Friday, February 03, 2006

Michel Houellebecq

Here's a great article about Michel Houellebecq, the latest in a long line of late decadent French authors who are equally profane, exhausted, gloomy and reactionary. Houellebecq is also a painfully boring author who tries to fob off his own lack of much appreciable writing talent as an attack on the world. But, I love this section of the article, which captures the one insight worth reading his books for, available in all of them:

"All Houellebecq’s books have the same theoretical underpinning: a modest extension of the argument of the Communist Manifesto, proposing that what we call sexual freedom is in fact the last stage in the free market’s resolution of personal wealth into exchange value. This is laid out in the section of his first novel that explains its ironically grandiose title (Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994):

Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperisation. Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never. Some make love with dozens of women; others with none. It’s what’s known as ‘the law of the market’. In an economic system where unfair dismissal is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their place. In a sexual system where adultery is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their bed mate. In a totally liberal economic system, certain people accumulate considerable fortunes; others stagnate in unemployment in misery. In a totally liberal sexual system, certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude. Economic liberalism is an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society. Sexual liberalism is likewise an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society.

(As both advertisers and teenage girls know, the fear of being "loveless" is a great means of social control. What are Houellebeqc's answers to this?)

"His later novels explore various solutions: in Atomised, the naturist resort at Cap d’Agde is described as a ‘sexual social democracy’, in which French, German and Scandinavian couples swap partners and share their love with lonely single men, in an atmosphere of ‘discipline and respect for the social contract’. In Platform, sex tourism is proposed as a radical free-market solution, allowing sexual paupers to achieve the same consumer satisfaction they have at Monoprix: rich but ugly Westerners and the poor but handsome of the Third World share resources."

See what I mean? He makes a good point about social conditions and then comes up with a totally banal answer to it. If you can't beat the exploiters, become an exploiter. If you're poor, the first world gets to fuck you. Yawn- we've heard that one before.

As for swingers clubs and sex tourism, they play off the same fear of ourselves as did the old morality. Fear of love, fear of death, fear of change, fear of loss- all turned compulsive instead of being embraced and integrated into a complete psyche. Besides, it's a false choice you know: between gloomy chastity and compulsive rutting: between being a miser of the flesh or a miser of love. It's based on the same false-split between the spirit and body (you only get one, not the other!), and this is why our Puritans so often come to us as libertines.


Hiromi said...

What is it in the human psyche that makes people want to extend economic theories to, well, just about everything? Is it because they're the most easy to understand? I just don't get it.

Rufus said...

It can be almost pure abstraction, which has a certain appeal I think.

Hiromi said...

Or is he being satirical?

'Cause what you excerpted just sounds nuts.

Rufus said...

I think he's being a bit satirical. But, some of this is in Marx too. Marx was what I would call a cultural conservative. He bemoaned the loss of the traditional culture, whose morals are supposedly torn assunder by the rise of the bourgeoisie, who just don't care about anything. Believe it or not, the one big row Marx and Engels had was over Engles's refusal to marry his long-time lover, which Marx found shameful.

What Houellebecq is making light of is Marx's arguement that a capitalist economy allows producers to treat workers as expendable by alienating them from their labor. I think he's being a bit funny in replacing women for the factory owners and men for the proletariat. The idea is that now that women have a free and mobile labor force, they can fire the workers at will! So, I think it's pretty amusing, even if Houellebecq seems to be missing the point a bit.