were they about to do?

“Here,” he then said, “is a definite beginning, lest our plan be accused of lacking the most defining characteristics of a strategy-forethought, preparation, a definite objective in mind. A manuscript in the form of an extended telegram, entailing the allegorized matter of an epic fable, has been dislodged after many decades from its hiding place in an old cupboard, and the following story, correcting the fable and forging its corrected elements into a fragment of a history is, by many separate voices, told in full, or as nearly as can be. Ought to be enough for anybody is our feeling.”

“You hurried down that same evening of the sailing and had the thing dispatched shore to ship.”

“Yes, There was a time, time out of mind-the opening words of the offering we found uncanny, the offering called MNOPQR STUVXYZ, unpronounceable, but immediately recognizable and clocked for what it was, that sent us on a season’s merry chase after means, motives, opportunities, and mischiefs.

“The whole of it, entirely in majuscule. The longest telegram on record, dispatched from the Western Union office across Broadway from the old house, up the block from Longchamps. Shore to ship-although come to think of it now, Leo Lerman always called Manhattan itself a great ocean liner, so possibly ship to ship. And even now, understanding much that youth and ignorance caused me at the time to remark without comprehending, I find it hard to disentangle the … etcetera. Yes, there was a time, time out of mind … so there was.”

The woman who had been Mawrdew Czgowchwz, oltrano, took up the long telegram of the allegorical text (representing her as Mnopqr Stuvwxyz) she had first read another life ago (or so it seemed, without exaggeration) while crossing the Atlantic with her then companion Jacob Beltane, oltrano, on the Queen Mary in late September, nineteen fifty-six.


The Crossroads Café: if Manhattan was a great ocean liner, the Crossroads Café was one of the places you could cross from first down to third-to social steerage. In that it resembled a chapel, didn’t it, and even if you think of it a swimming pool-other places on board for crossing up or down.

“Crossing up, crossing down: dress stage. Passing ships-there’s an idea, if not quite-”

“Original. It was a dark and stormy-”

“No, it was nothing like a dark and stormy night. There was a moon.”

“That there was, waning from full, viewed from ship’s deck in Manhattan as well-shining across the Great Meadow in the Park. This night, though dark enough here on the street where you live, isn’t stormy, not yet. But then in New York lit up the way it is, on such languid summer nights how often come torrential rain and crashing thunder, too, like on the event-driven night of the first Bloomsday itself, when and while in the aftermath of old hurts new-enacted, two famously unlikely companions … but they’ve likely not yet gotten to Eumaeus uptown, so let’s bide our time in sultry air and set about our business, the drawing up of blueprints for a biosphere.”

“You wrote a poem about that waning moon.”

It was that cool, clear late September evening on the day they sailed away, when we looked up and saw Pagliaccio in the moon-on the wane from full to gibbous. The wan expression on him-that moue, the oval mouth, sad eyes. Who was it said, ‘Look at him-he’s singing “Plaisir d’amour” and he’s just come to “ne dure qu’un moment.”

“And on it went, detailing how the face in the moon, eyes, nose, mouth, is formed by the shadows cast upon the light-reflecting whole by the so-called maria, specifically the … but of course I don’t remember.

“And from there on to parallel imagined voyages across those seas whose names I don’t recall, to the voyage out of the second line, employing every sort of word Arisotle designated-well, there are eight of those, and I do, or could recall them and what they had to do with the words of ‘Plaisir d’amour’ in relation to the poet’s sorrow of the moment-but why now? More important surely to consider the ambiguity of Pound’s news that stays news in view of the two immediately available meanings of stay-leaving out the one that had to do with whalebone corsets. Stay as in ‘Linger awhile, thou art so fair!’ and stay as in stop any further thing from happening and let us have an end to news.”

“The poet is clairvoyant. ‘Ne dure qu’un moment’-and our moment had only just gotten under way.”

“Yes, well, it’s easy to make predictions, is it not-especially concerning the future.”

“Yogi Berra. We had a yogi on board.”

