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The Possibility of an Island (2005)

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Opening the book The Possibility of an Island, writer Michel Houellebecq portrayed a retired, sordid comedian looking back (Daniel 1,1):

After my baccalaureate, I signed up for acting lessons; there followed some inglorious years, during which I grew nastier and nastier and, as a consequence, moe and more caustic; thanks to this, success finally arrived – on a scale which surprised me. I had begun with small sketches on reunited immigrant families, journalists for Le Monde and the mediocrity of the middle class i general – I successfully captured the incestuous temptations of mid-career intellectuals aroused by their daughters or daughters-in-law, with their bare belly-buttons and thongs showing above their trousers. In short, I was a cutting observer of contemporary reality; I was often compared to Pierre Desporges. While continuing to devote myself to the one-man show, I occasionally accepted invitations to appear on television programmes, which I chose for their big audiences and general mediocricy, I never forgot to emphasize this mediocricy, albeit subtly: the presenter had to feel a little endangered, but not too much. All in all, I was a good professional; I was just a bit overrated. I was not the only one.
I don't mean that my sketches were unfunny; they were funny. I was, indeed, a cutting observer of contemporary reality; it was just that everything now seemed so elementary to me, it seemed that so few things remained that could be observed in contemporary reality; we had simplified and pruned so much, broken so many barriers, taboos, misplaced hopes and false aspirations; truly, there was so little left. On the social level, there were the rich and the poor, with a few fragile links between them – the social ladder, a subject on which it was the done thing to joke; and the more serious possibility of being ruined. On the sexual level there were those who aroused desire, and those who did not: a tiny mechanism, with a few complications of modality (homosexuality, etc.), that could nevertheless be easily summarised as vanity and narcissistic competition, which had already been well described by the French moralists, three centuries before. There were also, of course, the honest folk, those who work, who ensure the effective production of wealth, also those who make sacrifices for their children – in a manner that is rather comic or, if you like, pathetic (but I was, above all, a comedian); those who have neither beauty in their youth, nor ambition later, nor riches ever; but who hold on wholeheartedly, and more sincerely than anyone, to the values of beauty, youth, wealth, ambition and sex; those who, in some kind of way, make the sauce bind. Those people, I am afraid to say, could not constitute a subject. I did, however, include a few of them in my sketches to give diversity, and the reality effect; but I began all the same to get seriously tired. What's worse is that I was considered to be a humanist; a pretty abrasive humanist, but a humanist all the same. To give some context, here is one of the jokes that peppered my shows:
‘Do you know what they call the fat stuff around the vagina?’
‘The woman.’
Strangely, I managed to throw in that kind of thing, whilst still getting good reviews in Elle and Télérama; it's true that the arrival of the Arab immigrant comedians had validated macho excesses once more, and that I was genuinly excessive, albeit with grace: going close to the bone, repeatedly, but always staying in control. Finally, the benefit of the humorist's trade, or more generally of a humorous attitude in life, is to be able to behave like a complete bastard with impunity, and even to profit hugely from your depravity, in terms of sexual conquests and money, all with general approval.
My supposed humanism was, in reality, built on very thin foundations: a vague outburst against tobacconists, an allusion to the corpses of negro clandestines cast up on the Spanish coasts, had been enough to give me a reputation as a lefty and a defender of human rights. Me, a lefty? I had occasionally been able to introduce a few, vaguely young, anti-globalisation campaigners into my sketches, without giving them an immediately antipathetic role; I had occasionally indulged in a certain demagogy: I was, I repeat, a good professional. Besides, I looked like an Arab, which helps; the only residual ideological content of the left, in those days, was anti-racism, or more precisely anti-white racism. I did not in fact know the origins of these Arab features, which became more pronounced as the years went by: my mother was of Spanish origin and my father, as far as I know, was Breton. For example, my sister, the little bitch, was undoubtedly the Mediterranean type, but she wasn't half as dark as me, and her hair was straight. One had to wonder: had my mother always been scrupulously faithful? Or had I been engendered by some Mustapha? Or even – another hypothesis – by a Jew? Fuck that: Arabs came to my shows in droves – Jews also, by the way, although in smaller numbers; and all these people paid for their tickets, at the full price. We all worry about the circumstances of our death; the circumstances of our birth, however, are less worrisome to us.
As for human rights, quite obviously I couldn't give a toss; I could hardly manage to be interested in the rights of my cock.

The excerpt above was to be found in the first chapter and – Dear reader! – please prepare yourself for some more of this rather kinky text or leave now for safer grounds! Daniel 24,2:

By turning from the path of pleasure, without managing to find an alternative, we have only prolonged the latter tendencies of mankind. When prostitution was definitively outlawed, and the ban effectively applied across the entire surface of the planet, men entered the grey age. They were never to leave it, at least not before the sovereignty of the species had dissappeared. No truly convincing theory has been formulated to explain what bears all the hallmarks of mass suicide.
Android robots appeared on the market, equipped with a versatile artificial vagina. A high-tech system analysed in real time the configuration of male sexual organs, arranged temperatures and pressures; a radiometric sensor allowed the prediction of ejaculation, the consequent modification of stimulation, and the prolonging of intercourse for so long as was wished. It had a curiosity value for a few weeks, then sales collapsed completely: the robotics companies, some of whom had invested hundreds of millions of euros, went bankrupt one by one. The event was commented on by some as a desire to return to the natural, to the truth of human relationships; of course, nothing could be further from the truth, as subsequent events would clearly demonstrate: the truth is that men were simply giving up the ghost.

Personal or future history? – Daniel (1,4) was working on a broader manuscript which a sensitive reader may find subversive:

The first sketch, entitled ‘The Battle of the Tiny Ones’, portrayed Arabs – renamed ‘Allah's Vermin’ – Jews – described as ‘circumcised fleas’ – and even some Lebanese Christians, afflicted with the pleasing sobriquet of ‘Crabs from the Cunt of Mary’. In short, as the critic for Le Point noted, the religions of the Book were ‘played off against each other’ – in this sketch at least; the rest of the show included a screamingly funny playlet entitled ‘The Palestinians are Ridiculous’, into which I slipped a variety of burlesque and salacious allusions about sticks of dynamite that female militants of Hezbollah put around their waists in order to make mashed Jew. I then widened this to an attack on all forms of rebellion, of nationalist or revolutionary struggle, and in reality against political action itself. Of course, I was developing throughout the show a vein of right-wing anarchy, along the lines of ‘one dead combatant means one less cunt able to fight’, which, from Céline to Audiard, had already contributed to the finest hour of French comedy; but beyond that, updating St Paul's premise that all authority comes from God, I sometimes elevated myself to a sombre meditation, not unlike that of Christian apologetics. I did it, of course, by evacuating any theological notion and developing a structural and essentially mathematical argument, based notably on the concept of ‘well-ordering’. All in all, this show was a classic, and was heralded as such overnight: it was, without a shadow of doubt, my biggest critical success. According to the general view, my comedy had never attained such heights – or had never plumbed such depths – that was another way of looking at it, but in the end it meant much of the same thing; I found myself being frequently compared to Chamfort, or even La Rochefoucauld.
In the public arena, success was a little slower to arrive, until, that is, Bernard Kouchner declared himself ‘personally sickened’ by the show, which enabled me to sell out the remaining weeks.

Yeah, any publicity is good! Collapse of moral and ethics was not only to be found in the fictional world of comedy but also in the 'real' world within the novel. Daniel 1,5:

The thinking man, however, was not slow to take over from the moralist: if there was a taboo, that meant there was, in fact, a problem; it was during those same years that there appeared in Florida the first ‘childfree zones’, high-quality residences for guiltless thirty-somethings who confessed frankly that they could no longer stand the screams, dribbles, excrement and other environmental inconveniences that usually accompany little brats. Entry to the residences was therefore, quite simply, forbidden to children younger than thirteen; hatches were installed, like those in fast-food restaurants, to enable contact with families.
An important breakthrough had been made: for several decades, the depopulation of the West (which in fact was not specific to the West; the same phenomenon could be seen in any country or culture once a certain level of economic development was reached) had been the subject of vaguely hypocritical and suspiciously unanimous lamentation. For the first time, young, educated people, in a good position on the socio-economic scale, declared publicly that they did not want children, that they felt no desire to put up with the bother and expence associated with bringing up offspring. Such a casual attitude, obviously, could only inspire imitation.

So, there is where we might be heading, or what(/where)? Myself have been surrounded by such brats all summer and is quite fed up and somewhat intrigued by them at the same time. As in the short story Passion in Alice Munro's book Runaway of 2004:

They saw Father og the Bride. Grace hated it. She hated girls like Elisabeth Taylor in that movie, she hated spoiled rich girls of whom nothing was ever asked but that they wheedle and demand. Maury said that it was only supposed to be a comedy, but she said that was not the point. She could not make clear what the point was.

Anyway, there were substitutional moments of tenderness to be found in The Possibility of an Island, as in Daniel 24,6:

We sleep together, and every morning is a festival of licks and scratches from his little paws; it is an obvious joy for him to be reunited with life and daylight.

