Sunday, September 26, 2010

Douglas Coupland's Generation X and Tao Lin's Richard Yates

I often think the world is beautiful on the microlevel and horrifying on the macrolevel. There are so many moments of fleeting affection, of ironic connection. Sometimes we can love a recent acquaintance for reasons that seem deep and unchangeable, overlapping paths or esoteric coincidences, or even for reasons as miniscule as subconscious cognition of enchanting momentary facial expressions. But when I think about the future, I am overwhelmed and horrified. This macrohorror is the reason we all search for something to believe in. In comparing the novels Generation X by Douglas Coupland, and Richard Yates by Tao Lin, the fissure between beauty in fleeting moments versus macrohorror is explored differently in regards to each novel’s respective generation. While Coupland finds that society is to blame for macrohorror, Lin concludes individual perception is the root of macrohorror. In rooting macrohorror in these two distinct ways, generational differences (between Generation X and our generation [not sure the name of it]) unquestionably forge the way.

For Coupland, the beauty I find in the world through these moments of fleeting beauty or nostalgic gratification are, holistically incongruous with macrohorror and to believe in said coincidences would not only be recalcitrant, mundane and defeatist; but also lackadaisical and existentially perfunctory. In the 90s, much like the generations prior, it seems there was a contradictory longing to find universal pulchritude in gestalt solipsism. Douglas Coupland’s Generation X portrays the evolution of this contradiction perfectly. One character in particular, Dag, is the paradigm of 90s counterculture. His marketing job becomes increasingly emetic by virtue of a capitalist mentality instilled by the baby boomer’s generation. Dag’s epiphany comes when he realizes that, contrary to the philosophy of the baby boomers: shopping is not the same as creating (“We had compulsions that made us confuse shopping with creativity…” [Coupland 8]). And so ensues Dag’s intuitive desire for a coherent life beyond the accumulation of material things. He epitomizes this revolutionary generational longing for coherency throughout one’s life by pejoratively stating, “ My life had become a series of scary events that simply weren’t stringing together for an interesting book” (Coupland 31). Thus, the characters surrounding Dag long for a life disconnected from professional careers that perpetuate capitalist growth. They live on the fringes of society—in the landscape of the Western desert—working “mcjobs” to subsist and most importantly to leave, “…our lives behind us…to tell stories and to make our own lives worthwhile tales in the process” (Coupland 8). The novel is comprised of first and second hand stories of bricrolage from failure, trauma, and wayward pilgrimage. Even when the most sincere stories are consummated, Andy—Coupland’s antihero states that these “…small moments…” of “…intense flaring beauty…will be utterly forgotten, dissolved by time like a super-8 film left out in the rain, without sound, and quickly replaced by thousands of silently growing trees” (Coupland 147). It was clear to me that Generation X’s characters found human connection ultimately inimical in a journey towards self discovery and gestalt solipsism. Thus, the novel’s visions synthesize either naturalistically or apocalyptically.

Andy feels deterministic longing to live with within the haikus of daffodils and narcissi; in secret sunlight with the “…breathlessness of oleanders and the cooing of doves” (Coupland 129). It is here he states, “I feel so happy I could die” (Coupland 130). In contrast, it seems that apocalypse, namely nuclear apocalypse is the ultimate revelation of macrohorror. One character, Claire, in a heady revelation concerning the upwards construction of modern architecture, wonders how New York—with its towering contradictions of gravity—doesn’t simply collapse upon itself. Furthermore, what I found to be imperious and perhaps metaphorically extemporaneous visions of nuclear destruction seem to overshadow the ultimate conclusions on the division between the proles and the bourgeois.

Of course, having been written in the comparatively (and decreasingly) halcyon 90s, one must wonder if Coupland was prescient to the depression that ensued from the destruction that was 9/11. Now, what is our post 9/11 generation (having seen Generation X’s ultimate macrhorror come into fruition) left with? The mantra of anti-consumerism pioneered in Generation X has become all but ubiquitous for our generation, in a complimentary way. Andy, like individuals from every generation coming to fruition, needs to find something true, for his definition of self. He finds truth in nature. Andy’s quietus contentment in this truth seems to me to be what may transcend the technological whirlwinds and developing macrohorror that have swept up our generation.

