1. Dennis Cooper’s The Weaklings XL repeatedly interrogates three unknowables: the body, desire, and language.
2. Language is eternally indefinite: “You’re the / one who fired a gun at his head, so high / on whatever, and so depressed by my / lack of whatever that you were afraid you / might have otherwise not hit the target, / wherever I was at the time.”
3. We can never truly know our own bodies, the insides, the way they function. Because of this, one might assume the only way we can ever truly know the idea of a body is through exploration of the body of another. This is akin to Blanchot’s conception of death: we can never know our own death, we can only know the death of another.
4. Desire is impossible to ever know, to ever understand, to ever achieve in the sense of a totality. Cooper’s poems show how parts of desire can be hinted at in physical altercations, but desire is always immaterial and, thusly, can never be adequately incorporated into an experience.
5. In a suite titled “BOYS2BRELOCATED,” a selection of invented “personal ads” by under-age gay (or not gay, because it doesn’t really matter) men/boys soliciting sex, 666HEAVYMETAL666, 17 years old, posts the following: “DO YOU REALLY GIVE A CRAP? I’M SCARRED OK.” The suite presents a context in which misspelling echoes the reality of the quick-typing mode of the internet, where the reader can imagine these personal ads would be found. However, in a bizarre semantic twist, the context of the typo allows a double reading of the message: “SCARRED” can either be read as it is typed, as “scarred,” as in wounded, damaged or affected, or it could be taken as a misspelling of “scared,” as in frightened, terrified. This dynamic back-and-forth is all the context any of the personal ads need.
6. Before recent years Dennis Cooper was mostly known as a transgressive writer who was obsessed with writing about the sexual murders of young boys. This is his content. The success of his writing is dependent upon this obsession: it’s not literal (as in, I don’t think the claim could be made that Dennis Cooper the person is interested in murdering a young boy in a sexual context), but it’s the guiding force of the work. It’s a metonymic mode that allows a total and occasionally exhausting exploration of the indefinite nature of language, desire, and the body.
7. Somehow in recent years the content of Cooper’s work has been “white-washed” and the focus has turned onto his ability to construct sentences. Dennis Cooper is a brilliant prose stylist, and at the level of the sentence is work is amazing. This is demonstrated throughout all his work, I think; the poems here, all of the novels, his work in theater. However, I think ignoring the obsessive thematics of the work is doing the work a disservice. It strikes me as a sort of intellectualization that would position the work as some sort of purely intellectual art. Cooper is a brilliant writer who demonstrates remarkable intellect, but I think to read the sentences while ignoring the content would be a futile gesture. Language and the body, language and desire, these things are all linked.
8. Bernard Noël’s early career as a poet consisted of works that interrogated the relation of language to the body. This often resulted in the work carrying on into dark places. As a poet, I think Noël’s work is far stronger in its interrogation of the body/language divide, and much more accomplished. However, nobody reads Bernard Noël, especially not American audiences, as very little of the early poetry is available in English, and what is available is in no way easy to come by. In opposition, however, Cooper’s novels are far more accomplished than Noël’s single ‘straight-forward’ novel, The Castle of Communion.
9. Cooper’s poetry, while less formally/visually interesting or experimental than his novels, strips the words to the core of the problem that is often present in the novels: how can one mete language with desire, with the body.
10. In the annals of juvenile “trying to out-gross” one another, I remember hearing a “joke.”
“What’s the best thing about having sex with a twelve year old girl in the shower?”
“Slick her hair back and she looks like an eight year old boy.”
11. When I was 20 years old in the art department of my state university I put on a solo show in a friends basement/gallery space. I called it THE DESPERATE PORNOGRAPHIC IMAGINATION and collaged a flyer using some 70s gay-porn I had found in the trash. The image on the flyer was a younger boy blowing someone whose head was out of frame. I photocopied the image in high-contrast, scratched out the eyes of the younger man with a black pen and annihilated the cock being sucked with an eraser. I used a type-writer to layout the text. I shrunk the image to quarter-sheet and made copies, which I posted up around the art building. Before the show’s opening I got a Facebook message from someone I’d never met before, a woman asking me if I considered myself a misogynist. I responded to her that I was confused, and she told me she had seen the flyer. I told her that there were only men on the flyer for my art show, and told her that if she’d like to engage in dialog on the use of pornography in art after she attended the show then I’d be more than willing to. She never wrote back.
12. Two days later someone told me that the cops were looking for me in the art building, but there was never any follow up so I wasn’t sure if one of my friends was just trying to build some sort of mythos to generate interest in the show.
