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Smothered in Hugs

The Critical Clarity of Dennis Cooper

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Smothered in Hugs collects previously published essays and reviews from novelist/critic/cult superhero Dennis Cooper, beginning with 1985's survey of homocore zines and concluding with a 2004 review of the Dandy Warhols/Brian Jonestown Massacre vendetta doc Dig!

Cooper's prose style is deceptively simple, rigorously stripped of superfluity and ambiguity. He says the smartest things, using the most direct language at his disposal, and his reference base and intellectual unflappability lend him credibility whether he's chronicling the recent history of experimental fiction, interviewing Keanu Reeves, or pointing to the subtextual heroin references that slipped past MTV censors in the '90s.

One essay opens with an account of time spent in Amsterdam, being too distracted by crystal meth and callboys to get any writing done. "Like all addicts, I wasn't particularly happy or miserable. I was just sort of there, cornered, one more American expatriate who thought he was Rimbaud, treating chemicals as though they were alchemical, with no will or energy to make my dazed explorations into anything resembling art." Then he discovered the work of Nan Goldin, a photographer whose images of "reasonably hip young people" nudged Cooper into a new perspective. This piece reveals a theme common to these essays: Cooper's receptivity to new artistic experiments, an openness to the power of art, literature, and film that makes him the best kind of critic.

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