Category Archives: Houellebecq

Hope beyond all hope

There are areas of the human psyche that remain little-known because they haven’t been much explored, because luckily few people have found themselves in a situation of needing to explore them, and those who have done so have, as a general rule, preserved too little of their reason to produce an acceptable description of them. Those areas can hardly be approached except by the use of paradoxical and even absurd formulas, of which the phrase hope beyond all hope is the only one that really comes to mind. It’s not like night, it’s worse than that; and without having personally known that experience I have a sense that even when you plunge into true night, polar night – the one that lasts for six months in a row – the concept or the memory of the sun remains. I had entered an endless night, and yet there remained, deep within me, there remained something less than a hope, let’s say an uncertainty. One might also say that even when one has personally lost the game, when one has played one’s last card, for some people – not all, not all – the idea remains that something in heaven will pick up the hand, will arbitrarily decide to deal again, to throw the dice again, even when one has never at any moment in one’s life sensed the intervention or even the presence of any kind of deity, even when one is aware of not especially deserving the intervention of a favourable deity, and even when one realises, bearing in mind the accumulation of mistakes and errors that constitute one’s life, that one deserves it less than anyone.

– Houellebecq, Serotonin (tr. Whiteside)

To stay alive

The adolescent years are important. Once you have developed a sufficiently ideal, noble, and perfect sense of love, you are done for. Nothing, henceforth, will suffice.


Life is a series of destruction tests. Pass the first of them, and fail the later ones.


When you provoke in others a mixture of horrified pity and contempt, you will know that you are on the right track. You can begin to write.


Do not try too hard to have a coherent personality; this personality exists, whether you like it or not.


You will never really know the part of yourself which compels you to write. You will know it only through contradictory forms which merely approach it. Egotism or devotion? Cruelty or compassion? Any of these possibilities could be argued for. Proof that, ultimately, you know nothing about it; thus, do not behave as if you did.


One could consider adopting what could be called Pessoa’s strategy: find a little job, publish nothing, and await death peacefully.


Do not forget psychiatrists, who have at their disposal the power to grant sick-leave.


Have no fear of happiness; it does not exist.


Belong to nothing. Or else belong, and then immediately betray. No theoretical engagement should hold you up for very long.


Most people come to terms with life, or else they die. You are living suicides.

– Houellebecq, ‘To Stay Alive’ (tr. Davis)

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)

I’ve lived so little that I tend to imagine I’m not going to die; it seems improbable that human existence can be reduced to so little; one imagines, in spite of oneself, that sooner or later something is bound to happen. A big mistake. A life can just as well be both empty and short. The days slip by indifferently, leaving neither trace nor memory; and then all of a sudden they stop.

At times, too, I’ve had the impression that I’d manage to feel quite at home in a life of vacuity. That the relatively painless boredom would enable me to go on making the usual gestures of life. Another big mistake. Prolonged boredom is not tenable as a position: sooner or later it is transformed into feelings that are acutely more painful, of true pain; this is precisely what’s happening to me.

– Michel Houellebecq, Whatever (tr. Hammond)