Mine for Yours: DC’s Blog is a Lit Community
Polity of Literature (42/51)

Mine for Yours: DC’s Blog is a Lit Community

When an anarchist hosts a blog it becomes a polity. Dennis Cooper’s features literature (and GIF novels).

The paradox of a living polity is that power must move through it and be negotiated within it—but power must never congeal in the hands of this-or-that few. The hierarchical economy of literature congeals power. In the US, power congeals in New York. In Canada, it congeals in Toronto and Vancouver. In France, Paris, and etc. More disastrously, the centre/edge economies of publishing congeal power in patterns that reproduce enduring structural inequities.

The early Internet appeared to disperse power across an often unmarked geography. Blogs and publications emerged in every corner of the globe, a network of shifting, temporary nodes that kept power moving, flowing. But three decades in, the Internet has congealed into centres and edges, a structure of power that replicates the hierarchical, anti-political agenda of the neo-liberal markets that shape it.

The shut-down is not complete, and it might never be; it also might be reversible. Blogs have hosts who set the local rules and draw the lines of welcome or exclusion. If the blog host is an anarchist who believes that “as soon as you gain power, you disperse it,” the blog can blossom into a functioning polity. It can be tiny or huge, involving few or many, but the public space opened by hosting a blog is enough to sustain a healthy polity of literature. DC’s Blog is such a space.

In the spring of 2005, the American writer Dennis Cooper—best known for dark, delirious novels like Closer, Frisk, and My Loose Thread—started a blog called, simply, Dennis Cooper’s Blog. Over time, it evolved into the style and structure it maintains today. Cooper usually posts six days a week, with each post typically a portrait of a single cultural subject or figure, and comprising long textual excerpts, interviews, hyperlinks, GIFs, and YouTube clips. Each post is also appended by a postscript in which Cooper responds to each of the previous day’s readers’ comments.

Like most such things, the blog took a bit of time to find its feet, but it quickly became a daily destination for anyone interested in cutting-edge contemporary literature, radical and experimental art of all kinds, amusement parks (spooky ones, Christmas-themed ones, depressing and defunct ones), Guided By Voices, male escort slaves, and, of course, Cooper’s life and work. Most professional writers, of course, now have a web site (Cooper maintains an official one of those too) and/or disseminate their writing through a subscription-based e-newsletter. There are other free online repositories of avant-garde culture (UbuWeb comes to mind), and indeed, other enduring and valuable literary blogs (Silliman’s Blog, for example). But I don’t know of another place on the internet that’s quite like what Cooper has created over the last fifteen-odd years—simultaneously personal diary, virtual film and art and music festival, writing workshop, collective art project, group therapy, and the most intriguing interactive magazine in the English-speaking world.

Cooper’s name may have been on the blog (it’s now called simply called DC’s), but the initial idea for it came from his readers. In 2005, Michael Salerno, a regular collaborator who publishes Cooper’s “GIF novels” (described below) through Kiddiepunk Press, and who was administering Cooper’s official website at the time, asked visitors what additional features they’d most like to see added. When they overwhelmingly asked for a blog, Cooper was somewhat bewildered: he wasn’t quite sure what purpose such a thing would serve, for himself or his readers. He also didn’t know how or what to write in such a forum. In his debut post, “I Think I’m Ill-Suited to Blogging,” he wrote, “I’m shy, not particularly talkative, and I don’t really like talking about myself.”

As it turned out, Cooper was very good at talking about himself, and talking with others. In its early days, Cooper gave readers detailed glimpses of his creative process, showing the charts and graphs that determined the structure of his George Miles cycle (five linked novels) or photos of people who inspired characters in The Marbled Swarm. He also talked candidly about more personal aspects of his life—his struggles to get a visa for a Russian boyfriend, for example, and later, his fascinating transformation into a filmmaker. The voice he deployed in DC’s was chummy and cheerful and, though quite distinct from that of his fiction, possessed a related demotic rhythm, punctuated with the occasional “um,” “hm,” and “cool!”

Its chief hallmark was a hyperbolic collegiality. Cooper didn’t just respond to his readers, he responded to all of them, or at least those that saw fit to comment on his posts. Some days elicited hundreds of comments. Soon, Cooper was spending three to five hours every day communing with his readers. Even as DC’s posts became more elaborate, this back-and-forth became, as Cooper told Andrew Durbin in an interview, “the point of the blog.” He was as much a pen pal as he was a curator. For a writer with such a large and devoted fan base, it was an extraordinary and unprecedented gesture—as if David Lynch, maybe, offered notes on every single Instagram story he was sent.

