I had decided not to read Michel Houellebecq anymore despite the fact that his books interest me a lot: any of his novels explains, far better than any study in academic sociology, the toboggan down which contemporary values slide in Europe. But his last three novels seemed repetitive to me, since they are carried out by the same character model: a nerveless, blurred and erratic guy who tries to fill his immense inner emptiness with all kinds of sensual consolations (sex, food, drink, drugs).
Although they lead successful careers, Houellebecq's characters are helpless. They have lost the map of love relationships, the vocabulary of fraternal ties, the family books. They hide their fragility by drinking good wines. They hide their inability to forge relationships by intermittently copulating or trying exotic foods. Houellebecq places the reader in front of the mirror of a time full of objects, but hazy with affection. A time that has an infinite menu of fleeting pleasures, but that cannot hide the lack of existential meaning. A time addicted to instant emotion but unable to establish lasting relationships. An era dominated by technological gadgets and presided over by a formidable ideological diarrhoea, but which leaves our lives adrift and without a float.
When I already know the tricks and manias of an author, I abandon him, no matter how much I like it: the history of literature is oceanic and I still have great authors to discover. But the other day I went into a bookstore, opened Annihilation (Anagram) and, from the first sentence, Houellebecq caught me again. The protagonist is called Paul and he is a French technocrat who works for the Minister of Economy. Both are obsessed with public management, but are unable to establish personal relationships. Things happen to Paul that he doesn't come to tell. I will only say that, unlike Houellebecq's previous characters, Paul manages, thanks in part to the impact of the illness, to revive lost bonds of affection.
But today I did not want to talk about the very interesting background of this book, but about one of its many notes outside the narrative, in which Houellebecq is a master. A note on politics. There has been a scene of high tension between several members of a family regarding an inheritance. The tension between relatives is so dense that it can be chewed. Until someone mentions the name of the extremist Zemmour. Suddenly, the political discussion manages to dilute the family conflict. The ideological discussion raises pronounced discrepancies, yes, but the family relationship improves, since politics allows a conversation with "well-marked and kindly predictable paths."
Everyone has a fixed opinion in France about Zemmour, just as everyone has it here about the fiery Meloni, the divided independence movement, Abascal and Irene Montero. We take it for granted that politics polarizes, separates, divides. But Houellebecq comes to tell us that, in reality, political polarization is a respectable way of hiding the existential void: a fun with a serious label, a ritual of identity appearance. We think about politics and it is as if we had an identity, a belief, an ethical position. Without the ideological passion that characterizes our societies, what would we talk about that was not trivial?