With social networks and ubiquitous correspondence rampant, our memories are compartmentalized digitally forever. Perhaps a bit superficial; but does the “super 8 film left out in the rain” that represented Generation X’s fleeting memories still stand as a legitimate metaphor for our own generation’s perception of memory preservation, or does our addiction to social networking (where pictures are uploaded regularly and visited frequently) salvage our ability to keep these fleeting memories as pristine sentimental artifacts? Granted this interconnectedness is an optimistic means of collecting and preserving moments of universal pulchritude—however distorted the photographic and textual representations may transfer into personal perception—can we now transcend the existential contradiction that stood Generation X’s way towards gestalt solipsism? Here, the road may fork to two different opinions.
One can believe that these digital artifacts and their ubiquitous accessibility may create an even greater divide between human beings longing for a coherent catalyst against the loneliness resulting from societal whirlwinds and macrohorror. The ease of communication and social pioneering has undoubtedly created a dangerous ennui. A stagnation where, in the abundance and ease of interconnectedness, one begins to feel over privileged and unmotivated to make any choice; for in the future; the same options of networking and communication will be available. The end result of this boredom will translate into a vacuity of meaning in interpersonal relationships. Or, one can believe that these connections forged with said interconnectedness are indispensible to our generation’s ability to connect with others swept up in the same whirlwinds of uncertainty, macrohorror, and skepticism.

This interconnectedness relating to macrohorror is abundant in Tao Lin’s 2010 novel, Richard Yates. The novel is comprised largely of text messages, phone calls, and gmail chat conversations. Compared to Coupland’s Generation X, Lin’s writing is different in two ways. First, the argot that Coupland uses to express the cultural and personal gap between those who are optimistic about society (consumers) and those who are pessimistic (anti-consumerists) is simplified enormously. Second, and most importantly, Lin differentiates our generation’s strife from that of Generation X in one crucial way. In Richard Yates, it is clear that the root of macrohorror is not rooted in society itself, but in the individual. In a conversation about personal relationships between Haley Joel Osmend, one of the novel’s two protagonists and Haley Joel Osmend’s literary friend Julia, Haley Joel Osmend states, “’A fucked person enters an unfucked situation, and the situation immediately becomes fucked. It’s the person that’s fucked,’ Said Haley Joel Osment…’Situations can’t be fucked because they’re situations,’ Said Julia” (Lin 76). This distinction between the responsibility of society vs. the responsibility of individuals broadens in the following declaration, “’All the old Nobel Prize winners were depressed existentialists. Now they are all sociologists or something As American gained more power.’’ Nobody wants to discuss how lonely life is….everyone is more interested in toothpaste’” (Lin 76). The characters in Lin’s novel are lonely, often stating their desires to kill themselves. However—unlike Andy in Generation X—they find solace; not in the truth of nature; but in the truth of text messages, phone calls, and gmail chat. The novel’s two protagonists, Haley Joel Osmend and Dakota Fanning are constantly updating each other about what the other is up to. This relationship, largely to the blame of the older and more persuasive Haley Joel Osmend becomes unhealthy, especially for Dakota Fanning. However, a furtiveness in the interconnectedness of their relationship seems to persist and causes bafflement to Haley Joel Osmend. At the climax of the furtiveness of the relationship Dakota Fanning states,

“’Sometimes if I stare for too long I think about loneliness and I think about what is going to happen if I annoy you and you leave me and about how lonely and afraid of everything I used to be and I just get nervous and cry I guess…Before when I was lonely it was sort of a calm loneliness. Like I would just say ‘oh well.’ And lie in bed. And just be alone. But now when I think about being lonely it’s very depressing and I can’t relax.’” (Lin 104).

Characters of Generation X, like Dag, can simply escape from relationships for days if they become lonely or furtive, with little more than a random call from a pay phone in the desert. However, the ubiquitous interconnectedness of Haley Joel Osmend and Dakota Fanning’s relationship causes Dakota Fanning’s furtiveness and loneliness to become that much more affective and distressing to her emotional and physical state. It is only when the furtiveness of Dakota Fanning’s communications has been revealed to the clearly upper handed Haley Joel Osmend that words like, “lonely” and “depressed” disappear from, or, are negated in, the novel.

Thus, the loneliness and macrohorror experienced in Coupland’s Generation X is societally rooted, while the loneliness and macrohorror of Lin’s Richard Yates are individually and interpersonally rooted. Regardless, both novels seem to reach the same existential conclusion in the fight against macrohorror. In the search for gestalt solipsism, truth—whether it be a quietus fulfillment in nature or the consummation of happy communication in a personal relationship—is the only universal pulchritude.

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