“And yet one insists there must be more to it all-pictura loquens-than tick-rock, Tag aus, Tag ein, E pluribus unum and ashes, ashes, all fall down. The cultured young cry out, ‘Do tell us about-we want to hear allabouteveryfuckinglastoneofem, Notes and queries, Q. and A., relating to the many consequential initiatives with which they became closely involved. The laughs the frowns, the upsandowns all first nature to them then and not in short, in long, the works. And unlike some in the city we do have all night.

“But unlike the authors of the long dispatch again to hand-who saw themselves, it seems, not as the bowler-and-stick vaudevillians they were, but as twin rhapsodes of mock-epic caliber, exuberantly flinging out their random paradoxical teasers as substitutes for Apollonian objects of contemplation, their fiery emotional effects as substitutes for Dionysian enchantment.

“For they were clever ones, as we soon discovered. Students of Comparative Literature no less, possessed, we saw at once, as we read through their unsettling text, of adroit, cool, and penetrating insight into theme, motivation, and character, keen in their primitive, exuberant ambition to get it.

“Fresh as paint their grasp of ideas introduced in Auerbach’s Mimesis, and wielding an altogether more subtle knife than those blades thrust into the hands of the slashers recruited by the semiotic vogue. Determined to represent by annotating the fluctuations of their attitudes, as well as what they perpetrate and undergo, men’s characters, and women’s, too.

“Cruising our ranks in unobtrusive fashion during the intermissions, then later at the Crossroads Café dissecting us all down to the bone as an experiment in adaptation and exploitation. And if as it turned out what they were not so good at as they were at allegory and the grand design was smoking out a tail, and thus did finally fall into our clutches, their like never did come about again on the line.”

“Don’t you think they wanted to be caught out all along? I always did.”

“That they made us making them? I suppose so, except that what they seemed to think they were up to the whole time was making us up. The crust!

“That said, we, all these years later making ourselves making them making us do not unroll our design in transparently allegorical fashion. Rather we allow them to unfold themselves as does life itself, which can be either tracked or lived, but never both simultaneously, according to both the uncertainty principle and the phenomenon of self-similarity. In this we are in our fashion true to our many darlings and also appropriately postcontemporary chaotic.

“We care little for plot or for the thudding sameness and strained expectation imbedded in it, seeking to reduce all experience to a carefully tabulated, weighed, and balanced succession of ratified incidents-one fucking thing after another, culminating in the uncovering and publication of the truth that will rock the world … right to sleep.

“For us such schemes have been weighed in the balance and found wanting, as were police reports and journalism for Sherlock Holmes. For in general it may be said of postmodern writing of serious intent that in it, the function of the narrator is just that, no less, no more-to fucking narrate, all right? To describe the fluctuations of movement. He is permitted speculation in time-slip chronicles solely on approximations of distance and duration, and of necessity, that he may be seen as anything but omniscient, on his own infirmities of character and intellect, especially those concerned with the illusion of self-determination, as they are the very ones that tend to support the more preposterous asseverations benighted readers have been encouraged to believe they have been vouchsafed as gospel, beware of the dog.

“Nothing reported concerning the fluctuations of gesture, no speculation on the motivation, or lack of same, in any character-so many spinning in an ever-narrowing gyre-may be confidently taken as read, merely as read about-candidates must write on one side of the paper only; this margin to be left blank for the examiner.

“That also said, in mitigation directly concerning the exercise of free will, and mindful of the conditions that must necessarily obtain in order that our narrator may competently answer the decorum of a legend, any and all remarks acknowledging the constant presence-in-absence of the distant, the strange, the far-out, and further typifications of the scarcely known must be accommodated-imprimatur, nihil obstat-so long that is, as no notion of roman à clef is entertained. We’re out for ummediated, unadorned truth here, and not for floods of spurious verisimilitude-dreaded analog to the symptom of flooding in a psychosis.

“And a good thing at that, given the tendency of tropes to mutate-indeed mutate into life itself, taking command of the text altogether, making its story their story-so that it may be said of certain texts not so much that they are lifelike as that the reading of them is like the experience of living. No book can live two lives, mar dhea.

“Because for the slab of a thing to be read as a true roman à clef, according to the latest postmodern formulation forensic multiples: a survey, they’d want to have more keys on their turnkeys’ rings than are turned clockwise on any given day up the Hudson at Sing-Sing-and that’s straight from the source, sparkling and bottled on the premises in clear glass.

