Coupland cleans house

Check out this blog post about Douglas Coupland donating his papers to the University of British Columbia.

Among the more interesting items to me is the first draft of Coupland’s breakout novel, “Generation X,” and a manuscript for an unpublished novel entitled “1991” but which was later retitled “The Day the Muzak Died,” which I thinks is much more interesting. Oh yeah, also a Generation X comic strip.

I am sure that Coupland’s papers will be one of the more eccentric and interesting collections that exist.

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Coupland Interview: GenX v. GenA

My friend John hipped me to this interview with Doulgas Coupland, in which the author discusses his most recent novel, Generation A, particularly in contrast to Generation X. Appropriate that John should be the one to tell me about it, since he was the person who introduced me to Douglas Coupland’s via Generation X.

It’s a CBC Radio interview, which I tend to like because they tend to be more indepth, free-ranging and meandering, which with someone like Coupland you definitely want. He may be able to do sound bites well, but listening to him free-associate and just talk is very interesting indeed.

The associated introductory text with this video tags it as a sequel to Generation X. I recently read Generation A and don’t think of it as so much a sequeal, at least not in the strict sense, as an akin book, if that makes sense. Also, I don’t think it is one of Coupland’s stronger book. However, I reminded that I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about The Gum Thief when I first read, but upon rereading it I liked it much better. So perhaps I should withhold final judgement until I get a chance to read Generation A again.

GenX Frogs

Sounds like a band or something, doesn’t it? Okay. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter. That’s not what I was going f or. So nah.

I’m using frogs as a cheeky endearment for the French not a pejorative. That’s my story and I’m sticking too it.

Anyhoo….

I’m not sure if the French buy into the whole Generation X thing (my understanding is that it’s got it’s Kool Aide drinkers across the channel in England) but if they do then Michel Houellebecq is one of their GenX authors. Born in 1958 he doesn’t fall into the age-range for Generation X, but the themes of his book definitely apply.

Just finished reading his novel, Platform.

And I fucking loved it. And not just because of the cover either, although I am rather fond of it – hubba hubba. I’m reading the hardcover edition and the cover is nothing like the paperback. But we’re not judging a book by it’s cover here. Or are we…..?

Briefly, the story is about a 40 year-old disaffected, cynical French guy whose father has just died. The mother doesn’t really figure in; I can’t even recall in what context the mother is even mentioned. Michel Renault, the main character and narrator, uses some of the money he inherits from his father to go on a vacation, a sex tourism deal — he eagerly and without shame frequents prostitutes. He does meat a girl, Valerie, but nothing happens until they meet up again back in France. Then they carry on a very passionate, lusty affair. In addition to writing about the taboo of sex tourism, Houllebecq’s narrator is none to kind to Arabs/Muslims, toward which his attitude is provacative, derogatory, even caustic and bigotted. My understanding is that MH has been hauled into court for some of the shit he’s written. One can understand why, but that does not take away from the ferocity of the prose and imagination (I scammed that phrasing from a blurb on the back of the book; but it’s true so it’s cool). He sort of reminds me of Brett Easton Ellis, but MH is a much better stylist.

No doubt this novel will not suit the typical American reader. They’re not going to like what they read, especially the derisive attitude toward Western culture, even particularly American at times, though mostly I think the narrator is referring to French culture, which is still Western.

In the end, MH’s fiction version of himself (what othe conclusion can one draw?), having dared to open himself up enough to receive pleasure from a woman lover moves from simply being apathetic to being incredibly bitter. And in the end, like in Douglas Coupland’s, Generation X, the  main character ditches his Western digs for some place more exoctic but not with any sense of hope or new beginning but simply to live out his days, and to be forgotten, forgotten quickly.

Psst. Did I mention that it has some of the best sex scenes I’ve read — sexy, erotic, filthy and lusty all at once!

