Dennis Cooper Criticism - Essay

John Ash (review date 16 July 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ash, John. “The City of Lost Angels.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (16 July 1989): 7.

[In the following review, Ash acknowledges the pornographic and violent passages in Closer, but asserts that the work retains powerful and original writing.]

Although I'm sure he'd cringe at the thought, Dennis Cooper's bleak and brilliant novel of gay teens in the affluent Los Angeles wastelands could be read as a cautionary tale concerning the advisability of stricter parental supervision. Parents, find out what your son is doing with his buddies in that locked bedroom! According to Cooper, sodomy and drug-abuse are the least of it, which is why—unlike Less...

(The entire section is 790 words.)

Thomas R. Edwards (review date 17 August 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Edwards, Thomas R. “Sad Young Men.” New York Review of Books (17 August 1989): 52-3.

[In the following review, Edwards presents a favorable review of Closer.]

Dennis Cooper's Closer shows young lives not beginning but on the verge of ending in California, here conceived as “the end of the world” in a sense that Moon Palace [by Paul Auster] doesn't suggest. Cooper, whose purposes are anything but “regional,” doesn't call it California, but the big roads are “freeways,” and one of the characters has clearly spent more time at Disneyland than anyone probably should. The center of the action is a high school in a well-to-do suburb; all...

(The entire section is 856 words.)

Michael Silverblatt (review date 30 June 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Silverblatt, Michael. “Tales from the Crypt.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (30 June 1991): 2, 11.

[In the following review, Silverblatt offers a positive assessment of Frisk.]

To frisk is to “search a person for something concealed, especially a weapon,” Frisk is about a man who wants to kill someone and find what the body conceals. Spiritually, the thing that remains of the body after death is the soul. Physically, the thing that remains is only splatter.

The narrator of Dennis Cooper's novel Frisk also is named Dennis; whether he represents the author remains a question. The narrator seems to be interested in carnage;...

(The entire section is 1257 words.)

David Kaufman (review date 1 July 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kaufman, David. “All in the Family.” Nation (1 July 1991): 21-5.

[In the following review, Kaufman provides a generally favorable review of Frisk, finding both merit and dissatisfaction in the novel's experimental approach.]

The very ambition to categorize so-called gay literature may be something of a self-defeating proposition: By reflecting the larger world, certainly the better examples of the “genre” transcend any categorical limitations we might infer. To insist otherwise would be to reject the assimilation captured so well in a number of new novels, and to hazard stereotypes that they deny.

This emerges as an inescapable...

(The entire section is 1920 words.)

Jack Byrne (review date fall 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Byrne, Jack. Review of Frisk, by Dennis Cooper. Review of Contemporary Fiction 11, no. 3 (fall 1991): 280.

[In the following review, Byrne discusses the perverse themes and obsessions in Frisk.]

“When Dennis is thirteen, he sees a series of photographs of a boy apparently unimaginably mutilated. Dennis is not shocked, but stunned by their mystery and their power; their glimpse at the reality of death. Some years later, Dennis meets the boy who posed for the photographs. He did it for love” (jacket). Frisk is about what happens between Dennis's first look at such “snuff” shots and his last look at the reality behind the “snuff” and...

(The entire section is 546 words.)

David Van Leer (review date 12 October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Van Leer, David. “Beyond the Margins.” New Republic (12 October 1992): 50-3.

[In the following review, Van Leer discusses the problematic categorization of gay literature and offers a tempered review of Discontents, which he praises for its subversive angle but criticizes for its inclusion of banal experimentalism.]

Homosexuality in literature takes many forms. A teacher suspects his motives for wishing to separate a pupil from his parents. A black American sees his affection for a bisexual African as a kind of economic exploitation. A transvestite dishes the writer Brett Easton Ellis and teases the nipples of the rock star Adam Horovitz. The...

(The entire section is 1924 words.)

Dennis Cooper and Jonathan Bing (interview date 21 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cooper, Dennis, and Jonathan Bing. “Dennis Cooper: Adolescent Rebellion Propels His Dystopian Vision.” Publishers Weekly (21 March 1994): 48-9.

