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The Practice of Exile
article [ Culture ]
About “Platform” by Michel Houellebeq

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by [cam ]

2007-05-07  |     | 

“Without love nothing can be enriched. Under the eyelids explode bright spots; there are visions, there are dreams. All these doesn’t concern human being anymore, he is waiting for darkness; while the darkness is coming.” (Michel Houellebecq – Platform)

As long as the central personages of his books are carrying his name, it seems to me that Michel Houellebecq’s novels, “The Elementary Particles” and “Platform”, are, to a certain extent, autobiographic. At least from the interior monologue’s perspective, this substantial and austere foreground of his works, devoid of useless ornaments, where each of us can find again his unrests. Ruling, the moods’ introspection let the reader with an overwhelming feeling. Maybe too oppressive, the lection risks, once and again, the abandonment. The characters analyze their own sentiments. The sceneries variation is less significant. Houellebecq’s novel includes psychological analyses, moral and social observations, from an angle more and more obtuse, being in a continuously opening, of the loners, of the unadapted ones at the aberrations of the world into they live.

Another Michel in “Platform”, again a result of a family that has contrived to pass through life without being troubled by any existential question, nor regarding, at least, the existence of their own son. A loveless life generates psychic traumas, often irreversible. Love is the most important, maybe the unique, source of power. The certainty that they are loved, leads the children unto the trust into their own forces. Only the protection’s feeling is able to give birth the daring of leaving the family nest. Michel didn’t have one. Devoid of the childhood’s embraces and caresses, he became a sheepish adult, social secluded, who suffers by certain psychic infirmities.

In “Platform”, the moan of the lucid loner is made been heard, nevertheless, a little smothered. He does not aim at the humankind’s ear, somehow resigned with its aphonia, resigned within the fragile equilibrium of the lack of personal relationships with the fellow creatures. In “Platform”, Michel becomes a character more human, warmer, and closer to us. Probable, this perception is caused, on the one side, by his hope of life, which meets, inevitably, the reader’s hope and match, in the same time, with that one of “an elephant or of a raven”. On the other side, the cause of this perception may be his feelings for Valérie, feelings frustrating only in a small measure the waiting horizon of the obedient reader. “Within a little utopian status of exaltation”, he tries to elaborate a “programmatically of division platform” for a world in which the sadism, the masochism and the perversity take vast proportions, jeopardizing also that ones who are less vulnerable.

Born in 1958 February 26, Michel Houellebecq grew up in a family, which too early paid no heed to his existence. At the age of six, he was been entrusted to his grandparents. During his life he has made acquaintance with the unemployed statute, has suffered a divorce, afterwards, because of depressions, he is been hospitalized for some time in psychiatric institutions. These sides of the reality are, all, presented in his books: “I didn’t grew up inside the protective nest of a family or inside of another kind of medium where somebody could have cared for me, or could have sustained me while passing life’s difficulties, where somebody could have rejoiced for my works, for my successes. [...] I’ve lived and I shall die lonely like an animal.” Even his characters do not found a family “or another entity of this kind”, or if it takes shape some, it is surely fated to failure.

The sphere from which is described a reality that we wish so much to be different, is the sphere of “an inoffensive human being”, surviving in an acceptable status, of a “modest parasite” - “mankind could do without him”- and whose identity would “enter in few files, not too large”. I am sure that many of us tried, during life’s hard moments, a self-description like this. On the other side, this is the sphere of a “compact creature, resistant, bigger than most of the animals [...], more difficultly of being destroyed than some little batrachians”. From the inside of this damned cell from the underground of loneliness, comes out the offer of a book which’s reading would have to be a communication-cord not an ornament deposed at the surface of the knowledge’s acquisition, nor a dusty storage on the memory’s racks. From here, Houellebecq perceive the heavenly empire like a “small stick for scratching one’s ear”. Here, the relationships with the fellow creatures are hardly bearable because they emphasize a hardly bearable self-awareness. Their absence is, at its turn, a burden emphasizing the self-wastage. Here, the major danger consists in the incapacity of being really happy or unhappy, of feeling love or hate. The filter interposed between the inner self and world becomes more and more compact. People feel their selves old, regardless of their biological age, and limit their selves at storing remembrances. This collection of remembrances strives for abating the fright and the loneliness when death will show itself. The loneliness is possible – I’ve read somewhere – when you are very young with all your dreams ahead, or when you are very old, with all your remembrances behind. However, what shall we do when we are not enough young, yet not enough old?

The true communion is a concrete reality in which you feel, (what a commonplace, isn’t it?), a soul’s warmth. It happens when somebody is speaking to you, or is listening to you. The theologian Dumitru Staniloae has considered that the Romanian equivalent for “word” (“cuvant”) is “unique and very significant”. Deriving from the Latin “conventus” (meeting, rally), it supposes to be in communion; it requires an act, a fact, “a testimony of one to another, a promise and a guarantee that those in dialog are listening each other”. People separated one from the other, too aware of their individual existence, they separated themselves from God considering Him like being somewhere in heaven, so that somewhere too far. Therefore, according to the Romanian theologian, humankind’s secularization took place in an absolute manner. “It should exist conversation courses same as it exists dance courses” is Houellebecq’s opinion, because a master of monologue is not, generally, a master of conversation too.

