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Sérotonine sells

Wednesday, 9 January, 2019

On average, a French novel sells around 5,000 copies. In comparison, Sérotonine, the latest work by Michel Houellebecq, sold 90,332 hardback copies in its first three days, according to L’Observateur.

Houellebecq’s publisher, Flammarion, took a calculated gamble with an initial print run of 320,000 copies but it looks as if it’s going to pay off handsomely. Sérotonine is being published in German, Spanish and Italian this week and it will appear in English in September. «Mes croyances sont limitées, mais elles sont violentes. Je crois à la possibilité du royaume restreint. Je crois à l’amour.» — Michel Houellebecq.

Michel Houellebecq


Houellebecq on farming in Ireland and France

Tuesday, 8 January, 2019

After a publicity tour for his novel Platforme, which was published in 2001, Michel Houellebecq was taken to court in France for inciting racial hatred, so he moved to Ireland for several years and lived on Bere Island off the west coast of Cork. The rugged landscape there has much in common with rural Normandy, the backdrop to Sérotonine, his latest novel.

The protagonist of Sérotonine is Florent-Claude Labrouste, a European Union agronomist. Coincidentally, Houellebecq worked as an agronomist before he took up novel writing and this fact gives substance to his observations of rural life. Although he lives in Paris, Labrouste spends considerable time in the countryside and, while he sympathizes with farmers, he knows he’s powerless to halt the decline of their traditional way of life. “Where there are now slightly more than 60,000 dairy farmers,” he notes, “there will be in 15 years 20,000. In short, what is taking place with French agriculture is a vast redundancy plan, but one that is secret and invisible, where people disappear one by one, on their plots of land, without ever being noticed.”

As with the farmers on Ireland’s smallholdings, the farmers of Normandy are caught between the rock of agribusiness and the hard place of the European Union, with its unending regulations that make their miserable lives even more miserable. In a Satanic Mills description of a modern poultry farm, Labrouste notes that the “300,000 or so inmates, plucked and emaciated, struggled to live among the decomposing cadavers of their fellow chickens.” On entering these vast white-meat factories, the first thing the visitor notices is the birds with their “look of panic and incomprehension, who don’t understand the conditions into which they’ve been dragged.” The link in this section of Sérotonine between the luckless chickens and France’s farmers, despised by Brussels bureaucrats and uncared for by the urban elites who demand premier Calvados and the urban masses who demand cheap food, is obvious. Struggling, panicked and desperate, the small farmers of France have nothing to lose when they don those gilets jaunes.

More Sérotonine here tomorrow.


Michel Houellebecq: master of timing, seer of change

Monday, 7 January, 2019

With last week’s publication of his latest novel, Sérotonine, Michel Houellebecq has armour-plated his reputation as France’s clairvoyant of terrible vistas. In 2001, his Plateforme, which peaks with an Islamist terrorist attack on a Thai tourist resort, was published just before the 9/11 attacks and the publication of Houellebecq’s Soumission in 2015, which portrays an Islamist political party taking power in France, coincided with the blood-spattered jihadist attack on the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on this day in 2015.

Now, comes Sérotonine, which taps into the Zeitgeist, this time in the form of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protest movement. Although Houellebecq, has not campaigned for the movement, he has been called its “prophet” by France 24.

More Sérotonine here tomorrow.

Houellebecq


The Feast of the Epiphany

Sunday, 6 January, 2019

“How Real Is The Meaning?” That was the question posed by Walter Russell Mead some years ago in a meditation on the Feast of the Epiphany. Taking as his starting point the Biblical account of the Three Kings who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bethlehem, Mead went on a long journey into a meaning that’s centered on this question: How much of the Christmas story is “real” and how much of both this story — and ultimately the entire record of the Scriptures — is historically accurate? It’s all very apt for today’s Feast of the Epiphany. Mead’s conclusion:

“The wise men who followed the star were led to the center of all things. They did not understand the difference between astronomy and astrology as well as we do, but they used what they knew to get to where they needed to be.

It was enough for them, and people today can still do the same thing. We can follow the light we have to the center of all things, to a place that both shepherds and scholars can find, and when we arrive, like both the shepherds and the wise men, we will find that it has what we need.”

Painting: The Adoration of the Magi is an early work by Hieronymus Bosch. The painting was thoroughly investigated by The Bosch Research and Conservation Project and an analysis revealed a palette consisting of the typical pigments employed in the Renaissance period, such as azurite, lead-tin yellow, carmine and gold leaf.

The Magi


Whiting with turnip and carrot

Saturday, 5 January, 2019

The turnip (Brassica rapa) is a root vegetable grown in temperate climates worldwide and Ireland’s damp weather is ideal for it. The word turnip, by the way, comprises tur- as in turned/rounded on a lathe and neep, derived from Latin napus, the word for the plant. In Scotland, the turnip is often called a neep, while in North America turnip (or neep) usually refers to rutabaga, a yellow root vegetable in the same genus (Brassica) and also known in England as a swede (from “Swedish turnip”). Interestingly, the term rutabaga comes from the Swedish word “rotabagge.”

In Irish cuisine, boiled turnip is a popular side dish with a bacon dinner. Today, mixed with carrot, it accompanied whiting. Delicious, delightful, delectable.

Turnip and whiting


Håkan Strand: Silent Moments

Friday, 4 January, 2019

In his foreword to Silent Moments by Håkan Strand, the sublime Swedish photographer, French critic Olivier Delhoume writes:

“In our modern society, time is accelerating. We are constantly being bombarded with trivial or commercial images, and through the media and internet, we are even affected by human, economic and geopolitical situations far away. Håkan Strand offers us a different approach to experiencing the world and ourselves. His photography offers us a refuge from the racing whirlwind of our thoughts.

Håkan Strand’s calming approach is reflected through his use of traditional black and white analogue photography, which pays tribute to the tradition of the great masters. This is his own way of battling the fast pace and excesses of modern life.”

Snow  in Sweden


Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs

Thursday, 3 January, 2019

First up: WTF is Greater China? “While we anticipated some challenges in key emerging markets, we did not foresee the magnitude of the economic deceleration, particularly in Greater China,” wrote Tim Cook in yesterday’s lugubrious, 1,400-word “Letter from Tim Cook to Apple investors.” The problem with the term “Greater China” is Taiwan. If you say Taiwan is a part of “Greater China,” it’s an insult to the many Taiwanese who consider Taiwan a part of the China whose legitimate government was the Republic of China, not the despotic People’s Republic of China.

And, depending on who’s doing the talking, “Greater China” can be an economic, cultural or geographical term. So, some Chinese nationalists might use it to refer to mainland China, including Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan or, for those nationalists who see China in cultural terms, it might encompass Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar.

What Tim Cook might have said is that the Chinese market is crazy and the iPhone had an awful last quarter, and he should have ended by adding that the iPhone is the gold standard of the smartphone business and he intends to increase its market share.

Better still, Cook should have copied the style of the earnings warning Steve Jobs delivered to investors on 18 June 2002. It was precise and concise and 1,200 words shorter than that presented yesterday by his successor.


New year, new repression

Wednesday, 2 January, 2019

The old year was ebbing towards its end when Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran, took to Twitter to wish people “from all races, religions and ethnicities — a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.” This is the height of cynicism, given that Zarif represents a regime that supports terrorism, pushes gays off buildings, forces women to wear mediaeval garb and refuses to allow the people of Iran free access to the internet.

Just as vile as the regime in Tehran is the regime in Hanoi, which has imposed a draconian new law requiring internet companies in Vietnam to remove content the communist authorities regard as “toxic” and compels them to hand over user data if asked to do so. The law also bans internet users from spreading information deemed to be “anti-state or anti-government,” as well as prohibiting use the internet to “distort history” and “post false information that could cause confusion and damage to socio-economic activities.” The law came into force a week after Vietnam’s Association of Journalists announced a new code of conduct on the use of social media, forbidding its members to post news and photos that “run counter to” the state.”