Strange aside: I tried to read this novel some years ago, after reading the author’s previous novel, The Elementary Particles, but for whatever reason could not…penetrate it, retain much of anything about it. That was before I got on my meds and therapy. Now, I realize just how foggy my head was, and that was why this novel would not click for me. But now, well, it’s crystal clear. I picked it up again and had to plow right through it. Now I’m going back to TEP because I can’t recall what that book was about either, only that on some vague level I liked it.

More Brit GenX TV

I hadn’t realized before but hulu does that amazon thing where they suggest other shows you might like based on whatever show you happen to be watching. Same way amazon does with books, although I have to say I often find amazon’s suggestions suspect, at least for my taste. Anyhoo… one of the suggestions associated with Green Wing, a show that I’m still watching obsessively, is Spaced,  a half-hour comedy. (Do the call them sit-coms in England?) And I figured, oy, why not give it a go, then.

[this is where the video of the first episode of Spaced via hulu.com would appear if I could just get it to work – dammit!]

Glad I did.

Spaced is about two twenty-something Londoners. Tim (Simon Pegg aka Shaun from Shaun of the Dead) and Daisy (Jessica Stevenson, who has a bit role in Shaun as Yvonne) who both suddenly find themselves in need of new lodgings and decide to pose a professional couple so that they can rent a nice flat, clearly an allusion to the 70s sit-com Three’s Company.

The show is chock-full of pop culture references, especially TV and movies. And, a la Scrubs, it employs fantasy sequences to great effect (or is it affect?). Also like Scrubs it is a single-camera show, but I don’t know how unique that is to British TV.

Other GenX-ieties  include: Tim is a skateboarding graphic artist who wants to work for a comic book company but is currently working part-time at a comic book shop; while Daisy is a journalist who is on the dole.

Simon Pegg does much of the writing and the director is Edgar Wright, who collaborated with Pegg to make Shaun of the Dead. Also, Nick Frost, who plays Shaun’s best friend Ed in the romantic-comedy-zombie flick plays Tim’s best friend, Mike, who is described as a “weapons expert.” Much of what appears in Shaun of the Dead was first portrayed in Spaced. Some of it practically verbatim.

Another treat for me is that the character of Brian, the quirky, twitchy, semi-reclusive artist who lives upstairs from Tim and Daisy, who is played by Mark Heap, the actor that portrays the wonderfully pompous Dr. Alan Staythem in Green Wing.  Clearly Heap has a talent for infusing his characters with all kind of interesting traits and foibles that make them a little creepy and endearing at the same time, no small accomplishment.

At this point I can’t say which show I like better. It’s difficult to decided. Green Wing has way more swearing and sexual references. But Spaced has loads more pop culture stuff. In the end it hardly matters. What I can say is that I’d like to own both shows on DVD. I think Spaced is available for Region 1 where as Green Wing still is not.

In any case, both shows are more than valid GenX vehicles. Spaced is about younger GenXers, of the kind featured in Douglas Coupland’s novel, Generation X. While Green Wing is about older GenXers who have matriculated into the workforce.

And both shows are funny and sarcastic and surreal and ultimately very touching and human.

New Featured Blog

As loyal readers (all half dozen..okay, 4 of you) well know, I’ve recently instituted a featured blog, um, feature. This allows me to highlight any new and/or existing blog(s) that I, in my finite wisdom, deem noteworthy — bow down and kiss my butt.  My intention is to highlight blogs that catch my attention  and then decide if I want to include said blog(s) as a permanent resident on my blog roll.  I decided to do this when I realized that my blog roll was getting fairly lengthy, which was bugging me because I tend toward a minimalist/spartan sensibility whenever possible. Clutter icky!

I had meant to change the featured blog regularly but GenX slacker that I am that has not been the case thus far. But what are you gonna do, eh? Besides the previous featured blog was Gen X in Iraq and it seemed to deserve extra time in the spotlight, at least far as I was concerned — stay strong and safe, dude. But I felt it was time to highlight a very cool GenX blog called The Gen X Files. This has some very cool and thoughtful bits and pieces, much more so than mine, which tend to be of the rambling ranting variety. For example, check out the piece on Generation Jones, which focuses on whether it actually exists or not. A thoughtful commentary with many thoughtful comments. Of course, I don’t accept the Generation Jones designation. As one comment noted it’s a cute label but not really significant in the large view of generational studies.

