Published on May 25th, 2022 | by Connor Hultman


Book Reviews by Conor Hultman: “Interventions 2020,” by Michel Houellebecq

Interventions 2020
by Michel Houellebecq
Polity Press ($25)
Available to order at Square Books

Michel Houellebecq, probably the most popular and controversial novelist in France today, had a new novel, Anéantir (“Destroy”), come out in January. I can’t read it, because it is in French. If you, like me, want to read something new by the world’s most titillating pessimist since Schopenhauer, and if you, like me, cannot read French, I have good news. Polity Press has just published a career-spanning collection of Houellebecq’s essays in English. 

Interventions 2020 puts together interviews, essays, encomiums, and vitriolics starting from the early ‘90s when Houllebecq’s first book of poetry was published, up until 2020 with COVID. You will read Houellebecq’s opinions on–

Silent movies: “…it was not just an investigation of human feelings; not just a survey of the movements of the world; its deepest ambition was to constitute an inquiry in the conditions of perception”

Cloning: “Of course, I’ll get myself cloned as soon as possible; of course, everyone will be cloned as soon as possible”

Reading: “Today I read my contemporaries a little less, I reread more – that’s normal, I’m getting old. I now know that I’ll read until the end of my days – maybe I’ll stop smoking, obviously I’ll stop making love, and the conversations of men will gradually lost its interest for me; but I can’t imagine myself without a book”

Mortality: “in reality there’s no harmony with the universe. In moments of happiness, by example when contemplating a beautiful landscape, I instantly know that I’m not part of it, the world appears to me as something strange, I don’t know of any place where I can feel at home….Unlike most people I don’t fear death”

Science fiction: “In view of the extraordinary and shameful mediocrity of the ‘human sciences’ in the twentieth century, and in view of the progress made during the same period by the exact sciences and technology, one might expect that the most brilliant and most inventive literature of the period was science fiction; and this is indeed what we observe”

And Neil Young: “His most beautiful records are undoubtedly those that oscillate between sadness, loneliness, daydreaming and peaceful happiness….Neil Young’s songs are made for those who are often unhappy, lonely, approaching the gateways of despair—but who continue to believe happiness is possible”

Also included are Houllebecq’s takes on fellow French writers and political figures, as well as the baffling essay on Trump (“Donald Trump is a good president”) that had his fans across the world scratching their heads. For the Houllebecq reader, the best revelatory information presented is perhaps that Houllebecq is not the extreme nihilist that most of his protagonists are; Frédéric Beigbeder confronts him as “an almost Christian romantic moralist who everyone thinks of as a decadent nihilist and atheist.” 

For those just getting into Michel Houllebecq, I think these essays are a good place to get acquainted with that voice, acidic, pitiless, but too full of humor and awareness to shy from. Be warned: his novels are worlds almost too bleak to live in. And some critics are concerned that they are becoming our world. 

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