Closeness to a dog, that was, as observed by one of the future incarnations. These incarnation is the result of the story, and they seem to dedicate their time to analyze the past, which is our present in the novel, Daniel 24,7:

The number of human life stories is 6174,* which corresponds to Kapreker's first constant. Whether they come from men or women, from Europe or Asia, America or Africa, whether they are complete or not, all agree on one point, and one point only: the unbearable nature of the mental suffering caused by old age.
It is no doubt Bruno1, with his brutal succinctness, who gives us its most striking image when he describes himself as ‘full of a young man's desires, with the body of an old man’; but I repeat, all the testimonies concur, whether it is that of Daniel1, my distant predecessor, or of Rachid1, Paul1, John1, Felicity1, or that particularly poignant one of Esperanza1. At no moment in human history does growing old seem to have been a pleasure cruise; but, in the years preceding the disappearance of the species, it had manifestly become atrocious to the point where the level of voluntary deaths, prudishly renamed departures by the public-health bodies, was nearing 100 per cent, and the average age of departure, estimated at sixty across the entire globe, was falling towards fifty in the most developed countries.


Ok, there are (at least) two universes in this novel. One resembles the real world of today with references to Mad Cow Disease, France 2003, Middle East Crisis, teenager mentality of the new century, a new universal religion, robotics and so forth. The populae bear names like Daniel1 and Felicity 1.

The other universe unfolds on a future Earth populated by savages and neohumans some seven or eight hundred years further down the road. The neohumans of this post-world are named Marie23 and Daniel 24 and such.

These universes intertwine and the main character of both universes is male, as the reader might have reflected upon, and not only male, also a driven man. Daniel 1,9 on prostitutes:

What's more, most of the girls were Romanian, Belorussian and Ukranian, in other words from one of those absurd countries that emerged from the implosion of the Eastern bloc; and one cannot say that Communism has particularly fostered sentimentality in human relations; it is, on the whole, brutality that is predominant among the ex-Communists – in comparison, Balzacian society, which emerged from the decomposition of royalty, seems a miracle of charity and gentleness. It is good to distrust doctrines preaching fraternity.

I couldn't agree more (or less?), but again, politics aside, it was pure maleness I wanted to focus upon (again, Daniel 1,9):

‘The world is not a panorama,’ notes Schopenhauer, drily. I had probably placed too much importance on sexuality, in fact, that's indisputable; but the only place in the world where I felt good was snug in the arms of a woman, snug inside her vagina; and at my age I saw no reason for that to change. The existence of pussy was already in itself a blessing, I told myself, the simple fact that I could be in there, and feel good, already constituted sufficient reason for prolonging this dismal journey. Others hadn't had this chance. ‘The truth is that nothing could suit me on this Earth’, noted Kleist in his diary just before he committed suicide on the banks of the Wannsee. I often thought of Kleist, in those days; some of his verse had been engraved on his tomb:
O Unsterblichkeit
Bist du ganz mein.

OK, once more, Daniel1 and Daniel 23/25 wrote life stories, biographies reflecting their doings thematically. Our main character was looking for some kind of meaning in life and found himself listening to a scientist nicknamed "Knowall" of the Elohians (Daniel 1,10):

As a human brain contained several billion neurones, the number of combinations, and therefore of possible circuits, was staggering – it went way beyond, for example, the number of molecules in the universe.
The number of circuits used varied greatly from one individual to the next, which sufficed, according to him, to explain the countless gradations between idiocy and genius. But, even more remarkably, a frequently used neuronal circuit became, as a result of ionic accumulations, easier and easier to use – there was, in short, progressive self-reinforcement, and that applied to everything: ideas, addictions and moods. The phenomenon was proven for individual psychological reactions as well as for social relations: to conscientise mental blocks only reinforced them; trying to settle a conflict between two people generally made it insoluble.

As many a middle-aged men he fell in love with a young one – although tenderness was present, there was, of course, quite a physical aspect to it (Daniel 1,12):

With regard to Belle, I will just say, without exaggeration or metaphor, that she gave life back to me. In her company, I lived moments of intense happiness. It was perhaps the first time I had had the opportunity to utter this simple sentence. I lived moments of intense happiness; inside her, or just next to her; when I was inside her, or just before, or just after. Time, at this stage, stayed always in the present; there were long moments when nothing moved, and then everything fell back again into an ‘and then there was’. Later, a few weeks after we met, these happy moments fused, became joined; and my whole life, in her presence, before her eyes, became happiness.
Belle, in reality, was called Esther. I have never called her Belle out loud – never in her presence.
It was a strange story. Heart-rending, so heart-rending, my Belle. And undoubtedly the strangest thing is that I wasn't really surprised.
I was not, however, naive; I knew that the majority of people are born, grow old and die without having known love.
If you look at the circumstances, the beginning of our love story was extremely banal. I was forty-seven when we met, she was twenty-two.

