Magazine article The American Conservative

We Are (Almost) All Houellebecq

Magazine article The American Conservative

We Are (Almost) All Houellebecq

Article excerpt

[Michel Houellebecq is] also satirizing, well, himself, as Noah Millman's review of the novel for The American Conservative [Nov./Dec. 2015] suggests, by having the Islamist takeover emerge as the very personal solution to the problems of late modernity that Houellebecq is obsessed with-a solution that works because it delivers meaning, domesticity and a clutch of docile wives to his chestless, sex-addled, Last Man academic without asking anything in return....

But Millman loses me when he suggests that this satire on Houellebecq's own desires is somehow incompatible with the novel also being a satire of the Western elite writ large. ... Why can't he just be saying that many liberal men are themselves pathetically Houellebecqian, except without his self-awareness about their actual desires?

His suggestion, I think, isn't that the modern enlightened adult male secretly "liking" teenage bikini pics on Instagram somehow contains, buried deep within himself, the soul of Saladin the Great. It's that this pathetic excuse for a man could be effectively bought off, in the event of an actual cultural upheaval, by a regime that bestowed the illusion of real manhood (along with a comfortable sinecure) in a way that the present mix of official gender egalitarianism and internet fantasias do not.

But of course this cultural upheaval has to come from somewhere for the novel to work, and if both the European right (Christian and nativist) and the liberal left are hapless and exhausted ready to be bought off then it has to come from outside . …

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