Thoughts on Michel Houellebecq by Rob Doyle.
Let us be clear: Michel Houellebecq wants to bring you down. If you are happy in your life, he wants to spoil it. Not out of particularly noble motivations: his agenda is propelled by spite, hostility, resentment. He is a nihilist — not in the pure, passive sense (if that were the case, we would never have heard from him) but actively, virulently. He is engaged with the world to the extent that he wants to undermine it. He is not on the side of ‘good’ or of improvement, or of humanity. He is wretched and he wants to infect you — and all the West — with his misery. Because he happens to possess a genius for literary seduction and an authentically harrowing vision, there is every danger that he will succeed. This, to my mind, is what makes him the most fascinating of living novelists.
Objectively speaking, Michel Houellebecq probably should not be read. (I say that as an enthralled reader of everything he has ever published.) In a more robust, self-assured civilisation, Houellebecq and his ideas would be firmly suppressed, or he would simply be ignored by an indifferent public. Houellebecq knows this; the fact that he exists is part of his indictment. His success is his accusation.
Houellebecq drains all the cheer out of life, because cheer requires illusion, ignorance and hypocrisy — all of which are healthy traits in any virile psychic economy, as Nietzsche understood. Again, Houellebecq knows this, having read his Nietzsche. But Houellebecq refuses us our vital errors, driven as he is by (more or less conscious) malice and resentment. In a sense, I wish I had never read him; though of course this is not really true — I read him raptly, and he inflicted exactly the kind of wound I was longing for.
After Nietzsche had first read Schopenhauer, his friends said he was no longer the man he had once been, so enervated was he by his predecessor’s overwhelming pessimism. It took Nietzsche many years to claw his way back, to overcome Schopenhauer and posit new, anti-Schopenhauerian values. It would take a formidable force of will to overcome Houellebecq, once you have allowed him to whisper his insinuations in your ear. It may even be that, if you do have ears for Houellebecq, then you are already beyond help.