Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Michel Houellebecq - 'Atomised'
Set several decades in the future, it looks back on the lives of two half-brothers at the tail end of the 20th century. The cerebral Michel is a semi-autistic molecular biologist who has no understanding of (or need to indulge in) everyday human emotions, while Bruno is a frustrated free spirit, trapped in an overweight body, but still managing to enjoy a series of sexual adventures which he hopes will somehow give meaning to his life.
Both men are dysfunctional and, through their various shortcomings, western liberal society is put under the microscope. It would be fair to say that the author finds it wanting.
Houellebecq is the bête noire of the French left-liberal mainstream and ‘Atomised’ rips with contemptuous abandon into a number of his favourite targets: anthropology, psychoanalysis, New Age philosophy and organised religion (the author achieved a degree of notoriety for his outspoken views on Islam).
The big idea in ‘Atomised’ is that our society –in the early part of the 21st century- will undergo a startling metaphysical transformation. Genetics will offer us the opportunity to procreate without recourse to sex. Thereafter, human sexual activity –historically fraught with neuroses, anxiety, commodification and shame- will be downgraded.
In envisaging this utopia beyond the demise of the liberal west, Houellebecq is writing arguably the most powerful and prescient literature of our times.