Neutrality Loathsome in 2019

Tuesday, 1 January, 2019

Rainy Day wishes all its readers, near and far, a healthy New Year! Health is wealth. Happiness and prosperity will follow if the health holds. It’s as simple as that.

In 2019, there will be no time for here for weasel words and their loathsome users. That’s why we’re kicking off the New Year with Neutrality Loathsome by Robert Herrick. So, whether we’re talking Chinese thievery, Venezuelan thuggery, Iranian tyranny, liberal virtue signalling, #MSM hypocrisy or related forms of abhorrent behaviour, it’s going to get called out here this year.

Neutrality Loathsome

God will have all, or none; serve Him, or fall
Down before Baal, Bel, or Belial:
Either be hot, or cold: God doth despise,
Abhorre, and spew out all Neutralities.

Robert Herrick (1591 — 1674)


Carpe diem for 2018

Monday, 31 December, 2018

The departing 2018 brings to mind Horace’s Ode 1.11, which contains that much-quoted Latin phrase — Carpe diem (“Seize the day!”). Writing to his friend Leuconoe, Horace tries to convince him to avoid thinking about tomorrow and to forget, too, about asking astrologers to peer into the future. Instead, he encourages Leuconoe to “seize the day!” — to make every day count and to stop relying on the hope that tomorrow will bring something better. Ode 1.11 admonishes us to remember that we are not promised tomorrow, and the related Latin expression memento mori (remember that you are mortal) carries some of the same connotation as carpe diem. For Horace, awareness of our own mortality is key in making us realize the importance of the moment. In other words: Remember that you are mortal, so make the most of today.

Ode 1.11

Ask not — we cannot know — what end the gods have set for you, for me;
nor attempt the Babylonian reckonings Leuconoe.
How much better to endure whatever comes,
whether Jupiter grants us additional winters or whether this is our last,
which now wears out the Tuscan Sea upon the barrier of the cliffs.
Be wise, strain the wine; and since life is brief, prune back far-reaching hopes.
Even while we speak, envious time has passed:
Seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow.

Horace (65 BC – 8 BC)

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum. Sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.


Man of the Year 2018

Sunday, 30 December, 2018

Will future historians of the culture wars see it as the tipping point? You know, the moment when the balance shifted, when the tide ebbed? The combatants were University of Toronto professor of psychology Jordan Peterson and Cathy Newman, Channel 4 News presenter. What made the encounter so significant is that whenever Peterson said something, Newman restated what he purportedly had said to make it seem as if his positions were absurd and offensive. And the more Peterson explained his stances, rationally and calmly, the more Newman ratcheted up her rage and ignored what he was saying. Watch the whole thing.

Newman: Is gender equality a myth?

Peterson: I don’t know what you mean by the question. Men and women aren’t the same. And they won’t be the same. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be treated fairly.

Newman: Is gender equality desirable?

Peterson: If it means equality of outcome then it is almost certainly undesirable. That’s already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories if you leave them to do it of their own accord. It’s 20 to 1 female nurses to male, something like that. And approximately the same male engineers to female engineers. That’s a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are ineradicable differences––you can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure, and tyranny, but if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcomes.

Newman: So you’re saying that anyone who believes in equality, whether you call them feminists or whatever you want to call them, should basically give up because it ain’t going to happen.

Peterson: Only if they’re aiming at equality of outcome.

Newman: So you’re saying give people equality of opportunity, that’s fine.

Peterson: It’s not only fine, it’s eminently desirable for everyone, for individuals as well as societies.

Newman: But still women aren’t going to make it. That’s what you’re really saying.

Except, of course, that’s not what he’s “really saying.” In the end, Jordan Peterson, our Man of the Year, dispatched Cathy Newman with the help of lobsters.