As Cooper shared so much of his own life, his readers responded in kind, telling him (and fellow DC’s readers) about their just-published movie reviews and novels-in-progress, their bad break-ups, their bouts of Covid. He offered warm, full-throated, and almost relentless support. If Cooper’s readers were, first and foremost, fans, he repaid the compliment—every other poster was a “genius” or “maestro,” and DC’s readers were urged to immediately read or watch or listen to every single thing their fellow readers created.

Cooper had always been an unabashed fan himself, and understood the value of fandom. When he gushed on the blog about Harmony Korine, James McCourt, or Destroyer, it was with the same zeal that we talked about, well, Dennis Cooper. His posts largely catalogued things that fascinated Cooper or that he wanted to learn more about, and his readers—you would not be wrong to call them disciples—gleefully followed him where he went. But he often handed the curatorial reins over to more engaged and ambitious readers, who created “days” dedicated to their own obsessions—from free jazz to answering machines to Cleopatra.

This was obviously a way for Cooper to lighten the burden of creating the blog’s content, but it also served to prod DC’s into an even more collaborative, communitarian shape. Especially prolific posters were dubbed “distinguished locals” (or d.l.s), with many of these, like Deerhunter front man Bradford Cox and novelist Jeff Jackson, becoming or already renowned artists in their own right. Conversations between posters themselves naturally unfurled in the comments, and under Cooper’s encouraging eye, a vibrant, sustainable network formed. Maintaining a blog is possibly an even more egoic activity than writing novels, and, though Cooper had, in one sense, created a fan club dedicated to himself, he did everything possible to turn it into a clubhouse for everyone else.

Cooper arrived late to the internet, he said in a 2001 interview, and for a long while, he tried to preserve what he considered the web’s early mystery and magic. Twenty years later, after Twitter and TikTok and Telegram, how much mystery and magic remains there for anyone? But DC’s retains these qualities for many readers, including myself. In the face of online ennui, unbridled commercialization, tribes, and trolls, it is still an almost impossibly pure act of artistic generosity. In Wrong, Diarmuid Hester’s indispensable 2020 biography of Cooper, Hester devotes an entire chapter to the blog, describing it as an “anarcho-queer commons.” It’s an entirely apt and accurate phrase, though its academic tenor doesn’t quite capture the joyful abundance of the site. I prefer writer and d.l. Mark Gluth’s take, which Hester also quotes: “I think it presents this idyllic model for what the internet can be, at its best.”

Perhaps we can also think of DC’s as a perfect example of a polity of literature. Cooper’s writing has long been a source of comfort and kinship to many kinds of readers, but perhaps especially disaffected ones, queer ones, young ones—self-identified outsiders of all kinds. With DC’s he made a shared “space of appearance” for their unique concerns, curiosities, and sensibilities, bringing himself and his readers together in a kind of politics, as Hester points out, deliberately anarchist. Every day, and with every post, Cooper and his readers inhabit this space together on equal terms, disclosing to and being seen by one another through writing and reading. It gives all of DC’s denizens a way to speak with each other and with Cooper, but also to speak to the world.

A pixelated photo of Dennis Cooper's eye and ear merges with a smaller sketch of the rest of his face.

Cooper, who is now 68, has almost always written about kids in their teens and 20s, something for which he has been, predictably and preposterously criticized, but which has also kept him unusually attuned to youth culture. Writing about young people, for Cooper, has always been as much a political choice as a creative one. “I will probably always write about kids,” he told 3am magazine, “because I have tremendous sympathy for them and I think it’s really important to write about them in a serious way.” In another conversation, with his old agent and friend, Ira Silverberg, for the Paris Review, he put it in even more abstract and dramatic terms: “The empowerment of adults at the expense of the young is just an ugly offshoot of the family structure and of capitalism, which disenfranchises people who don’t have money or the same rights that are accorded to adults by the rule of law. In fiction, those rules don’t have to apply, and in my work they’re mostly an unspoken and kind of sinister problem.”

