"Women don't have to be intelligent, in the sense that we give to this word: she must be an expert in the pleasures of the flesh and in good caring. Here stops her role, even if she lives with men, and that is why the liberation ideas of which we get our ears full at the moment seem to me absurd."
This sentence by Huysmans, the inspiration for the book, could resume the scandale of the moment in the french literary world. Welcome to Submission from the loved and hated writer Michel Houellebecq. If some scream to the current politically incorrect anti- islam, this book appears to me as a question between man and woman relations, which are seen as the base of human resources economy. Islam in this book, is nothing but a timely escuse to discuss religious notions in general, and of the totalitarian systems that religions can create. The real subject at the center of the debate is the dificult relationship between men and women. Decadence of the modern world, politics, the limits of individualism with it's multitude of identity crisis, a little sex and a little god, some good wine and a good meal, Houellebecq is at his top.
Blasphemous, genius, a pig, a depressive alcoholic, sublime, we can say what we want, and people like to speak, the last M Houellebecq novel makes some noise. It's jazzy, it's fashion and it makes people talk. "What is good in fashion is that it dies fast" as J Cocteau liked to say. The media effects will pass and only time will say what it thinks of it. A quick research on the net, and it's enough to make me think that really only a few reads will suffice. It's like a good movie, I don't read critics, taste and colors are a personal thing. I remain an individualist full aware of the dificulties that comes with it, but I keep on forming my own opinions on matters. This book, I ate it like hot bread. A logical follow up from The Map and the Territory, Houellebecq continues with his vision of luxury french products mixed with some history through the south-west part of the country. There will always be rich men that want to enjoy the beautiful things. Whether it's tourists or some political elite, the result is the same, france is rich in luxury and other intellectual dreams.
God bless her! But which god was that again?
If the hero of the book, a university teacher specialized in some obscur writer gone catholic, eventually subscribes to the order of the moment, it is rather by default than by conviction. After all, he is offered women, whom he won't even have to choose, a good salary that comes along a certain social status, he gives up, he's getting old, he's alone and unloved, he will have no regrets. No, I regret nothing. That is what the genius of Houellebecq wants to make us believe with his joyous song hardly containing his too lucid and immense sadness while facing his own self amongst a similarly sad humanity. He will not go towards god, he will rather choose a system that offers him a certain security against his solitude and his anxiety. Press the right button, and all is fixed in the blink of an eye by the authorities in charge.
In this system, the economy is human resources. Woman here is designed to serve man, and in return man becomes a sperm source. As in any totalitarian system, we keep the elites and the poor nicely seperated, each in their genetic tribe. Nothing changes in Houellebecq's world, except that the koran replaced the cross. Man remains a living god, woman is something to be educated for the satisfaction of man, and the strongest ones reproduce. This system of course has a certain logic, except that it reduces the human being to mere machines. Reproduction beasts, men just as women become tools to reproduce beings which are supposed to nicely follow in their genitors footsteps. It's not my fault, god said it!
Poor little humans to be reduced in slavery for the pleasures of the few elected ones. But it's life, it's like that, after all, all religious dogmas were written by the highest minds of the time, were they not? Women just recently aquired a soul, they might even be alive beings? Those systems remain dictated by men, book shelves filled with their fear of the evil woman. Nature, this savage creature, has to be controlled since she was created for the use of men used to claim the renaissance minds.
Religions have always been present in order to control the common folks, but they are also stories we like to share around the fire. The stories reassure us while we face the big emptiness that eats us, they fill us up with a something as soft as grand ma's cake. It's confortable, it feels good for a few centuries, until next cake recipe.
If religions worked, we would not have the need to invent a new one every few centuries. If fashions and hats lasted, human history would not be filled with so many gods and tribal prophets. But times change, life is not made of if's, and to each time it's palm readers and other snake juice sellers. The hats turn, with fashion and the wheel, some hats last a few centuries more than others, that's all. Human nature is a lot more mysterious that we like to think it to be, the rationals will prefer the word irrational, than all the dogmas and other short lasting certitudes. Here again, only time will tell what will be left of us poor little humans living in this already quite poluted nature. If freedom has it's limits, it is with the responsabilities it comes with, or not, for each their choice. Once we have enough with existing, we can also surrender, sit a while, meditate. Ah! the extasy of doing nothing but simply being. The rich remain rich and the poor, well, poor, everything is in order, all we need to do is to push the right button.
In conclusion, the book is a superb satyr of ancient, modern and times to come. Houellebecq dives in our shadow spaces, he targets and shoots at our fears of solitude, our desires to fuck, our needs to transcend even when there is nothing to transcend. Life can be tough and Houellebecq writes it well. All of it well dosed with extreme honesty, Submission can be put in the usual dystopian bookshelves. Thanks Michel for a good time, I pass to my next book, another fiction, so goes life.
Pictures taken in Nepal, Kalimati temple, during Dashain, the biggest animal sacrifice of the planet.
French version here.