I read a few of Dennis Cooper's books around 2007.It was a really weird time for me. I was living in San Francisco and felt off-kilter and displaced a lot. And also, just cold. That city is so fucking cold. I was reading authors that really weren't good for me at the time--Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, and most of all, Dennis Cooper.
I liked Cooper's books. Physically, I liked them. I liked how they looked, their titles, and how the binding felt (soft, giving easily).
There was a bookstore called Aardvark Books on Church Street where I would pick them up, and then I would sell them back; I'm normally a complete bibliophile, or whatever the fuck that word is, but I didn't want those books in my apartment. They felt evil.
I know what I sound like. Taking a moral stance towards literature is archaic and limiting. But that is what I liked about the books. They challenged my cool Beyond Good and Evil mentality, which I had adopted from a college rhetoric class in which the teacher described Nietzsche as the first breath of fresh air in a couple thousand years of philosophy.
Suspension of morality is an important part of reading and experience for me. I'm not sure exactly what I mean about this, but something about how you need to read the stuff from a place of non-judgment. It is a way of saying, maybe I would do the same thing, be capable of that. And maybe it would seem ok? It's tricky, the tension between instinctive reactions (my conscience) and this other way of perceiving, filter off.
So this is what I liked about Dennis Cooper--he wrote stuff that offended me, made me angry, and turned on the internal book-burning censor that apparently does exist in my head. Most of the offending text involved detailed descriptions of raping and carving up little boys, the depravity of which I've only read elsewhere in the works of the Marquis de Sade.
If you've been listening to The Weeknd, you probably know where I am going with this. Sadism. It's interesting to look at. The House of Ballons mixtape was dark but also beautiful, melodic and very sad. Thursday, released five months later, veered into much darker waters, Drake's cameo being what kind of haunts me the most about it.
Woah, all these broken hearts on that pole
Man if pole dancers are art you know how many fuckin’ artists I know
Got some new bills in the mail
Got some big favours I owe
Got some good things ahead of me
When these bad bitches let go
Well, girl lets go
Walk your broken heart through that door
Sit yo sexy ass on that couch
Wipe that lipstick off of your mouth
This music makes me cringe, but I can't stop listening to it. I will listen to a few songs, and then switch purposely to something happy just so that I won't get all depressed. I can't even really listen to the third mixtape, Echoes of Silence. It's literally too fucked up for me.
Sadism in art is weird because it awakens in me that conflict between ethics and non-judgement. On the one hand, there seems to be a problem with women being treated this way in society. It doesn't seem healthy. And on the other hand, even making a comment like that gives me a feeling of embarrassment--the same as I would feel if I were talking about racism or eating animals. Feminist Jenna and Nihilist Jenna really don't get along.
I was texting with one of my best friends last night. She still lives in San Francisco. She is really into feminism. She was telling me that this new guys she is dating calls women "womyn" and talks about how men "mansplain" to belittle women. I don't really see it this way. I think that men can often try to impress women with their knowledge, and women can try to charm men by pretending that they're slightly less smart than they are. It seems like the manipulation goes both ways, and maybe it's not honest, but why is honesty necessarily important?
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats once said at a show something that I will never forget. (Squirrel: John Darnielle does the best stage banter I've ever seen.) He said that whenever someone says they're just being honest, you should run away as quickly as possible, because they are about to say something very mean. I wonder if deception is maybe sometimes kind, or fun, or seductive.
And by deception, I mean making the content of reality into something unreal. In music, this can be done with effect pedals, samples, auto-tune. Or you can do it in writing like Gertrude Stein:
A closet, a closet does not connect under the bed. The band if it is white and black, the band has a green string. A sight a whole sight and a little groan grinding makes a trimming such a sweet singing trimming and a red thing not a round thing but a white thing, a red thing and a white thing.
That's about sex, right? ... maybe? ...
Circling back around to morality, it seems interesting to contort ethics in a similar way. The novelist Murakami does it by skinning cats alive, and you see it in the exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust with a live dissection of a turtle, followed later by the murder of a woman as a spear is jammed into her vagina, then through her mouth. (I think I saw that in 2007, too. 2007 was a rough year.) There is something about the examination of horror that seems valuable, even though I can't tell you what that thing is.
I know a lot of people who are offended by this kind of stuff, both on the Left and the Right. I'm offended, too. But I guess for me, it's a nice feeling. The state of being offended by art makes me question myself very much. It's as though both the taking offense, and the acceptance, are existing in the same place. The contradiction is pleasing.