The internet, in its infancy at least, was something that felt new and liberating and maybe even revolutionary; Cooper likened it to his earlier experience with rave culture. In its myriad forms, it was never a domain exclusive to kids, of course, but it was something both created for and imposed on them—increasingly exploitatively, you could argue—and Cooper was intrigued by both its possibilities and limitations. Outside of science fiction, he was one of the first contemporary writers to productively enfold various digital forms—websites, chat rooms, video games, JPEGs, instant messaging—and their attendant issues of authenticity, identity, and storytelling, into his fiction. In his enigmatic 2000 novel, Period, websites and chat forums are occult spaces, halls-of-mirrors in a novel completely preoccupied with reflection and representation. The Sluts, meanwhile, builds a noirish narrative out of fictional online reviews of male hustlers. More recently, and more radically, Cooper has also invented his own digital microgenre, the aforementioned GIF novel, which is exactly what it sounds like—a work of fiction constructed entirely of stacked, found GIFs, readymade looping image-sculptures whose rhyme and juxtaposition take on their own nightmarish logic.

The GIF novels, which Cooper began publishing online in 2015, all bear similar titles—Zac’s Haunted House, Zac’s Freight Elevator, Zac’s Drug Binge—a nod to Cooper’s long-time collaborator, Zac Farley. Farley was born in 1988, a year before Cooper published Closer, his first novel, and is a French-American artist and filmmaker. The two have made a couple of feature films together, as well as several other in-progress or as-yet-unrealized film and TV projects. Farley discovered Cooper’s writing while a student at CalArts, with DC’s becoming what he called a “second art school” for him.

Cooper and Farley’s particular artistic relationship has been extraordinary and singular, but it illustrates several other things about Cooper’s abiding interest in collaboration and how the blog fits into that. While the obsessive, specific vision of Cooper’s work has understandably given readers the impression of a solitary, iconoclastic genius, he has, in fact, long worked alongside other writers and artists, from Little Caesar, the literary magazine he published in the late 70s, to the theatrical spectacles he’s created over the last decade or more with the French director and choreographer Gisèle Vienne. The blog was a cooperative space almost from the beginning, and, like Cooper’s other collaborations, operated as a kind of circuit—Cooper may have been the battery or generator, but his creative partners supplied him with fresh energy and inspiration. I’ve made DC’s sound perhaps too altruistic, but the blog obviously gave something to Cooper too. In the beginning, especially, it provided him with access to yet another new cultural world—a new medium, in fact—and whatever power it may have possessed, while also allowing him to claim and cultivate his own corner of that world.

Cooper hasn’t collaborated as extensively with other DC’s denizens as he has with Farley, but he has worked with and nurtured several of them, blurbing their books, helping to get them published, and otherwise promoting them on the blog and elsewhere. His most obvious effort in this vein was editing the 2007 anthology, Userlands: New Fiction Writers from the Blogging Underground, a fat collection of short fiction by contributors to the blog, including Jeff Jackson, Angela Tavares, Stanya Kahn and dozens of others. While the book suffers somewhat by many of the writers’ too-obvious debt to Cooper’s work—there’s an overwhelming amount of sex, drugs, and anomie—it did give readers a broad sample of a scene just coming into its own. In his introduction, Cooper described the blog “as a magnet for artists who were, in many cases, as talented as I but with fewer opportunities to exhibit their creations to the world.”

This was maybe a tad too modest, but it reminded me of something else Cooper said in an interview with the curator, editor, and writer Brandon Stosuy: “I believe in the old anarchist dictum that as soon as you gain power, you disperse it.” And the blog did exactly this: it takes the power that Cooper has accrued as a well-regarded, enduring writer, his long history with other artists, his cultural capital and his connections, and disperses it to younger, less experienced and less accomplished art-makers. While Cooper is undeniably the blog’s author—its moderator, or to use a now archaic term, its webmaster—there is the sense that he’s deliberately performing that authority in order to enable or engender a whole creative network. Ultimately, the blog shows how an artist can move through the world, how they can respectfully treat their admirers, and how those admirers can, with guidance and care, become colleagues and peers.

A sketch of Dennis Cooper with many arms rises out of a laptop that has his blog on the screen.

My oldest and dearest friend, the writer Derek McCormack, has been part of DC’s since the beginning—he’s been a regular reader, contributed comments, created days, had days dedicated to him and his work. Like me, he’s been a Cooper devotee for decades, though in his case, the admiration goes both ways—Cooper blurbed his first book, Dark Rides, in 1996, and reprinted that book in Grab Bag, an omnibus volume that Cooper released as part of his (sadly, now defunct) Little House on the Bowery imprint at Akashic Books. More recently, Cooper contributed an afterword (with Farley) to Derek’s 2020 novel, Castle Faggot, which he called, “maybe the greatest novel ever written.”

