Tag: Michel Houellebecq

Houellebecq on restoration beyond Notre-Dame

Saturday, 20 April, 2019

It has been described as “an ecumenical, conservative and, in some views, neoconservative religious journal.” It’s First Things and among the contents of the May issue is an essay titled “Restoration,” which is an “exchange of views on religion between Michel Houellebecq and Geoffroy Lejeune.” What can one say about Houellebecq? He’s a French author of international fame whose latest novel is Serotonin. There’s much, much more, of course, but that’s sufficient for now, and Geoffroy Lejeune? He’s the editor of Valeurs actuelles, a French conservative weekly news magazine published in Paris.

Their conversation took place quite some time before Monday’s catastrophic fire in Notre-Dame cathedral, but whenever Houellebecq is involved, prescience is to be expected. Snippets:

Houellebecq: “In a Romanesque cloister I feel at peace, connected to the divinity. With Gothic cathedrals, it’s already something different. Beauty takes on a character there that Kant will later call sublime (beauty accompanied by the sensation of danger, such as a great storm at sea, or a thunderstorm high in the mountains). In a baroque church it’s no good at all, I could just as well be in a palace, or at the theater.”

Lejeune: “If you choose to go by architecture, there is indeed a striking aspect: In the time of the cathedrals, monumental places of worship were erected and their construction lasted longer than a man’s lifetime. The cathedrals of Chartres, Reims, and Paris were built in 75, 134, and 182 years, respectively. At that time, preference was not for the minuscule. By comparison, Trump Tower in New York was designed, constructed, and delivered in four years, between 1979 and 1983. You can say that motorization, technological progress, and materials explain this difference. So much for the business angle, but when we see the ugliness of modern churches, these unhappy cubes of faded cement, sometimes so hideous, which hardly ever tower above the horizon traced by the surrounding houses, one understands above all that what differentiates us from the Christian builders is ‘functional thinking,’ instead of dedicating the construction to God. It was better before, when the supernatural was seen everywhere, even in the cathedral spires pointing toward heaven.”

The big question posed by First things is: Can the Catholic Church regain her former splendour? Lejeune feels it probably can but the road will be long: “Today, the Church in Europe has shrunk back into certain hard cores, sociologically very homogeneous – a social class – cut off from the majority of souls. Its embourgeoisement is perhaps, in the end, the greatest scourge that strikes the Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”

Houellebecq, noted for his pessimism, is more optimistic: “Can the restoration of Catholicism to its former splendour repair our damaged civilization? Here we are in agreement – it’s much simpler, almost self-evident. The answer is ‘Yes.'”


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


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


Houellebecq on elections

Sunday, 26 February, 2017 0 Comments

Today is the birthday of Michel Houellebecq, the great French writer who dares to speak the savage truth about France, sex, politics, culture and the human condition. This is from his novel Submission, which was published on 7 January 2015:

“To be fair, when I was young, the elections could not have been less interesting; the mediocrity of the ‘political offerings’ was almost surprising. A centre-left candidate would be elected, serve either one or two terms, depending how charismatic he was, then for obscure reasons he would fail to complete a third. When people got tired of that candidate, and the centre-left in general, we’d witness the phenomenon of democratic change, and the voters would install a candidate of the centre-right, also for one or two terms, depending on his personal appeal. Western nations took a strange pride in this system, though it amounted to little more than a power-sharing deal between two rival gangs, and they would even go to war to impose it on nations that failed to share their enthusiasm.”

Houellebecq is terrifyingly honest, which is why people either love or hate him. There is not Third Way with Houellebecq. In a recent interview with the French magazine Valeurs actuelles he said, Les élites haïssent le peuple. Very Houellebecqian. Santé.

Michel Houellebecq


#Brexit: Michel Houellebecq makes his move

Tuesday, 21 June, 2016 0 Comments

10 September, 2001: The publishers of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Platform, Groupe Flammarion, who had been charged with hate speech in France, publicly apologized for any offense its anti-Islamic themes might have caused. The book ends with an Islamist terror attack on a resort in Thailand. On the following day, an Islamist terror attack did take place, not in Asia, but in the USA. However, the 2002 Islamist atrocity in Bali was remarkably similar to the one described in Platform.

