Joe's Reviews > Microserfs

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland
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Jan 27, 09

Read in January, 2009

When I was in high school, I read Generation X and Life After God and was thrilled by these tales of wry, vibrant, lost characters who fought for real meaning when their culture caused them to shrug at tragedy and love and weep over reruns and advertising campaigns (I was a pretty lonely teenager, obviously.) When Microserfs came out, I remember picking it up at the bookstore a few times (maybe this was '95 or '96?) and thinking, "Oh, it's this story about the 'information-superhighway' with all these "inventive" gimmicks (like two pages of binary code) and characters who live for email and chat rooms and Who Gives a Fuck?" At the time, my family didn't have a computer, I didn't have an email account, and it seemed like Coupland had fallen face-first into an orgy of trend-humping. It seemed like these characters were actually embracing commodification, their own digitization, their own reduction to binary code. Reading it now as less of a Luddite (admittedly, with a job creating websites), it seems not only prescient (one of the characters notes he receives 60 emails a day, they drink Starbucks, et al. al. al.), but also prophetic-- it doesn't just know the technological future, it speaks on behalf of us in the face of the technological future. The book is about characters struggling with their own identity in face of the inevitable digital deluge. In some ways, they detest their own lego-ization, they fear the duality that seems to divide their minds and their bodies, they struggle with what a prism identity is becoming, and fight to assert their true selves in tandem with technology. And, when I read this 370-page book all the way through last night, and I was fascinated-- not just with looking for dated references to Apple's demise, or to "flame emails"-- but for they way the characters constantly struggle not only to make sense of the eternal verities, but also tremble in the face of an overwhelming technological force that they fear will make those verities inherently irrelevant. Microserfs is an argument that certain truths are always truths, no matter what trends are being fucked that day. It's an outstanding book.
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Pete Amen, Joe.
I just had a conversation with my brother about the significance of literature (specifically, fiction.) Good literature is an exploration of the soul of the society which produces it. It pokes and prods at our various tics and quirks, anxieties and fears. History seeks to describe the facts of a human world, and literature gives voice to the reasons for those facts. An astute reader can learn as much, if not more, by a study of a society's art and literature as he/she can a study of its political and economic reality and legacy.
As I stated my case to my brother, I thought of your review, which I had read earlier in the day. Me gusta. "Microserfs" does an excellent job of describing the tensions of a kind of technology-obsessed culture, the details of which are unique to our generation, even if the particular anxieties and issues it fosters are timeless (or at least as old as the Industrial Age.) I like that "'Microserfs' is an argument that certain truths are always truths, no matter what trends are being fucked" because it places us right where we should be, somewhere in the total animal soup of time.* The moment is a little less lonely, knowing that it's just a heartbeat away from the past.

*quoting Beatniks is still cool, right?



message 2: by Joe (last edited Feb 05, 2009 07:55PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe Pete wrote: "Amen, Joe.
I just had a conversation with my brother about the significance of literature (specifically, fiction.) Good literature is an exploration of the soul of the society which produces i..."


I don't know about quoting the beatniks. I think when you talk about the beatniks in internet comment threads, you have to make the point about how much you loved them in high school but can only enjoy them nostalgically now. (Cuz you're too awesome to enjoy anything outright.)


Pete What do you think of "Howl?" Have we ever talked about this? I love that poem, ditto "Supermarket in California." Your thoughts?


message 4: by Joe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe Pete wrote: "What do you think of "Howl?" Have we ever talked about this? I love that poem, ditto "Supermarket in California." Your thoughts?"

Agreement. "In highschool..." I read almost every Kerouac novel, including things like Vanity of Dulouz and I've read a fair amount of Ginsberg. I saw Gary Snyder read in college— that was the first poetry reading I saw. As for Burroughs, I've read Junky, Naked Lunch , and a few other things... I have a few books of Ferlinghetti's poetry, and have read five or ten Corso poems. So that's my association. "Supermarket in California" is great. Everything in that little City Lights edition of "Howl" is pretty good. It's hard not to like his good poetry, since it is influenced by so many good poets: Blake, Shelly, Keats, Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, Dadaists, Surrealists, and on.


message 5: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I'm reading Coupland's JPod now and feeling like your younger Luddite self about it.


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