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Poetics of Postmodernism in D. Copeland’s Novel “Generation X”

As a result of profound social changes, cultural and ideological transformations in our modern post-industrial society, the so-called postmodern condition was formed. According to IP Ilyina, “postmodernism is mainly a state of civilization and culture in all its modern manifestations, the main manifestation of which is a specific worldview, the world of life that surrounds us on all sides.” According to Ilyin, literary studies reacted sensitively to the changed situation … “and began to transform more and more into cultural studies – into the study of the culture of society and literature as its manifestation and as one of its functions.” The result of such changes was a shift in the focus of literary critics towards the material, objective side of culture, there was interest in the analysis of thinking and behavior of people of different cultural practices.

At the end of the century, mass culture covers a broad social stratum of modern society – from the wealthy elite to marginal communities. Today, the emphasis is shifted to the social aspect of contemporary culture, and the subject of mass culture is redefined: today, it is not just the masses but individuals united by different ties. But suppose we narrow these frameworks and reduce them to the literary aspect, then in the flow of North American literature. In that case, we can identify two main directions, undoubtedly different from each other, but those with many common points of contact complement each other as a whole.

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It is an elitist or postmodernist trend, “when writers write for writers,” and literature becomes available to the reader only through criticism itself, and a multiculturalist trend in which artists reveal philosophical severe, social, and universal problems based on modern pop culture. Today, the de facto center of contemporary mass culture and its newly formed subject has become the middle part of contemporary society, the so-called “middle class” [4].

The middle class, which became the core of modern Western post-industrial society, became the object of study in the work of the young Canadian writer Douglas Copeland. Representatives of the American middle class became the heroes of his first novel “Generation X”, which brought its author worldwide fame. The novel “Generation X: Tales for Accelerated Time” (1991) became an example of a relatively rare literary phenomenon, when a “serious” novel became a bestseller, translated into 22 languages, ​​and received wide recognition by the readership. This novel, according to most critics, has greatly influenced the culture of the modern West. One of the reasons for the practical impact of this work on the readership is its focus on interests close to the middle class throughout North America.

The author of the novel writes about the relatively prosperous existence of the American middle class but locked in the pernicious space of their society.

Andrew Palmer, the central character of the novel, puts it this way: “You see, if you belong to the middle class, you will have to come to terms with the fact that history will neglect you. You will have to live with the fact that history will never fight for your cause and with the fact that history will never sympathize with you. This is the price for comfort and tranquility every day. This price makes happiness sterile and sadness ruthless. ”

The heroes of “Generation X” – Andy, Claire, and Deg – are persecuted and restless, disappointed with insatiability, exploitation, and the crazy pace of life in the world common to all of us. They live in their bungalows in the Palm Springs Desert in California and visit each other between boring and hopeless work, telling stories that border on fiction or tragedy.

These stories reflect a particular type of worldview that became characteristic of American youth in the late 1980s and early 1990s: I cannot protect myself from the influence of totalitarian structures such as society and government, but I can always be aware of this phenomenon and make free choices between patterns of behavior. Therefore, most of the stories told by Andy and his friends about how someone left work, was rude to the boss, threw the house, or flew to the stars [2].

Moreover, American and Canadian critics in Copeland’s novel saw the formulation of a whole sociocultural problem, the causes of which lay in the change of social paradigm in American society in the 80’s and 90’s. Boomers (from the English baby boomers – a generation of citizens of the United States and Canada, born during the postwar demographic boom – from 1946 to 1960). Representatives of this generation found a period of economic prosperity in their country. They were also the creators of the youth culture of the 60’s – the culture of hippies and rock ‘n’ roll. But by the early 1990s, Generation X had replaced them, a generation also known as the “children of the demographic decline.” This is a certain generation, which is from 20 to 30 years old,

Portraits of the main characters of the novel have exceptional psychological sharpness and richness. In their early thirties, they are on the verge of despair, and as a result, most of these stories are about alienated individuals who feel an urgent need to unite with the general world order, after which their lives will cease to be meaningless and hopeless. Throughout the novel, they are almost in the clinical model of storytelling, which is part of one of the many intertexts in the novel under study.

