At the bar recently (I know–shocking revelation: you read it first at bourbonapocalypse), I read the following passage in Houellebecq’s Whatever. (I bring books to the bar not to look pretentious, for we are now at such an abysmal point in our cultural decline that reading impresses very few, nor do I bring books for the same reason that most bring phones–to look important and feel valued. Rather, I use books as a prop to avoid having conversations with people who are not able to comment on anything not immediately in their line of vision.) Anyway, I started to tear up as I read this–perhaps the drinks may have played a role, but I had to put down the book and focus on the drink in front of me to keep from weeping.
I knew deep down that this young girl was a marvel; but it was no big deal, I’d done my masturbating. From the amorous point of view Veronique belonged, as we all do, to a sacrificed generation. She had certainly been capable of love; she would have wished to still be capable of it, I’ll say that for her; but it was no longer possible. A scarce, artificial and belated phenomenon, love can only blossom under certain mental conditions, rarely conjoined, and totally opposed to the freedom of morals which characterizes the modern era. Veronique had known too many discotheques, too many lovers; such a way of life impoverishes a human being, inflicting sometimes serious and always irreversible damage. Love as a kind of innocence and as a capacity for illusion, as an aptitude for epitomizing the whole of the other sex in single loved being rarely resists a year of sexual immorality, and never two. In reality the successive sexual experiences accumulated during adolescence undermine and rapidly destroy all possibility of projection of an emotional and romantic sort; progressively, and in fact extremely quickly, one becomes capable of love as an old slag. And so one leads, obviously, a slag’s life; in ageing one becomes less seductive, and on that account bitter. One is jealous of the young, and so one hates them. Condemned to remain unavowable, this hatred festers and becomes increasingly fervent; then it dies down and fades away, just as everything fades away. All that remains is resentment and disgust, sickness and the anticipation of death.
In the opening pages of his latest novel, Submission, the publication of which may have led a few of the followers of the Religion of Peace [sic] to shoot up the offices of the admittedly wretched Charlie Hebdo a few years back, Houellebecq writes about the destructive tendencies of a culture that encourages the young to treat sexual relationships like internships through which they must pass before they should feel ready to settle down on the “true” relationship/job of their lives. This is a theme that Houellebecq touches upon in all of the works of his that I have read: complete individual freedom, akin to the atomic individuals acting in the market place, cannot peacefully co-exist with love. As in other areas of life, though we are not allowed to say this publicly, diversity, here ideological, and proximity are not our strengths. The characters in his novel are hollow humans who make the most of their sexual liberation but find, only too late, that what they inevitably lose in the process is the ability to love, an ability that necessarily requires an innocence–one that is lost when people being to multiply partners.
Like most people my age, I cannot deny that I have experienced the fruits of this post-Christian age. What I cannot deny either, though I spend much of time trying to not think about it, is what I have traded of myself in the process. I know that a certain innocence has been lost, a certain delicacy of feeling, a certain willingness to trust, a certain power to overcome suspicion that can never be restored. Sure, time may heal most wounds, but a person will never be better than what he/she was before suffering the wounds.
I cannot yet claim complete pessimism in this regard, for what would be the purpose in writing at all? However, love, especially given the cultural forces that now oppose it, must be rare. Those who have found it should cling to it with whatever remaining strength they have. For those who do possess it, it must be built on a foundation more stable than simply letting the other person “be himself/herself” and “not trying too hard for not wanting to look too eager.” What, though, can sound more offensive to our modern ears than to say: “I love you, and because I love you, I will not do this, and I ask you to not do that, but whatever we have to give up in the process with make it all worth it in the end”?
PS. I had to type this in hurry; I will edit it later. However, I now have to drive to a funeral some ways off in the rain, and if I die the process, I would like for this to be my last post. #nottryingtobetoomorbid