7 January 2015: Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission is published. It depicts a not-too-distant Europe losing the cultural civil wars and France drifting towards an Islamic takeover. As fate would have it, the publication date coincided with the Islamist massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

23 June 2016: The day Britain votes on whether to leave the European Union, Michel Houellebecq’s exhibition of his own photography opens in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo. Houellebecq is cheering for Brexit: “I’d love it. I’d love it if the English gave the starting signal for the dismantling. I hope they won’t disappoint me. I’ve been against the [European] idea from the start. It’s not democratic, it’s not good,” he says in a Financial Times profile published at the weekend.

“I really like England, I really like the fact of it having been the only country, for quite a while, to have resisted Hitler. I’d really like it to leave, to signal the independence movement.” Michel Houellebecq

The first picture in his Rester vivant exhibition shows a angry reddish dusk seen from his apartment. A line from of his one of his poems: “Il est temps de faire vos jeux” (“It’s time to place your bets”) is superimposed onto the gory sky. Another image, France #014 (1994), shows the word “Europe” carved in concrete. With Houellebecq, the timing is always significant. Place your bets.

Irlande


Book of the Year

Saturday, 19 December, 2015 2 Comments

What a twelve months it’s been for Angela Merkel: TIME Magazine anointed her its Person of the Year and the Financial Times followed suit. Even Vanessa Redgrave, that deranged old devotee of the blood-soaked PLO and the blood-drenched IRA hailed her as this year’s hero. It may be too early for Pope Francis to press her case for higher honours, but there’s already a move afoot to award her the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the light of such universal accord, it would be a brave person indeed who’d question Merkel’s Wir schaffen das (“We can do it”) approach to the challenge of accommodating one million migrants crossing Germany’s borders, but there are dissenting opinions. In fact, one was raised five years ago. In his 2010 best-seller, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Is Doing Away With Itself), Thilo Sarrazin blamed the country’s suffocating multiculturalism for encouraging the growth of a hostile counter-culture. He was immediately ridiculed, his public readings were subjected to intimidation and some had to be abandoned because of attacks by PC mobs. Last year in France, Éric Zemmour mirrored Sarrazin when his Le Suicide français accused the French cultural elite of undermining the national identity, leaving the country unwilling and unable to defend itself against existential threats.

Submission Facts are interesting, opinion is good, but it’s fiction that captures the public imagination and while Sarrazin and Zemmour spurred debate, it took Michel Houellebecq to bring their contentious ideas to a mass audience. That’s why his Submission wins the Rainy Day Book of the Year award.

Submission is set in a near-future where two opposing political parties are battling for the soul of France: the National Front, which promises to return the country to its former glory, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which promises to convert it. The Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Ben Abbes becomes President with the support of the Socialist Party, which is determined to prevent a victory by Marine Le Pen at all costs. The morning after, the French wake up to a reality in which women go veiled, non-Muslims are forbidden to teach in schools and polygyny is the law of the land. All of this is related by a cast of academics and intellectuals who adjust remarkably quickly and compliantly to the new national order.

In his earlier works, Michel Houellebecq argued that the modern world, with its consumerism, individualism and hypersexuality, wrecks communities and makes people wretchedly unhappy. Patriarchy, in the form of Islam, is an alternative and in Submission it restores a sense of personal and public serenity that comforts the future French. “Europe had already committed suicide,” Houellebecq writes, echoing Zemmour. The triumph of Islam in France ends a civilization that had already surrendered, betrayed by its reputed guardians. Michel Houellebecq, as they say, goes there.

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Film of the Year award.


Knausgaard reads Houellebecq

Wednesday, 18 November, 2015 0 Comments

It was a brave decision on the part of the New York Times to ask Karl Ove Knausgård to review Submission by Michel Houellebecq. Brave because the Norwegian author is not known for his brevity. Knausgård is the author of Min Kamp (My Struggle), six controversial autobiographical novels that stretch across 3,600 pages.

