short fiction by dennis cooper

A disquieting short story from Dennis Cooper: a model of economy and dialogue, and companion piece to Brian Evenson’s story “The Installation,” as noted in this post from the great



“Graduate Seminar”

By  Dennis Cooper


Artist: . . . and that’s a work on paper entitled Mirror Not Mirror from my recent show at Hilton Perreault Gallery. Any questions?


Art student: I wonder if you would mind talking about your older work, especially Railroad Tie (1972)?


Artist: Do I mind? Yes. Do I know it’s expected of me? Yes. Switch to slide tray number two, please.


Art student: I know you must be tired of talking about Railroad Tie, but, speaking as an aspiring artist, it changed my life, so—


Artist: Yes, I’m sure it did. Changed mine as well, as you are no doubt aware. Please show the first slide.


Artist: That’s Ty Wilson, need I say, who, according to the history books, collaborated with me on Railroad Tie, and who is now of course very famous, more famous in fact than myself, even though he never made a single artwork on his own and did nothing with regards to Railroad Tie apart from appearing in it.


Art student: And being the coolest guy ever.


Artist: I’d love to argue that point, but a court order prevents me. So, for those of you who live under a rock, in Railroad Tie my work’s celebrated (he said ironically) thematic interest in mapping the accidental (in quotes) was adapted to a mode of presentation that was soon to be, shall we say, au courant thanks to my pioneering efforts. Specifically, I photo-documented a teenaged boy’s hitchhiking trip across the U.S. And there he is now hitchhiking. Next slide, please. And there he is getting picked up by the infamous trucker. Any questions so far?


Art student: Did you explain your art project to the trucker?


Artist: Naturally I explained the art project to the trucker, and, yes, he really did say, “So, if I understand your art project, I can kill this boy, and that would be okay because it’s for art, right?” And, as I testified in court, I said, “The term art is being redefined as we speak, so it would be difficult for me to answer that question. Therefore, you must answer it yourself.” Next slide.


Artist: I’m going to go through these quickly because you’ve all seen them a hundred thousand times. That’s Ty being drugged. Ty lying unconscious in the back of the truck. Ty’s reaction upon being relieved of his manhood . . . and of course, finally, there’s the trucker killing Ty. Any questions?


Art student: What was it like being in prison for eight years?


Artist: What was it like? Well, my friends Andy and Jasper and Roy spent those eight years getting very rich and famous, and I spent them making dinnerware out of tin cans. And the millions that Railroad Tie earned on the art market went to a charity for victims of violent crime. And, of course, the late, illustrious genius Ty Wilson spawned a cottage industry of posters and documentaries and tribute songs and memorabilia that makes Jim Morrison seem like Bobby Rydell, a name you no doubt have never heard before in your lives, which is my point.


—from Dennis Cooper’s latest book of short stories, Ugly Man (2009).  


Text online at

and at


Text with NSFW images online at




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