Saturday, October 29, 2011

Half of a Good Book

I read Public Enemies months ago but it occurred to me I really should be writing more book reviews. I read more than regular McDonald's patrons cac, so it's an excellent way to pad out the blag.

For this, I also think it's better I review more contemporary and relevant books - and you don't get any more relevant in the 21st century than Michel Houellebecq. I learned about him a few years ago while scouring the eXile's archive at my soul-crushing job with General Dynamics. When you're in Nowhere Virginia stamping Hooter's receipts for overpayed corporate bagmen and getting only $9 an hour - which is what passes for decent pay in those parts - raw nihilism gets really really appealing...

So there's my bias for one of the authors up front. However, I was not familiar with Bernard Henri Levy - or BHL if you're hip - and after reading this I don't care to be. And it's not just because he's a grating caricature of the French intellectual jerk.

What put me off was an exchange between the two on the rightness and necessity of partisan violence, using the French Resistance during World War II as an example. Now most Americans think of this as Le Resistance! The only frogs worthy of respect, or at least excluded from the ignorant French bashing that took off with idiot gusto in this country back in 2003. Anyone actually familiar with occupied France... No. Just no. Running an insurgency is a nasty, dehumanizing affair, even if it's against the frickin' Nazis. Go watch Army of Shadows if you don't know what I mean.

BHL explicitly lends his support to every bloody act by the resistance because they're enemies were eeevil. And you can't reason with eeevil, now can you? Houellebecq, demonstrating that the grimmest misanthropes can also hold to the highest humanist ideals, counters that the average German soldier, a twenty-something from Dusseldorf just doing his stint for God and Country, isn't all that impressed by the high-minded crusading rhetoric when it's his throat getting slit by BHL's heroes. And his buddies won't be too pleased with it either, so they may just get a little rougher than usual during the nightly raids - which won't win many friends among the occupied so it just goes around and around and you are the stupidest motherfucker on the planet if you can still claim with a straight face you don't see how the invasion and occupation of Iraq could've blown up so badly.

This book is a much needed conversation between idealism and reality. Ideally the heroes will triumph over the eeevil fascists and look damn good doing it. Reality says pretty firmly those fascists are people too - just as confused and imperfect as you. Though this doesn't excuse either side's behavior - if anything, it's all the more damning as it shows how unnecessary the violence and strife really is against the bleak backdrop of eternity. A more curmudgeonly - and honest - retread of "Can't we all just get along?"

And finally, Houellebecq is clearly a better writer. He might be the only good writer left in the world besides Charles Portis, John Dolan, and me (Buy my book!) and it's even more clear when contrasted with a canting histrionic like BHL. Still a good read, half the time.

1 comment:

  1. BHL's misguided idealism was also on full display with the NATO intervention in Libya. Now that Quaddafi is gone, we shall see how his prophecies and rhetoric compare with reality.