13. Occasionally in these poems gender becomes fluid, or displaced, or is absent to begin with. Most of these poems involve objectifying the body or “concept” of a younger man in a configuration of an abstracted gay sex. Of course, that’s only a singular reading. The rest of the poems offer a position of a young man who wants his body & entire sense of being to be “destroyed,” most often this destruction is considered against violent & abstractly intellectual sadistic sex. In a certain headspace sex can be nothing beyond a destructive act.
14. If desperation and sadness are two real human emotions then they are emotions worthy of interrogating through literature. To posit the emotions as valid for art only in a safe context would be to refuse the emotions their weight.
15. The work in this book is deceptively simple. The work is difficult.
16. Regularly, throughout his oeuvre, Dennis Cooper has dealt with the level of distance between “author” and “persona.” In Guide, a novel from the George Miles Cycle, one of the main protagonists who perpetrate abuse &, in general, bad decisions, is named “Dennis.”
17. Poetry is often considered as expressive of the individual writing it, though I’m not sure why a reader is inherently able to separate fiction from the life of it’s author, but poetry becomes mere expression. I blame the way literature is taught in public school (I blame this for a lot of things).
18. These poems are all simultaneously fictive and expressive.
19. The poem which closest demonstrates a kinship between the “speaker” of a poem and the “person” of Dennis Cooper is “IT TURNS OUT,” a four-part reflection that ends with the following:
When I started writing
I was a sick teenaged
fuck inside who partly
thought I was the new
Marquis de Sade, a body
ready to communicate
with Satan who was us-
ing my sickness as his
home away from home,
and there’s your proof.
The poem practically taunts the reading, asking them to allow the ideas in the poem and the idea of the person of Dennis Cooper to be conflated into one, which of course paints Dennis Cooper as a perverted sick fuck but this is literature and if literature isn’t challenging then what’s its purpose?
20. Similarly, the poem “FRIENDSHIP” challenges Cooper’s relationship with promoting & rallying behind the work of young people in the arts for the last 25 years. It’s a meta-awareness that seems like the relief of a secret that one never really had.
21. Despite all the darkness & gravitas the best thing about Dennis Cooper’s poetry, especially in this collection (and also brilliantly on display in his collection of short stories, Ugly Man) is that it’s hilarious. But of course we shouldn’t forget that Georges Bataille conceived of laughter more or less as a corporeal response to tottering on the brink of the abyss.
22. E.H. (from 8 POEMS FOR JEROME SALA)
Not to brag but if one more muffled voice jokes, ‘Your ass could teach a poetry workshop,’ or ‘I don’t know what’s cooking in that oven, but can I invite myself over for dinner?’ or ‘Don’t mind me, I’m just looking for the cure for colon cancer,’ or ‘I’m no Freud, but I can tell you why the guy who cleaned the bathrooms at your kindergarten paid you $20 not to flush,’ or ‘If I suffocate, tell my mom I loved her,’ or ‘Just call me Jules Verne,’ or ‘You should list your anal membranes on the stock market,’ or ‘I never though I’d say this, but I envy Gene Simmons,’ or ‘Fuck man, what did you eat for dinner, God?’ or ‘Next time I’m in a bar, I’m going to order your douche,’ I’m going to scream.
23. One of the things I repeatedly find exciting and remarkable about Cooper’s work is how it intensively explores male sexuality without being phallocentric. In Cooper’s world, the penis is like a rag tossed to the floor while the ass is like a golden ticket to heaven.
24. When it comes to poetry, or writing that is most-often referred to as poetry, I almost exclusively enjoy books that function as books, rather than individual poems. The Weaklings XL is without a doubt just a collection of poems, one strung together from almost 20 years worth of writing, but the universe it is situated in is so consistent that one can’t help but read the work together (and I think it stems out of Cooper’s work in novels as well), and thus means the book functions beyond a poetry collection, more as a book, in a way of intertextuality.
25. Before sitting down to read this book, I read The Weaklings for the fourth time. The first two times I read The Weaklings was when I borrowed a copy of the original limited edition that had been put out by Fanzine Press from Kevin Killian. I had just moved to San Francisco and didn’t have very many books with me so was desperate. I had been wanting to read the collection since its release, but the limited hardback edition Fanzine put out was always out of my price range. At the time I read it, I was more confused than most of Cooper’s protagonists, and the book, despite reading it twice, carried little import to the state I was in. Since it’s republication in what I assume to be an expanded format (hence the “XL” tagged on to the title), I’ve read the book two more times, closer this time. It’s easier to maintain a distance and read as a reader when you’re more stable, and sure, I guess that’s me now. The book strikes me as important and strong, despite being titled “The Weaklings,” and as such sits as a sort of intertextual “side-note” to Cooper’s entire career as a novelist.