At the end of the first chapter of Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X, one of the novel’s main characters, Claire, says that “it’s not healthy to live life as a succession of isolated little cool moments. ‘Either our lives become stories, or there is just no way to get through them.’” The novel’s other two main characters, Andy and Dag, agree. “[T]his 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 in the process.” In the desert, where one has left one’s life behind, storytelling comes in to save life—to “make” another life, the life of a tale that’s “worthwhile.” There is a long tradition of such bio-narratives–think, for example, of texts such as One Thousand and One Nights or The Decameron. In Generation X, storytelling saves the lives of those who are being consumed by “an accelerated culture.” It appears that storytelling somehow has the capacity to slow their lives down, and to make them extend beyond the “succession of isolated little cool moments” that Claire is talking about.
The importance of this capacity should not be underestimated. Contrary to what one may think at first sight, namely that our lives are getting longer and longer, it may be that today, our lives are actually getting shorter and shorter: that they are progressively being reduced to a chain of short circuits, rather than being developed into a long circuit. As a result, life today has turned into a vulgar series of actualized nows that is incapable of reaching into the potentiality of the future. And this development does not only apply to life. Love is arguably undergoing the same fate. Reduced to the order of the short circuit, it has become limited to the consumption of the moment; consequently, it no longer extends in time. We can no longer live, no longer love, in time. Instead, and all the time, we are being told to live in the now, to love in the now, through a series of isolated little moments that do not develop into a worthwhile narrative.
Today, the economy of narrative, and specifically of love- and life-narratives, is thus a profoundly political economy that determines, through the count of its tale, our capacity to go on loving and living—into the future. This may be the most provocative aspect of Malene Dam’s film Girlfriends: the way in which the love- and life-narrative that it presents opens up onto a future. In the film, multiple women narrate the story of one woman’s love life, with each of the women telling a part of this story as a first person narrative, as if they were narrating their own love lives. This mode of narration enables the film to move beyond the vain, short-circuited account of each of these loves, and perhaps also of the artist’s love life in general, into the realm of a love and a life that is still intimate yet collective, and that ultimately includes at its outer limit the viewers of the film themselves.
References: Douglas Coupland, Generation X. New York: St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1991; Image: Malene Dam, Girlfriends, video, 63 min., 2009.