“Before I begin this review, I have to make a small confession. I have never read Michel Houellebecq’s books,” writes Knausgård, warming up to his task. Eventually, he picks up the novel and opens it: “I leaned back in my chair under the bright light of the lamp, lit a cigarette, poured myself a coffee and began to read.”

Submission Submission is controversial, he finds, because “anything that has to do with immigration, the nation state, multiculturalism, ethnicity and religion is explosive stuff in Europe these days. Many of its elements are recognizable, like the newspapers omitting to mention, or mentioning only with caution, conflicts arising out of ethnic differences, or the political left’s anti-­racism overriding its feminism, making it wary of criticizing patriarchal structures within immigrant communities.”

Houellebecq’s savaging of political correctness prepares the ground for “a scenario of the future that realistically is less than likely, and yet entirely possible,” notes Knausgård. In this scenario, the French general election of 2022 is won by the Muslim Brotherhood with which the left collaborates to keep the National Front from power, and France as a result becomes a Muslim state. Snippet:

“What’s crucial for the novel is that the political events it portrays are psychologically as persuasive as they are credible, for this is what the novel is about, an entire culture’s enormous loss of meaning, its lack of, or highly depleted, faith, a culture in which the ties of community are dissolving and which, for want of resilience more than anything else, gives up on its most important values and submits to religious government.

But maybe that isn’t so bad? Maybe it doesn’t matter that much? Aren’t people just people, regardless of what they believe in, and of how they choose to organize their societies? It is these questions that the novel leads up to, since this entire seamless revolution is seen through the eyes of François, a man who believes in nothing and who consequently is bound by nothing other than himself and his own needs… This lack of attachment, this indifference, is as I see it the novel’s fundamental theme and issue, much more so than the Islamization of France, which in the logic of the book is merely a consequence.”

What does it mean to be a human being without faith? For Knausgård, that’s the key question posed by a novel that closes with the faithless protagonist looking forward in time to his own submission, “to the comedy, eventually converting to Islam in order to continue teaching at the Sorbonne, now a Muslim seat of learning.”

In the end, Knausgård is full of praise for what Houellebecq has written and declares Submission to be a great book: “The disillusioned gaze sees through everything, sees all the lies and the pretenses we concoct to give life meaning, the only thing it doesn’t see is its own origin, its own driving force. But what does that matter as long as it creates great literature, quivering with ambivalence, full of longing for meaning, which, if none is found, it creates itself?”


Reading the plausible and important Houellebec

Monday, 16 November, 2015 0 Comments

In Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel, Submission, the year is 2022 and François is tiring of his career as a lecturer at the Sorbonne. The life of an expert on J.-K. Huysmans, the nineteenth-century author of À rebours, offers decent material rewards but decreasing spiritual benefits and the many hours spent on YouPorn are more satisfying than the day job. In the background, France is preparing for a general election and although François has zero interest in politics, he is vaguely aware that a strategic alliance between the Socialist party and Islamic party may be in the offing. He does notice, however, some subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in the academic atmosphere. Snippet from the excellent translation by the editor of The Paris Review, Lorin Stein:

“When I reached my classroom — today I planned to discuss Jean Lorrain — there were three guys in their twenties, two of them Arab, one of them black, standing in the doorway. They weren’t armed, not that day. They stood there calmly. Nothing about them was overtly menacing. All the same, they were blocking the entrance. I had to say something. I stopped and faced them. They had to be under orders to avoid provocation and to treat the teachers with respect. At least I hoped so.

