More from the Summer issue of American Affairs:
Take, for example, the protagonist of Soumission, who tries with all his might to convert to Christianity in the legendary cliffside city of Rocamadour:
"The Virgin waited in the shadows, calm and timeless. She had sovereignty, she had power, but little by little I felt myself losing touch, I felt her moving away from me in space and across the centuries while I sat there in my pew, shriveled and puny. After half an hour, I got up, fully deserted by the Spirit, reduced to my damaged, perishable body, and I sadly descended the stairs that led to the car park."
Any reader, in my view, will be hard-pressed to deny that Houellebecq has identified—in passages such as this one—a crisis we all recognize. A crisis of atomization. We are free, and we are glad we are free. Yet we are also sad, fundamentally uprooted, always wandering, never at home, never safe—exiled, in effect, from the garden we still vaguely remember having once inhabited.
So the paradox is this: the freedom we desire eventually makes us unfree and unhappy, while the constraints that we reject eventually make us happy and free. We are profoundly incapable of defining ourselves as individuals (although we think we can). We constantly overestimate our own abilities to create a world on our own.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor