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Houellebecq Boy

Filed under: Looked Into   Tagged: ,

A well-versed reader alerts me that in the current Voice, David Ng skewers John Updike's May 22 New Yorker review of Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island:

Mankind asks for everlasting life, and he receives it. But as Daniel25 learns, it's a mixed blessing at best. What does zero times infinity equal? Each Daniel realizes in his own way that life is neither good nor bad; it's just there. And so are Houellebecq's novels, which exist far beyond the realm of morality. Reviewers intent on taking him down (as John Updike attempted in a recent New Yorker) come off as prudish and puny. Houellebecq's infinite void swallows everything and spits nothing back.

The last time I read Ng (who pre-softens his barb with an admiring Kael citation in the lede), he was carelessly misreading Juliette Binoche's character in Caché, but perhaps he's right here; Updike may not have been the ideal critic for this sort of book. These two bloggers ("like a 1st year undergrad in lit class, I'm going to highlight The Important Pointth and Themeth in Updike's critithism") agree ("The catch is that Updike himself offers Hef-style hedonism; it’s exactly his softcore sensibility that is turned off by the dissociated raunch Houellebecq peddles"), mounting the podium in aggrieved defense of Fun. Dissenting opinions welcome.


Maybe defense of life more so than fun.

Updike has a visceral distaste for the materialist/secularist worldview and this seems to pervade any criticism he writes of intensely secular authors, whether they indulge in much explicit ribaldry or not. His mindset reminds me of The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier’s, especially given the latter’s recent review of Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, in which he approached hysteria in his ill-fated attempts to disprove Dennett.

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