by megan milks on Jul.03, 2011
As I’ve noted in comments, I’ve been working on a review/critical essay of Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts, and the connections between Cooper’s work and recent discussions about Twin Peaks, violence, and complicity are compelling. I’m thinking mainly, of course, of the George Miles Cycle and The Sluts. The review hasn’t been accepted yet, and will probably go through revision if/when it is, but here’s a quick excerpt from the draft I just sent off:
The five-novel George Miles Cycle (Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide, Period) explores the eroticization of death amid a swirling confusion of fantasy and reality, and the sex is often as violent and graphically depicted as the murders. Cooper’s cycle presents such transgressions as queer sex, incest, pedophilia, kiddie and snuff porn with uncomfortable rigor and a brutally disengaged tone. Within them, the figure of George Miles circulates, sometimes named George, sometimes taking other names, other forms, but generally figuring as an effeminate young man carrying around a traumatic past, substance abuse problems, and a romanticized death drive, and always inhabiting an unknowable body upon which others can and do enact their fantasies. Many of these fantasies involve death, and the body count is high – though … it’s important to note that a number of the deaths in this cycle are consensual, accidental, or fantastic, and all of them possess a queasy, unstable moral ambiguity. While censure is never absent – the novels’ self-reflexity and Cooper’s self-implication keep it hovering in the air – it certainly doesn’t land. The moral edge of the series is, if thin and treacherous, carefully constructed. The reader does not know where she stands on these events, but she is certainly a participant.
A character similar to George circulates in The Sluts, which largely takes place on a website devoted to reviewing gay escorts. Similar to Laura Palmer, whom Johannes has described as “a site of excess,” The Sluts’ Brad exceeds himself and the boundaries inscribed upon him. The language used by others to describe him is emphatically inconistent (according to the reviews, Brad has seven different heights, four different eye colors, occasionally an exstremely distinct tattoo). But Brad (if there is a “real” Brad, and this remains questionable throughout the novel), unlike Laura Palmer, is still alive (at least, until there is a question of his being alive). Despite his attempts to correct his reviewers’ accounts of things, his own version of events and of his identity is just as incomplete and easily discardable as those of his reviewers. “Brad,” then, is some kind of vacuum character: just as quickly as he’s filled, he’s emptied of meaning. Or maybe more accurately, “Brad,” is some kind of internal organ (potentially the bowels).
Whoever Brad is, he’s apparently so compelling and cute that he incites a number of murder fantasies (so many, in fact, that an offshoot web community, KillNickCarter, is formed to accommodate these desires on less morally ambiguous grounds). In the convo on Johannes’ post, many folks were discussing the instability of Twin Peaks – specifically the notion, discussed by Johannes, Lara, Danielle, and probably other folks, that Lynch creates “no safe space” for the audience to view it. I think I put this into moral terms maybe preemptively, but remain fascinated by the connections between Lynch’s and Cooper’s moral ambiguities and destabilizations.
Cooper works similarly to Lynch, but is perhaps more direct about interrogating the (a)moralities on display in his novels – or maybe not – it’s been a while, honestly, since I’ve seen Twin Peaks. In comparison with the George Miles books, The Sluts is perhaps the most straightforward of Cooper’s work in addressing morality, maybe because it’s straight comedy in places. The “Board” section, for instance, indirectly comments on Cooper’s work and its reception. From my review:
This section is the most self-reflexive of the novel, and the one which most openly comments on Cooper’s work and its reception; in it, we get a bevy of contrasting opinions about community members’ desires to either kill or save Brad. Perspectives range from recantings like “this whole thing is just sick porn and we’ve all been implicated” (126) to defenses like “our fantasy lives are not a police state” (130), and members express varying degrees of concern over their own morality: “underthegunguy,” for instance, asks, of his desire to see the alleged Stevie Sexed snuff video: “Does that make me an amoral moster? That’s a serious question” (139). When Elaine pops in to say, “Hi, everyone. I’m Brad’s girlfriend Elaine. I think some of you are mentally ill” (130), it seems clear that Cooper is using this polyvocality as a vehicle to air (and mock) some of the grievances he’s received in response to his other novels – accusations that he is sick, amoral, mentally ill, etc. The self-reflexivity through polyphony is tongue in cheek, and teems with ironic jabs aimed at anyone taking the story too seriously.
I wonder where you all might see Lynch (in Twin Peaks and elsewhere) fitting with Cooper in relation to self-reflexivity and comedy (esp in relation to the melodrama/parody/kitsch elements) – also how literature and film can/do work differently as comic vehicles when it comes to (morally/ethically/ideologically? can’t seem to land on the right word) fraught narratives – for instance, with regard to reinscriptions/deformations of dead-girl/female-objectifying tropes or whatever else.