An Update on Douglas Coupland & Co-Authors Next Book, The Extreme Self


Me. You. Us. Them. by ,,

17 August 2020

Have you wondered why the inside of your head feels so strange these days? We think you’re morphing into something else. We call this “The Extreme Self.”

What follows is a sample from our next book. It charts the transformations taking place in individuality and in crowds — emotionally, socially, and spiritually. It’s also a sequel to our previous title, The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present. Like that book, The Extreme Self is designed by Daly & Lyon, and the imagery predominantly comes from seventy of the world’s foremost artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, and more. We asked them to send us portraits or self-portraits. Why? Because the “face” has become the basic unit in what Shoshana Zuboff calls the “age of surveillance capitalism.”

The Extreme Self was previewed in a large-scale exhibition we curated at MOCA Toronto, titled “Age of You,” which travels to Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, in 2021. See

Here’s a discussion charting the evolution from “the extreme present” to “the extreme self” in our extremely uncertain times.

Shumon Basar: Flashback to 2017. We were in Hans Ulrich’s office at the Serpentine Galleries in London. There was a palpable whiff of something unsettling in the air. Earlier that year, Trump had been inaugurated as president of the United States. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, right-wing militia, and the Ku Klux Klan had recently marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. Timothy Garton Ash described this geopolitical moment —when nativist politics was taking over, and it seemed like democracy was voting to annul itself — as “like 1989 in reverse.”

Douglas Coupland: It was the point when we knew we’d crossed a border into utterly new cultural territory.

SB: Totally. It was also clear the alt-right could meme way better than the political left. This was one reason they were winning the disinformation wars.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Then, somehow, the three of us began to discuss our shared love for Eric Hobsbawm’s book The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991. Hobsbawm had been a young boy in Germany when Hitler came to power in 1933. This set him on a path of lifelong Marxism, based in London. Eventually, he also became a mentor of mine, and a close friend of the Serpentine Gallery’s.

SB: He really was a titan. And, if I recall, Hans Ulrich — who’s always manically doodling like Robert Walser used to — wrote down some words. “The Extreme Self.” It felt like a eureka moment. We knew this was the direction to explore in a new book and exhibition. Doug, our first book together, The Age of Earthquakes (2015), introduced the “Extreme Present.” How does the extreme self follow on from The Extreme Present?

DC: Well, The Age of Earthquakes articulated how we inhabit a world that has profoundly morphed away from the twentieth century. That book was sort of a birth cry. Much of it was written in 2012–13. My worry has been that the pace of culture might outstrip the book’s perceptions, but its ideas are aging crisply. I think that for older people, The Age of Earthquakes is a guidebook. For younger people it’s like those super obvious rules they post on the walls beside swimming pools.
Fast-forward to now: The Extreme Self explores the mutation of personhood inside the “extreme present.” It’s about our interior worlds more than the exterior world. It asks, “What does being ‘you’ mean right now versus, say, ‘you’ of thirty years ago. And what is a ‘group’ compared to 1990?”

SB: Then COVID-19 came along and pushed us even faster and further into the twenty-first century.

DC: It really did. I do find it remarkable how, with 9/11, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries broke away so cleanly from each other. Even to watch an episode of Friends right now feels like temporal ecotourism, which is probably why it’s so massively successful in streaming format.

HUO: We then decided that we’d take the bone structure of Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes and update it for our current world.
Read the rest at

To read about this group’s last book see From The Medium is the Massage (1967) to The Age of Earthquakes (2015) at

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