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211 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1991
the shin jin rui--that’s what the Japanese newspapers call people like those kids in their twenties at the office--new human beings. It’s hard to explain. We have the same group over here and it’s just as large, but it doesn’t have a name—an X generation—purposefully hiding itself. (56)We note that though the phenomenon is indigenous in this conception, the text very carefully must describe it with reference to an international phenomenon, an interpenetration by free movement of peoples in the post-war period. Despite the international bona fides, X generation is post-market, annoyed that “our parents’ generation seems neither able nor interested in understanding how marketers exploit them. They take shopping at face value” (68). Even if it’s hiding itself, it’s not really a secret among the cool kids, as they might taunt each other with such insults as “fin de siècle existentialist poseur” (85). They display the normal proto-fascist nietzschean ennui in leaving “their old lives behind them and set forth to make new lives for themselves in the name of adventure,” during the course of which they search for “personal truth” and “willingly put themselves on the margins of society” (88). Rather, “when you’re middle class, you have to live with the fact that history will ignore you. You have to live with the fact the history will never champion your causes and that history will never feel sorry for you. It is the price that is paid for day-to-day comfort and silence. And because of this price, all happinesses are sterile; all sadnesses go unpitied” (147). OH NOS!
They’re nice kids. None of their folks can complain. They’re perky. They embrace and believe the pseudo-globalism and ersatz racial harmony of ad campaigns engineered by the makers of soft drinks and computer inventoried sweaters. […] But in some dark and undefinable way, these kids are also Dow, Union Carbide, General Dynamics, and the military. (106)Those who “live in a permanent 1950s” “still believe in a greeting card future” (112); despite the “mild racist quirks and planet destroying peccadillos” of this type, “their existence acts as a tranquilizer in an otherwise slightly out-of-control world” (id.), which is the standard degeneracy language used by right-populists who seek regeneration of nation through spiritual renewal and manliness in war, incidentally.
[deuteragonists] smile a lot, as do many people I know. But I have always wonder if there is something either mechanical or malignant to their smiles, for the way they keep their outer lips propped up seems a bit, not false, but protective. A minor realization hits me as I sit with the two of them. It is the realization that the smiles that they wear in their daily lives are the same as the smiles worn by people who have been good-naturedly fleeced, but fleeced nonetheless, in public and on a New York sidewalk by card sharks, and who are unable because of social convention to show their anger, who don’t want to look like poor sports. (7)Narrators will adopt (on the next page, even) a second pomo conceit: “‘Either our lives become stories, or there’s just no way to get through them.’ I agree. Dag agrees. We know that this is why the three of us left our lives behind us and came to the desert—to tell stories and to make our own lives worthwhile tales” (8) (NB this is erimo technis)—which is immediately recognizable as Baudrillard’s simulacrum argument, as delivered however by Zizek (& Laurence Fishburne): ‘Welcome to the desert of the real, motherfuckers.’ It becomes so ludicrous that deuteragonist must confirm “Wait […] this is a true story?” (54).
I’ve seen the process of onedownmanship in action—and been angry at not having sordid enough tales of debauchery of my own to share. ‘Never be afraid to cough up a bit of diseased lung for spectators,’ said a man who sat next to me at a meeting once, a man with skin like a half-cooked pie crust and who had five grown children who would no longer take his phone calls: ‘How are people ever going to help themselves if they can’t grab onto a fragment of your own horror? People want that little fragment, they need it.’ I’m still looking for a description of storytelling as vital as this. (13)Novel proceeds along this objective, as narrator and deuteragonists share sub-narratives with regularity. We as readers might take note of the consistent slumming and onedownmanship in the narration, as it heads toward ugly right-populist and proto-fascistic conclusions.
”We all go through a crisis point, or, I suppose, or we’re not complete. I can’t tell you how many people I know who claim to have had a midlife crisis early in life. But there invariably comes a certain point where our youth fails us; […] But my crisis wasn’t just the failure of youth but also a failure of class and of sex and the future. (30)Dude resolves this crisis by becoming Ballard’s protagonist from Crash: “I began to see this world as one where citizens stare, say, at the armless Venus de Milo and fantasize about amputee sex or self-righteously apply a fig leaf to the statue of David, but not before breaking off his dick as a souvenir” (31). Result: “All events become omens; I lost the ability to take anything literally” (id.), which is a distinctly nihilist position. Remedy: “I needed a clean slate with no one to read it. I needed to drop out even further. My life had become a series of scary incidents that simply weren’t stringing together to make for an interesting book” (id.). This last reveals that the nihilism is baudrillardian, born out of semiurgical overload, which requires the material historical world to mean more than its mere existence, and prescribes one’s life, making it adhere to the manifestly hyperreal narratives that precede the life in question. It’s all friggin’ gross, of course. (Dude will refer to his crew as “a blue jeans ad come to life” (54).)