the pessimism of Michel Houellebecq

Houellebecq-michelAdrian Nathan West at The Quarterly Review:

In interviews, Houellebecq has stated that his initial design for the novel involved a conversion to Catholicism, modeled on the one Huysmans depicts in the autobiographical Durtal novels. It is true that Islam as such takes up little room in the book, serving mainly as the counterpoint to the author’s vision of an occident in irrevocable decline. The arguments Houellebecq adduces for his pessimism are familiar to anyone who has read Bernard Lewis, Orianna Fallaci, or the authors associated with the concept of Eurabia: European institutions are weak and decrepit, their artificial values fundamentally estranged from the real issues that govern people’s lives; the Muslim population is growing while Europeans fail replace themselves; and, in the words of one of Houellebecq’s characters, anormalien possessing “almost abnormal brain power,” “whichever segment of the population has the highest birthrate, and does the best job of transmitting its values, wins.”

The archetypal Houellebecq protagonist follows one of two routes: either he fails to evolve, and his picaresque adventures become a pretext for more or less biting observations about contemporary life (Whatever, Lanzarote), or he moves from muted anguish about his lovelessness and the deplorable state of the Western world into wan, often lyrical resignation (The Elementary Particles, The Possibility of an Island). Submission is in the second camp; the narrator, whose vital possibilities were inseparable from the institutions and value systems of early 21st-century France, glimpses a possibility for a new kind of life in the serene acceptance of his society’s obsolescence and an opportune accommodation of the order destined to succeed it.

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