Anyhoo… check out The Gen X Files and stop by Gen X in Iraq, which I’ve added to my permanent blog roll.

Of course,  it should be noted that as with most of my Generation X “discoveries” these both came via JenX67, an Okie blogger who is quickly and very rightly gaining attention and popularity. Way to go Jen!

BTW: if anyone has a blog they feel should be hightlight on this, oh, so highly trafficed blog, let me know. I’ll give due consideration to any and all suggestions.

X. Lit: what I’ve been reading…

Finally went back to finish Jennifer Government, Max Barry’s speculative novel about corporations run amok and dominating the world, or at least trying to, but of course the evilness of soulless companies is thwarted, to a degree anyway, by the will of individuals to do good blah blah blah. Not supremely original but a fun and funny read. And definitely an X Lit. novel. I’m curious to read Barry’s more recent novel, Company, described thusly on Amazon:

From Publishers Weekly
With broad strokes, Barry once again satirizes corporate America in his third caustic novel (after Jennifer Government). This time, he takes aim at the perennial corporate crime of turning people into cogs in a machine. Recent b-school grad Stephen Jones, a fresh-faced new hire at a Seattle-based holding company called Zephyr, jumps on the fast track to success when he’s immediately promoted from sales assistant to sales rep in Zephyr’s training sales department. “Don’t try to understand the company. Just go with it,” a colleague advises when Jones is flummoxed to learn his team sells training packages to other internal Zephyr departments. But unlike his co-workers, he won’t accept ignorance of his employer’s business, and his unusual display of initiative catapults him into the ranks of senior management, where he discovers the “customer-free” company’s true, sinister raison d’être. The ultracynical management team co-opts Jones with a six-figure salary and blackmail threats, but it’s not long before he throws a wrench into the works. As bitter as break-room coffee, the novel eviscerates demeaning modern management techniques that treat workers as “headcounts.” Though Barry’s primary target is corporate dehumanization, he’s at his funniest lampooning the suits that tread the stage, consumed by the sound and fury of office politics that signify nothing. (Jan.)

The corporate-based novel is not unique to X Lit nor Generation X, but it is a significant part of the X Lit lexicon. Consider novels like jPod and Microserfs by Douglas Coupland and the more recent Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, which I’ve not yet read but based on the amazon description I feel pretty confident citing it:

Amazon Best of the Month Spotlight Title, April 2007: It’s 2001. The dot-com bubble has burst and rolling layoffs have hit an unnamed Chicago advertising firm sending employees into an escalating siege mentality as their numbers dwindle. As a parade of employees depart, bankers boxes filled with their personal effects, those left behind raid their fallen comrades’ offices, sifting through the detritus for the errant desk lamp or Aeron chair. Written with confidence in the tricky-to-pull-off first-person plural, the collective fishbowl perspective of the “we” voice nails the dynamics of cubicle culture–the deadlines, the gossip, the elaborate pranks to break the boredom, the joy of discovering free food in the breakroom. Arch, achingly funny, and surprisingly heartfelt, it’s a view of how your work becomes a symbiotic part of your life. A dysfunctional family of misfits forced together and fondly remembered as it falls apart. Praised as “the Catch-22 of the business world” and “The Office meets Kafka,” I’m happy to report that Joshua Ferris’s brilliant debut lives up to every ounce of pre-publication hype and instantly became one of my favorite books of the year. –Brad Thomas Parsons

No doubt Gen Xers will continue to produce these types of novels. It will be interesting to see how they evolve, as the corporate world changes. And how they compare with the ones that Millennials will no doubt write as well.