[In the following interview, Bing provides an overview of Cooper's life, literary career, and thematic concerns and relays comments from Cooper regarding his work and critical reception.]

In the tradition of the best grass-roots art, Dennis Cooper has been publishing his poetry and fiction at the margins of the cultural marketplace, in fanzines, chapbooks and obscure literary journals, since graduating from high school in the early 1970s. Yet many of Cooper's readers only know of his most recent work, a series of...

(The entire section is 2139 words.)

Matias Viegener (essay date spring 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Viegener, Matias. “Men Who Kill and the Boys Who Love Them.” Critical Quarterly 36, no. 1 (spring 1994): 105-14.

[In the following essay, Viegener examines the American fascination with psychosexual murderers and the portrayal of homosexuals as calculating, deviant criminals, drawing attention to Frisk and Jerk for examples of the pathological, anti-social gay killer. Viegener contends that Cooper's depictions of sexual violence are not a strategy for transgression, but suggest the extreme limits of experience, self-identity, and intersubjectivity.]

The homosexual killer sits at the juncture of two great social obsessions, homosexuality and...

(The entire section is 4352 words.)

Times Literary Supplement (review date 27 May 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Wrong, by Dennis Cooper. Times Literary Supplement (27 May 1994): 21.

[In the following review, the critic discusses Cooper's portrayal of the emotionally bereft in Wrong and Closer.]

Talking of recent fiction, the narrator of one of Dennis Cooper's short stories in Wrong observes that “The sharpest new writers tend to appropriate either the language or sheen of pornography …”. This is certainly true of Cooper's own work, which is not only arrestingly well written but graphically obscene. Where Cooper parts company with the pornographic imagination is in the traumatized humanity of his writing, and in his attempt to explore...

(The entire section is 371 words.)

Alexander Laurence (review date summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Laurence, Alexander. Review of Try, by Dennis Cooper. Review of Contemporary Fiction 14, no. 2 (summer 1994): 222.

[In the following review, Laurence offers a positive assessment of Try.]

The writer Robert Hardin has noted “Dennis Cooper will be remembered as the most prophetic writer of his time.” These are strong words, and one can keep them in mind when reading Cooper's latest post-punk novel Try. The main character, Ziggy, is the adopted teenage son of two gay fathers with illusions of becoming respectable. Ziggy spends his time putting together a magazine called I Apologize. His two fathers abuse Ziggy sexually and otherwise. For...

(The entire section is 250 words.)

Michael Cunningham (review date 3 July 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cunningham, Michael. “Oh for a Little Despair.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (3 July 1994): 3, 8.

[In the following review, Cunningham offers a positive evaluation of Try.]

If Jean Genet and Paul Bowles could have had a child together, he might have grown up to be a writer like Dennis Cooper. I've learned not to push Cooper's work on just anybody, but if a friend seems even halfway receptive I usually prepare him or her by saying something like, “Cooper is appalling, but so is the modern world.” I go on to remind him or her that Lolita was generally considered perverse to the point of dangerousness when it first appeared. As was Madame...

(The entire section is 1121 words.)

Drew Limsky (review date July-August 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Limsky, Drew. Review of Try, by Dennis Cooper. Lambda Book Report 4, no. 5 (July-August 1994): 35.

[In the following review, Limsky judges Try as overly self-conscious and redundant.]

It's not easy to care about a cast of characters composed of junkies, pedophiles and necrophiliacs, and who are continually described in terms of their filth, yet readers may develop a grudging affection for Ziggy, the hapless protagonist of Dennis Coopers third novel, Try.

The product of an abusive upbringing, Ziggy is a mess. One of his two gay fathers, Brice, has been molesting the eighteen-year-old since childhood, and Roger, Brice's ex...

(The entire section is 606 words.)

Guy Mannes-Abbott (review date 30 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Mannes-Abbott, Guy. “Far Out.” New Statesman and Society (30 September 1994): 56.

[In the following review, Mannes-Abbott offers a positive assessment of Try.]

