Finally read Houellebecq’s Submission a few weeks ago, filling in a major and hitherto embarrassing lacuna.
He is a master of characterization. Multiple extracts have had me laughing out loud:
I liked to catch the metro a little after seven to give myself the illusion that I was one of the ‘early risers’ of France, the workers and tradesmen. I was the only one who enjoyed this fantasy, clearly, because when I gave my lecture, at eight, the hall was almost completely empty except for a small knot of chillingly serious Chinese women who rarely spoke to one another, let alone anyone else. The moment they walked in, they turned on their smartphones so they could record my entire lecture. This didn’t stop them from taking notes in their large spiral notebooks. They never interrupted, they never asked any questions, and the two hours were over before I knew it. Coming out of the class I’d see Steve, who would have had a similar showing, only in his case the Chinese students were replaced by veiled North Africans, all just as serious and inscrutable. He’d almost always invite me for a drink – usually mint tea in the Paris Mosque, a few blocks from the university. I didn’t like mint tea, or the Paris Mosque, and I didn’t much like Steve, but still I went. The advancement of Steve’s career at the university, according to Marie-Françoise, was due entirely to the fact that he was eating Big Delouze’s pussy. This seemed possible, albeit surprising. With her broad shoulders, her grey crew cut and her courses in ‘gender studies’, Chantal Delouze, the president of Paris III, had always struck me as a dyed-in-the-wool lesbian, but I could have been wrong, or maybe she bore a hatred towards men that expressed itself in fantasies of domination. Maybe forcing Steve, with his pretty, vapid little face and his long silken curls, to kneel down between her chunky thighs brought her to new and hitherto unknown heights of ecstasy. True or false, I couldn’t get the image out of my head that morning, on the terrace of the tea room of the Paris Mosque, as I watched him suck on his repulsive apple-scented hookah.
But, literary quality aside – at least so far as this is concerned, I am a simpleton with quotidian tastes – what I am scouring it for is to relive the political and cultural load that accompanied it when it was published six years ago, on the eve of the Charlie Hebdo murders.
And my delay in reading Submission was, come to think of it, a silver lining, because it enables a more original take thanks to the benefit of hindsight as opposed to just a mediocre rewrite of Guillaume Durocher’s review.
Because the reference to Charlie Hebdo says it all.
In the book, Islam is portrayed as a reactionary ideal – a return to patriarchy, an end to atheism and progressiveness – that the tired and postmodernist Catholic traditionalism of France, even within its monastic heartlands of Rocamadour:
I remembered a conversation I’d had, years before, with a history professor at the Sorbonne. In the early Middle Ages, he’d explained, the question of individual judgement barely came up. Only much later, with Hieronymus Bosch for example, do we see those terrifying images in which Christ separates the cohort of the chosen from the legion of the damned; where devils lead unrepentant sinners towards the torments of hell. The Romanesque vision was much more communal: at his death the believer fell into a deep sleep and was laid in earth. When all the prophecies had been fulfilled and Christ came again, it was the entire Christian people who rose together from the tomb, resurrected in one glorious body, to make their way to paradise. Moral judgement, individual judgement, individuality itself were not clear ideas in the mind of Romanesque man, and I felt my own individuality dissolving the longer I sat in my reverie before the Virgin of Rocamadour.
… was no longer in a position to provision:
When it came to rejecting atheism and humanism, or the necessary submission of women, or the return of patriarchy, they were fighting exactly the same fight. And today this fight, to establish a new organic phase of civilisation, could no longer be waged in the name of Christianity. Islam, its sister faith, was newer, simpler and more true.
Sorry to see the spiritual heart of medieval “wax and incense” Christendom recede into history, but on the other hand – a 10,000 Euro per month salary for a university professor and three wives will sure ease the existential pain of its passing.
You see,’ he went on, ‘Islam accepts the world, and accepts it whole. It accepts the world as such, Nietzsche might say. For Buddhism, the world is dukkha – unsatisfactoriness, suffering. Christianity has serious reservations of its own. Isn’t Satan called “the prince of the world”? For Islam, though, the divine creation is perfect, it’s an absolute masterpiece. What is the Koran, really, but one long mystical poem of praise? Of praise for the Creator, and of submission to His laws.
But it would all be for the best, in the long run. Islam is implicit eugenic (well, absent all the cousin fucking):
Like most men, probably, I skipped the chapters on religious duties, the pillars of wisdom and child-rearing, and went straight to chapter seven: ‘Why Polygamy?’ The argument was original, I have to say: to realise His sublime plan in the inanimate world, the Creator of the universe used the laws of geometry (a non-Euclidean geometry, to be sure, a non-commutative geometry, but still a geometry). When it came to living beings, however, the Creator expressed Himself through natural selection, which allowed animate creatures to achieve their maximum beauty, vitality and power. And for all animal species, including man, the law was the same: only certain individuals would be chosen to pass on their seed, to conceive the next generation, on which an infinite number of generations depended. In the case of mammals, if you compared the female, with her long gestation period, to the male, with his essentially limitless capacity to reproduce, it was clear that the pressures of selection would fall principally on the males. If some males enjoyed access to several females, others would necessarily have none. So this inequality between males should be considered not a negative side effect of polygamy but rather its goal. It was how the species achieved its destiny.
But this was the Zeitgeist of 2015.
But we are now in 2021 and I see this browsing Twitter and Reddit:
Far from Islam eating up the West like a Tyranid hive fleet, before moving on to India and China who are likewise incapacitated through their “contamination by Western values”, it is in fact Western liberalism that ate Islam’s face like the Squig that bit back.