I’ve also been reaidng the novel The God of War, by Maris Silver. Set in 1978 about a 12 year old named Ares Ramirez who lives with his mother, Laurel, and little brother, Malcolm, who happens to be autistic, although as Ares narrates they had no name at the time for what he was, made it seem like it could qualify as X Lit. Even more to that point, Ares doesn’t know his father, who is out of the picture. Same goes for Malcom’s. Ares calls his mother by her name and bares much of the responsibility for raising his brother; he also bares the burden for Malcolm’s condition, having dropped him on his head as a baby, although I’m not sure that this is even possible. Anyway, they all live out in the desert near the Salton Sea, which for me echoed Coupland’s novel Generation X. This novel seemed like a sort of Gen X coming of age tale. But I’m having a hard time getting into it, you know. It’s okay, written well and all that. But there’s something about it that doesn’t really give me a chubby, you know. It just seems like a really good MFA project. Still, I’m going to try and stick with it.

That is if I don’t get completely sucked into Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I’ve already seen the movie with John Cusack a couple of times so I don’t know why I snagged a copy of it. But then I started reading it and got hooked, or so it would seem. I want to keep reading. And that’s the real test after all. Besides High Fidelity is very Gen X, dude.

Finally, I’ve been reading this non-fiction book — Against Happiness, by Eric G. Wilson. It is basically an argument against the American maniacal pursuit of utter happiness all the time and how the denial of sadness and melancholia is the true path to hell. Maybe it sounds depressing, but for a GenXer like me it is pure bliss, validating (ugh, I hate that fucking word!) my own melancholia while supporting my theory that too happy people are phonies, and probably not really happy at all, but repressed and afraid to let themselves be sad, worried of what other might think of them — as weak. It’s good stuff.

On “The Road” again

I just finished rereading Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road.

I did so for a book club coming up later this month. Don’t misunderstand. I have not joined a book club. Such an act would go against my Gen X lineage. No. I simply plan to sit in. For Cormac McCarthy I would do that. We’ll see how it goes.

As always I wept at the end of the story, when the man realizes that he is dying and when the boy has to say goodbye to his father. And when the boy is welcomed into the arms of a woman who is part of a clan of people that can take him — the good guys, the boy decides they are worthy to be called. A tragic story but beautiful too, and ultimately hopeful. Not easy to pull off when one is essentially writing about the end of the world, or at least the end of the world as we know it. But perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Who knows?

I’ve written previously that I consider The Road to be a X Lit novel. I still maintain that belief. For the simple reason that when I was younger I, and other people that I knew, fretted about the end of the world, specifically via a nuclear war, which is suggested at in this novel. It’s a theme that comes up in Douglas Coupland’s novel, Generation X as well, visions and fears of the end of the world. Also, I consider Cormac McCarthy himself to be an Xer of sorts. At the age of 74 he doesn’t really qualify as a member of Generation X by standard definitions, but if you consider being Gen X to be more a way of looking at the world then I think he more than qualifies. His status as a writer of serious fiction qualifies him, but also he has spent a good part of his life opting out of mainstream life, at one time living in a wood shack with a dirt floor. Living on the margins of society is a big part of Coupland’s novel and thus part of the Xer ethos. McCarthy continues to live more or less marginally. He rarely gives interviews and prefers to not move in modern literary circles. He resides in the desert in New Mexico. All this has an air of X to it as far as I am concerned.

But of course, The Road is more than an example of X Lit. It is a remarkable novel and much more complex than that. At it’s core it is a domestic tale, about a parent trying to raise a child in an uncertain world, a theme so universal it seems almost ridiculously obvious. It is also a tale of survival, and the lengths human beings will go to continue living. Some people slip to the depths of degradation while others, like the man and his boy, struggle to maintain their humanity and some notion of grace. In fact, at times during the novel it is difficult to tell who is really looking out for whom. Of course, the reality is that the man and the boy are looking out for each other, in different ways. The father’s task is essentially about physical survival — food, shelter, clothing, etc. Whereas the boy’s concerns seem to be more spiritual, for their souls and humanity. Both the father’s and the boy’s concerns are legitimate and important, both are necessary, and yet they are at times in direct opposition to one another. And I think that as much as anything is what makes this novel great.