A brief wind of refreshing youth – ain't that a cliché in which one might come to recognize one's own life and lust, sometimes. Looking at (reading and) writing, as such, there was also resemblance to be found (Daniel 1,13):

I quite regularly bought a quarterly literary review, of rather esoteric tendencies – without truly being part of the literary world, I occasionally felt close to it; after all, I did write my own sketches, and even if I aimed at nothing more than a rough parody of the ‘spoken word’ I was conscious of how difficult the simple operation of aligning words and organising them into sentences could be without the whole lot collapsing into incoherence, or sinking into tedium. In this review, two years later, I had read a long article devoted to the disappearance of poetry – a disappearance that the author judged inevitable. According to him, poetry, as non-contextual language, anterior to the objects-properties distinction, had definitively deserted the world of men. It was situated in a primitive elsewhere to which he would never again have access, because it came before the true formation of object and language. Unfit to transport information more precise than simple bodily or emotional sensations, and intrinsically linked to the magical state of the human kind, it had been rendered irredeemably obsolete by the appearance of reliable procedures of objective proof.

Uh-oh! – the magical state of the human kind, home of bodily or emotional sensations – letting that one go would constitute a certain step toward the fall of humanity...

Daniel 1,15 (pornologically interested readers may find further vivid details in the book):

The sexual life of man can be broken down into two phases: the first when he prematurely ejaculates, and the second when he can no longer manage to get a hard-on. During the first weeks of my relationship with Esther, I noticed that I had returned to the first phase – despite believing, for a long time, that I had begun the second. Sometimes, while walking beside her in a park, or along the beach, I was overwhelmed by an extraordinary drunkenness, I had the impression of being a boy of her age, and I walked more quickly, breathed deeply, walked upright and spoke loudly. At other times, however, on meeting our reflections in a mirror, I was filled with nausea, and, breathless, I shrivelled between the covers; in one fell swoop, I felt so old, so flaccid. One the whole, however, my body wasn't that badly preserved, I didn't have a trace of fat, I even had a few muscles; but my ass sagged, and especially my balls, they sagged more and more, and it was irrevocable, I had never heard of any treatment; yet she licked these balls, and caressed them, without seeming at all bothered. As for her body, it was so fresh and smooth.
I just had the persistent and tormenting feeling of having met her too late, much too late, and of having wasted my life; that feeling, I knew, would never leave me, quite simply because it was true.

Sad, fu**ing sad middle-aged hell

After some years of living one may assume things about life in general (and self-contempt and sadness are among known issues). The initial two phases or stages of love, mentioned above, is an observation which may be modified, though. Probably there are more levels to love, at least three more. (One might think of them as layers and like an onion there might not even be a centre – in a budhist way of thinking.) Much of this being unconscious it's a bit hard to recognize and elaborate on these different models or layers, as one is not too familiar with all reigning theories...

Moving to a post-Francoian and somewhat decadent life beyond the rims of an ordinary Spanish social life. Differing age, interests and experiences cause semi-public domestic clashes. Daniel 1,15 was, maybe, commenting a younger competitor:

I knew that it would have been better for me to keep quiet, that abandoning my usual comic character could only bring me trouble, but I couldn't, the imp of the perverse was stronger. We were in a bizarre, very kitsch bar, with mirrors and gold fixtures, full of paroxysmal homosexuals who buggered themselves silly in adjacent backrooms, yet which was open to everyone, with groups of young boys and girls calmly drinking Coca-Colas at neighbouring tables. I explained to her whilst rapidly downing my iced tequila that I had built the whole of my career and fortune on the commercial explotation of bad instincts, of the West's absurd attraction to cynicism and evil, and that I therefore felt myself ideally placed to assert that among all the merchants of evil, Larry Clark was one of the most common, most vulgar, simply because he unreservedly took the side of the young against the old, because all his films were an incitement to children to treat their parents without the least humanity, the least pity, and that there was nothing new or original about his, it had been the same in all the cultural sectors for the last fifty-odd years, and this supposedly cultural tendency in fact only hid the desire for a return to a primitive state where the young got rid of the old without ceremony, with no questions asked, simply because they were too weak to defend themselves. It was, therefore, just a brutal regression, typical of modernity, to a stage preceding all civilisation, for any civilisation could judge itself on the fate it reserved for the weakest, for those who were no longer either productive or desirable, in short Larry Clark and his abject accomplice Harmony Korine were just two of the most tedious – and artistically the most miserable – examples of the Nietzschean scum who had been proliferating in the cultural field for far too long, and who could in no way be put on the same level as people like Michael Haneke, or like me, for example – who had always made sure to introduce a certain element of doubt, uncertainty and unease into my shows, even if they were (I was the first to admit it) otherwise repugnant. She listened to me with a sad expression, but with great attention; she hadn't yet touched her Fanta.
The advantage of giving a moral lecture, is that this type of argument has been under such strong censorship, and for so many years, that it provokes an incongruous effect and immediately attracts the attention of the interlocutor; the disadvantage is that the interlocutor never manages to take you completely seriously.

