Monday, February 05, 2007

Douglas Coupland – ‘Life After God’

Still with the Christmas books here, and there are a few more to come. I feel I’m slightly cheating zipping through them like this, short ones first, when there are biggies further down the pile (Don Quixote, Untold Stories), but on the other hand it’s nice, too, to have a flurry of different reads, different situations, different ways with words. Coupland’s way is practically transparent, you barely feel like you’re reading at all until 100 pages in and you realise that actually, there is a structure here, a wayward path. This is a novel. A novel with pictures and loads of blank space, and which fair scoots along as a consequence. The point of these tiny instalments, I think, is that they each represent a thought, something which can be captured by an illustration (these provide the book’s structure). Some are longer than others, more developed. A lot of them run in to one another, making up a narrative, but at other times there are lists of related ideas – imagined individual deaths from a nuclear explosion, or resumes of who the children we met earlier ended up being as adults.

And, recurring, is the idea that the generation born in the ’60s were the first to be raised atheists, and that this has left them damaged or inadequate in some way. Or that people on their own are inadequate, and need a God in order to make up the shortfall. If you rely entirely on your feelings to guide you in life, then what happens if the feelings are too strong? You can go off the rails, like Scout’s sister Laurie, or you can damp them down with antidepressants, like Scout himself. Which leads him to thoughts like this:

I said that time was linked to emotions. ‘Maybe the more emotions a person experiences in their daily lives, the longer time seems to feel to them. As you get older, you experience fewer new things, and so time seems to go by faster.’ (p. 270)

One could say that it is paradoxical to allow a life to be governed by feelings – aren’t feelings to do with reactions to structure? If they are also allowed to form the structure, then aren’t they getting ahead of themselves? The one thing sure to alleviate anxiety is to remove responsibility for one’s actions. If it is not my fault that I didn’t get this job, or sustain that friendship, if it is instead God’s will, then there is nothing I could have done in either case which would have made me more successful. This is a tempting prospect. To have one’s failings given the official stamp of ultimate authority. But also: this is a form of damping too. Scout comes to the realisation that he needs God after he comes off his little yellow pills, and in doing so he leaps from one palliative to another.

Scout can’t handle the knowledge that his life is his doing, but it is far from clear that his final choice is the right one. Another character, Dana, also makes a late life switch to religion (again from drugs – this time not prescribed), and this phone conversation is the result:

‘The time is coming, Scout. You will not have to live inside linear time anymore; the concept of infinity will cease to be frightening. All secrets will be revealed. There will be great destruction; structures like skyscrapers and multinational corporations will crumble. Your dream life and your real life will fuse. There will be music. Before you turn immaterial, your body will turn itself inside out and fall to the ground and cook like steak on a cheap hibachi and you will be released and you will be judged.’

‘Um – Dana … I think I have somebody on call waiting. Can I phone you back?’ (p. 241)

Even before Scout takes off into the wilderness and finds himself humbled before God (or at least Nature), he has seen that religious faith can drive a person off the rails just as surely as doubt.

No comments:

Blog Archive