I admit that I am hesitant to attend the book club while at the same time eager to hear what other people think of the story.

Generational Quiz

 

When you see this picture, you think:

A. That looks tasty

B. Cholesterol – bad egg!

C. Hey, that’s my brain on drugs!

D. What does an egg have to do with anything?
If you answered:
A. You are a “Mature”

B. You are a “Boomer”

C. You are an “Xer”

D. You are a “Millennial”

More on X Lit.

I’m almost finished with the novel, Jennifer Government by Max Barry, and it definitly qualifies as X Lit. Not only is it funny and ironic, but many of the characters seem to be caught in a state “stuckness,” obliged to jobs that they not only dislike, but in fact hate, and even find, well, to be immoral on any number of levels. Then of course there is the portrayal of a society so dominated by corporate interests that individuals’ last names depend on the company they work for — John Nike, Billy NRA, etc. Additionally, the government is literally bankrupt, requiring victims to fund investigations (can anyone say Social Security). Characters attempt to opt out of the system and exist apart from it with varying degress of succeccess. Some fail because they simply cannot compete with so much powers. Others are seduced by money. Creativity is co-opted by corporations for profit. Lives are taken in the interest of profit. This scenario is one that persists as a possibly nightmare come true for many Gen Xers, who seem to share a vague sense of certainty that things will not work out in the end. Things will ultimately end badly. And yet our better angels compel us to stive, in spite of thie angst.

Anyhoo… this got me thinking about other X Lit. authors and books, and I thought I’d try to list them here, as much as possible.

There is Douglas Coupland, of course, especially his novel, Generation X, but his other works qualify as well.

Brett Easton Ellis, by virtue of his age to begin with, but also his themes, particularly in Less Than Zero, the way he deals with gender roles and sexuality seems in tune with an Xer ethos.

Jay McInerney, especially Bright Lights, Big City. Of course, I struggle with this particular one. Does JM really qualify as a Gen X author? Born in 1955, he’s 53, which puts him with the Boomers. Even a recent article, in Time I think it was, classified him as a Boomer. And yet, I seem to want to co-opt him into Gen X, at least for me. Why? Perhap because his first book, BLBC, was formative to me as a writer; it seemed to give me permission to write about the things I’d experienced, to a degree, even though I never lived in NYC or or worked in magazine publishing in Manhattan or dated a model. I did my share of coke and club hopping. I suppose it is more of an 80s novel than a Gen X novel. And while the two realms may overlap they are not equal. A more detailed argument is required to claim Mr. McInerney convincingly. I wonder what he would think?

David Foster Wallace

Rick Moody

Michael Chabon

Jhumpar Lahiri

Junot Diaz

And while it might seem out of left field I am going to add Cormac McCarthy, especially his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road. Dystopian fiction is very Gen X, in that it expresses all our worst fears come true, and The Road certainly does that. Also, McCarthy was a man who opted out of the maintstream world for much of his life, living off the grid in a shack in Tenn at one time. He was often broke or close to it, unemployed, but he persisted. He still does, quietly, rarely granting interview because it seems he finds it unproductive, merely boastful. The only way he would interview with Oprah was if she came to him — and really how often does that happen. He lived on the fringe, mostly overlooked until quite recently, as has Generation X. At age 73 or so, McCarthy is a clear case of how the X ethos has more to do with a way of looking at the world than it does with one’s age.

Perhaps an interesting study in contrasts between Boomer and Gen X writers could come out of examing the careers and works of Stephen King, a Boomer born in 1947, and his two writer sons, Joe Hill, born 1972, and Owen King, born 1976. Of course, Hill has just two books to his credit and Owen King only one but over time it could prove insightful.

