Generation A, by Douglas Coupland

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Douglas Coupland is one of my most enduring favorite authors, along with Jonathan Lethem and Haruki Murakami and Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve found him to be the voice of my generation many times — even including when he popularized the term “Generation X” for my generation — in the title of his 1991 book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.

Looking back now, from 2010, it’s clear that while we felt like life was accelerated in 1991, we had no idea how much faster culture and life would get — that we’d see the fundamental innovation of the web start to take hold just a few years later, and the rate of change would just get faster and faster and faster.

Coupland’s themes have always really spoken to me — he writes about the struggles we all go through to make meaning of our lives — in his book Life After God, he explores the idea that in the past, in America, that religion and the church was the main organizing principle — the connective tissue between events & moments that ultimately shapes all of it into something coherent. But that religion, for many Gen Xers, has lost that narrative power — and so we’re all searching around for something else to take its place.

The answer, naturally, has to be that nothing can take it’s place, and finding meaning in your life was never really connected purely to religion anyway — but the structure of activity and thought that religion brought made it a little easier. Finding meaning — rather, making meaning — is more intrinsic than that; it has to come from within yourself.

But I’ve been having a hard time with Coupland’s last few books — they’ve been harder for me to believe & internalize — they’re just a little more random and less accessible than I found his writing before. Or it may be that as he — and I, and all of Generation X — gets older that the ideas of alienation and narrative and meaning are getting harder to think about, harder to see — so you have to just tell stories to try to get a glimpse at their truths.

I liked this book; it’s a little quirkier than I was hoping for, and I can’t tell yet what meaning to make from it — but think I may come back to it in a year or two to consider it again. (And it’s already caused me to pick up Life After God again.)

4 Replies to “Generation A, by Douglas Coupland”

  1. “finding meaning in your life was never really connected purely to religion anyway”

    Without the eternal, life has no true meaning. Science tells us that in a billion years, the earth is going to fall into the sun, and if humanity escapes that, eventually the universe will suffer heat death. And then, will it matter whether you were a lover or a murderer, whether you cared for the planet or pursued your own pleasure, whether you helped the homeless or mugged the wealthy? It’ll all be the same in the end. Where is the meaning of life in this scenario? “Making meaning” makes no sense – if meaning in life is just a personal construct, it’s not meaning at all. It dies with you, and then no longer matters.

    1. Hey Gerv —

      I get & understand your perspective here, but don’t agree. (and, for the record, I don’t think that ‘eternal’ is an equivalent term to ‘religion,’ either.)

      But there’s much that matters that is not permanent or lasting. And, actually, for myself, most things of value are the ones that are fleeting.

      We can debate at length what “meaning” means — but that’s sort of the point. I’m asserting that there are many ways to do this — you’re asserting there’s only one, based on religion.

      1. I definitely wasn’t saying that “eternal” is the same thing as “religion” – but Christianity has an eternal and, as I outlined, secular naturalism does not. My assertion is that, without a concept of eternity, there can be no lasting meaning or achievement, because everything just ends up the same in the end, whatever choices you make.

        I agree that there is much which matters which is not permanent or lasting – but if _you_ and _I_ are not permanent or lasting, then those things don’t actually matter. If when you die, that’s the end and all there is is unconscious blackness, then in as short a period of time as a thousand years, what difference will it make that you experienced that sunset, or that kiss, or that opera?

        One can certainly claim that those things have meaning, and most non-Christians will, because that’s the only way to get through life without collapsing in despair – but I am suggesting that it is not logically consistent to do so.

        Life is only meaningful if it is consciously eternal. As it turns out, it is – for everyone. Which means that the things you do and experience now _do_ matter, which is why your heart tells you they do, even though it’s inconsistent with the idea of finding meaning only within yourself. However, that eternity will only be bearable for those who spend it in the presence of the source of all that is good and meaningful and beautiful and valuable, rather than separated from Him.

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