In Saudi Arabia, which in the book uses its oil wealth to buy up the Sorbonne and send all the women home to cook and breed and the gays back into the closet:
- Women can now drive.
- The religion police has been defanged. From what I gather, it’s no longer risky to privately espouse atheism.
- Textbooks are getting purged of powerful takes.
And the main object of journalistic speculation now is whether MBS can modernize Saudi Arabia in time before electric vehicles end the oil age and send them into bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, in the Arab world as a whole, secularization is proceeding at breakneck speeds.
They no longer even really have the energy to do many terrorist attacks these days. Sad!
And Houellebecq had such high hopes of them:
Jesus had loved men too much, that was the problem; to let himself be crucified for their sake showed, at the very least, a lack of taste, as the old faggot would have put it. And the rest of his actions weren’t any more discerning, like when he absolved the adulterous woman, for example, with arguments such as ‘let him who is without sin’, etc. All you’d have had to do was get hold of a seven-year-old child – he’d have cast the first stone, the little fucker.
It increasingly looks like political Islamism was one of many passing Arab political fads that failed, like pan-Arab nationalism before it, and probably some kind of liberal socialism so far as the next generation is concerned.
All of which are ultimately concerned most concerned with the rather more practical and banal problem of solving the problem of Arab backwardness, as opposed to any deep metaphysical questions. One that Osama bin Laden correctly identified by wryly observing that more books are translated into Spanish every year than have ever been translated into Arabic. The result of this backwardness is that Arab polities are constantly manipulated and exploited by outside imperialists and all these political fads (nationalism, Islamism, etc.) are just flailing attempts to somehow arrest the process.
Although sadly this new vision will also probably fail, just like the previous ones, on account of the one redpill that Houellebecq hasn’t swallowed: Or at least doesn’t mention in order to remain handshakeworthy. Arabs are kinda dumb. Average IQ ~= 85 and all that.
And trending towards sub-replacement level fertility rates to boot.
France has a higher TFR now than Algeria. Could have sworn I saw stats showing that, but apparently not. Anyhow – general point stands.
So far as the Muslim minorities of Europe are concerned, modern reality is far closer to the controversial 2020 film Cuties than it is to Submission, in in which they are just blank canvases used by Houellebecq to masterfully troll his right-wing fans.
I suppose the lesson to take away here is that there are few “essentialisms” in history.
After all, early Islam was more “progressive” than early Christianity (e.g. women got half the inheritance of a man, as opposed to zero). There were female lawyers in 13th century Baghdad. The 1,001 Nights is full of stories about Arab kings getting cucked by their wives by virile Tyrones, probably the greater restrictions on women placed by Islamic cultures is a response to their women being more flirtatious by default.
Houellebecq’s latest novel (2019) is Serotonin, which centers around the gilets-jaunes and the Red-Brown workers’ revolt against globalism. Again, he presages and captures the spirit of the times very well. But will it remain much relevant even half a decade hence? The populist backlash to neoliberalism was, in large part, a consequence of globalization and China’s “reserve army of labor” coming onboard and devaluing the labor power of Western workers. But China is becoming much richer, and there is no other China to replace China. We shall see.
Which, again, is not to say that I did not enjoy the book. It was masterfully written and had a humorous observation and HBD redpills and eternal truths on virtually every page.
The eternal truth of:
Factional, Judean People’s Front vs. People’s Front of Judea warring amongst the nationalists:
… the so-called nativist bloc was actually anything but. It was divided into various factions, none of which got along with the others. You had Catholics, followers of Bruno Mégret, royalists, neo-pagans, hard-core secularists from the far left … But all that changed when the “Indigenous Europeans” came along.
Plus he plays well to the Catholic base, who find his stupidity reassuring.
Jewish diaspora lack of skin in the game:
We were standing at the door. I realised that I hadn’t the slightest idea, and also that I didn’t give a fuck. I kissed her softly on the lips, and said, ‘There is no Israel for me.’
I was the only one who enjoyed this fantasy, clearly, because when I gave my lecture, at eight, the hall was almost completely empty except for a small knot of chillingly serious Chinese women who rarely spoke to one another, let alone anyone else. The moment they walked in, they turned on their smartphones so they could record my entire lecture.
Year after year, I kept sleeping with students, and the fact that we were now teacher and student didn’t change things much at all. At the beginning, there was scarcely any age difference between us. Only gradually did an element of transgression enter in, and this had more to do with my rising academic status than with my age, real or apparent. In short, I benefitted from that basic inequality between men, whose erotic potential diminishes very slowly as they age, and women, for whom the collapse comes with shocking brutality from year to year, or even from month to month.
When I tried to ask whether some of these groups were armed, he sipped his port, then grumbled, ‘We’ve heard talk of funding from Russian oligarchs – but nothing’s been confirmed.’
Of company being better than solitude:
A couple is a world, autonomous and enclosed, that moves through the larger world essentially untouched; on my own, I was full of chips and cracks, and it took a certain amount of courage for me to slip the information sheet into my jacket pocket and go out into the village.
Of comfort food:
It was beautiful, but was it realistic? Was it a viable prospect today? Clearly, it was connected with the pleasures of the table: ‘Gourmandise entered their lives as a new interest, brought on by their growing indifference to the flesh, like the passion of priests who, deprived of carnal joys, quiver before delicate viands and old wines.’ Certainly, in an era when a wife bought and peeled the vegetables herself, trimmed the meat and spent hours simmering the stew, a tender and nurturing relationship could take root; the evolution of comestible conditions had caused us to forget this feeling, which, in any case, as Huysmans frankly admits, is a weak substitute for the pleasures of the flesh.