Saturday, 12 February 2011

Some Thoughts on Michel Houellebecq and The Decay of the West.

Houellebecq has a new novel out entitled La Carte et le Territoire which has already won the Goncourt Prize in France, he is by far the most most prescient and devastatingly accurate novelist of Europe's contemporary lot

Houellebecq's landscapes are dreary wastelands of supermarkets and trashy architecture and he writes of the spiritual loneliness of the modern European, confronted by a meaningless consumerism, the corporate work ethic and of a civilisation in decline.

Relentless post-political, Houellebecq's characters think politics is mostly bad entertainment, an obvious fact given the rise of the bland Tony Blair who turned banality into a political art and the odious media-political star Berlusconi in Italy.

Citizenship has declined. The nation state has decayed and individuals live lives of quiet desperation connected merely through the computer ( e.g Facebook ) where people attempt to re-present themselves.

In Possibility of an Island, communication simply happens from behind the computer screen and all traditional forms of social intercourse have been progressively eliminated. Cloning takes place so there is no hurry to live intensely with passion

The message is quite clear in all the novels: Europe is dying in decadent and complacent apathy.

David Coward gave an accurate precis of the ideas in Houellebecq's novels, far more interesting than the stream of drab Orange and Booker Prize nominees that fail to engage people in what is really happening in the West.
Since the 1960s, market forces have reorganised the economic activity of the Western world. With the collapse of religion and the death of ideology, capitalism acquired a free hand to interfere in those parts of our lives previously governed by faith and political belief…. In the wake of the Enlightenment, believers became citizens. Citizens have now turned into customers, who cannot conceive of a future, let alone of an afterlife, except in terms of increasing wealth and the acquisition of consumer products for status and satisfaction. Individualism, the antechamber to barbarism, is the grave of communal life and ultimately of civilization. It is also an illusion. Only the decay of the flesh, and death, truly belong to the individual. The rest – behaviour, ideas, ideals – is fed to us by politicians, advertisers and assorted stars who want our votes, our money and our admiration. Even sexuality cannot be explained in terms of desire and pleasure, for they themselves [desire and pleasure] are sociologically determined by widely touted semiologies.
The creation of a family is for Houellebecq, as Coward puts it, ‘the last remaining outpost of the collective spirit, whose members serve each other without hope or expectation of tangible reward’.

For Houllebecq, however, atomised individuals no longer are prepared to make the sacrifices upon which social reproduction are based: sex is a value free means to a sensational encounter, wholly cerebral and based on pain/pleasure calculus.

Yet Houllebecq is ostensibly anti-religious and regards the destruction of all forms of communal life as part of what he regards as the barbarism that flows from the social, intellectual and moral deregulation of the 1960s.

In Western European nations the economic system is brutally competitive and yet the general trend of politics "leftist": Houellebecq makes it clear that New Left libertarianism has actually benefitted and given further stimulus to neoliberal capitalism.

For Houellebecq, the sinister reduction of all relationships to one of impersonal cost/benefit analysis is inherent in the transactional universe of which blights and infects every aspect of public and private life in the West

Houellebecq depicts the way sterile dreams of love have become reduced to packaged pleasures and the fundamental human right to total satisfaction that consumers just must have as an imperative.

What people commonly call 'love' is nothing mere cosmetic measure concealing the sordidness of their petty lusts and crass desires for the lust object, a makeshift balancing of made over time in view of their insecurity and perfect partner which also affords status and competitive prestige.

Atomised is a great novel and packed full of ideas with regards the seeming inevitability of cloning, the decoupling of sex from procreation as a value free end to pleasure which Bruno can't get because neoliberalism in the sexual market place works against inferior biological specimens i,e the ugly and old.

Houellebecq also sees Islamism at least partly as a result of the sexual resentment and frustration young Muslim males feel because the emphasis on restraint and puritanism, however "hypocritical" has no meaning in societies where transgression is ritualised.

Naturally, the contradiction between a religion based on denial and on the other hand of eternal rewards of pleasure when consumer society makes a mockery of all pious sentiments which act as a barrier separating the individual from the marketplace.

The promise of instant gratification makes such a religion increasingly futile, redundant and contrary to consumerism, the notion that pleasure through shopping and 'bonking' others is the only meaning to life, a frantic race to cram pleasure into youth before the onset of death.

Platform is even better as a Swiftian satire on consumer 'ethics' when applied to the quest for some kind of "authentic" experience of life through the exotic, a trait pretty evident in Central and Eastern European nations where disillusioned British males can pick up good looking Slavic girls.

