It is in our relations with other people that we gain a sense of ourselves; it’s that, pretty much, that makes relations with other people unbearable.
Despite often coming across as an emotional masochist, Houellebecq’s work has the most uplifting effect on me. Beyond the seemingly impenetrable bleakness of the brilliant Platform lies something profoundly comforting; it is a universal welcome that promises to treat you as an equal, for once. Through his frank tone, he backhandedly reassures us that our natural imperfections – those grotesque warts we perceive in ourselves that refuse to conform to our modern ideal – are just fine, and he does it more convincingly than any hypocritical, mid-priced women’s magazine could ever hope to.
This reassurance lies in his rejection of snooty, self-righteous criticism; sticking a middle finger up to the disdain that is constantly directed towards the ‘base’ pursuit of money and sex… things we have been trained to view as immoral and destructively ephemeral. But an adoption of such pious values opposing the cheap thrills of frivolity (both sexually and financially) would be an adoption of a naive ideal of humankind paramount, in my opinion, to faith in a universe of intelligent design, created by a supreme being living in the sky.
Michel, our protagonist, endures life, as many of Houellebecq’s characters do. He is thoughtful but not enthused, content to wilt under the oppression of our youngest religion, capitalism. The hiatus he takes in the aftermath of his father’s death is the first step in his disengagement with his mediocre life, eventually resulting in beautifully understated revelations about human sexuality, self-liberation and what it means to be satisfied with life and love – all in a manner void of pretension and contrived philosophy.
It is in Houellebecq’s cynical rejection of the neurotic, modern Western world (not that he wouldn’t reject and find infinite faults in any other social system) that you catch a glimpse of what it would be like to live a life entirely purely and naturally. Yet by being born and entering the world we live in, we paradoxically can never achieve such a state.