Dennis Cooper's urgent and uncompromising fiction reduces the critical mainstream to bemusement, and draws polemical support from admirers who recognise its rhythms. This is true of all cultish writing, but Cooper deserves more than cultishness because his work is genuinely innovative and draws from wide cultural sources to develop its confrontational poise.

Baudelaire wrote of three pursuits “worthy of respect” in My Heart Laid Bare: “to know, to kill and to create”,...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

Earl Jackson Jr. (essay date 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jackson, Earl, Jr. “Death Drives across Pornotopia: Dennis Cooper on the Extremities of Being.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 1, no. 2 (1994): 143-61.

[In the following essay, Jackson studies the interrelationship of sex and death in Cooper's fiction and the author's explorations of the limits of self-knowledge and metaphysical longing, as depicted in scenes of ritualized sexual violence and physical degradation and mirrored in the simulacra of voyeurism and pornographic images.]

You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.

Hamlet 3. 5. 19-20

Perhaps our...

(The entire section is 10206 words.)

Dennis Cooper and Kasia Boddy (interview date autumn 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cooper, Dennis, and Kasia Boddy. “Conversation with Dennis Cooper.” Critical Quarterly 37, no. 3 (autumn 1995): 103-15.

[In the following interview, Cooper discusses the development of his thematic concerns and stylistic approach, his literary influences, the significance of representative characters in his fiction, and his interest in studying the notion of bliss in future works.]

[Boddy]: I'd like to start by asking you about what seems like a dominant concern of your work—both thematically and stylistically—the relationship between inside and out, the exterior and the interior of things.

[Cooper]: I'm always trying to...

(The entire section is 4708 words.)

James Gardner (review date 17 June 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gardner, James. “Transgressive Fiction.” National Review (17 June 1996): 54-6.

[In the following excerpt, Gardner provides a negative review of Try.]

Thirty years ago the art of fiction began to undergo a change similar to one that had already befallen the theatrical arts. Though theater had once been the best loved form of mass entertainment, it yielded that title to film and then turned inward, catering to an elite taste that saw theater as art rather than diversion. As a result, these two factors, which had formerly been united, increasingly went their separate ways. Fiction also used to fulfill the Horatian injunction to delight as well as to edify. But...

(The entire section is 1521 words.)

Gary Indiana (review date 8 June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Indiana, Gary. “Monster Mash.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (8 June 1997): 14.

[In the following review, Indiana offers a positive evaluation of Guide.]

Since his writing first appeared in chapbooks in the late '70s, Dennis Cooper has been a uniquely disturbing presence in American literature, a major voice shunted to cult status by mainstream squeamishness, flawlessly fluent in the lingua franca of youthful alienation and its coolest, least affected recording angel. His early poems and short prose were memorably hailed by Edmund White as sounding like “Aeschylus with a mouthful of bubble gum.” When Cooper's first full-length novel, Closer,...

(The entire section is 1737 words.)

Bruce Hainley (review date 16 June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hainley, Bruce. “Body English.” Nation (16 June 1997): 34-5.

[In the following review, Hainley offers a positive assessment of Guide.]

This is the problem: how to convey the realness of the world, of the guy so beautiful he “white[s] out” vision, when language is often recalcitrant to the point of shutdown, when the only fact that has a sort of truth—even when you are deep in the middle of exploring the terrain of that mystery called someone else's body—is basic human aloneness: the strange opacity of the other, whose distance from you is similar to the distance (that close, that far away) between things and the words for those things. In his work,...

(The entire section is 1313 words.)

Matthew Roberson (review date spring 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Roberson, Matthew. Review of Guide, by Dennis Cooper. Review of Contemporary Fiction 18, no. 1 (spring 1998): 230.

[In the following review, Roberson comments on the metafictional aspects of Guide.]

In Guide, the fourth book of his five-novel cycle, Dennis Cooper charts passage between a variety of seeming oppositions: desire and its fulfillment, reality and fiction, life and death, bodily knowledge and the language with which we express it. This middle-space seems to be Cooper's preferred subject because, as his character Chris puts it, it is only there that one can truly achieve a simultaneous understanding of both a thing and its opposite;...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

Andy Beckett (review date 21 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Beckett, Andy. “Whatever.” London Review of Books (21 May 1998): 34-5.

