States of Independence
Dazed's ultimate guide to US creativity

Dennis Cooper: the godfather of alt lit

The legendary chronicler of the American rebel talks to Stuart Hammond about his explicit new film – and tells us why the novel's not dead yet

Dennis Cooper
Author Dennis Cooper Bruno Werzinski

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day.

Dennis Cooper, the punk pioneer of the written word and Visionaries collaborator, brings his transgressive spirit to Dazed today. There's an interview with the man himself – "America's most dangerous writer" – as well as his curated selection of other writers who go against the grain: including Eugene Lim, Frank Hinton and Joyelle McSweeney with her Oscar Pistorius opera (no, really).

Dennis Cooper is the proud godfather of alt lit and the celebrated author of some of the most brilliant and most eye-poppingly transgressive writing of our time. His poems, stories, novels and plays have seen him elevated to a near God-like status among literary types who revel in the rejection of conventional norms, and in his infinitely generous capacity as a curator, editor and blogger, he's dedicated absolutely fucking oodles of time to speaking out about the new work that he loves. He is a true rogue and a true legend and we were truly pleased to speak to him again, when we phoned him up on the set of the movie he's currently making.

So the last time we talked you were trying to get this porn film you'd written funded and made. You're shooting it now, right?

Dennis Cooper: Yeah, well it's not a porn film anymore, by any stretch of the imagination, but yeah.

What happened to the porno element?

Dennis Cooper: That got removed quite a while ago. It was originally written as a porn film, but then when my friend Zac got involved in the project as the director, we scaled that back, and we just kept on scaling it back. There is sex in it – explicit sex – but it's not a porn film by any means anymore.

Is that a disappointment for you?

Dennis Cooper: No, no! I mean; it was our choice. It's much, much, much more interesting this way. It's still all about sex, but we decided not to show the sex in that kind of pornographic way. It's shown, and it's explicit when it is shown, but it's just a different way of thinking about it, which I think is much more interesting.

Will the movie get a cinema release?

Dennis Cooper: Oh, I don't know – we'll see! They're hoping to. I mean; that's the plan. It sort of depends. We've shot three of the scenes and we have two more to shoot. One of them is very, very explicit, unless we end up changing it, and that one will probably prevent it from being shown in theatres. But the ones we've shot so far would probably get in. There is rimming in them and stuff, so I don't know.

“There's this weird thing among writers of my generation: they just stop paying attention to young writers. And I don't, obviously. To me, something like alt lit is just the most exciting thing ever.” – Dennis Cooper

Good old rimming. Bret Easton Ellis has said that the future of the novel is in TV and film. Are you in agreement with him on that?

Dennis Cooper: No, I don't agree with that at all. I don't like conventional novels, but I never did, ever since I was a kid. Bret seems to have decided that he doesn't want to be a novelist any more, so it would make sense that he would feel that way. But I definitely don't feel that way at all. 

So there's still a place for the novel?

Dennis Cooper: Oh absolutely, for sure. I mean; there are more fascinating novels being written now than there have been since I was young, so obviously it's still a very vital form. 

For a writer of your generation, you’re kind of incongruously overflowing with optimistim about the future of literature, aren’t you?

Dennis Cooper: There's this weird thing among writers of my generation: they just stop paying attention to young writers. And I don't, obviously. To me, something like alt lit is just the most exciting thing ever, because there's so much work out there now. I just don't see any argument against it. In your own career or whatever, you end up being pigeonholed - and I certainly have been - and you end up being left in this corner. That's never really bothered me, but I think it bothers other people; that younger writers get a lot of attention, and the older generation of writers, who are already known, don't get that kind of flashy attention. But I don't care about that at all. 

But it’s not unusual for a writer getting into his sixties to bemoan the effect that the internet has had on literary culture. Your view seems the opposite of that…

Dennis Cooper: Oh completely the opposite, yeah, absolutely. The internet created this whole new space for writers to connect and create these communities, with new presses and online presses and stuff. All these new writers that I really like; a lot of them are using the internet the way we used paper, you know? So the internet itself is a form for literature now. I mean, it's against the whole idea of the book, in a way. But that's really exciting. It makes it more accessible, and it's affordable. I think the internet's been a huge, huge, huge help. Plus it gives you all these new forms to co-opt and manipulate into your writing. Language is being reinvented really fast now, because of the way people write on the internet. I see it all as an extremely positive thing. 

“I think I'm probably more interested in American literature than anything else at the moment, because there's just so much happening: it's the most exciting place for literature right now.” – Dennis Cooper

So it’s an enrichment, rather than an impoverishment of language that’s going on?

Dennis Cooper: 
Yeah! When I was a kid and there was psychedelic literature and all that stuff, people said that about that stuff too. It's just nonsense. It's conservatism. I have no patience for that. It's ridiculous. I mean, music keeps changing, and reinventing itself all the time. Why shouldn't language? Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram and all these things: they're giving you all these new spaces to work in, and ways to think about structure, and the way things are placed on the page and all that stuff. It's a totally rich vein to be mined. People get stuck in this thing of wanting to write conventional literary novels – and that's fine – but I don't know why you wouldn't want to keep getting better, and to try and do more with writing. But people don't. They just get stuck in their ways, and that's the way it is. 

Do you have any residual nostalgia for that pre-internet world of photocopied zines and snail mail that you came up in? 

Dennis Cooper: No. I hate nostalgia. I think nostalgia's the enemy of everything. I'm not a nostalgic person. I think things are much more exciting now. I mean; there was something really beautiful about Xeroxed zines and stuff – and people still do them, it's not that people don't do them any more. It's just that an online zine has so many more possibilities. I used to do a magazine called Little Caesar, but my blog now is kind of like the same thing as that magazine. There's so much more you can do, even with something as primitive as a blog. You can make these crazy magazines. I don't have any nostalgia for the old ways at all. That time has passed. At least for the moment. 

How would you say you felt right now about the state of American literature in particular? Is it in rude health?

Dennis Cooper: Well when I was younger I was only interested in European writers. I wasn't interested in American literature – well, just a little bit: some of my peers and stuff. I think I'm probably more interested in American literature than anything else at the moment, because there's just so much happening: it's the most exciting place for literature right now. There's this huge volume of it coming out. And also there's not really the vogue for translation now that there was when I was younger, so a lot of the more interesting writers in Europe aren't getting translated into English very much. So I don't have access to that work. But I think that for the first time in a long time, America's kind of like a guide now, for new fiction and poetry. It's just the most innovative place, and the most lively right now. It's so exciting! 

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