When I lashed out at the shallow, willfully ignorant, and overwhelmingly useless NYT review of Jerk, some commenters–in particular a very nice guy named Sean Carman–challenged me to go beyond merely pillorying Neil Genzlinger for the miserable job he did*, and articulate some sort of affirmative vision of the piece and of Dennis Cooper’s work in general–what it means to me, a study of how it functions, and so on. I’m on-record any number of places about my admiration, respect, and enthusiasm for Dennis’s work–so that information is out there if people want it. With regard to Jerk in particular, I want to point people to this review by Kareem Estefan, published yesterday at the BOMB site, which I think says all the things I might have said, only better than I probably would have said them.
Vienne’s Jerk traces a receding path of voices, as scenes of traumatic memory play in the hands of the audience, on Capdeville’s knees, and finally, within the actor’s body. Do we get closer to understanding trauma as we follow this progression? Are we more or less capable of empathizing with the abused, repentant murderer as we read, watch, and listen to such disfiguring acts? Vienne, Capdeville, and their collaborators dismantle the psychic space of the subject much as Cooper jerks from fragment to fragment of an event that cannot be represented.
Estefan seems to be more or less all the things one hopes a critic will be–attentive, perceptive, engaged, and smart. His essay considers the work in all of its nuance: the adaptation of the short story into a performance-piece, the staging of the work in the very basement-y PS122 theater-space, and of course the performance itself. His goal is not to force an up or down vote, as thought the work were an American Idol contestant; he endeavors rather to understand the work on its own terms, and to communicate that understanding for the benefit of his reader. This is the best piece of criticism of Jerk I’ve read yet, and I encourage all of you to read it. This is the first time I’ve read anything by Kareem Estefan, but he’s on the radar now, so hopefully we’ll be hearing from him again soon.
Also, for those of you who expressed an interest in learning more about Cooper’s poetics, you should let him tell you in his own words. This conversation between Blake Butler and Dennis Cooper, conducted by Alec Niedenthal at a cafe in the East Village and posted to our site late last night, is phenomenal. I was sitting at the table, in delighted silence, for an hour while these guys talked shop–it was magic, and that feeling seems to have survived transcription.
*[UPDATE: that post has been removed from this site. A lot of people thought I shouldn’t have posted it in the first place, and still others urged me to take it down. While my position on the review hasn’t changed at all, I’ve decided that everyone was better off without that ugliness in the world.]