“Moreover, we don’t care what people do-in fact they can do it in the streets if they like-alarums and excursions galore, fife and drum, and the monkey wrapped his tale around a flagpole. More power and good luck to them now there are no more horses likely to be frightened by them-certainly not the noble steeds of the mounted police. Our attitude will remain that of still, calm, tranquil contemplation with open eyes, gaze unaverted, a state which beholds the images boldly presented to it and declares ‘just so.'”

“Still and all,” she observed, “whoever they turn out to be, they should be doing something worthy of note to attract the world’s indulgent attention-something, indeed, besides vibrating.”

“Agreed, and with the proviso that we shall remain less interested in what they are up to just then than in what they are thinking of getting up to or remembering what they’ve gotten up to before, we don’t wish to stop them, or see them stopped.

“Not for long anyway. Only long enough to freeze-frame and cut into them, to examine in cross section their motives, means, and opportunities, to arrive at some sense of their origins beyond the bounds of sense-should anybody anywhere anytime wish to know just what’s going on-the accurate depiction of primal conflicts being ever better served by allegory than romance. And then, somehow, to reinstigate fluency from what has been halted.

“And in their own words, not in the words of avid narrative adepts whose accounts inevitably climax with hair-raising escapes for some-all colors and lengths of hair at that-leaving hearts beating out of chests all around the town, and for unfortunate others, catapulted bodies splayed at unnatural angles on outcroppings of jagged rock. Absolutely not. Our inspiration is drawn from Maupertuis and his principle of least action, forerunner of quantum mechanics.”

“In their own words.”

“A debriefing.”

“Had they a brief?”

“We know they did-to follow the lead of Mawrdew Czgowchwz.”

“Where to?”

“Where to. Well, in the end I see us all together at the Grand Hotel, each in his own room, reading the emergency instructions on the back of the door, prior to dressing for the coming occasion, then going down in the elevator to the lobby to await her descent down the great staircase to get into the limousine, us following along in taxis-”

“Not you, you always rode in the car.”

“Didn’t I just. In any event, surely to the opera house.”

“And what is she singing?”

“What else but Minnie, of course, her favorite role.”

“It was-still is. You know, in murder mysteries, I’ve always liked best the ones with everybody gathered in one place and they each and all have a motive.”

“Interesting projection.”


“What else, when it was yourself up there on the stage slaying them all.”

“You’ve forgotten not for the first time either.”

“How neglectful not-for the first time either.”

“Like a serial killer.”

* Podcast: James McCourt, Edmund White, Camille Paglia, and Alan Hollinghurst discuss gay literature and queer theory on NPR’s Bookworm




