The Most Dangerous Writer In America

Coming to Terms With the Art of Dennis Cooper

This specter of the dead lover is why Cooper reminds his most astute critics of that great American necrophiliac, Edgar Allan Poe. "Poe said that the most beautiful subject, the most fit for literature, is the most melancholy—the death of the maiden," writes the poet Robert Glück. "Cooper's drugged-out, murdered teenage boys are our Annabel Lees in their beauty and their inability to survive, in the intensity of love's failure. In fact, they don't have to die to be dead."

Just as Poe created worlds that were hermetically his own yet essentially ours, Cooper's teenage wasteland—with its majestic duh-speak that, he says, "reveals while it hides, so it gets at what's going on more clearly"—leaves us wondering about the present and the future. It's an issue that was raised in regard to Burroughs, too. At the Nova Convention, this reporter asked Burroughs if he worried about whether people might form societies based on his books. "Well, that could happen with any writer," he drawled. "You could have a universe of Graham Greene Catholics or a Max Ernst universe. In actual practice, the influence of fiction is not direct. It creates new possibilities and new ways."

What are the possibilities in Cooper's world? The answer is suggested by the project he is contemplating now that his George Miles cycle is complete. It's about Kip Kinkel, the kid who shot up his high school in Oregon after killing his parents. He told police that he had done the deed because he loved them too much to bear their disappointment in him. Hearing Kip's confession on TV, Cooper was as mesmerized as he had been years before by the dead boys in the mountains behind his house. "This kid was completely alone," he says. "I felt a strong need to be with him."

Dennis Cooper will read from Period at Barnes & Noble, 675 Sixth Avenue, on March 1 at 7:30 p.m. For information about the Cooper conference at NYU call 212-998-2596.

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