For the last exhibition organized at its temporary shopfront venue, Kunstverein presented a selection of writer Dennis Cooper’s notes and accompanying material for the five novels in his ‘George Miles Cycle’. Comprising Closer (1989), Frisk (1991), Try (1994), Guide (1997), and Period (2000), these books form a cluster of male/male desire, drugs and sexualized violence, covering up a lack or loss of language. The eponymous teen – alternately the object and seeker of the characters’ love – was named for a troubled kid whom Cooper befriended when he was himself a boy. At Kunstverein, a large vitrine occupying most of the space revealed bits and pieces of the intricate structural composition of the cycle, as shown in Cooper’s papers, notes and diagrams for the five books. Some magazine clippings of lost, or just pretty, boys marked their visual presence in what was, essentially, a collection of writings: journals, loose scribbles, snippets, sketches, fragments, both handwritten and typed, dissected by the author in thorough edits of drafts. These were words that rummage the dark spots of our emotional and – oh, yes – physical make-up.
The first book I read by Cooper was a more recent work, The Sluts (2005), which revolves around another search for Brad, a gay male escort whose ‘true’ identity, if he has one, dissolves in the disembodied chatter on hustler review websites and online gay discussion boards. The more ‘Brad’ covers verbal ground, the more he escapes from view. Is he for real? Cooper’s writings are about the limits of language; about meaning that arises in the cut, the void, the inability to say things with words. I recently read, in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct (1995), that human vocalizations other than language – like sobbing, laughing, moaning, etc. – are not controlled by the cerebral cortex (the place where words pop up), but in other neural structures that involve our emotions. It made me think of Cooper. In essence, emotions cannot be expressed through language. The closest that language comes to covering our emotional depths – where it touches upon human sensation – is in the uncontrolled cursing by someone with Tourette’s Syndrome (also ‘controlled’ sub-cortically) or in the hollow ‘fuck yeah’ of someone asking for more. Cooper’s writing points to that gap between language and emotion.
Unlike the kinds of novels you can’t put down, which spill out infinite amounts of words and sentences to keep the reader’s attention, Cooper’s books are concise, minimal. Which is not to say that they only require minimal engagement. Speaking from my own experience, my engagement is precisely that of repeatedly putting his book down. For, how can you turn the page when someone has just been cut in half? (To those who haven’t read Cooper’s fiction, this is not a spoiler, just one of many violent instances). Behind, or because of, all the violence, destruction and murder, there is something that exists outside these books, outside language.
The sculptural notion of Cooper’s writings – something that appears out of something else being cut away, like a young Adonis sculpted out of a piece of marble stone, was essential to the installation of the archive at Kunstverein, which offers a good sense of the way Cooper constructs his fiction. Amongst the papers presented were, for example, a graph of concentric circles, intersected by an arrow for the language, the writing, that cuts right through (the structure for Period), and a sketch for the complete cycle, visualizing how the books mirror one another – ABCBA – with the more or less insular presence of Try (C) in the middle. Cooper’s papers were shown alongside works by Falke Pisano (for which Period served as an inspiration) and Vincent Fecteau (who inspired Cooper in his writing of Period), which made an elegant addition – another mirror – to this exhibition, although one could not help but read these as (interesting, descriptive) notes in the margin of that determined and obsessive body of Cooper’s fiction, and his long-lasting writing commitment to George.