Representatives of Generation X behind cynicism and irony hide their sense of hopelessness, and accordingly, the word hopelessness is one of the keys in the novel. Their cynicism can be compared to what A. Crocker and D. Cook called it “a carnival state of bitter hysteria about being in a borrowed time after a catastrophe when there is nothing to lose because you are in any case deceived by life.”

It is no coincidence that the motive of the world catastrophe is powerful in the novel, and the future for the heroes exists only as an object of consumption, to which people direct their illusory sense of ownership. Yes, Andrew Palmer finally realizes that he has found a soul mate in Claire’s face after she says, “… what it’s like when everyone starts to divide the future as looted goods into disgusting little pieces, … when people are serious they begin to talk about stocks of stew, and their eyes fill with tears at the thought of the Last Days of Mankind.

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Andrew’s stories and the stories told by his friends initially impress the reader with an imaginary plotlessness and almost complete lack of dynamics in the story. But over time comes the realization that this, in many ways adventurous, the author’s approach is designed to convey the state experienced by the middle class in America, when its representatives both experience history and are outside it. It is no coincidence that the novel’s title contains a transcript: “tales for an accelerated time.” “My whole life is a chain of terrible events that just weren’t connected in such a way that an interesting book came out,” complains the unknown bartender Andy in the section “It can’t go on like this.” Andy and his peers hide on the outskirts of megacities, serving in bars and sitting at the checkout in supermarkets while dreaming of great adventures [5].

A key moment in the formation of Generation X consciousness, in search of the significance and value of man in the post-industrial era, are television and the supermarket (shopping center) as symbols of power and the main product of media and pop culture. Television is becoming a way of seeing the situation in which Generation X found itself. It has become the primary tool of society’s response to today’s fundamental ethical and moral issues. The shopping center in the novel becomes a television version of the existence of the heroes, their second life.

Framing the main text of the novel with side inserts-slogans creates the effect of switching TV channels, and the author’s neologisms in the fields look like advertising goods on the shelves in the supermarket. In this way, the author fully reflected the effect that electronic culture has on the spiritual development of Generation X and the whole of modern society. Copeland, like a bricklayer, built a unique artistic construct from individual fragments and plots, so strongly influenced the reader primarily due to hidden irony and brilliant artistry, while creating a series of meta-stories, thus trying to confront the complexity and diversity of the postmodern world.

In its form and size, Copeland’s book goes beyond the traditional novel. The non-standard compositional solution in the story was the result of the author’s professional knowledge in the field of sculpture and architecture (the sculptor’s success came to Copeland in November 1987 after his first solo exhibition entitled “Changing World” at the Vancouver Art Gallery).
Plenty of individual authorial techniques, including inserts of neologisms and slogans in the fields, graphics, and photos (cloud-theme at the beginning of each section), statistics of different years on various social issues (chapter “Figures” at the end of the novel) – all this creates a kind of intertext, which is a fundamentally open system, built on an algorithm that each of us is free to unravel in his way or not try to unravel at all.

The plotlessness of stories that seem boring at first glance because of their mundaneness, but with a deep philosophical meaning, a sense of hopelessness and bitter hysteria on the eve of disaster, the psychological sharpness of portraits, and at the same time a slight piercing lyricism and irony – all these features distinguish the individual style from most representatives of modern literary art. The unique author’s style and skillful combination of different kinds of artistic visual techniques of the story can be considered in the future as artistic and structural parameters of hypertext, which is one of the links in the cultural paradigm of postmodernism.

