Dennis Cooper

Dennis Cooper, manuscript pages from early drafts of Wrong (1994). Courtesy of the Fales Library.

Dennis Cooper is an American writer and artist based in Paris. In 1987 he moved from New York to Amsterdam, where he wrote his novel Closer (1989), the first book in his celebrated pentalogy, “The George Miles Cycle” (1989–2000). “Closer—The Dennis Cooper Papers,” an exhibition based on the cycle and incorporating works by Vincent Fecteau and Falke Pisano as well as a new commission by Trisha Donnelly, is on view at the Kunstverein in Amsterdam through June 23, 2012.

WELL, YOU PROBABLY KNOW that George Miles was very troubled. When we met I was fifteen, and he was twelve. I was taking care of him and he was kind of schizophrenic. I knew at that age that I wanted to write this big work or something, and it slowly became the cycle. I planned the structure of the books in advance. I wanted to write about disorientation and acts of sex and cruelty, and try to articulate things that are impossible to articulate in language, like desire and the incoherence of violence and love.

I didn’t originally think I would write the books for George. That was a later development. I decided that if I made him the mutating main character of this series, that it would have a kind of heart. If I used him, I would let myself go to extremes. But in some way the books would always be on his side, would always protect him because that was the way I felt about him as a person. And I talked to him about it and I asked him if I could use him as the model character and he said yeah. He thought it was fine. You know, he was pleased.

There used to be this big annual literary festival in Holland called the One World Poetry Festival. I came over to read in the early 1980s, and I met this person and, you know, things developed as they do with people, and then long story short I ended up following him to Amsterdam. We started fighting within a week and it didn’t last, and then I was just here on my own for two and a half years.

I just needed to get away from New York. One, I was doing too many drugs. Going to Amsterdam to get away from drugs is such a dumb idea, and it didn’t work. And then honestly I didn’t have much money and even then the rents in New York were not great, and I really like the city but two years is about all I can take. Plus AIDS was happening and all my friends were dying and sick so it was just a horrible time. So I’d kind of had it. I wanted to be someplace really foreign. I didn’t have any friends; I was sort of bored and lonely. It wasn’t like I specifically came to write a book, but I was pretty much ready to do it.

While I was in Holland I wrote George a bunch of letters. I didn’t have a telephone or anything. He never wrote me back. But that was like him because he was kind of a mess. I went back to the US and I tried to get in touch with him and I never could. It turns out he killed himself in 1987, and I didn’t finish the first novel until maybe 1988, so he never read any of it. I still feel close to him. I continue to write about him, I just don’t use his name. He ended up being kind of my muse.

Outside of fiction I write these theater pieces with Gisèle Vienne, like that thing in the Whitney Biennial. The last piece we did, This is how you will disappear, has a whole forest and a forty-minute fog sculpture by the artist Fujiko Nakaya, which requires this huge system of pipes over the stage. It’s very expensive to bring overseas. There’s been a lot of interest, but nobody has any money for that in the States. I also do this blog, which is really time consuming. I sit down and write these “P.S.’s” where I talk to all the responders for like three or four hours. And it’s just like “blah blah blah”—it’s really different from my prose. But it’s actually useful. In my last novel, The Marbled Swarm, there is a little bit of the tempo of that kind of writing. But to me they are really separate. A blog is just writing letters. In some ways doing the blog made me want to make the prose in my novels even more difficult, more of a trick or game or challenge. If anything, I wanted to get away from the blog while I was writing that book, get as far away from it as I possibly could.

The Fales Library at New York University has all my stuff. I wrote “The George Miles Cycle” in scrapbooks and I wrote everything by hand. There’s so much analog printed material and weird things that I made as part of my investigation. So that’s fun for them to have, because it’s a goofy collection. The blog is just a bunch of stored information. I mean, they want everything. I am supposed to keep sending them things until I croak or whatever. I guess I should start backing up the blog.