p.s. Hey. ** Armando, Hi. Okay. I’ve never seen Gance’s ‘Napoleon’, as strange as that might seem. Yeah, I woke up to the news of the big earthquake there. I’m glad you’re okay. 7.1 is a big quake. Best to you and yours in the rough coming days. ** Steve Erickson, What fantastic news about the Straub-Huilet reissue plan! Wow! Thank you very much for the thoughtful, helpful words about Kiyoshi Kurosawa. I should attempt a post about that work. ** Jim Pedersen, Hi, Jim. Welcome! Oh, it was my honor and pleasure, as you can imagine. Thank you very much! ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! It went great with Sylvain today, yes. It is strange to have to put a foreign voice on an actor, but the scene won’t work otherwise. Hopefully no one will be able to tell, except, well, you of course. And our producer had some good, helpful suggestions too, so yesterday went very well. It turns out we have to finish the sound work by Monday at the latest because our producer has booked us time starting on Tuesday to add the credits, titles, and to make the required and extremely dreaded 59 minute version for the grant committee. So we need to work longer and extra hard starting today. Oh, all kinds of games, I see. From afar, it sounds fun and very interesting, but of course it’ll depend on how into it the group are. But, yeah, that could ostensibly really open up a community feel with the group, and that would obviously be a big help, no? Excellent possible news about the bookstore job! I will increase the pressure on my finger crossing at this crucial time. Have a fine Wednesday, and tell me how it went. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. What a cool S-H sighting, and, obviously, I love that double bill you put together. Yes, yes, their work is very different than Bresson’s. I think my favorite of theirs, if I had to pick, would be ‘Class Relations’. ** Tosh Berman, My pleasure, Mr. T! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. I’m happy the post intrigued you enough to investigate them. Highly worthy. Very good, fun meeting with Alex, I hope? ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff! I saw something on FB about your sinus issues. So, so sorry to hear that. Sinus stuff can be so brutally interruptive. I just can’t see going to see ‘mother!’. I really just find his films to be superficial, razzmatazz-filled bullshit trickery with nothing but vapid falsehoods and obvious ‘points’ under the overstuffed atmosphere. But, yeah, there’s quite a taste for that kind of thing these days. People I know and even respect loved ‘The’ fucking ‘Neon Demon’, for instance. I wish these people who trumpet the relative radicality of Aronofsky’s stuff would make the extra trek to see actual radical work rather than only seeming to be willing to venture as far as the mainstream’s nearest margins. There’s this depressing tendency to embrace experimentation only when it’s at the service of dumb fun and thrills. But, hey, it’s the same thing in music and lit too. What can you do? It’s too early to talk about our idea for the new film. We haven’t started writing the script yet, probably next week. But, yes, we started with a mutual idea about what we didn’t do in ‘PGL’ and are very interested in doing and brainstormed until we found a thing we’re both equally enthralled by to build a film around. Vague, sorry, but I’ll be able to talk more about it as it starts getting cemented with text. ** Misanthrope, Hey. Well, yeah, ‘Jerk’ is our most inexpensive piece, but it’s probably also our most ‘shocking’ piece, so there you go. Hadn’t heard of the Rock Game, no. I definitely like the sound of it a lot. Hm, it might even fit somewhere in Zac’s and my new film idea. Thanks, buddy, and, yeah, make those rocks. Using sanitary gloves, I guess, if you think the ‘triggered people’ will come after you. Heard vaguely about the Taylor Swift, but she and her thing are just not on even the outskirts of anything that interests me. But that is interesting, I agree. ** Paul Curran, Hey, hey! Fujiko’s Children’s Park in Tachikawa is about go finally be restored to what it’s supposed to be. It’s been a weakling for years, and she has been very upset about it. I think she threatened to remove it, and they finally agreed to make it glorious again. Oh, man, Zac and I would die to make a narrative film in Tokyo. It’s all and always about getting the money. France is relatively excellent at making film funding available, but, like with ‘PGL’, there are requirements about it being filmed in France with almost all French workers and so on. But, god, doing a narrative film in Tokyo is something we talk about all the time. I’m very, very happy to hear that you’re working on the J-novel! And what you say about it sounds incredibly delicious, I must say. I’ve missed getting to hear about your process, which is always exciting and inspiring to me. So, thank you, Paul. It’s so good to see you! ** Okay. A guy approached on Facebook and asked if I would restore the James McCourt post from sort of long ago. And I did. I definitely think McCourt is at least in the running for the title of most tragically unread, unfairly neglected great American fiction writer. But see what you think. See you tomorrow.


  1. Hi,

    Thank you very much; I really appreciate it. I mean, I’m completely OK; this earthquake didn’t do any harm to me. I was very lucky. But, yeah, it’s been terrible. A real nightmare. The preliminary official death toll is of around 250; 86 of those in my city, 30 of those being children that were inside a school that collapsed. Just horrendous and so tragic. And, of course, it hasn’t helped at all with my anxiety and depression… But anyway, again, nothing happened to me, so I’ve no right to bitch.

    Well, I don’t know what to say except that you’ve missed out on a lot by not having seen yet ‘Napoléon’. I hope somehow you’re able to see it asap.

    Great post today. Thank you. Am I stupid and imagining things or do I sense some kinship between McCourt’s work and that of The Great Monsieur Robbe-Grillet?

    Take care,

    Good day; good luck,

    Your friend,


  2. @Steve Erickson

    Thank you very much for your very kind words. I really appreciate them.

    • Thanks, Armando.

