by Brad Nelson 2/11/15
I’ve long thought that our lust for technology stems not just from a desire to scratch an itch for novelty and “cool stuff.” I do believe that lust also masks an existential hole — one that is inherent to human existence and that has traditionally been filled by religious belief. It’s an itch not satiated by material wealth or comfort.
Therefore read this article by Anthony Daniels (France’s “Submission”), if only for this first excerpted paragraph below. The article itself is a review of the book, Soumission, by Michel Houellebecq (there will be a spelling test at the end of this blog post).
Houellebecq is a writer with a single underlying theme: the emptiness of human existence in a consumer society devoid of religious belief, political project, or cultural continuity in which, moreover, thanks to material abundance and social security, there is no real struggle for existence that might give meaning to the life of millions. Such a society will not allow you to go hungry or to live in the abject poverty that would once have been the reward of idleness, whether voluntary or involuntary. This, in Houellebecq’s vision of the world, lends an inspissated pointlessness to all human activity, which becomes nothing more than a scramble for unnecessary consumer goods that confer no happiness or (at best) a distraction from that very emptiness. For Houellebecq, then, intellectual or cultural activity becomes mere soap opera for the more intelligent and educated rather than something of intrinsic importance or value. That is why a university teacher of economics in one of his books describes his work as the teaching of obvious untruths to careerist morons, rather than as, say, the awakening of young minds to the fascinating task of reducing the complexity of social interactions to general principles.
Houellebecq’s physical appearance as relayed in the press suggests that he fully inhabits the word he describes. He looks like a man who has crawled out of a giant ashtray after a prolonged alcoholic binge in clothes that have not been washed for weeks. This does not mean, however, that he approves of the world he inhabits: it is simply that he can conceive of no other, at least for Western man, and if anyone thinks otherwise he is deceiving himself. Grunge is reality; everything else is veneer.
The very success of the Enlightenment project is the root of its failure. Having eliminated myth and magic from human life, it has crushed belief even in itself out of society.
[A Muslim now having been elected as President of France] Meanwhile, the Muslim Fraternity has modeled itself on the Muslim Brotherhood and, confident of demographic developments in France that work to Islam’s advantage and with a clear understanding that ultimately culture is more important in determining a society’s future than its economy, insists only on controlling the schools and universities.
The protagonist and narrator of Soumission is a teacher of French literature in a Parisian University, a specialist in the work of Joris-Karl Huysmans, principally known today for his novel of decadent aestheticism, À rebours. This was a clever choice on the part of Houellebecq, for Huysmans returned to Catholicism later in life and became an oblate, his last book being Les foules de Lourdes (The Crowds of Lourdes). In other words, Huysmans followed the path that the protagonist, in desperate need to escape his current nihilistic condition, will follow; but Catholicism, in the meantime, having lost its faith and becoming, under Pope Francis, little more than transcendental social work to the hosannas of the right-thinking, there is no living faith in France except Islam for him to convert to. It is Islam, faute de mieux.
And the professor’s relations with his two wives—perhaps he has two more hiding somewhere—seem to be those of effortless domination, unproblematic in fact. Since the protagonist’s relations with women have always been difficult, a year with the same woman being the longest he has ever managed, in large part because sexual equality so often creates power struggles within a couple, unabashed patriarchy such as that promoted by Islam would be a solution to his loneliness.
This novel could indeed be a look at the near future of France. This book does not appear to be sold in Kindle format at the moment. I wouldn’t mind reading it but I’ll have to wait. And reading good writers is perhaps the best way to improve one’s own writing, mind, and skills. This is a superb book review by Anthony Daniels from the website, The New Criterion — a site that might not exactly be a model for this one but one I have my eye on as a source of excellence. Mr. Kung had initially brought this site to my attention.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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