Monday 7 June 2021

Michel Houellebecq: The world will be just the same after the banal virus - just a bit worse

He wrote this a month ago on the website of France Inter, which is part of Radio France and I imagine is the French equivalent of the BBC World Service,  answering a good question.
Emmanuel Carrère (Paris-Royan; he seems to have found a valid reason to travel). Will interesting books be written inspired by this period, he wonders.

I wonder too. I really asked myself the question, but deep down I don't think so. We have had a lot of things about the plague, over the centuries, the plague has interested writers a lot. I have doubts. I don't believe for half a second in statements like "nothing will ever be the same again". On the contrary, everything will remain exactly the same. The course of this epidemic is even remarkably normal.


The West is not for eternity, by divine right, the richest and most developed area in the world; it's all over, for some time now, it's not a scoop. 

...The main result of the coronavirus, on the other hand, is to accelerate certain ongoing mutations. For quite a few years, all technological developments, whether minor (video on demand, contactless payment) or major (teleworking, Internet shopping, social networks) have mainly been consequence (for main objective?) to decrease the material contacts, and especially human. The coronavirus epidemic offers a magnificent reason for this heavy trend: a certain obsolescence that seems to strike human relations. Which reminds me of a bright comparison that I noted in an anti-PMA text written by a group of activists called "The chimpanzees of the future" (I discovered these people on the Internet; I never said that the internet has only drawbacks). So, I quote them: “Before long, having children yourself, for free and at random, will seem as incongruous as hitchhiking without a web platform. We have the utopias we deserve. Finally let's move on."

It would be equally wrong to say that we have rediscovered the tragedy of death, finitude, etc . The tendency for more than half a century now, well described by Philippe Ariès, has been to cover up death as much as possible. Well, death has never been so quiet as in recent weeks. People die alone in their hospital or nursing home rooms, they are buried immediately (or they are cremated? Cremation is more in the spirit of the times), without inviting anyone, in secret. Dead without any evidence of it, the victims boil down to one unit in the daily death statistics and there is something strangely abstract about the anguish that pervades the population as the total increases.

Another figure will have taken on a lot of importance in these weeks, that of the age of the patients. Until when should they be resuscitated and treated? 70, 75, 80 years old? It depends, apparently, on the part of the world you live in; but never in any case had one expressed with such calm shamelessness the fact that the life of all does not have the same value; that from a certain age (70, 75, 80?), it is a little as if we were already dead.


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  2. Frédéric Beigbeder (from Guéthary, Pyrénées-Atlantiques). A writer doesn't see many people anyway, he lives like a hermit with his books, confinement doesn't change much. Completely agree, Frédéric, social life question changes almost nothing. Only, there is one point that you forget to consider (undoubtedly because, living in the countryside, you are less a victim of the ban): a writer needs to work.

    This confinement seems to me the ideal opportunity to settle an old Flaubert-Nietzsche quarrel. Somewhere (I forgot where), Flaubert affirms that one does not think and write well when seated. Protests and mockery of Nietzsche (I also forgot where), who goes so far as to call him a nihilist (so it happens at the time when he had already started to use the word indiscriminately): him- even has designed all his works while walking, anything that is not conceived in walking is null, besides he has always been a Dionysian dancer, etc. Little suspect of exaggerated sympathy for Nietzsche, I must however admit that in this case, it is rather he who is right. Trying to write if you do not have the opportunity, during the day, to indulge in several hours of walking at a sustained pace, is strongly discouraged:

    The only thing that really matters is the mechanical, mechanical rhythm of the walk, which does not have as its first reason for being to bring up new ideas (although this can, in a second step, occur), but to calm the conflicts induced by the shock of ideas born at the work table (and this is where Flaubert is not absolutely wrong); when he talks to us about his elaborate designs on the rocky slopes of the hinterland of Nice, in the meadows of the Engadine etc., Nietzsche wanders a little: except when writing a tourist guide, the landscapes crossed have less importance than the interior landscape.

  3. No, we are not really dealing with a “French suicide” — to evoke the title of Eric Zemmour’s book — but a Western suicide or rather a suicide of modernity, since Asian countries are not spared. What is specifically, authentically French is the awareness of this suicide. But if we consent to set aside for a moment the particular case of France (and really it would be wise to do so), the conclusion becomes crystal clear: the inevitable consequence of what we call progress (at all levels, economic, political, scientific, technological) is self-destruction.

    The narcissistic fall of France
    Is the country really on the brink of civil war?BY MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ

    1. One must admire the French for seeing clearly - they probably benefit from not sharing a language with America - and yet plenty of American see clearly too.