X-Plained: The Production and Reception History of Douglas Coupland's Generation X

By Doody, Christopher | Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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X-Plained: The Production and Reception History of Douglas Coupland's Generation X


Doody, Christopher, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada


SOMMAIRE

Cet article propose une approche sociologique du roman de Douglas Coupland intitule Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture tout en retracant les etapes de la creation de l'oeuvre depuis sa conception en tant qu'ecrit documentaire paru dans un magazine en 1987 jusqu'a devenir en 1991 un livre de fiction redige de la main meme de Coupland.

Un consensus semble se degager parmi les critiques litteraires sur ce que represente vraiment l'oeuvre de Coupland--le roman qui a depeint une generation--et ce, vingt ans apres qu'elle a ete publiee. L'opinion qui veut que ce roman exprime l'esprit d'une epoque etiquetant du meme coup son auteur de porte-parole de la generation X ne prend aucunement en compte le desaveu de cette perception par Coupland et l'attitude qu'a adoptee celui-ci lors de la reception de l'ouvrage. Cette etude ne pretend pas aborder la vraie histoire de Generation X mais vise plutot a relater les nombreuses anecdotes recueillies a propos de ce roman et auxquelles Coupland lui-meme n'etait pas etranger telles que ses hesitations dans le choix du titre de l'oeuvre, ses multiples interventions en vue de combler les attentes de son editeur et son refus de prendre le baton du pelerin a titre de porte-parole de sa generation au point de declarer que la generation X etait bel et bien << morte >>. S'il faut comprendre ce roman, son auteur ainsi que le phenomene social sans precedent qu'ils ont engendre, il est primordial de bien comprendre le contexte sociologique du texte.

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Welcome to the overnight and highly charmed success story of Generation X.

-- Douglas Coupland (1)

Introduction

Generation X ... is a novel that has achieved widespread popular recognition. According to the perverse logic of the literary establishment, its popularity calls into question its validity as a literary text. And yet this is a novel worth looking at seriously, if only for the influence it has had on contemporary culture.

--G.P. Lainsbury (2)

Douglas Coupland's novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was among the five novels chosen for CBC's 2010 Canada Reads contest. It was, however, eliminated within the first two days, alongside Ann-Marie MacDonald's novel Fall On Your Knees. Both books were deemed poor contestants for the contest, by the celebrity judges and readers alike, because they were already well-known Canadian novels. This dismissal, however, raises the question of how well Canadians, or the world for that matter, really know Coupland's novel. Although most Canadians today might accept that this novel is part of the Canadian canon, consider these two

reviews written a few months apart in the fall of 1992, the year after the novel's release. Brian Fawcett writing in Books in Canada notes, "Those of us who write about writing would have to be very deep inside our privileged comas not to recognize that Generation X had, by a country kilometer, the biggest impact of any work of literature published by a Canadian in the last few years. It gave a heretofore voiceless generation not just an articulate and witty spokesperson, but a lexicon and a phenomenology as well." (3) Aritha van Herk, on the other hand, writing in the University of Toronto Quarterly, viewed the novel in a vastly different light. She explains that the novel "exhibit[s] a desperate desire to prove [itself] socially relevant, but in the process show[s itself] to have little sustaining interest or value. In [its] attempts to enact radicalism, [it] succeed[s] only in achieving the banal." (4) If literary critics were so diametrically opposed on the social impact of the novel twenty years ago, how have we arrived at such a complacent agreement on the novel today that it is no longer worthy of debate? Or is it perhaps that we have simply forgotten, or do not know, the novel's true history? This essay attempts to provide such a history of the text, which will offer a better understanding of Coupland's novel, and by extension, Coupland himself.

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