[In the following review, Beckett provides a favorable assessment of Guide, but expresses reservations over Cooper's indefinite morality.]

Reading Dennis Cooper can make you queasy. This short novel is the fourth in a five-volume cycle concerned almost exclusively, so far, with sexual violence. Closer (1989) subjected an American teenager to anal mutilation; Frisk (1991) concerned the butchery of young Dutch boys; and Try (1994) in which one critic detected ‘a gentler maturity’, saw an adopted son greedily penetrated by his father. In each book, and here,...

(The entire section is 2139 words.)

Michael Thomas Ford (review date January 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ford, Michael Thomas. “Brilliantly Psychotic?” Lambda Book Report 8, no. 6 (January 2000): 24.

[In the following review, Ford comments on Cooper's blurring of the lines between fiction and reality as expressed in his novel Period.]

Sometimes it's difficult to tell if an artist's success is really deserved or if he's simply developed a dedicated following because his work is so peculiar that people can't decide if it's brilliance or pretension. Dennis Cooper's success has certainly been accused of being both things. To some he is a master stylist, exploring the worlds of violence, sex, and desire in shocking ways that challenge readers to re-evaluate their...

(The entire section is 1090 words.)

Gregory Howard (review date fall 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Howard, Gregory. Review of Period, by Dennis Cooper. Review of Contemporary Fiction 20, no. 3 (fall 2000): 147.

[In the following breif review, Howard offers the opinion that Period is a “deeper and darker” work than its predecessors, and that the book contains a complex structure and extensive vision.]

Period explores themes and motifs familiar to Cooper's readers. Here again is a world of boys bored with everyday life, stimulating themselves with drugs, sex, and violence; here again is sexual confusion, thwarted desire, and misdirected affection. This book, however, is a deeper and darker work than its predecessors, more complex in...

(The entire section is 357 words.)

Henry Hitchings (review date 27 October 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hitchings, Henry. “Perverts and Their Prey.” Times Literary Supplement (27 October 2000): 23.

[In the following review, Hitchings alleges that Period fails to take a clear stand, and that Cooper's intentions are obscure and “illegible.”]

For twenty years, Dennis Cooper cultivated a reputation as a subversive, stylish, gay poet. Then, in 1994, he published Closer, the first in a series of loosely connected novels. His new book, Period, concludes this quintet of edgy, risk-taking volumes. As the title suggests, it is intended to bring the sequence to a definitive close; but Cooper, who is seldom content with the standard formulae of...

(The entire section is 652 words.)

Elizabeth Young (review date 20 November 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Young, Elizabeth. “On the Buttocks.” New Statesman (20 November 2000): 52.

[In the following review, Young discusses Cooper's series of five novels, offering a positive evaluation of Period. Young acknowledges the base and sordid elements, but lauds the “grace and elegance” and “ethical torment” within the works.]

When Dennis Cooper began his quintuplet of novels in 1989, of which Period is the last, he was no more than a minor poet on the Los Angeles avant-garde gay scene. But as the novels appeared with relentless regularity, and Cooper became more widely known, critics competed to garnish his work with ever more elaborate encomia:...

(The entire section is 1091 words.)

Kevin McCarron (essay date 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McCarron, Kevin. “‘The Crack-House Flicker’: The Sacred and the Absurd in the Short Stories of Dennis Cooper, Denis Johnson, and Thom Jones.” Yearbook of English Studies 31 (2001): 50-61.

[In the following excerpt, McCarron examines Cooper's depiction of existential angst, irreligion, and the impossibility of transcendence in his short fiction and series of novels, offering comparison to the work of the Marquis de Sade.]

Even an image he'd thought religious this morning is just a snap of some junkie on hands and knees, beckoning over one shoulder, eyes drugged to pitch-black, asshole fucked so many times it resembles an empty eye...

(The entire section is 4241 words.)