Derek and I met Cooper for the first time in 2001. That October, Hallwalls and the University of Buffalo hosted a now-legendary writing conference that brought together about a dozen of North America’s most adventurous novelists and poets. Dubbed Prose Acts, and curated, in fact, by Brandon Stosuy, the four-day event featured readings, panels, and performances by New Narrative stalwarts Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, and Robert Glück, the Canadian cult writer Lawrence Ytzhak Braithwaite, the unclassifiable Eileen Myles, the daring and indefatigable novelist and editor Matthew Stadler (who, full disclosure, commissioned and edited this essay), and Cooper, arguably the most renowned of this loosely connected group.

It’s fair to say that we adored all of these writers, but it’s also fair to say that we revered Cooper. He was capable of rendering the most outlandish, even horrific, scenes—a school shooting, a father fucking his distraught adopted son, a ritualistic killing—with an uncanny, unerring beauty. His sentences were precise, original, glittering, the structures of his books formally audacious and conceptually rich. He’d been a punk and a poet, and identified as an anarchist. He was gay, but alienated from what he considered the mindless hedonism of conventional gay culture. His influences were reliably French and reliably stylish: Sade, Rimbaud, Blanchot, Bresson, Guyotat. He came from money, was estranged from a difficult, complicated family, had spent a good chunk of his early 30s in Amsterdam, where he disappeared into drugs while still managing to finish Closer. To us, no writer possessed a more beguiling and glamorous aura.

Drawing of a t-shirt that reads "My parents went to Sodom and all I got was this RIMBAUD T-shirt!"

We arrived in Buffalo, unsurprisingly starstruck. I remember first glimpsing Cooper across a room at Hallwalls, and wondering how I could possibly talk to him. He was tall, thin, chain-smoking Camels. Like most of the writers there, he seemed indifferent to fashion, and was wearing, if memory serves, a non-descript T-shirt, some kind of trench coat, slouchy black trousers, ancient Timberland hiking boots.

Whatever the aura he had, or which we had bestowed upon him, he seemed intent on agitating, or outright negating. When he was introduced, he burst into a broad grin, and was impossibly friendly, sweet, happy to talk about whatever. He wore his intellectualism lightly, and his default mode seemed to be a wry, easy-going, SoCal cool. It was about a month after 9/11, and I remember him, ever the Los Angeleno, gently mocking New Yorkers for still being so obsessed with the events of that day. We talked about the screenplay I was then working on. He dedicated his reading that evening to Derek. We watched him eagerly rehearse, with the weekend’s other participants, Killian’s play, The Vegetable Kingdom, which premiered the next day. (Cooper played Flem Fleming, the announcer on the titular game show.) Sadly, I somehow got sick, and we had to bail early on the weekend. But not before Cooper invited us to visit him sometime in L.A.

We did visit him the following spring (you can read a bit about that trip in the Castle Faggot afterword), and I would end up interviewing, and writing about, Cooper a couple times over the next few years. I was delighted to get to know him at all, to be privy to the person behind the novels I profoundly admired. Most recently, I interviewed him for the Kathy Acker biography I’m writing. In her novel, Blood and Guts in High School, Acker warns readers to steer clear of writers they admire: “Don’t get into the writer’s personal life thinking if you like the books you’ll like the writer,” she writes. “A writer’s personal life is horrible and lonely. Writers are queer so keep away from them.” That may well have been true in Acker’s case. But I was glad I ignored that admonition when it came to Cooper.

Meeting Cooper had, to a large degree, demystified him and his work. And when the blog came along a couple years later, it continued that process of demystification. Not only because of the remarkable insight it provided into Cooper’s imagination, but also because it let me maintain, however public and attenuated, a relationship with him, and to watch others develop their own relationships. I never posted, but I visited just about every day. It was a way to both keep up with the “real” Dennis and escape into what has become increasingly imperiled cultural space. (The goofy reviews that Kevin Killian famously wrote for Amazon functioned similarly, but that’s a subject for another time.) Cooper has said “A blog is just writing letters,” but that understatement disguises the beauty, significance, and vitality of his particular correspondence.

Drawing of a man with glasses sitting at a laptop wearing a shirt that reads "WTF DC?" An atomic explosion rises from his head.

If DC’s usually feels apart, and insulated from, the more familiar, ill-tempered precincts of the internet, there have been moments when the larger, uglier online world has intruded. Hackers gonna hack. There have been DDoS attacks. On very rare occasions, a reader will post an insulting remark. (I actually only remember one—someone took filmmaker John Waters to task for something or other, and Cooper, a good friend of Waters’, swiftly and sharply put the reader in their place.)

