By Ben Jeffery
Michel Houellebecq, writer of 5 novels together with Atomised and Platform, has develop into almost certainly the world's most renowned literary pessimist. His paintings announces that existence is painful and disappointing, demise is terrifying, and the human situation is a foul kind of funny story. He has been wildly profitable – translated into over 25 diversified languages and hailed because the voice of a new release.
Beginning with Houellebecq's novels, this booklet explores the concept that of 'Depressive Realism' in literature and philosophy – the proposition that the proof of lifestyles are bleak and unkind. Ranging over paintings via David Foster Wallace, Susan Sontag, Fredric Jameson and Margaret Atwood, Anti-Matter surveys the case for pessimism, asks how a mass tradition rooted in sentimentality and trivialisation manages to supply rather a lot cynicism and apathy, and hunts for the gap that is still for severe, life-affirming artwork.
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Additional resources for Anti-Matter: Michel Houellebecq and Depressive Realism
Here again is the dilemma: we live with realities that are maddeningly difficult to write about, but 36 fiction that doesn’t engage with them isn’t literature that’s about what it’s like, especially, to live at the moment. David Shields is surely correct when he says, in Reality Hunger (2010), that no artist ever aims to be unrealistic, even when they deny realism. ’ The most abrasive and fantastic art is still designed to show something true. ) But artists are equally aware, perhaps writers most of all, that what they do is irreparably false.
I doubt this idea, even should it occur, is the cause of too much grief for the average well-adjusted adult, because after all it’s just books/movies/TV shows we’re talking about, there’s no need to take them seriously as ideals for living. For an artist or for someone wondering about why art is worthwhile, however, this sensible qualifier tumbles into a more worrying question: how, then, should narrative art be taken seriously? Or must it always be kept at an ego-preserving distance? What makes it more than just an aesthetic concern is the fact that narrative art (of any variety) transmits not only entertainment, but also values.
His dour face, fixed in a bitter rictus, scanned the room – and beyond, the human race – without a hint of affability. He had made his point, at least he had had the opportunity; I sensed I was going to forget him pretty quickly. I had the impression that he didn’t even want to make love to these girls anymore. Life can be seen as a process of gradually coming to a standstill… In Robert, the process was already well advanced: he possibly still got erections, but even that wasn’t certain. It’s easy to play the smart aleck, to give the impression that you’ve understood something about life; the fact remains that life comes to an end.
Anti-Matter: Michel Houellebecq and Depressive Realism by Ben Jeffery