This week, one of my favorite authors, filth elders and the only writer who can make me feel completely and wonderfully uncomfortable reading his books in public–Dennis Cooper–released his tenth novel Zac’s Haunted House for free online. The only catch? Zac’s Haunted House is composed entirely of gifs.
Even though a gif novel seems like an unexpected, bizarre and potentially exhausting choice, Cooper’s exploration of gifs as a replacement for written language undeniably relates to his longtime interest in appropriating the language of mass culture for subversive and perverse purposes. For example, Cooper’s startling and aptly titled novel The Sluts employed the language of chat rooms, gay male escort review websites and e-mails to construct the narrative. Even Cooper’s seminal and infamous George Miles cycle uses music as a narrative tool such as the Guided by Voices-packed novel Guide.
By constructing a narrative out of gifs, Cooper, who is no stranger to gifs on his blog, rightly asserts that gifs have become a popular means of communication, replacing the written word with a Pop visual language. From Buzzfeed lists to Tumblr blogs to comments, the gif has become ubiquitous online language. So isn’t a gif novel the logical next step?
In Zac’s Haunted House, which is published by Kiddiepunk, Cooper mines his favorite themes from lurid teenage sexuality, horror, murder and a disconcerting blurred boundary between reality and fiction. From the first gif in Chapter 1 of a girl spewing blood, Zac’s Haunted House is as satisfyingly terrifying as the rest of Cooper novels. Zac’s Haunted House continues to explore Georges Bataille’s favorite intersection of eroticism and death, reflecting Bataille’s definition of eroticism as “assenting to life up to the point of death” (Eroticism: Death & Sensuality 11).
With the quick cuts, jolted actions and jerky movements of gifs, Zac’s Haunted House is a dizzying experience and it’s not just the glut of falling gifs filling Chapter 2. A new type of deconstructed narrative, Cooper pushes the often radical appropriation of text to its absolute limit, requiring the reader to plunge themselves into the multitude of potential meanings in one gif. An eerie and puzzling read, Zac’s Haunted House is not only a reinvention of the novel but also an opening of narrative possibilities for the visual.
In keeping with Cooper’s gif-mania–though it’s clear I can’t completely let go of the written word just yet, I’m going to finish my review of Zac’s Haunted House through gifs, documenting my roller coaster of emotional responses to the novel: