Claudia Reinhardt

Interview mit Dennis Cooper

What kind of drugs do you use or had used?

I haven't used drugs for a few years. I'm into clear headedness these days, which actually feels sort of like a drug to me, maybe because I've been high off and on for much of my life. When I did take drugs, I was into just about everything, as long as it altered me in an interesting way, though my all time favorite drug is LSD. I suppose the drug I did the most was speed, though I think it's a relatively stupid and useless drug in retrospect.

How is your biography? How, why and when did you start to write? How did you "learn" it?

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles called Arcadia. My parents were self-made multi-millionaires. My dad is an eccentric guy who's done all sorts of things from advising Presidents of the United States on agricultural issues to running the company that made rocket parts for NASA in the 60s. He was best friends with Richard Nixon when I was a kid, but they had a huge falling out. I've been writing since I was a little kid, I don't know why.
I started getting serious about writing when I was 15, mostly inspired by reading Rimbaud and Sade. I never studied writing, apart from a couple of poetry workshops in college. I always had these intense things I wanted to communicate, and I just wrote, and tried to learn tricks from writers I admired, and eventually I had my own voice. Something like that.

Do you use paper or do you only write with the computer?

I write by hand, pen and paper. I usually go through a few drafts that way, then I put it in the computer and use that to edit and rewrite. I can't write on the computer, except for email. Even when I write for magazines, I have to write them out by hand first.

Do you write at home, how does it look like? (Sorry that I sound like a stupid housewife magazine tussi. We get deeper, later).

I write wherever I am, but usually it's at home. I live in an apartment in East Hollywood. It looks sort of like a little house attached to a bunch of other little houses in this kind of 'L' shape. It's small and crammed with books and CDs and things like that. Very messy and functional, not designery at all.

What kind of music do you like?

The music I like changes all the time. I guess my favorite bands these days are Spiritualized, Pavement, and Guided By Voices. Lately I've been listening to and liking Cornelius, Air, Tortoise, Plaid, Aphex Twin.

What are the most important things that inspire your work? How do you get your ideas?

Well, my work is about things that have haunted me all my life. I like to write about things that frighten and fascinate me at the same time. I get inspired by people I know, or have known. It depends on the book, really.
You can usually tell because I tend to namecheck my inspirations in the novels.

What are you teaching at UCLA?

At UCLA I'm an advisor to graduate fine arts students. Basically, I meet one on one with young sculptors, painters, photographers, etcetera, and try to help them do whatever it is they want to do.

Do you like LA and why (Not)?

Yeah, I like LA a lot. I grew up here, obviously. I lived in New York for four years, and Amsterdam for two and a half years, and this is definitely a more interesting place to live. I like its immensity, its disorganized layout, the way you can isolate yourself here, and the way the city changes physically all the time. It makes living a relatively organized life feel like a radical thing to do, and that suits me.

Reading your novels, especially "Ran", I think about Larry Clark and the position of the artist/author. How do you get so close to the spirit of these people?

I think I get close to their spirit because I'm just like them. I'm more like them than I am like the predatory characters. But I can imagine what the predatory characters feel and why they do what they do too. But in spirit, I'm kind of a fucked up innocent, really. As far as Larry Clark goes, I admire his work, but there's a creepyness in his relationship to his subjects that I'm excited by, but which I don't relate to at all. I feel like his erotic interest in his subjects is less complicated and more unchecked than

One subject in your novels is the body and the loss of the body. What do you think about the discourses of "the" post modernism where the individual disappears? Do you and how, fit in with these theories?

I'm very interested in post-modern discourse as a general rule. Some writers and thinkers more than others, obviously. It's more that I feel a kinship with certain theorists than that I'm particularly influenced by them. If I'm influenced by any of them, it's Maurice Blanchot. His ideas thrill and make a lot of sense to me, and I feel like I'm owe him a debt.

Your characters are members of the lost generation. They are fucked up with sex and drugs and they suffer for their coldness and their loss of emotions. They desire pain and death to become alive. In one of the German foreword you are mentionted with Bataille. Did you really have him in mind?