The author places the author at the center of the problem of “Generation X” and its survival in modern Western post-industrial society. It was in this novel that D. Copeland’s particular sensitivity to the most acute and painful problems of society, the fears, and hopes of various groups, was vividly reflected. The issue of intergenerational conflict reflected the internal devastation and frustration experienced by the middle class in the United States and Canada in the realities of life caused by the gradual unification of the individual in a Western consumer society, nostalgia for a carefree past, and, as a result, indifference to fear and reality. [4].

The problematic field of the novel turned out to be so extensive and multifaceted that we have every reason to consider it not only as a snapshot of society, successfully noticed and skillfully made by the author with the help of various artistic means. This unique form and content work with total and expressiveness reflect the accumulation of several artistic trends that are recognizable in American literature since the second half of the XX century and will further make up its specificity and originality.

D. Copeland’s affiliation with the artistic aesthetics of postmodernism was officially recorded by the inclusion of the novel “Generation X” in the authoritative Norton anthology of American literature of postmodernism. It is noteworthy that an excerpt from “Generation X” by D. Copeland is given in the section entitled “Technoculture” in the same line with the names of E. Douglas, M. Joyce, and R. Kuver – “pioneers” of hypertext fiction.

The flourishing of the genre diversity of artistic means in the postmodern era was a cultural reaction to the conditions that changed social conditions and technological progress. A unique manifestation of this reaction was “technoculture”, which marked the synthesis of the creative process and computer technology, most clearly represented by the existing hypertext literature.

As noted in the anthology of American literature of postmodernism, “… there has been a shift in the creative paradigm, when in the age of television, car, telephone, and computer, the fascination of modern writers with technology can be considered social realism.” The emergence of computer text forms symbolized a historical revolution in literature and its sharp departure from the linear narrative of the printed page. Michael Joyce, in turn, notes the following: “The purpose of hypertext literature is not so much to imagine as to embody a fragmented, chaotic, and essentially nonlinear sense of postmodern personality.”

The study of the phenomenon of D. Copeland in the modern literary process of the West convinces that his work was an unconditional product of his time and his era, a reflection of the rich and the essentially contradictory cultural and historical era of the late twentieth and early twentieth century.

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As one of the brightest examples of the current literary process, the novel “Generation X” was created in postmodernism’s temporal and value-aesthetic context, leaving a certain imprint on some poetic characteristics of the Anglo-Canadian writers’ stories, such as incoherent plot, open an uncertain finale. The exploitation of symbols and accessories of mass culture, the author’s commentary on the novel’s margins, etc.

The psychological background in the novel are many signs of postmodern worldview, eschatological sentiments of imminent catastrophe, associated anxiety and fear, heightened sense of time, emphasis on self-awareness and self-knowledge of the subject, commitment to autobiography in poetic language, protest against often dressed in ironic, symbolic forms. All these factors suggest that the works of D. Copeland are characterized by a dominant postmodern lifestyle [2].

Since the middle of the twentieth century. In the United States and Europe literature, the confrontation between the elitist and the mass, the avant-garde, and the classics loses its absolute sharpness. The historical and cultural situation of modern times has shown that mass culture and mass literature can no longer be considered an alternative to the “high” methods of artistic reflection. As significant and specific phenomena of modern times, mass culture and literature partly become sources of energy of the novel’s narrative, which D. Copeland demonstrates in his debut novel.

The novel “Generation X” is characterized not only by the interpenetration of high and mass within the poetics of one work. Symbols and signs of mass culture present in the novel “Generation X” (images of a supermarket and shopping center, names of consumer goods brands, names of designers, names of branded stores, etc.), reflect the author’s conscious orientation to the ways of expression characteristic of mass literature. Texts and stereotypes of mass culture, which the author adopts in his works, serve to diagnose many socio-psychological diseases that afflict the individual in the late twentieth century. – the alienation of the individual in modern civilization, moral and social infantilism, which resulted in an average individual, incapable of independent action and inner formation.

