The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

6 November 2005

Mirror, mirror

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want:

We yearn for something resembling fidelity,
Like an intertwining of sweet dependencies,
Something which surpasses and contains existence;
We can no longer live far from eternity.

So writes Michel Houellebecq in La poursuite du bonheur, and while it's controversial in some circles even to mention his name — in 2002, he opined to the French literary magazine Lire that while your major monotheistic religions were ultimately based on "texts of hate," Islam was the "most stupid," a statement which got him hauled before a French court for inciting racism, a charge which did not stick — what I've read of him reminds me very much of me: part romantic, part misanthropic, and never quite able to reconcile the two.

In a few months, an English translation of Houellebecq's novel The Possibility of an Island is due out, and its thesis is disturbing: the demand for sensuality has increased so much that actual satisfaction has become a remote possibility at best. Ariadne von Schirach writes in der Spiegel:

In his new book, Houellebecq writes that the consistent pursuit of individuality must inevitably lead to the death of love, to a state in which we will be so in love with ourselves that we will no longer be capable of loving anyone else.

I find this prospect unutterably scary. It's no particular secret that I have loosened my leash, become more self-indulgent in recent years, and while my state of mind has "improved" (read: "become less despondent"), possibly as a result, the idea that I might be heading for full-fledged narcissism is chilling in the extreme. (We will ignore for the moment the idea that anyone with a blog is already a narcissist.) And I have written far too much already for the "Love, lack of" entry in the index; the last thing I need is more fodder for the topic.

But self-indulgence, at least in my case, does not equal hedonism, at least not yet. For one thing, I can't afford to be a hedonist: it requires financial commitments beyond my present capacity. More to the point, I wouldn't be a very good hedonist: I would never be able to persuade myself that I deserve what I'm getting. (This might reflect the not-inconsiderable influence of Jack Benny, who, accepting a prize of some sort, said "I don't deserve this award, but then I have arthritis and I don't deserve that either.")

Still, I don't hold myself so far apart from the rest of humanity that I can claim any immunity to its foibles, and if I'm destined to descend into Houellebecq's brave new world of self-absorption and disgruntlement, I want to know about it now, so I can take either countermeasures or drugs. Or both.

(Translation of the opening quatrain by Richard Davis. This piece was inspired, if that's the word — God forbid anyone should find any inspiration in what I write — by this post at doxology. Apologies to anyone whose vision and/or digestion was affected by the Spice Girls reference.)

Posted at 6:44 PM to Table for One


There are many gurus, experts, and street corner magicians, who advance and subscribe to the idea that one cannot properly and fully love another without first loving ones self. Some think this to be egoist, self-serving, "non-Christian" fer gawd's sake. My view (based on knowing many of those critics) is that they are the very ones who are most uncomfortable with who they are and their lot in life, and who find it difficult or impossible to make the necessary commitment to love someone else.

Posted by: Winston at 5:34 AM on 7 November 2005

...part romantic, part misanthropic, and never quite able to reconcile the two.

Florence King would say the two go hand-in-hand, if the romantic is sufficiently awake to human, er, foibles.

Posted by: McGehee at 2:58 PM on 7 November 2005