Well, of course I admire Bataille, but I don't have him in mind. I think the comparison is good in the sense that it clues readers in to my work's complexities, but I don't feel like his work was a mentor to mine. I came to him pretty late, after I'd developed most of my formal ideas and already had a deep relationship to my subject matter. But I like being compared to Bataille more than I like being compared to Burroughs. I like Burroughs' early work, but I don't feel like my work has much in common with his, apart from both of us being homosexual, obsessive, and interested in writing about sex.

What kind of art do you like?

Well, I like all different sorts of art. I suppose I'm more disposed to sculpture and photography than I am to painting. These days I'm really into Charles Ray, Tony Smith, Paul Thek, and light and space artists like James Turrell and Robert Irwin, in particular. I'm generally most interested in new, young artists, most of whom no one over there would have heard of. There are a lot of amazing young LA artists these days - Jason Meadows, Frances Stark, Evan Holloway, Liz Craft, Tim Rogeberg - people who haven't shown much work outside of LA yet.

"...being cold was the only way I could deflect all this ...emotions, whatever."
How happen that the kids get these feelings of coldness, what is it that make them afraid of?

That's a pretty big question. I don't know. I think the world is very difficult to negotiate emotionally. I think contemporary culture offers a very simplistic representation of people's internal lives. It's built on archetypes, stereotypes, and there's the obvious tendency to group people according to race, sexual preference, gender, and all that. I think my characters don't fit into any of the molds, and their complexity isolates them, and they're forced to behave somewhat mechanically in order to hide who they are. They're afraid of being misunderstood, and desperate to be understood. I think they've chosen a certain passivity because they're not sure who they are, and don't want to present a false or misleading face to the world, and they secretly hope that someone will see through that passivity, and recognize who they are, and inform them somehow.

"I guess I'm self-destructive. Except I don't see it that way. Because I tend to experience things, even weired things like violence, as forms of informations about what or who I'm physically." You describe the paradox situation of being self-destructive and hungry for life. That's the old, big theme of the desire for death. But in your stories there is more social reality involved, like the reality of using drugs, having sex, being homosexual and living in the USA. And all that seems to be depressing, negative and hopeless. Did I get the point or I'm totally wrong?

Well, I don't see my work as a critique of life in the USA, though it may well be, by virtue of the fact that the characters are mostly American, and the novels are generally set in Los Angeles. I think the meaninglessness of life in the novels is my attempt to describe the paradox of trying to live a unique, original, adventurous life in a world that doesn't encourage or appreciate true originality. Sex, drugs, music, and things like that are used by the characters in hopes of creating a substantial inner life through those things' influence and distortion. As far as being homosexual, the alienation there comes less from society's lack of acceptance of homosexuality than from a feeling of intense alienation with the so-called 'gay community' in the United States, which has grown as banal, brainless, and consumerist as the worst parts of heterosexual culture.

How do you call your genre, is it porno, is it S&M? How is your interest in that?

My genre? I'm not sure what you mean by that. I don't think my work is either pornography or S&M related, if that's what you're saying. I'm very interested in pornography, of course. I study it a lot for my work, and represent it in my work regularly. S&M is a perfectly interesting activity, but it's a bit too formal and rule oriented for my tastes.

Did you get no trouble, someone could say that you are glorify violence, sex with kids and pornography? What do you say to that kind of reproachs?

I get in trouble with gay identity hardliners, who think my work misrepresents the 'gay community.' In the past, I've received death threats and so on, but at this point my trouble mostly involves stupid, vicious reviews of my books in the gay press. I think the reproaches are silly, and my only response is that I'm not representing any community in my work, and in I fact think the whole notion of a collective identity based on sexual preference is ludicrous, and a sign of contemporary gay culture's depressing lack of nerve and imagination. Herd mentality is always wrongheaded, as far as I'm concerned.

What is coming next? What are you concerned with at the moment?

Closer, Frisk, Try, and Guide are the first four novels in a quintet. I'm working the fifth and final novel. When it's finished, I hope to change my work radically. I'm not sure that I'll continue to write novels. If I do, they will be very different from the work I've done. The fifth novel is concerned in part with memorializing George Miles, the great friend of my youth, and the muse of all my work, who killed himself ten years ago. Otherwise, I'm working on collaborations with several artists, and planning to create a pornographic photo novella. There are also several film projects in the works, based on Try, on my graphic novel 'Horror Hospital Unplugged' and on my story 'Wrong,' and I might be involved in those projects in some way.