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W e s t e r n M y t h AND THE END OF HISTORY in t h e N o v e l s o f D o u g l a s C o u p l a n d W i l l i a m H . K a t e r b e r g I speak of the American deserts and of the cities which are not cities. No oases, no monuments; infinite panning shots over mineral land­ scapes and freeways. Everywhere: Los Angeles or Twenty-Nine Palms, Las Vegas or Borrego Springs ... ... Here the cities are mobile deserts. No monuments and no history: the exaltation of mobile deserts and simulation. There is the same wildness in the endless, indifferent cities as in the intact silence of the Badlands. Why is LA, why are the deserts so fascinating? It is because you are delivered from all depth there—a brilliant, mobile, superficial neutrality, a challenge to meaning and profundity, a chal­ lenge to nature and culture, an outer hyperspace, with no origin, no reference-points. —Jean Baudrillard, America (1986) T h e Vancouver writer Douglas Coupland provided an identity for the post-Baby Boom Generation in bis best-known novel, Generation X (1991). The people in his stories are tourists and pilgrims, uprooted wanderers, at once aliens and participants in the late modem consumer culture of contemporary North America. His work has been described as postmodern for its self-conscious, ironic hipness and compared to America (1986), written by the French critic Jean Baudrillard, for its playfully venomous depiction of a depthless, hyper-real society.1 It has also been read from the perspective of Francis Fukuyama’s idea of the “end of history”— the claim that liberal democracy and capitalism are Like Douglass Coupland, Seattle-based photographer Paul Berger explores sub­ jectivity in an information age dominated by mass culture and saturated with images. He too combines image with text, writing in the introduction to Seattle Subtext (1984), from which the images in this essay are taken, that “photographs are seldom solitary or reclusive; they most often gather in groups along with their uneasy ally, text. Together, they are the cohabiters of the most common ‘picture’ of all, the printed page” (1). Reproduction with permission of the artist. W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e 4 0 . 3 ( F a l l 2 0 0 5 ) : 2 7 2 - 9 9 . 2 7 4 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 5 the culmination of human social evolution, that no political-economic project can be imagined that might better resolve the “fundamental ‘contradictions’ in human life” (8).2 What has been little noted is the prominence of western images and myth in Coupland’s writing.^ Like Baudrillard, Coupland is fasci­ nated with the desert. Deserts and other wilderness spaces in the North American West symbolize the aridity of American culture for both authors. However, unlike Baudrillard, for whom redemption is a danger­ ous or foolish illusion, and unlike Fukuyama, for whom redemption has been achieved in Western civilization, Coupland remains unsatisfied. His West continues to be a place where people go to escape and perhaps attain some sort of salvation. But his New World West also is defined by late modernity. No longer the West of pioneers, cowboys, and Indians, or even that of mining towns, railroads, and strikes, it is the West of Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley. The West of military bases, atom bombs, trailer trash, dysfunctional families, designer kitsch, TV preachers, cookie-cutter suburbs, Microsoft, and plastic surgery. The people who inhabit this “bio-degradable” West are not so much pioneers and homemakers as tourists and vagabonds (Bauman 81). Coupland’s West thus is at once utopian and apocalyptic. It is “no place,” insofar as it is no different from any other late modem place. For some it remains a “good place,” where people estranged from modernity can...


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pp. 272-300
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