But returning to the idea of dystopian fiction: I say this is a Gen X preoccupation simply because the “end of the world” was something that me and my friends when we were younger used to talk about quite a bit. Probably because we lived with the threat of nuclear war between the US and the then Soviety Union. Our war was The Cold War. The fact that it never came to pass (although it still could, simply with other players firing the shots) doesn’t make it any less significant.

Few things get me more indignant than Boomers who claim that Gen Xers are a spoiled generation because  we did not grow up with war. Boomers, of course, had Vietnam, the grand-mother-fucker of all wars, which they seem to have a sick affection for, so much so that a small group of their ilk, i.e. the Bush adminstration, felt a need to recreate it. The Iraq War is as much a reenactment of Vietnam as it is a war unto itself. Even those Boomers in power who now take a public stance against The Iraq War have done little to end it. And many not only did nothing to prevent but approved it with their vote — Yeah, I’m looking at you Hillary!

I actually once had conversation with a Boomer woman and her Vietnam vet husband (which because of his status I was pretty much not allowed to have much an opinion on the issue that didn’t agree with them) who claimed that my generation did not know war. When I brought up the Cold War, she dismissed the argument. She seemed to think that because it did not fit her conventional definition of war, i.e. it was not Vietnam (she barely aknowledged, Korea, or either of the WW wars) that it did not apply. But I argued that it was a real war and that it did have real affects on the young people that grew up in its shadow. The Cold War for many Gen Xers, though not all, was the nuclear annihilation equivalent of the school bully promising to kick your ass but not telling you exactly when or where he was going to do it. When you least expect it…expect it. It could happen at any moment.

That kind of threat can really fuck with your head. You begin to think, well, we’re all going to die some day anyway so what is the point of anything. What is the point of getting good grades? What is the point of waiting to have sex, when you may not live long enough to get married to have sex? Fuck now! I mean, there was a time when I actually believed that I would not live to see the age of 21, so of course I drank, got drunk, did stupid ass shit as a teenager. It may seem irrational now, but hindsight is 20/20. At the time, in the moment, it seemed very fucking real! And it was scary as shit. Some people are still surprised that their is a cohort of you people that, when they were young, feared that a sudden, blinding flash of light would be their last vision of the world — and it could come at any time! It could happen now….now….now…now…

Perhaps this is why I am intrigued by Zombie movies andcollapse of society fiction — The Stand, by Stephen King was one of my favorite books when I was younger; I read it over and over. Even today, I have Zombie dreams, especially after I became a father. And in 2003, when the power went out, I freaked a little. Caught in traffic on my way to pick up my then toddler daughter with a gas tank on fumes, I pulled over into a Wal-Mart parking lot and began walking the 7-10 miles to my parents’ house. Of course, it would have been smarter to walk the 1.5 miles back home, get my wife’s mountain bike, and ride there, but I simply was not thinking straight. And all the clogged traffic, the honking horns, the frustrated drivers yelling and honking their horns made me frett that everything could crumble into chaos at any moment. I was watching carefully for the signs. For it to happen now…now…now…

In any case, there are no doubt many more Gen X books and authors. Our early circumstances, graduating into poor economies that made it difficult to find the kinds of jobs we had hoped for may have had the hidden bonus of creating a lot of good writers and artists, filmmakers etc.

Detroit Gen Xer forgoes $ to do good

Here’s a young woman who is an example of the best kind of Gen Xer attitude, helping homeless teens and young people to get off the streets instead of raking in the big bucks. Way to fucking go!

Last week, I was shown around by Melissa Golpe, their marketing and public relations director. A trim, attractive 31-year-old who grew up in Dearborn, she easily could be making far more money. She certainly would be richer if, for example, she had stayed with the major commercial PR agency she spent a few years with after graduation.

But she found out that wasn’t her. “This really seems much more meaningful, gives me much more satisfaction, telling their stories,” she said. I saw a number of the young adults who are staying there, working part-time, getting clean, getting right in their heads, working on their high school degrees.

Check out the full article, a column by Jack Lessenberry, who writes regulary for the Metro Times, a free weekly for Metro Detroit.

http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=12814