by Joyelle McSweeney on Mar.13, 2012
I want to say “Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm is as cunning, deadly, and exquisitely made as a slim dagger carved from the horns of an extinct miniature Indonesian hooved quadruped and presently applied with extreme precision between the reader’s third and fourth ribs” except that I would also have to say the opposite: “ Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm is as large and stunning as a white and deadly blow, as skullcrushing as a clout in the head from Zeus or a muscleman wielding a porcelain sink.” It has to be both because The Marbled Swarm is an impossible book– an inside-out book. It is a queer, sprained construction-in-profusion that somehow also launches itself with arterial force from the vacant no-place of its heart(-less) (non-)center.
Dennis Cooper deserves a medal from the French, the one for the books of strangers (or, more lucratively, a casket of those smart-metals from the Chinese) for this brilliant, killer book. For one thing, I have never before read a book whose raison d’etre, obsession, icon is its own style, whose style is its main character, its idea, its ideal, and its ordeal.
“Serge favored vintage black Slimane jeans, so tight in the legs that his near-robotic gait would have made Pinocchio a track star. His faux old-fashioned choice of a white and gauzy sweater flecked with Christmas trees was geared to mismate with a visible black T-shirt whose skull-emblazoned front seemed to represent his tortured soul’s Peeping Tom. His limp, unimaginatively brown, forgotten-esque hair was worn in two chin-length, barely parted bangs that cordoned off a lightly made-up face so classic that, had he not been such a downer, it might have sucked fan mail into his in-box like atmosphere into a punctured jet.”
I had to read these sentences so slowly I felt like a black fly on the waxen-brow of a coma-victim, or like a penitent crawling on my knees on the highway to some grotesque church where a saint’s backbone softly farts a rose-odor: black, filthy, heart-quickened, despairing, exhilarated, converted, dizzied, not long for this world. There is something necrophilic about the narrator’s verbal licking of Serge’s motionless form, and also something violent about the fantastic closing image—as if a stiletto puncture to the lung is in Serge’s future, as if so slim is his obsessively flattened image that he must soon be fully crushed. And indeed, dear reader, read on to find what kind of violences await Serge and the other teenage ‘Flatsos’ pressed in this Bataillean album.
Finally, I want to say that the ‘inside-out’ brilliance of this book comes from its obsession with its own style, with wealth, race, image, and fantasy, and also, especially with architecture. As a gratuitously twinning geography of bodies and buildings begins to overpopulate the book (and I use the word ‘gratuitously’ positively, as I detest fair-market-values) the narrating consciousness (which can barely be called that to begin with)itself gets almost squeezed off the pages, indeed, does get squeezed into a fatal spasm of inarticulateness and stylelessness, an artless howl which collapses the ivory vault of the book. Every structure of the book inverts, shows itself to have hidden passages, hidden conduits of control. When this happens, that is, when the narrative reveals itself to have a raison-d’etre besides its own gratuitousness (what a conventional mind might call a ”plot”, or even, more shockingly, an ‘author’) it can’t live with itself. The book dies.
The Marbled Swarm one hell of a book, the perfect toxic cocktail, viral attachment or poisoned kiss for inverts and degenerates like the lot of us.