What has Dennis Cooper wrought?
Not only writing some of the most deliciously depraved and literary luminous experimental novels for decades, he’s also inspired a multitude of similarly demented writers who came up after him. Of course, Dennis has his own deep and dark influences from the Marquis De Sade to Rimbaud to Jean Genet and William S. Burroughs, all of which are also found not-so-hidden in the literature of the experimental writers following in Cooper’s subversive footsteps.
But there’s something just so DC about a lot of these younger, queer experimental fiction writers. Is it the chilling conflation of freewheeling sexual deviancy with the ultimate transgression–following through on homicidal impulses–into a primal pairing of sex and death? Is it the moping and angsty twinks populating these worlds that learn that the rectum is, in fact, a grave? Or is it the continual presence of pop musical references grounding the terror in the present day? Or is it just the wild and unwavering refusal to conform to grammatical rules or the hackneyed, typical, and oh-so-boring literary tropes and traditions, doing so in a manner that would boggle the mind of any anally retentive copy editor?
And thank god. Not that Dennis isn’t continuing to pioneer his own genre with GIF literature, as well as a new word-based novel I Wished on the horizon, but these experimental fiction followers have been able to create a whole community of both writers and readers who value uncontrollable attempts to cross every boundary of literature, taste and morality. And for those of us who see ourselves as members, we need this fellowship of the fucked-up, especially when we’re quarantined in our respective cramped apartments with nothing but our violent and destructive fantasies to keep us companion. Hey! We’re not alone–we’ve got writers like A.W.W. Bremont whose first novel Hey Boy, recently published by Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press, was my COVID-19 comfort read.
For those who have read the short novel, finding it soothing should unquestionably earn me a wellness check from the authorities. Hey Boy is certainly one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in awhile, and that’s saying something considering the last two books I read were about Jim Jones and our working class hero Andrew Cunanan. Featuring many of the aforementioned markers of denizens of Dennis Cooper–sex, violence, mutilation, references to The Cardigans and Silverchair, it’s no surprise that the book’s publication was heralded on DC’s Blog, on which Bremont is an active commenter, with a laudatory post that featured some insider tidbits on its inspiration.
But this doesn’t mean the novel is in any way derivative. In fact, it’s somehow more nihilistic and fatalistic than any Cooper novel at least in my memory. What’s it about? Well, the back book jacket seems to have the best analysis:
“BEWARE HE WHO IS THE PROTAGONIST OF THIS TALE OF THE FACT OF FICTION AND THE FICTION OF FACT AND WHOM WILL BE KNOWN AND PERHAPS OR PERHAPS NOT REMEMBERED AS A AND FOLLOWED THROUGH HIS AND EVERYONE ELSE’S EMPTY EXPERIENCES IN THIS PLACE MOST CALL THE WORLD AND IN WHICH SUCH EMPTY EXPERIENCES WILL INCLUDE IMPOSED EXISTENCE AND ALSO OF COURSE YOUTH AND BEAUTY AND SEX AND MONEY AND SUBSTANCES AND POP MUSIC AND DESTRUCTION AND SELF DESTRUCTION AND OBSESSION AND ANNIHILATION AND EXPENSIVE CLOTHES AND JEWELRY AND MC MANSIONS AND POWER AND POWERLESSNESS AND RAPE AND BLOOD AND PISS AD SHIT AND CUM AND GLORIOUS DEATH AND NECROPHILIA AND CANNIBALISM AND TORTURE AND SADISM AND MASOCHISM AND SELF IMPORTANT WANNABE ARTISTS AND OTHER SUCH DIVERSIONS DEVISED TO TRY TO MASK THE MEANINGLESSNESS ALL BATTLING TO BE EITHER TRUE OR LESS TRUE.”
That about covers it. Review over.
Oh, you want more detail? Well, Hey Boy focuses on one protagonist, only identified as A, a jaded, self-destructive, incredibly beautiful, and you better believe, completely hairless (a fact repeated throughout the text) youth whose “bloodless and alabaster and skeletal and almost translucent face which matched the rest of his waif like and skeletal as well and utterly hairless and bright as a Nazi lamp shade frame…” What a description! The novel follows A as he attempts to avoid finishing a term paper, and in his evasion, he recalls numerous deranged memories of transgressions of every sort perpetrated on him and other nubile bodies–cannibalism, bestiality, extreme sadomasochism, blood-letting, blood-drinking, masturbation with dismembered body parts, excrement-eating, and more.