Submission “I’m a professor here. My class is about to start,” I said in a firm tone, addressing the group. It was the black guy who answered, with a broad smile. “No problem, monsieur, we’re just here to visit our sisters…” and he tilted his head reassuringly towards the classroom. The only sisters he could mean were two North African girls seated together in the back left row, both in black burkas, their eyes protected by mesh. They looked pretty irreproachable to me. “Well, there you have them,” I said, with bonhomie. Then I insisted: “Now you can go.” “No problem, monsieur,” he said with an even broader smile, then he turned on his heel, followed by the other two, neither of whom had said a word. He took three steps, then turned again. “Peace be with you, monsieur,” he said with a small bow. “That went well,” I told myself, closing the classroom door. “This time.” I don’t know just what I’d expected. Supposedly, teachers had been attacked in Mulhouse, Strasbourg, Aix-Marseille and Saint-Denis, but I had never met a colleague who’d been attacked, and I didn’t believe the rumours. According to Steve, an agreement had been struck between the young Salafists and the administration. All of a sudden, two years ago, the hoodlums and dealers had all vanished from the neighbourhood. Supposedly that was the proof. Had this agreement included a clause banning Jewish organizations from campus? Again, there was nothing to substantiate the rumour, but the fact was that, as of last autumn, the Jewish Students Union had no representatives on any Paris campus, while the youth division of the Muslim Brotherhood had opened new branches, here and there, across the city.”

As Melanie McDonagh writes in The Spectator: “Plausible? Sort of. Worrying? Yep. Important? Very.”


Houellebecq and the capitulation of cover art

Thursday, 5 March, 2015 0 Comments

“For the purpose of Appreciation and Categorization” is the motto of The Book Cover Archive, and there is much to appreciate and categorize on this World Book Day when it comes to book covers. Think of the art of Roger Kastel for Jaws by Peter Benchley. With Soumission, the latest novel from Michel Houellebecq, however, we’re seeing a different kind of cover art. The art of capitulation.

In his book, Houellebecq paints a picture of an old, ailing Christian nation, France, submitting to a more vigorous ideology: Islam. It is a bitterly funny critique of the tolerance of the intolerant and a terrifying vision of the multicultural endgame. The book is a best-seller in France, Germany and Italy, despite the best efforts of its publishers to neutralize its appearance. The two-tone cover of the original French version is devoid of art; the German version, Unterwerfung, features the head of a bird, and the Italian cover of Sottomissione dispenses with imagery completely. The US publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is silent about the cover of Lorin Stein’s forthcoming translation but one fears that the supine trend will continue. Given the vital role of cover art in the history of book making, it is hard to accept that publishers would willingly embrace aniconism, the proscription against the creation of images, but Sottomissione is the proof.

Soumission Soumission Soumission

Michel Houellebecq reads in Cologne

Monday, 19 January, 2015 0 Comments

Topping the bestseller list at Amazon.fr is Soumission by Michel Houellebecq. Is his vision of a supine French “submission” to a gradual Islamic takeover a farce or a warning? Tonight, in Cologne, people will have a chance to make up their own minds when the controversial author makes one of his rare trips abroad to speak about his work. Unsurprisingly, the Lit Cologne event is sold out.

Soumission is set seven years in the future, in the year 2022. Mohammed Ben Abbes becomes president of France and immediately all women must be veiled in public, state secondary schools adopt an Islamic curriculum, and the protagonist, François, is told that he cannot return to his university job unless he converts to Islam. He happily submits to the new order, not for any religious or philosophical reasons, but because the new Saudi owners of the Sorbonne pay far better — and he can be polygamous. As he notes, in envy of his new boss, who has converted already: “One 40-year-old wife for cooking, one 15-year-old wife for other things… no doubt he had one or two others of intermediate ages.”

For those who are not fortunate enough to have a ticket to see Michel Houellebecq in action tonight, this Paris Review Q&A, “Scare Tactics: Michel Houellebecq Defends His Controversial New Book,” is essential reading. Snippet:

Have you asked yourself what the effect might be of a novel based on such a hypothesis?

None. No effect whatsoever.

You don’t think it will help reinforce the image of France that I just described, in which Islam hangs overhead like the sword of Damocles, like the most frightening thing of all?

In any case, that’s pretty much all the media talks about, they couldn’t talk about it more. It would be impossible to talk about it more than they already do, so my book won’t have any effect.

Doesn’t it make you want to write about something else so as not to join the pack?

No, part of my work is to talk about what everyone is talking about, objectively. I belong to my own time.

Soumission by Michel Houellebecq