Depressive realism

Ben Jeffery, in a book-length essay recently published by Zero Books, fittingly labels Houellebecq’s caustic literary approach “depressive realism,” likening his narrative style to the cognitive deadlock that can characterize clinical depression. His protagonists accept that their problems are meaningless in the cosmic scheme of things yet cannot stop mulling them over. Though they believe that a cure for their malaise is impossible, they are compelled to continually refine their self-diagnoses. They appear determined, or consigned, to have no illusions about themselves, even though a certain amount of illusions may be necessary for staving off paralyzing solipsism. Stringing one’s experiences into a coherent narrative, positing an ability to sympathize with others, developing a sense of personal identity — these are ultimately faith-based notions after all. We have to get past our own insignificance to regard anything else as worthy of contemplation and connection. “Depression is the pathological frontier of individualism,” Jeffery writes, “the point at which the whole world is eaten up by the self.” Houellebecq’s work inhabits that frontier and attempts to present it as the universal truth of the human condition.

Rob Horning (via here)

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