And it does so as one long–and I mean long–sentence. Hey Boy is 100 pages with no periods, which means there’s no escaping that onslaught of grotesquerie. Take, for example, the long account of the abuse A is willing to endure, out of self-loathing, masochistic enjoyment, sheer dead-inside malaise, and maybe some money: “Every single hour spent tied up and every bruise and every single cut and every single mark and every single fucking burn and every single scratch and every single loss of blood and every single clamping and every single motherfucking piercing and every single fucking time his face ended up completely covered in and dripping with jerk or family man cum or house wife squirt and every time he had to end up having to walk all the fucking way to the E.R. at fucking four fucking thirty in the morning or every time he was forced to drink his piss or eat his shit or motherfucking dog shit or lick the shit out of the asshole of jerk or of a bitch and every time he was forced to jerk dogs off and eat the cum afterwards and every time he was forced to drink piss out of a dog’s bowl and all the times he spent up to seventy two hours inside a gimp cunting suit or every single time…”
It goes on…Bremont uses this literary flourish to give the reader the feeling of being imprisoned in someone’s deeply distressing inner monologue without a pause for a breather. No rest. No escape. No exit.
Beyond a novel in a sentence, Bremont also utilizes repetition to create an unyielding assault on the reader, repeating pages upon pages of lines such as “all work and no play makes A a dull boy” as if A is finally writing his term paper in a kind of Jack Torrence fugue state. Perhaps the most nauseating employment of these repeated lines is the 14-page explanation of the torture, castration and gruesome murder of a 14-year old boy, referred to over and over again, in full each time, as “the putrid thing that remained of what once had been the sorry bastard and that kind of looked like the T Hyphen One Thousand in Terminator Two Colon Judgment day the last time it manages to surfaces and shriek and fling its arms around or what is left of them after the T Hyphen Eight Hundred shots [sic] him with a grenade launcher causing him to fall into a vat of molten steel.”
But it’s not only moments of vile violence that feature this repetition. Bremont also embraces scenes of everyday monotony, recounting in real time A smoking (“inhaling and exhaling and inhaling and exhaling…”), running a bath (“the water ran and ran and ran and ran…”), bathing (“scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing…”), reading (“and read and read and read and read…”), and finally writing his term paper with an entire page of “typing and typing and typing…” It’s absolutely maddening, as well as completely riveting to observe Bremont’s courage in potentially boring or irritating the reader (or just driving them completely insane). As Andy Warhol said about his films, “If they can take it for ten minutes, then we play it for fifteen…That’s our policy. Always leave them wanting less.”
Beyond bestowing a sense of possession or speaking in tongues to the narration, what Bremont’s repeated relentlessness succeeds in achieving, however, is making the scenes of absolute horror blur together with the moments of the mundane, conflating the two. By interspersing sexual violence and pure violence with the dull blankness of running a bath or reading, Bremont reveals the sheer mundanity of horror.
This conflation of horror and the mundane is very much in line with Andy Warhol’s own. In the post celebrating the Hey Boy’s release on DC’s blog, one of the texts cited as inspiration is Warhol’s A: A Novel, a similarly crazed read that consists of typo-riddled transcripts of daily conversations at the Factory. Not only does the single letter denoting Bremont’s protagonist recall Warhol’s similar use of A in A: A Novel, as well as his The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A To B and Back Again, in which A denotes Warhol in his continual conversations with my favorite speed and pie freak Brigid Berlin, but Warhol was also fixated on the vast range of “boring things.”
In Warhol’s paintings, moments of material success, fame, and fortune–Marilyn, Liz, the shoes–and absolute carnage, as seen in his Death and Disaster series from suicides to car wrecks to plane crashes, are represented with the same blasé, silkscreened eye as a Campbell’s Soup can or a Brillo box. To Warhol, they’re all equally beautiful, yes. But they’re all also equally monstrous (you can’t tell me Gold Marilyn Monroe isn’t frightening). They’re all equally boring. They are all equal. Warhol loved everything, of course, but if you love everything in equal measure, well, what can that become but the mundane?
Bremont lands this same impact of the horrific mundane and the mundane horror in Hey Boy, a statement that was very well-received as I was reading while sick with COVID-19. When you’re struggling to survive a deadly virus, what is more apparent than the mysterious pains and discomfort, daily struggles for a breath, anxious premonitions of being hooked-up to a ventilator, and contemplation of your own death and mortality is the sheer fucking tediousness of it all. Having an illness that is the fear of everyone in the world right now isn’t some apocalyptic event. In fact, it’s quite boring.
Bremont goes one step farther and trains his eye on the absolute meaninglessness of all of it all. Not just in A’s constant frustration and (self-)hatred-driven misanthropy in his inner monologue (“and there he was and in trying not to scream and wail he suddenly fell victim to the annoying pondering of the differences or non differences between the burden of futility and the burden of contempt and it was all quite stupid and useless and irrelevant to him…), but by the swift conclusion, which comes quickly, darkly hilariously, and well, with finessed nihilistic finality. Now, I don’t want to give away the delicious shock of the um… striking…ending, but it comes with a bang not a whimper, that’s for sure. It renders everything that happened previously in the novel–all the horror, all the daily grind, everything–purposeless with one thwack.
And really, isn’t that something we’ll all not only learn, but experience eventually?