The Polish girl in turn fetishises 'de English dzentlemans' and dreams of the consumerism that had bored the male in his own country in tandem with the petty carping feminism and self promotional careerist zombies he might have otherwise had to put up with.

Platform deals with the inability of neurotic Westerners to form meaningful and long term relationships is developed to its logical conclusion-mass packaged sex tourism in Third World nations where the spontaneous nature of their unspoilt sex is to be commodified

It is designed to serve the needs of those desperate for natural and uninhabited sexual contact they can no longer have due to the dehumanisation of relationships in the West, stupid feminist ideologies, political correctness, and fake male bonhomie.

Having lived across the globe and heard the misery of interminable ex-pats complaining about how much more "demanding", cold, unsexual and egotistical women in the West are compared to Eastern Europeans, the Japanese and Thais

This has been accompanied as well as Western women fetishising the virility of Cuban or black men, a trend shown in the weird obsession with getting married to African chieftains in places such as Kenya.

It seems to me that Houellebecq is a visionary for his ability to draw conclusions about the nature of our society from the relentless observation of it as it really is in its everyday crummy banality as once did Celine in Journey to the End of the Night.

Where all connection to the past and all dreams for the future have died and only a horny and desperate desire for sexual diversions and consumer satisfaction provide an anodyne to the pain and separation of atomised individuals

Those who live bleak existences devoid of any feeling of belonging, fraternity or where hatred and bitterness easily turn into strategies of rationalisation through fanatical political creeds, fundamentalism, conspiracy theorising and racism.

Houellebecq is the ultimate antidote to the sentimental and vacuous platitudes mass produced in or media by the liberal left about how wonderfully diverse and tolerant it is as a sham, a willing form of delusion.

Instead Houellebecq sees the underlying symptoms of sadism, malice and voyeuristic cruelty unleashed by the sexual revolution as, like with all other revolutions, devours its children. The natural consequence of a consumer mentality pushed into all aspects of life.

For the older generation obsessed with the cult of the body beautiful and sex as a "human right" in the 1960s found that just as they rejected their parents, they are now rejected with scorn by their successors.

After all, for Houellebecq, the sexualisation of youth as the pinnacle of all human desire which by its nature is transient and serves a regressive function, reducing humans to infantile consumers who want to buy happiness.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Eygpt. What is At Stake ?

I have not had time to look in too much detail as to the significance of the "people power" events in Tunisia or Egypt. But instead of obsessing too much about the possibility of Islamists getting into power, in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood, there is a need to let people there determine their own future.

The best thing is that Western governments accept that democracy in the Mahgreb and the Middle East will produce governments that large numbers of the people there have willed-for good or ill. It's far better that that is accepted and even if Islamist governments are voted in to accept them.This was accepted by the most perceptive writer Malise Ruthen in his brilliant A Fury for God.

The alternative is for the Western nations to keep backing dictators, as the craven and pathetic Blair has effectively done, due to "vital interests" and further aid the cause of terrorism.It might be that a wave of revolution will cause "instability" in the the Middle East.

Yet its better the west does not interfere as any new governments must trade with Europe anyway and even if the government were Islamist it would find itself having to deal with economic realities rather quickly.

Timothy Garton Ash at least understood the way events in the Near East are interconnected to those of Europe, ( If this is young Arabs' 1989, Europe must be ready with a bold response, The Guardian, Wednesday 2 February 2011 )

As a result of decades of migration, the young Arabs whom you see chanting angrily on the streets of Cairo, Tunis and Amman already have cousins in Madrid, Paris and London.

If these uprisings succeed, and what emerges is not another Islamist dictatorship, these young, often unemployed, frustrated men and women will see life chances at home. The gulf between their life experience in Casablanca and Madrid, Tunis and Paris, will gradually diminish – and with it that cultural cognitive dissonance which can lead to the Moroccan suicide bomber on a Madrid commuter train. As their homelands modernise, young Arabs – and nearly one third of the population of the north African littoral is between the age of 15 and 30 – will circulate across the Mediterranean, contributing to European economies, and to paying the pensions of rapidly ageing European societies. The examples of modernisation and reform will also resonate across the Islamic world.

If these risings fail, and the Arab world sinks back into a slough of autocracy, then tens of millions of these young men and women will carry their pathologies of frustration across the sea, shaking Europe to its foundations. If the risings succeed in deposing the latest round of tyrants, but violent, illiberal Islamist forces gain the upper hand in some of those countries, producing so many new Irans, then heaven help us all. Such are the stakes.