Life After God

By the time Life After God was released i’d had enough of Douglas Coupland. In my mind it was released after Microserfs… but thinking about it, maybe it was Shampoo Planet that disappointed me, caused me to skip Life After God, but still read Microserfs. All very complicated. The point being that it has been a long time since i’ve read any Douglas Coupland.

The premise of all these short pieces is that without god people lives lack any meaning. Not having been raised with a concept of god / religion, a void opens up in life, that cannot be filled without appealing to a higher power. Alright… if you say so.

What really struck me was how well Coupland manages to evoke the feeling of living of living on the west coast of the states. Life ‘out there’ takes place on a set that is, out of the cities, indescribably huge, majestically wild and beautiful. The cities are soulless urban sprawl, new in terms of culture, but already shabby and unloved. Society, family units, and i suppose even individuals, feels somehow atomised, blown apart by the ferocious drive to be as individual / unique / special as possible. For a lot of people their work is so abstract or virtual that it is pretty much devoid of meaning, of relation to anything concrete in life. Trading pieces of paper that represent fragments of other pieces of paper; marketplaces where no one will ever walk and no goods will ever be seen; advertising / marketing ideas that can only sell other ideas…

My feeling is that it’s not so much the lack of a higher power that drives all this angst but, people living to far away from their Dunbar number. It’s all very well striving for individuality, and redefining your social interactions in a virtual world, but the truth remains that we are still some form of social ape.

11 thoughts on “Life After God

  1. I’ll put up with your slight anti-Couplandism just because of the Dunbar numer explanation, but don’t think it hasn’t been noted.

    • i do find him rather… shallow / superficial to read, but somehow that feels like it goes with the material. enjoyed it more than i expected i would…

  2. I’m a sucker for the Dunbar number. Although I suspect our internet augmented lives are cyborging our social capacities beyond it these days.

    As to lives lacking meaning without god, that seems to me an act of laziness. Religion provides prepackaged meaning that doesn’t require (and doesn’t encourage) critical examination. Without religion we’re left to define our own meaning as we see fit, or to define none at all and to float through life in a meaningless malaise (which may even be more to one’s tastes).

    • The Dunbar number goes both ways for me. Huxley posited that the massive increase in mental illness was highly correlated with the move into cities, and that the shear weight of numbers was overwhelming for the mind. The other side of that argument is people always saws say that life in the big cities is lonely… maybe it’s not contradictory.

      It feels more like a literary device to me… surely nobody can really believe literally in the need for a god. Sven, below, seems to be onto the right idea if you ask me.

  3. #I was disappointed by a lot of the stuff Coupland wrote, so much that I stopped reading him, too. I liked “Life after God” a lot, mostly for the non-title-giving stories in it. It’s been a while since I read it since my copy was lent to someone long ago — can’t even recall the name of the guy.

    Most of the stories are about God in a way Nietzsche was about god — mainly asking the question how to fill the cultural hole. So while Nietzsche still talks about superhumans reinventing and refocusing morality on humanity, Coupland is asking what came out of it, what makes as specifically human. Turns out it’s silly stuff like smoking and body-building.

  4. i didn’t read ‘life after god’ but coupland was all ok by me until ‘girlfriend in a coma’ which made me more angry than almost any book i’ve read. it was so thin and pretentious and it’s bullshit cop-out ending was almost as irritating as it’s nonsensical message of needing to find ‘meaning’. embarassing mid-life crisis literature. awful.

    • given all that… i’d suggest you avoid Life after god.

      it’s tempting to surmise that the superficiality of his writing is suppose to reflect the reality of what he writing about. life after god is probably better than girlfriend in a coma (i think i read it) but the same (midlife literary) yearning for meaning is definitely there.

    • Yep – that’s the one that lost me from his reader’s list too. Oddly enough, I returned to Life After God over the summer. I enjoyed it the first time around, back in 1994, when the opening story chimed perfectly with a trip Id taken a few months before up the same damp road to Prince George, but I hadn’t dared go near it since. The last few of his that I read (Girlfriend in a Coma was a warning about a drop-off in quality and relevance that I didn’t heed until Miss Wyoming) had seen to that. The short stories still held up on return, but the experience hasn’t yet persuaded me to take Shampoo Planet or GenX off the shelf. Too big a risk of devaluing the memory, I fear.

      • oh so true about gen x… it was probably your copy that i first read. microserfs pretty much defines (in my memory) the period of my life that involved moving to california.

        not sure that i’d want to go back and risk realising that i’d misremembered, ‘i try to imagine myself one year from now but I’m just not seeing any pictures.’ it might just break me.

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