The spiritual stagnation and involution caused the differentiation between souls. They languish for happiness but are unable to endure it, or to maintain it. A continuous earthly happiness is, very probably, a pseudo-happiness statute, a lie, or an exercise of self-suggestion. The eternal happiness, if it exists, requires another kind of spiritual build. In the present human structure, a never-ending happiness would mean the man’s spiritual death, an eternal stagnation, and a never-ending boredom. “Happiness is an intricate thing [...]; it is difficult to be found inside us and impossible to be found out elsewhere”. “Doubtless, the human being is not made for happiness. For owning indeed the practical possibility of being happy, the man should transform himself – he should know a physical change”, asserts Houellebecq. For being identifiable, happiness requires, necessarily, the alternation with unhappiness. Strange comparisons used for God – the women’s sex, and the steam from a Turkish bath! After all, these are sincere comparisons asking for some doze of courage for being pronounced. Anyway, the conclusion that we should compare God with “something making the spirit possible, when the body exults of joy and pleasure, and any kind of fear is abolished” is a rescuer one. “Now, I’m sure that the spirit didn’t take birth yet, that it want to be born and his birth will be difficult; for the time being we have only a fragmented, noxious idea about it”, adds Houellebecq.

If it is true that 99,999% from space is empty, it is equally true, I think, that there is a same proportion of spiritual, intellectual and cultural emptiness. The consciousness acts on the matter, we know that, but who leads the empty spaces from the inside of us, how could we win the supremacy of their control? The chaotic microscopic levels are ingeniously joining, offering us, during objects’ macroscopy, the perception of a certain order. Certainly, humanity still has much to discover in the unlikely case that will not destroy itself until touching the end of discoveries, if we accept that it could be an end. Desires’ unfulfilling stimulates until a limit, a little variable from person to person. In time, this unfulfilling transfers the human being in a cell from the existence’s prison, as if he would suffer by a contagious disease. He knows that to confine himself to the daily life can lead him to take risks and accepts, of his own accord, the day-to-day shelter, which keeps him far from society. Actually, each of us is a refugee, waiting for a spiritual asylum.

Michel’s case is more and more frequent. He is an odd but a honest person, “perfectly adapted to the informatization’s period, that is to say, a perfectly adapted to noting, within a universe that tends to “resemble with an airport”, in which people interested by other people are more and more rare, in which women tend to resemble with men while men avoid love more and more. “There are things that you can do, and others that seems to be too difficult for being done. Little by little, everything becomes too hard; and life sums up at this much.” Regaining the gladness of giving could be our unique chance, though it seems to be too late for a chance, now, when people began to protect themselves, bewaring of people. Man avoids mostly of being dependant. However, “you cannot make love without abandoning yourself, without accepting, at least temporarily, a certain feeling of dependence and frailty. The sentimental exaltation and the sexual obsession have the same origin, both are deriving from a partial self-oblivion; this is a sphere within which you cannot feel yourself complete if you do not accept the self-abandonment. We became frigid, rational, and too aware of our individual existence, too aware of our rights.” Paradoxically, the avidity for independence and the passion for oneness homogenize and flatten the human specie. At his forty years, Michel finds out that he has lived without establishing some personal contacts with objects, without keeping some remembrances of that one he had been during his youth. In such conditions, the human being’s idea of oneness seems to him a “pompous stupidity”. “You do remember your life just a little more than you remember a novel that you read in the past”, says he quoting Schopenhauer. The entire humanity tends unto metising, unto a generalized homogenization; and firstly, this process unfolds through the agency of the most elementary way, which is sexuality.

His attitude regarding the sexuality in the present day takes shape also in “Platform”. People “no longer feel sex as something natural. Not only are they ashamed of their own bodies, which aren't up to porn standards, but for the same reason they no longer feel attracted to the body of the other.” I’ve read in one review that “the sex aspect of the novel, where Michel almost never seems to run into any sort of difficulties, is the most unrealistic part of the novel - much of it comes across as onanistic fantasy rather than true to life”. My opinion is different, I think that this aspect of the novel, unfortunately, is very realistic and very hard to imagine for most of us. He describes ordinary sex scenes, (the “normal” notion became very confused and fought) but also scenes of crossed sex, of sadism, masochism, and rape, hard to undergo through while reading the book. “As a permanent source of pleasure, the sexual organs exist; they are always within reach. That God, which is guilty for our unhappiness and made us bumptious and cruel, has foreseen this minimal form of compensation”. The love he feels for Valérie, “the bright exception” of his life, appease, somehow, the perception of surrounding reality’s cruelty. “Love is able to turn us into some saints”, finally he says. Away of being as piteous as the relationship between Bruno and Christiane or as impossible as the relationship between Michel and Annabelle from “The Elementary Particles”, nevertheless there is, in a minimal doze, something from both of them. The deviations from normality concerning the sexual relations may be a way, maybe the nearest at hand for the great majority, through which man tries to heave above his condition. However, this way has always a tragic end, letting the soul with incurable lesions. Far away from Divinity, man tries to become, he himself, his own God, to decide all alone his fate, without being interested about the implications of these decisions into the destinies of fellow creatures. If they love each other, I desperately do believe – not like in an exception strengthening the rule – the partners do not need diversity, being sufficient each for the other. They complete each other, composing a whole, where nobody else could have a place, neither for a supplement of carnal-minded pleasure. The final of all Michel’s liaisons, the woman’s death, is like a premonition about human being’s dilemma. The love, this human feeling, will be unable to save people anymore. Robotization or brutishness will be, probably, the two alternatives that will remain for them. “When the possibility of identification with the other disappeared, it remains only two options: the agony and the cruelty.”

“Platform” starts with the death of Michel’s father, and ends with the death of his lover. He knew that “art cannot change lives” anymore, and discovers that even love cannot do it. Unfortunately, it seems that this conclusion is not a foregone one, it is rather a conclusion we often touch after too many hard trials.

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