D. Copeland successfully exploits the traditional symbols of mass culture as one of the most acceptable and understandable to the reader, especially the young, modern cultural codes. Significant and semantic load of this symbolism, which reproduces in the pages of the works of D. Copeland a colorful panorama of American consumption society of the late twentieth century. Appealing to changes in the status of mass culture and the variety of new technological forms of its creation and dissemination, such as hypertext, he creates a cult work, accepted by the broadest readership.

One of the forms of reaction to the predominant influence of the culture of mass consumption, most characteristic of Generation X, is an attempt to hide from civilization, to create their society, isolated from external society. D. Copeland, who received the title of Zeitgeist and acutely feels the dynamics of various social processes, with excellent artistic sharpness showed a growing tendency among young people to isolationism, marginality, spiritual and physical escapism. In the broadest sense, the desert, the road, and finally escape become constant metaphors in D. Copeland’s novels.

The desire to create their subcultural aura (niche), which characterizes the entire young generation of the United States in the 80-90’s of the twentieth century, and its various subgroups, is reflected in special behavioral stereotypes (life, appearance, leisure, etc.). d.), in a specific lexicon, which has the function of secrecy and inaccessibility to the uninitiated. “Otherness”, “alienation”, as shades of general orientation to marginality characteristic of postmodern aesthetics, were brilliantly realized by D. Copeland in his creation of unique dictionaries-jargons of various youth subcultures Xer (X-ers), global teenagers (global teens), ” laborers “computer super monopolies (computer geeks). The youth audience’s enthusiastic acceptance of these lexicons testifies to the author’s impeccable knowledge of different youth subcultures and the ability to highlight the specific features of each in the colorful sea of ​​North American multiculturalism [6].

D. Copeland’s artistic experience has shown that tradition, as a cultural memory of past epochs, remains one of the main stimuli of literary creativity today. The broad comparative background of modern author’s texts (novels in the genre of cyberpunk by W. Gibson, electronic novel by M. Joyce “Noon”, neo-baroque prose by M. Pavich) and works of past eras (novels by J. Salinger and J. Kerouac), demonstrated the impressive ability of D. Copeland to the creative and proactive inheritance of verbal and artistic experience, which, in turn, leads to the enrichment of true literary creativity. The novel “Generation X” is a “borderline” example of a work of art, which, on the one hand, is based on traditional, classic forms of expression, and on the other hand, “heavy” in mass culture, hanging its labels.

Socio-economic, political, and cultural changes in North America’s rapidly developing post-industrial society have led to changes in the psychology and consciousness of the middle class in the United States and Canada. The “social customer” of the novel “Generation X” was the American middle class, which is the backbone of post-industrial American society in the late twentieth century. The novel “Generation X” turned out to be a cultural indicator that reflected the collapse of traditional ideals and values ​​that characterized the American middle class since the mid-twentieth century.

This is, first of all, the lack of spiritual contact in the family and, as a consequence, the lack of succession of generations; lack of faith in God and religion as the basis of the spiritual life and, as a consequence, murderous skepticism, pessimism or depression.

The conflict of generations in the novel “Generation X”, which is the plot, thematic, motive, and character of the novel, is an artistically reliable projection of the fundamental worldview characteristics of the post-industrial culture of North American society, includes both the author and his characters. For young people of Generation X, this conflict is expressed primarily in the “crisis of the third decade”, when most of them begin to feel particularly acutely their uselessness to the world around them and their inability to accept it, to get this world as it is. The leitmotif of this crisis is a deep sense of irretrievable loss, which is felt by each of the heroes in their way, but at the same time unites them in another “lost” generation.

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Ixer’s isolationism and escape from his problems and the general inconvenience of the generation in life are embodied by the author in a kind of poetic chronotype of the novel, which includes the desert as an allegory of the periphery of society, fast-paced, uncontrolled time, and an imaginary world. reality.

