"On the brink of knowing a great truth" : epiphany and apocalypse in the fiction of Douglas Coupland
The postreligious space of Douglas Coupland's fiction provides the backdrop for a disenchanted consumer collective nursed on advertising slogans rather than Sunday school parables. This thesis seeks to examine the ways in which Coupland resacralizes the currently secular concepts of epiphany and apocalypse in order to reinvest the lives of his suburbanite protagonists with a sense of wonder and the desire for transcendence. Coupland's fictional subjects represent a collection of fragmented subcultures that are dissatisfied with the bypassing of the "real" for a diet of shiny, happy, yet artificial, products. As their only collective reference points are media generated, the television and mall have become sanctuaries that inscribe a virtual grand narrative that provide little in the way of religious support. The subjects of Coupland's fiction move beyond what Jameson describes as the "waning of affect" in a depthless, zombie culture as they shun irony, cynicism and passivity to experience what Coupland deems "moments of transcendence and epiphany". This thesis also seeks to place Coupland in context alongside five other postmodern authors in order to contrast Coupland's subjects' desire for reenchantment with the often apathetic, "blank" inhabits of the depthless spiritual landscapes of fiction by Brett Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney, Don Delillo, Martin Amis and Chuck Palahniuk. The thesis is divided into two sections: epiphany and apocalypse, with three chapters in each section. The first chapter focuses on how the epiphany's metaphysical and ideological presuppositions are problematic for postmodern fiction. Both the Christian and the modernist epiphany are largely absent in postmodern fiction, yet Coupland frequently uses the epiphany, investing it with ideas from both traditions, yet rewriting it for a postmodern context. The second chapter is the discussion of three quasi-initiation stories, Ellis's Less Than Zero, McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City and Coupland's Shampoo Planet. This serves as a contrast between Coupland's use of epiphany as postreligious sacred experience, McInerney's problematic attempts to place an epiphany in a postmodern context, and the complete absence of epiphany in Ellis's work. Chapter Three is a discussion of the progression from momentary, singular epiphanies in Coupland's Generation X to the extended epiphany, or conversion narratives, of Life After God and Hey Nostradamus! This chapter also investigates Coupland's problematic relationship with postmodem "knee jerk" irony and how it must diminish if the epiphany is to manifest itself in the lives of his protagonists. Chapter Four offers a discussion of the postmodem concept of apocalypse as nihilistic end-time fear, with a specific focus on Don Delillo's White Noise, contrasting it with the Judeo-Biblical notion of apocalypse as a redemptive, hopeful structure that reveals truth and unlocks transcendence. Chapter Five discusses. Coupland's engagement with both ideas of apocalypse, but emphasizes his privileging of the supernatural, purposeful nature of the cleansing Judeo-Christian visions of apocalypse. This chapter explores the saviour/destroyer technology of Coupland's Microserfis and the futuristic apocalyptic visions of Eleanor Rigby. The last chapter is a discussion of Martin Amis's London Fields, Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor and Coupland's Girlfriend in a Coma. All three apocalyptic novels have a female prophetess that predicts the doom, destruction and apathy of the future, yet Girýfriend in a Coma is the only narrative to envision a surpassing of the "filture" for a glimpse of "eternity" itself, invested with hope and redemption.