Although thankful and thrilled by her charmes, there was some kind of a daily life there as well. Belle du jour was beautiful but – hold on tightly! – useless except for sexual services:

Ester was certainly not well educated in the normal sense of the term, the thought never crossed her mind to empty an ashtray, or to clear away what was left on her plate, and she didn't mind in the slightest about leaving the lights on behind her in the rooms she had just left (there had been occasions when I, following step by step her journey through my residence in San Jose, had had to flick of seventeen switches); there was also no question of asking her to think of doing the shopping, to bring anything back from a shop that was not intended for her own use, or more generally to do any kind of favour for anyone.

Yes, social responsibility and contribution has dwindled in Norway as well the later years, just as Socrates foresaw some millenniums ago. There was a liberal new-prophetic movement in which one could find soothing communion, though (Daniel 1,17):

This time the entire gathering sang loudly, slowly clapping their hands. Beside me Vincent was singing his head off, and I myself was inches from feeling a genuine collective emotion.

But alas, he's hardly a true believer and disciple (Daniel 1,17):

During my days at secondary school, when I would debate with a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew, I had always had the impression that their beliefs were to be taken ironically; that they obviously didn't believe, in the proper sense of the term, in the reality of the dogmas they professed, but that they were a sign of recognition, a sort of password allowing them access to the community of believers – a bit like grunge music was, or Doom generation for fans of that game. The weighty seriousness they sometimes brought to debates between equally absurd theological positions seemed to contradict this hypothesis; but the same thing, basically, could be said for the fans of a game: for a chess player, or a participant who is truly immersed in a roleplay, the fictional space of the game becomes something completely serious and real, you could even say that nothing else exists for him, for the duration of the game at least.

Which also, of course, may be said about reading books. Following, and maybe wanting to ridicule, the free-loving Elohians (Raëlians?) the author noticed:

The followers themselves, as I had noticed with increasing surprise, were at best monogamous, and for the most part zerogamous.


Finding myself in the middle of a maelstrom – a slow but steady downhil spiral into subversiveness, destruction and death – it's hard to separate reality from fiction. Daniel 1,19 coming out of one of their gatherings:

I had two hours to wait in the Madrid airport for the flight to Almeira; these two hours were sufficient to sweep away the state of abstract strangeness in which the time with the Elohimites had left me and plunge me back completely into misery, like venturing, step by step, into ice-cold water; as I got on the plane, in spite of the warmth, I was already literally trembling with anxiety.
I stopped at Tap Tap Tapas and ordered some disgusting sausages, swimming in an incredibly greasy sauce, which I washed down with several beers; I could feel my stomach swell, filling with shit, and the idea crossed my mind of consciously accelerating the process of destruction, of becoming old, repellent and obese to better feel definitively unworthy of Esther's body. Just as I started on my fourth glass of Mahou, a song began playing on the bar radio, I did not know the singer but it wasn't David Bisbal, rather a traditional Latino, with those attempts at vibrato that the young Spaniards now found ridiculous, essentially a singer for housewives rather than a singer for babes, still the refrain was: ‘Mujer es fatal’, and I realised that I had never heard this simple and silly thing expressed so accurately, and that poetry when it achieved simplicity was a great thing, undoubtedly the big thing. The word ‘fatal’ in Spanish fitted perfectly, I could see no other that could have better described my situation, it was hell, genuine hell, I had returned to trap myself, I had wanted to return to it but I didn't know how to get out and I wasn't even sure I wanted to, my soul, in as much as I had one, was growing more and more confused and my body, because whatever else was true I had a body, was suffering, ravaged by desire.

I had returned to trap myself! A friend of mine wrote something along the lines of, early in 1977:**

"The simplicity of punk is about becoming stupid, real stupid"

And as life is coming to an end, I think I've been stupid and naive most of my days – it was a laugh, though...

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