Michel Houellebecq shows his readers his finger

adminJanuary 8, 2019

In his novel Serotonin, the French author sends his character through heaven and hell. But he mocks his readers and leads them by the nose.

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One can easily confuse Michel Houellebecq with his broken literary figures. One should not favor him and not fall into this trap. (Image: Andreu Dalmau / EPA)

One can easily confuse Michel Houellebecq with his broken literary figures. One should not favor him and not fall into this trap. (Image: Andreu Dalmau / EPA)

The French author Michel Houellebecq is for literature what Donald Trump is for politics. Both are massless, hilarious, driving-controlled destroyers in their respective jobs. In a coup they kill all conventional conventions, nothing loves them as much as the provocation, no immorality is too cheap for them, which they would not throw with it. They are deeply connected to each other, where everyone else would just be embarrassed.

Is it surprising that Michel Houellebecq has sympathy for Donald Trump? One would have to wonder if it would be different. Recently, Houellebecq announced in Harper's Magazine that Trump seemed to be "one of the best US presidents". He understands the Americans' shame in the face of this "terrible clown", and "of course" is Trump's "repulsive". He believed himself, Houellebecq wrote in the American magazine article, "A dignified and moral person would be better for the United States". But, and now you have to let the cunning Futurum melt exactly on your tongue, "maybe Trump has been a test needed for the American people."

Michel Houellebecq likes the role of sometimes throwing a stink bomb among civilized debating intellectuals. He likes it as rough and juicy and attacked as if he were a bouncer. It must also give him a twentieth joy to watch as the flying tiles in his petards are touched with sharp fingers and crawled from all sides. Does he mean Trump? Incidentally! He doesn't give a heck. Trump can be smart and clever, it's Houellebecq too, he wants to like that man. He is also intelligent. Art – if you want to call it that – of its controversy is that it's always the opposite. And maybe that's why it's one of the best in their mercury literature that applies to them: Whatever you say about them, the opposite is true too.

The great confession

In his literary work, Michel Houellebecq has created a desolate bestiary of dilapidated, full-bodied, spruced-up characters. His youngest creature seems to want to surpass its predecessors in every way. The 46-year-old agricultural engineer celebrates, as Louis XIV once did, his "lever" as a daily ritual: first a cup of coffee, then two or three cigarettes, and finally the tablet, "with quarter-water mineral water – mostly volvic". The pill keeps the man afloat by helping the so-called happiness hormone (the eponymous serotonin). Or in the beginning of the novel: "It's a small, white, oval, divisible tablet."

The story of this short story is told in two steps. It begins with a long and literally tough confession, with a term that has become canonical since Augustine and Rousseau, only here in the almost vulgar variant. The man who whistling from the last hole looks back at his love affair. Houellebecq may be a literary virtuoso, his characters are erotomaniacs of the simple type: the women divide them into heads and madonnas, the world of cunts and tails.

This tends to obscure monotony, even more so in the German translation than in the original, since the French have a larger repertoire in the vulgar (and yet it certainly leaves it under high-pressure translation of Stephan Kleiner there and there to be desired). But the purpose is still obvious: the guy should be shown to us as a bastard, repulsive in his occupations, disgusting in his own righteousness and eternal in his hatred of women. Looked nothing new at Houellebecq's literary party. He lures the reader's reluctance.

Where the book seems to be finally enjoyable at first glance, it's really poisoned.

The long term is followed by a short swan, initiated by a cathartic event, a kind of spiritual purification of the hero. At least once in his life he had been happy with a woman, he had loved her, he could have lived with her, a stupid infidelity led to a break. Now he picks up his path again, finds it in the deepest province, imagines a new life together, but of course it is an obstacle. She has a four year old son (but obviously no man). The slogan is "Whether he or I."

Our hero, now a sniper and equipped with a precision rifle, leans on the little one. And pause. He can't kill the baby. Instead, he dives into his long night. He uses antidepressants to prepare for suicide: "I had to look for the void, for what is not described." His last apartment will lead to "nothing" or at least in the vicinity of "proximity".

There, then, a disgust for the man – and now transformed the cynicism against the Zen master, who in no way expects to end up as enlightenment, as (rediscover) the Redeemer figure in Christ. And again we see Pied Piper Houellebecq at work: we are now seized by this wreck of the man, who retires into the cave and into the basics of existence. Houellebecq was never more elegant, never seen a figure unprotected.

But not only the conclusion is devilish inedible, throughout the novel the author spread his rat poison.

But is it already a triumph of humanity if one cannot shoot a child? You have to brush Houellebecq against the grain just as he carries his readers through his nose. The villain who was built up in the first part of Popanz is nothing more than a banal banality, which is annoying and distracting us a little while Houellebecq's conversion of the protagonist to the elegant last represents an eerie deception. For the real scandal of the novel, the bag bag is styled to the figure of Christ with its pathetic longing for death. Where the book seems to be finally enjoyable at first glance, it's really poisoned. In the real abysses we only see where they are filled up in nothing.

A game with empty promises

Here, Houellebecq of course strengthens his readers to the knees in order to counteract their feelings even more brutally. But not only the conclusion is devilish inedible, throughout the novel the author spread his rat poison. The world has never seen such an infinitely successful agricultural engineer as this new hero.

No author of rank has escaped him, from Proust to Baudelaire to Thomas Mann, he cites exquisite science fiction writers from the state. However, nothing gives him greater pleasure, like reminding the actors' evil against their peers, like this Sottise from "Cahiers" by E. M. Cioran: Maurice Blanchot was "the ideal author to teach writing because one would not be distracted from the content."

Want to mean: Books are just false promise of happiness, they are pale surrogates of life and therefore a great spot on our need for salvation. Of that, it seems beneath its surface this short story, which already lures in the title with the empty promise. And Houellebecq shows his readers finger with the book and shows them where to paste them. In that sense, Michel Houellebecq actually wrote a brilliant novel.

But you must vigorously defend the art against such a cool shine. The foremost and at the same time the most difficult withdrawal of art is to lead us through the heavens and hells of existence. We are different when we return from such trips. Houellebecq is pleased with the celebration of the abyss. That's the difference. He's like Trump again. He licks the sting. You can read it, but you don't need to.

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