      I could take everything you said about Aronofsky and THE NEON DEMON and apply it towards SONG TO SONG, except that it’s aiming for a bogus and very conservative spirituality instead of cheap thrills.

      Someone suggested that I approach the filmmaker Jeremiah Kipp, who has made about 10 horror shorts, about looking for actors for CULTURE SHOCK. He’s a stranger to me, but we have mutual friends. It does startle me to google “queer actors” – honestly, I did this because Gay City News requires me to write “out gay” before any openly queer actor/writer/director whose work I review, and I screwed up once and I wrote several reviews saying that Tsai Ming-liang and Lee Kang-sheng were partners – and see so many people declaring that queer roles must be played by queer actors. I constantly feel like I’m either really assimilationist, in a negative light, or non-conformist, in a positive light, for not giving a shit about this or feeling like it’s way more complex.

      • Tsai Ming-liang and Lee Kang-sheng ARE partners — even though they don’t have sex with each other. It’s a deeply strange relationship.

        • Have you seen the documentary AFTERNOON, where Tsai and Lee talk to each other for 2 and 1/2 hours? That explains the ins and outs of their relationship. Tsai is obviously in love with him, Lee knows this and is OK with it even though he has romantic and sexual relations with women. I assume Tsai sleeps with other guys? But until I saw that film, I thought Tsai and Lee were lovers, although I thought Lee was bi since I’m pretty sure he fucks a woman for real in THE WAYWARD CLOUD.

  3. Here’s a review of an interesting-sounding new book on Bresson: http://sensesofcinema.com/2017/book-reviews/the-invention-of-robert-bresson/. I learned from it that Bresson once had connections to fashion photography!

    • No surprise there, being that in (being a Total Babe) his youth Bresson was (as he would say) “une petit danseuse”

  4. James McCourt is Pure Unmitigated Genius!
    Haven’t seen him in years and miss him somethin’ awful. I had an e-mail address for him — long ago lost. Used to run into his boyfriend Vincent Verga on the net now and then.
    All his works are ESSENTIAL. But I shoud like to make an special shout-out for “Queer Street’ particularly its climactic socratic dialogue between James and the late, great, infinitely missed Richard Rouilard.
    Had James Joyce been a fast-living New York Gay Boy he would have been James.

    The interviews linked above are a Total Hoot

  5. I need to get on the James McCourt bandwagon here. I know of him, and his totally positive reputation, but I haven’t made the jump into his books yet. One thing I’m curious about his is novel “Wayfaring at Waverly in Silverlake” – Does it take place on Waverly Drive in Silver Lake? I ask because I live on that street.

  6. Hi!

    I have to admit I’ve never heard about James McCourt. I’m delighted to now, though. Thank you!

    I’m really glad everything went well with Sylvian and your producer yesterday, and I promise I won’t tell anyone about the girl’s voice, haha! I hope you’ll be able to finish the whole sound editing by Monday! Does it seem realistic? And what is the “59-minute version”? Is it like a… weirdly “too short, too long” sample of the movie you’ll have to show to the grant committee?
    In school, we had to participate in a whole bunch of these games and I really didn’t like most of them because I found them inane and embarrassing. But then, the “you get out of it what you put into it” rule is very true in their case so maybe this could’ve changed if I had chosen to make an effort. Anyhow, I find them useful now – not on the “receiving” end of them but as a group leader. Facilitating the community feel, as you wrote, is their strength and it’d definitely be a big help for us!
    Thank you!! I’ll let you know if I hear anything from the bookstore!
    I met a friend today which was nice but other than that, nothing too huge happened.
    How was your day? Did everything go well with Benjamin? Did he like what you showed him so far? I hope you had a lovely one, Dennis!

  7. My mom told me today I shouldn’t be so open about being gay. It’s great to have such understanding parents. (To be fair, everything else she said was along the lines of ” don’t pay attention to homophobes and cut them out of your life as much as you can.” I tried to explain that part of the reason is that I feel like I’m doing a terrible job of being a gay man, essentially, is that a lot of the attitudes that bother me come from within the LGBT community, but this is a very difficult conversation to have a straight woman in her 80s. I had more success with my shrink, who came out to me in the course of this.

