University of Cambridge Contemporary Research Group

Category: In the News (Page 1 of 2)

Dennis Cooper’s gif fiction

Zac’s Control Panel is a collection of famed experimental author Dennis Cooper’s short, transmutational works employing and ‘misplacing’ animated gifs. As in his highly acclaimed and popular novel Zac’s Haunted House, Cooper uses the gif as a language-like material to reposition, in the case of these new works, forms considered literary (the short story, flash fiction, the poem) and nondenominational (the documentary, the reenactment) into complex, poetic, claptrap visual literary mediums.’

Reviewing it earlier this year for Bookforum Paige Bailey writes:

‘You could call Zac’s Haunted House many things: net art, a glorified Tumblr, a visual novel, a mood board, or a dark night of the Internet’s soul. ….Even now, to call a series of gifs a novel—a form arguably premised on the deft wielding of language—is a bold move. Gifs are often regarded as shallow, and they are essentially gestural rather than linguistic, a kind of visual shorthand, pointing to a mass of material that is supposed to speak for itself. Animated gifs disregard genre, pedigree, or distinctions between high and low culture, and are at once contemporary and primal. They are more than quick bursts of looped movement, and may actually do something quite deep in their sheer breadth—namely, capture our ephemeral cultural memory. They are easily shared, easily understood, and yet more gifs doesn’t necessarily clarify or enlighten. Instead, they overwhelm. But even if Cooper’s raw material for his new work is inherently unnovelistic, he constructs a narrative by way of recurring motifs and juxtapositions, as in a stretch of chapter one where five gifs of pouring water are stacked one on top of each other with a gif of a flailing boy on a floor on the receiving end of the stream, or a passage of chapter two that is predominately composed of scenes of falling or mishaps reminiscent of ‘FAIL’ memes that end in another splash of water. By harnessing a way of communicating that prizes brevity and the hook and lure of bright novelty, Cooper constructs a mise en scene of the type the characters that tend to populate his novels might make. Here, he has used the ready-mades at hand‑or at click—and what’s crowding up to our hands now are jpegs and gifs begging to be pinched, zoomed, dragged, copied, or trashed.’

See also Petra Cortright’s HELL_TREE (2012)



‘What Counts as Contemporary Fiction? Scale, Value, and Field’ – JAMES ENGLISH


‘Scholars of contemporary fiction face special challenges in making the turn toward digitized corpora and empirical method. Their field is one of exceptionally large and uncertain scale, subject to ongoing transformation and dispute, and shrouded in copyright. I will present one possible way forward, based on my work for a special issue of Modern Language Quarterly on “Scale & Value” that I’m co-editing with Ted Underwood. My project uses quantitative relationships among mid-sized, hand-made datasets to map the field of Anglophone fiction from 1960 to the present. Some significant findings of this research concern a shift in the typical time-setting of the novel and a concomitant change in the relationship between literary commerce and literary prestige.’


Jim English’s books included The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value(2005) and The Global Future of English Studies (2012). A past editor of Postmodern Culture, he co-edited with Rita Felski a special 2010 issue of New Literary History on “New Sociologies of Literature.”


You might also be interested in Mark Algee-Hewitt and Mark McGurl’s pamphlet for the Stanford Lit Lab, published in January 2015:  ‘Between Canon and Corpus: Six Perspectives on 20th-Century Novels’.

The ‘beleaguered position’ of Kenneth Goldsmith


2009_PSU_Goldsmith_960‘To appreciate the beleaguered position that Kenneth Goldsmith finds himself in, you have to know that in 1997 or 1998 three avant-garde poets, one of them Goldsmith, drinking in a basement bar in Buffalo during a blizzard, decided to start a revolutionary poetry movement, one that went on to endorse “uncreative writing,” a phrase and a field that Goldsmith invented.’  Read the New Yorker‘s recent profile.

And Brian Kim Stefan‘s response and this Poetry Foundation discussion.




Booker = ‘weight’?

‘Ali Smith’s How to Be Both would also have made a worthy, very different winner, but this [The Narrow Road to the Deep North ]is in some ways a weightier book’, says Justine Jordan in The Guardian  – but does that mean ‘great themes’ (as Grayling claims) or sheer page-numbers (Flanagan =464 pages; Smith = 384) – or do we assume one requires the other?





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