Most dramatically, in late June, 2016, Google shut the blog down. DC’s was hosted on Blogger, which was owned by Google. One day when Cooper went to the blog’s homepage, he discovered that it had been removed without warning or reason. Making matters worse, Google also disabled his email account and seemingly deleted the GIF novel, Zac’s Freight Elevator, which he had just completed and was stored on the site. According to Blogger, Cooper had violated the site’s terms of service, but he was never told what exactly constituted that violation, nor given any kind of warning. A baffled Cooper contacted Google repeatedly and they repeatedly ignored him. He hired a lawyer.

Cooper’s work has always been controversial, and, from time to time, he’s been accused of glorifying pedophilia and sexual abuse. The blog regularly features advertisements for young-looking male escorts. It was predictably and understandably assumed that censorship was at work. Petitions were created, and articles about the debacle published in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Guardian, places that had rarely evinced any interest in Cooper’s work before. PEN America issued a statement condemning Google’s behaviour.

About a month later, the tech behemoth responded, revealing that, indeed, someone had complained about an image on the blog which they considered child pornography. It had been posted a decade earlier, however, part of a “self-portrait” day in which Cooper had asked readers to submit images of things they found sexy. Though Cooper had taken precautions—putting the image on separate page, for example, with a content warning—and argued he would never post kiddie porn anyway, it didn’t matter. After much negotiation, during which neither Cooper nor his lawyer were shown the offending image, the stand-off finally ended. All of Cooper’s data were returned to him. But the old posts and comments remained deleted, and though they could theoretically be restored (and some have), the process is painstaking and time-consuming. DC’s was now, as Diarmuid Hester points out, “shorn of its archives.” A couple months later, Cooper relaunched the blog on WordPress, and began rebuilding.

The blog would continue, and continue to thrive, but its history had, in effect, been erased. It was a grim reminder of how precarious, and precious, a site like DC’s is. To his adherents, Cooper has made the best possible use of the medium, but he has done so in the most romantic, capacious, and anti-capitalist manner. Cooper’s lurid subject matter has long distracted readers and critics from his rigorous exploration of novelistic form and language. Perhaps, in a related bizzarro move, had Google leveraged Cooper’s transgressive reputation against him just because they didn’t like his version of the internet?

It’s not difficult to frame this as a political struggle. As Google’s (and Facebook’s and Twitter’s) algorithms predictably reduce the internet to a place of homogeneity and exclusion, a site like DC’s becomes ever more an exception. It may indeed be what the internet “used to be,” and its survival or thriving could be a harbinger of future freedoms regained. Meanwhile, writers and readers hungry for agency and belonging in the world—hungry for politics—can find it thriving on DC’s Blog.

A laptop screen shows a site called "DC's Krazy Karnival of Kommunications", with a fair setting below the title. Within the fair attractions are words like "Poem-a-Whirl", "Experimental film", "Punk Musik Show", etc. Below the drawing reads, "CLICK RIGHT UP!"

Over the years that I’ve been reading DC’s, I’ve watched as different generations of readers have dominated the comments, coming and going and effectively tracing a history of recent small-press and experimental publishing. For a long time, the poet Ariana Reines was a constant presence, under the username Antler. There have been waves of other writers—HTMLGiant regulars like Blake Butler have been joined (or supplanted) by those associated with the micro-press Amphetamine Sulphate, such as Thomas Moore (“one of the best writers the world has in stock,” in Cooper’s estimation). But DC’s community is also extraordinarily loyal—I dare say the film critic David Ehrenstein, a d.l. who’s a few years older than Cooper, has posted comments every day I’ve been reading.

I’m not the habitual DC’s reader I once was, but I still check in a couple times a week. And Cooper’s year-end round-up of his favourite books, music, art, movies, and web sites, is still the best part of the Christmas season. That post is typically titled “Mine for Yours,” and, like the blog as a whole, it is unapologetically biased and nepotistic. Cooper’s friends and colleagues reign; any d.l. who has put out an artwork that year is sure to make the list. But Cooper’s taste is also impeccable, and the round-up has, for many years now, decisively shaped my own reading, listening, and watching. When Derek and I visited Cooper in L.A., we left with a few CDs that he burned for us—The Shins, Super Furry Animals, and two discs on which he compiled his most beloved Guided By Voices/Bob Pollard songs. I played those CDs until they were scratched to shit. God knows where they are now, but when Cooper inevitably includes Pollard’s latest album on “Mine for Yours,” I smile and nod, and feel like I’m with him again.

Dennis Cooper’s most recent novel, I Wished, was published this month by Soho Press.

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