3 November 2010
Maybe I should have headlined this post “fuming,” per the photograph that accompanies it? Or perhaps not? This weekend I read an interview with French author Michel Houellebecq in the Paris Review. Only after the election has it occurred to me why I highlighted the passage I’ve excerpted below at the time I first read it.
But first, to add yet more throat clearing, here are my thoughts on yesterday’s electoral result: Any despair I have about the position of the tide against the shore at a given moment in time is more than tempered by my feeling that the water can’t hurt us — unless perhaps, a conscious effort is made to drown. In other words, I don’t believe things are that bad right now. I think things have been far worse. All things are matters of perspective.
Houellebecq: What I think, fundamentally, is that you can’t do anything about major societal changes. It may be regrettable that the family unit is disappearing. You could argue that it increases human suffering. But regrettable or not, there’s nothing we can do. That’s the difference between me and a reactionary. I don’t have an interest in turning back the clock because I don’t believe it can be done. You can only observe and describe. I’ve always liked Balzac’s very insulting statement that the only purpose of the novel is to show the disasters produced by the changing of values. He’s exaggerating in an amusing way. But that’s what I do: I show the disasters produced by the liberalization of values.
Interviewer: You have written that you are “not only a religious atheist but a political one.” Can you elaborate?
Houellebecq: I don’t believe much in the influence of politics on history. I think that the major factors are technological and sometimes, not often, religious. I don’t think politicians can really have a true historical importance, except when they provoke major catastrophes Napoleon-style, but that’s about it. I also don’t believe individual psychology has any effect on social movements. You will find this believe expressed in all my novels. I was speaking to someone this morning about Belgium, a country that doesn’t work at all. And nobody understands why, from a psychological standpoint, because Belgians themselves seem sympathetic and willing to make it all work. And yet it doesn’t. The country is going to disappear. So we have to believe that there are powerful sociological forces at work that cannot be explained in terms of individual psychology.
Now to return to our normal, stridently apolitical programming about pop music and crap, here is a taste of Houellebecq’s first effort at pop musicianship, a video that gives you some sense of what he finds so objectionable as American cultural dominion. (Warning though, it’s in French.)
Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis