The Sluts &/vs Twin Peaks (briefly)

by 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.

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6 comments for this entry:
  1. Lucas de Lima

    I like thinking about genre and self-reflexivity in both Lynch and Cooper. Just as no one on the Internet forum in The Sluts wants Brad to die a boring death (thus fabricating stories about his torture and in this sense attempt to stand in as both the readers and writers of his narrative), Lynch’s spectator is similarly set up for the typical arc of a horror/thriller. In both cases, though, the narrative often defies, delays, or reorients our expectations. I’m thinking about how both Cooper and Lynch denaturalize suspense through the nonsequitur (Bolano is also great at this)… Think about the endless and often contradictory forum messages in Cooper’s novel, and the quirky and seemingly pointless dialogue in Lynch. The thrills, when they do come, are always already too steeped in artificiality to take on simplistic ideological terms.

  2. Danielle Pafunda

    Great stuff, Megan! I have to read The Sluts, and am glad to have your take going in.

    & I love Lucas’s observation about denaturalizing suspense–might be another reason Lynch works so well for me–since I recoil from classic suspense structures, and have all sorts of anxiety about narrative that prevents me from enjoying movies (I can’t go to movie theaters anymore–get all anxious trapped in a dark room with a narrative bossing me around).

    Has anyone read Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama? I think it adds some fab layers to this discussion… I read it a decade ago. Reread time! It’s about fashion model terrorists.

    Speaking of narrative anxiety/trauma, it’s time here for the daily viewing of Ponyo. Helps!

  3. adam strauss

    i’ve read glamorama; all i remember is the funny club-decor-prep opening scene, with its i suppose parody of tastemaking.

    happy 4th (urgh tho surely the 4th shld be uncelebrated)

  4. megan milks

    lucas, thanks for these thoughts – agreed, i like what you say about the use of non sequitur in cooper to denaturalize suspense. the “killnickcarter” webgroup is a great example of this – a new thread spins off the brad thread but ends up returning with its tail down, failed. these sorts of moves seem to be precisely what mobilizes The Sluts as comedy.

    danielle and adam – say more about glamorama! (please.) i haven’t read it, though i’ve read most of ellis’s other stuff. american psycho is an interesting comparison too, for obvious reasons, but i’m sick of american psycho. what layers might glamorama add?

  5. adam strauss

    I can’t say much about Glamorama as I dont remember much. I just recall it as being glamorous and I’m guessing its gender politics suck (A Psycho sure does in that regard–oh but the movie opening with the rasperry sauce rocks). Does BEE do the endless namebrand dropping method–brand as charatcer–trope in Glamorama as in A Psycho? Really for me anything with generically good lookin’ guys and gals and ten grand outfits with plenty of booze and even more coke just always appeals to me: I am all about shallow (so long as its aware and not delusional or the equivalent of signifyin’ except I’m not sure shallowness can be signified on; what do ya’ll think of Gates’ Signifyin(g) Monkey?); Bernini-esque shallowness–whoohoo! I barely remember the terrorist bit, but am pretty sure I liked that element. Yah I’m easy to please: expensive shopping, drugs and a great pair of legs is all I need to turn page after page after page and, lol, of course my predilection for these millieus turns no cultural page.

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