Monday, February 01, 2021

From X to A: salvific scenes in Coupland’s fiction paper proposal

I’ve had some ideas floating around for quite a few years and a Call for Papers – for the Douglas Coupland and the Art of the ‘Extreme Present’ Virtual conference – 23-24 April 2021 caused me today to rummage through the hard drive.

First, a perusal of the bookshelves and sure enough, five Douglas Coupland books in the Team Taylor library. Next a rummage around some research from my PhD in 2004. Finally, a lecture from Gospel in a Post-Christian society classes. Taught at Laidlaw College in 2005, 2007 and 2009, each time the material had developed. After about 30 minutes of rummage, there was some 3000 words sitting in a new document. Given virtual conferences are currently a great way to keep up academic networks and given that an interdisciplinary academic conference on Douglas Coupland conference sounds just the right amount of work and play, here’s the abstract.

From X to A: salvific scenes in Coupland’s fiction
Rev Dr Steve Taylor.

Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was instrumental in branding generational narratives into contemporary Western discourse. Coupland’s ability to trace the textures of our time gained him acclaim as a writer with “uncanny insight into what ails our culture” (Hanson, Voice of a Decade). Despite Coupland’s claim to be a novelist, generational frames became tropes to argue for shifts in culture. Christian writers like Tom Beaudoin (Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X) and Gordon Lynch (After Religion: Generation X and the Search for Meaning) appropriated the generational as a trope to argue for ecclesial innovation and a spirituality which prioritises the experiential.

This paper examines the “salvific-as-experiential” as a spirituality in four Coupland novels. Attention is paid to text, including the impact of a “faith-healing gesture” in Generation X, the wilderness secret that concludes Life After God, the framing of 1 Corinthians 15 in Hey Nostradamus! and Adam and Eve motifs in Generation A: A Novel’s epigraph.

Analysis will occur by approaching the “salvific-as-experiential” asking from what, for what and by what means? In Generation X, salvation is from aloneness into communal acceptance through surrendering to the love of the mentally challenged. In Life After God, salvation is from human selfishness into a life of giving and serving through creation. In Hey Nostradamus, salvation is from human loss and need into reconciliation of human relationships. In Generation A, salvation is from environmental harm into a new community through creative storytelling.

The argument is that Coupland’s characters are finding in the “salvific-as-experiential” an alternative vision of sociality. Coupland’s fiction is antagonistic toward forms of community that are arbitrary, intergenerational and guilt-inducing. Rather, his characters seek communities that interact in ways that deepen personal meaning.

The extreme present of a global pandemic invites a reappraisal of Coupland’s socialities. How might Generation X and Generation A speak to the challenges of lockdowns and conspiracy theories now faced by “Generation COVID”?

Updated: As of 1 April, 2021, an audio of my talk – titled “How Clear is [Coupland’s] Vision of Heaven, is here.

Posted by steve at 01:47 PM

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