The novel’s plot has no consistent development, and episodes of the novel change each other as new events occur, which are often acts of telling a new story. However, the lack of intense and intense dynamics of events creates, as in most postmodern works, a plot filled with hidden drama, reveals a profound violation of harmony and balance in the characters’ lives. Narration, or narrative, acts as the only way for the characters to self-knowledge and self-expression. It is the only way available to them to protest against the reality they do not accept.

Trying to comprehend the essence and consequences of STR, the breakthrough of information technology for the modern world community, the writer addresses the most pressing issues of our time in a unique, open to innovation and experimentation fiction. D. Copeland’s first novel “Generation X”, being a “breakdown of the pen” of the young author, was the most representative of his work, which most clearly demonstrated the author’s innovation in the field of the narrative form [3].

Deliberate violation of the norm manifested in the unusual form of the novel “Generation X” and the principles of its organization underlies the artistic method of the writer, is its organizing element and is an inexhaustible creative source for various artistic innovations. Subsequent prose works of the writer primarily developed the creative work of “Generation X”, they also demonstrate the author’s commitment to youth and generations and his rich creative potential and bold experimentation with various art forms.

Through his work, D. Copeland showed that at the end of the twentieth century. literature is more affected than ever before by the products of mass media and information technologies. This, in turn, leads to a revision of the already formed fundamental boundaries in the relationship between print and computer word, allowing writers to create original works that use the rich possibilities of each of the environments and a kind of flexible space between them.

The innovation of D. Copeland’s works is also a rich visual series, organically inscribed in the fiction. The visual images present in the novel (author’s drawings, photographs, excerpts from comics) are attributes of the author’s search for a new sensitivity. At the same time, the presence of several textual plans in the novel (main story, micro-narrative of parables, text in the margins, which can act as hypertextuality of computer tokens) allow us to consider this work as a model of merging and interaction of aesthetic principles of postmodern art with hypertext. principles of the structural design of the literary text.

A study of D. Copeland’s prose, which is socio-psychological, showed that this author has become more than a prominent figure in modern American, Canadian and European literature. The specificity of this study is the situation of incomplete process of the creative evolution of the writer, who today is at the peak of its popularity and continues to create his works. Today, the work of D. Copeland worthily represents the young generation of writers in North America, innovators of poetic form and language in the context of new artistic discoveries of literature of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

The multilevel novel “Generation X” demonstrated the active use of the author’s already rethought literary and cultural achievements of the past. D. Copeland’s unique talent, the depth of his worldview, and the sharpness of his worldview made the reader think again about the meaning of life, the role of man in the universe and the fate of each generation in history. The success of D. Copeland and his socially-oriented novels showed that now literature continues to be the most important social institution in modern society, responsive to all changes in its economic, moral, psychological climate [1].

First, D. Copeland in his first novel “Generation X”, and later – “Planet of Shampoo” (Shampoo Planet, 1992) – addresses the mass readership, or rather, the American middle class, touching on necessary and the painful problems of intergenerational relations in a rapidly evolving, “accelerated” post-industrial society. Secondly, the author managed to address the acute issues related to the idea of ​​self-realization of the individual and his self-consciousness in the face of widespread aggression by consumer society and the media.

However, it should be emphasized that the large circulations of his works, popularity, and public resonance are just some of the characteristics that speak of D. Copeland as a writer for the mass reader. Against the background of such an orientation of the author to the “mass” in his prose can not fail to notice the “postmodern mindset”, which proved to be in the absence of strictly defined plot parameters and the relative incoherence of the text of the first novel by D. Copeland.

Undoubtedly, the socially-oriented prose of D. Copeland can be called “serious” literature that reflects the deep processes of interaction of modern personality in the era of high technology and artificial intelligence. The contradictions of the contemporary era and the current social, psychological, and moral problems faced by the individual at the end of the twentieth century, the author hid under the guise of mass, accessible and familiar, why these problems have not become less significant but received their new embodiment.

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Poetics of Postmodernism in D. Copeland's Novel "Generation X". (2021, Oct 10). Retrieved January 30, 2023, from