God After God: Coupland, McLuhan, and Divine Absence in the Digital Age
Live Conversation and Q&A: Saturday 24 April, 3-4pm BST (London). Moderator: Lisa Ann Cockrel
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Abstract for the Panel
“Twenty-first-century life is karaoke—a never-ending attempt to maintain dignity while a jumble of data uncontrollably blips across a screen.” Douglas Coupland wrote these words in 2010, in his masterful biography of Marshall McLuhan, a mid-20th century literature professor turned unlikely electronic prophet. Peppered with footnotes, asides, and questions for the reader, Coupland’s biography of his fellow Canadian is not only a window into understanding McLuhan’s eccentricities and brilliance—but also a mirror of Coupland himself.
A quarter of the way though his book, Coupland wonders in a footnote why biographies might still matter in the age of Wikipedia—when we can find much of this information (as he does himself) online. Coupland posits that perhaps biographies help us, as readers and writers, “to try to enter an already vanishing mode of perceiving the past, the notion that a landscape is best viewed with a single source of light—the sun, one light bulb, a lone candle, a lone writer—so that all the shadows and high-lights are true to each other.”
Coupland’s work enables us to both capture the extreme present of our digital world, and, following in the tradition of McLuhan, consider its effects. Yet Coupland consistently does so from an “anatheist” perspective; what the Irish philosopher Richard Kearney calls a “renewed quest for God after God.” Coupland’s spiritually-rich biography of McLuhan—a thoroughly God-haunted media theorist, whom Wired magazine calls their “patron saint”—and his own fiction, including Life After God, reveal a wrestling with divine absence in the digital age. Coupland compels us to wonder: what is God after God in the digital world? How might we consider the “vanishing mode[s] of perceiving the past” in order to better understand our extreme present?
Diletta De Cristofaro is a Research Fellow at Northumbria University, UK. She writes about contemporary culture, crises, and the politics of time. Her essays have appeared in journals like Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, boundary 2 online, and Open Library of Humanities, and in edited collections published by Palgrave and Cambridge University Press. She is also the author of The Contemporary Post-Apocalyptic Novel: Critical Temporalities and the End Times.
Meghan O’Gieblyn writes essays and features for Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Wired, The New York Times, and elsewhere. Her work has received three Pushcart Prizes and appeared in The Best American Essays anthology. She is also the author of the essay collection Interior States, which won the Believer Book Award for Nonfiction. Her forthcoming book God, Human, Animal, Machine will be published in August of 2021.
Nick Ripatrazone is the culture editor for Image, a contributing editor at The Millions, and a columnist for Literary Hub. He has written about poetry, religion, books, and culture for Rolling Stone, GQ, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Commonweal, and Esquire. He is also the author of two books Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction and Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness.
Lisa Ann Cockrel (moderator) is director of programs for Image and has been curating conversations between writers and readers—in person, in print, online, and via multimedia—for more than 20 years. Previous roles include associate editor for Christianity Today, managing editor for Brazos Press, and director of the Festival of Faith & Writing. Her own writing has been featured in places including The Hedgehog Review, Books & Culture, and The Isolation Journals.
Image was founded in 1989 to foster cultural and human flourishing through the cultivation of the religious imagination. We seek to demonstrate the continued vitality and diversity of contemporary art and literature that engage with faith. In addition to offering a wide array of programs for its active community, Image publishes one of the leading literary journals published in English and has readers all over the world. Image is a registered non-profit organization in both the United States and Canada.
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