Dennis Cooper’s strangest “novel” yet is written entirely with gifs

8 September 2015

Dennis Cooper is known as much for the startling sparseness of his writing as for the disquieting and frankly fucked up subjects he’s made his domain. Whether writing about extreme fetishes, obsession, murder, sex, drugs and everything in between, or all of the above, he always pushes the destructive power of desire to breaking point. His work has drawn comparisons to Samuel Beckett and the Marquis de Sade, and The Village Voice has called him “the most dangerous writer in America.”

He is also no stranger to the internet and its underworld, with one of his novels almost exclusively staged over instant messaging, and his strange, gif-heavy blog DC’s cultivating an online following. Earlier this year he also published one of his most beguiling creations yet: what’s been boldly called an “html novel.” Zac’s Haunted House is a book, so to speak, written most unusually with columns and reams of gifs.

You could describe it as many things, net art among them, but at first glance novel is not the word that springs to mind. Gifs essentially carry the lowest possible cultural currency, and yet they have become a language in themselves: quick bursts and evocative flourishes perfectly suited to short attention spans.

Still, Cooper has stuck to the framework of a novel, breaking pages into chapters and using recurring motifs and imagery to construct a narrative, and Zac’s Haunted House takes on all of his familiar themes: the male body, death, sex, failure, violence etc. The pages also possess remarkable flow. At the opening of chapter one five gifs of pouring water, one after the other, finish with a gif of a boy rolling on the floor, endlessly repeating. Elsewhere, a series of falling bodies and slinkys rolling down stairs end with a splash of water.

Whatever you make of it, Zac’s Haunted House is an interesting example of mixing and matching traditional literary forms with modern media, and shows that creatively, the internet can still be put to new or unexpected ends.

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