  8. I’m another who’s new to James McCourt so thank you for this primer.

    In Yuck ‘n Yum news, Andrew has declared himself too busy to commit much time to the project and “if it continues as a profit making entity …it does not have my support.” Which would be a shame as YNY is really Andrew’s baby, but then it could be that we have a difficult choice to make. The rest of us will all meet at the Vision building next week and we’ll have a conversation about everything then.

    I’m feeling accomplished as this evening’s driving lesson saw me navigate all the way from Broughty Ferry, about four miles east of Dundee, back to my flat in the dark and in the rain. So it seems I’ve really come on quite a bit in recent weeks. The instructor’s now on holiday until mid October so I hope I don’t forget all that I’ve learned in the meantime.

  9. Big D! There’s a fucking cricket somewhere in my bedroom. I think he’s on meth.

    At work today, I practiced drawing titties for my rocks…and then shredded the fuck out of those papers.

    I was at the “Jerk” performance when that reviewer passed out and they dragged him out of there. That was funny.

    Yeah, I’m not a Taylor Swift fan myself. My niece was at first, even went to a smallish concert here in our town at the Blue Crabs (baseball) stadium years ago. And then realized, “What the fuck am I doing?” Hahaha. But really, how “dark” are you when the first thing you do after an album release is copyright over 100 phrases from your album so you can make money off T-shirts and wristbands and, I don’t know, cock rings?

    My mom had America’s Got Talent on earlier. I sat down to eat in the living room and watched a little. I was embarrassed by how fucking bad it is.

    The worst was about a month ago. I’m eating, just left the TV on, and on comes the finale of Boy Band. They have all these young, sometimes cute guys doing a competition to form a boy band. The intro to the finale might be the most obscene I’ve ever seen.

    And dude, what am I talking about? I’ve got tons of people right here who share my interests, as well as my friends from here who are also on FB. Duh. Really, that’s enough. Always has been.

    Great line from Arcade Fire’s “Creature Comfort” off their new album:

    God, make me famous
    If you can’t, just make it painless

  10. Thanks for the encouragement, D!! Much appreciated. I’m still into the novel enough to stick at it, which is a good sign after this long. Yeah, I imagine funding a Tokyo film would be expensive as hell, but fuck it would be great!

    I’m also sadly unversed on James McCourt but will have to rectify that.

    Speaking of God Jr, when did your nephew read it? I was wondering the other day when would be a good age for my kiddo. Mainly so he could get it enough.

  11. I don’t like Taylor Swift’s music, but I’d buy a Swift cock ring! Ghost did a line of dildoes and butt plugs to promote their second album, but when you’re a hard rock band whose lyrics are mostly odes to Satan, I guess that comes with the territory.

  12. I started looking for actors from Jeremiah Kipp’s E-mail recommendation this evening, although I was basically putting off writing a film review as well. There’s one guy whose reel I watched, he seemed very talented and I was intrigued by the fact that he has played a long string of cop roles because the character in the monologue in CULTURE SHOCK talks at length about working on a TV cop show. However, he said some stuff about politics on his Facebook page that made me decide I didn’t want to work with him. There’s another guy who seems promising in that he actually looks a fair amount like me, and given the autobiographical elements of the monologue, that’s something I would find worthwhile, but I can’t find any clips of him acting on-line, just photos and his resume. But his Twitter page shows that he sure hates Trump! Two of the other recommended actors look too young for the part, and in one case, I’m not sure I’m googling the right person. as I’m turning up an actor who also raps under the name Key Knowledge. (Not that I’m averse to working with someone who is also a rapper – the actor in THIS WEEK TONIGHT is a musician as well – but I’m just not sure this is the same person Kipp recommended. I’d be curious to hear his music before auditioning him!)

    • James McCourt, New York City.

      October 24, 2019 at 10:22 pm

      You are all , it buoys me up. (Boys me up is an issue, as young academics – and why are they all gorgeous? — and kindly souls from The New Yorker drop in. I shall be delirious returning permanently to New York from this shit hole, our sorry nation’s capital. By the I shall be nearly finished with the second half of Now Voyager and delight in delighting all you lovely people out there in the light.
      With affection unbound,
      James McCout

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