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By TheophileEscargot (Sun Jun 12, 2016 at 01:26:01 AM EST) Reading, MLP, Watching (all tags)
Reading: "Submission". Watching: "The Hateful Eight". Links.

What I'm Reading
Submission by Michel Houellebecq. Novel by a controversy-seeking French author about an extremist Islamic revolution in near future France. The book has surprised and disarmed some critics by being more subtly prejudiced than people expected. Usually in these kind of fantasies the Evil Muslims inflict a bloody reign of ISIS-style terror. In this book the protagonist is a bloodless, complacent member of the French elite who finds his life pleasantly improved by the takeover. There is no overt terror, the effete establishment submits meekly and starts to enjoy the advantages of cash injections from the Gulf states and an EU strengthened by newly friendly Islamic states. So, that's the joke: modern France is so pathetic and decadent that an Islamist extremist takeover is an improvement.

To me though, that doesn't make it much less offensive. The Islamists are shown as anti-education, anti-woman to degrees far more than in Iran for instance. French Jews flee the country without the obliviously self-centred narrator seeing any violence or threats, but we're presumably supposed to assume it exists.

The book is cleverly constructed and wrapped in layers of artifice. The protagonist is a professor at the Sorbonne who is an expert in the Decadent author Joris-Karl Huysmans, and his own life is a reflection of Huysmans's in some ways. He seems to live an implausibly pleasant academic life, with a light teaching load and almost no research which funds a nice apartment in central Paris, escort girls, and lets him buy SUVs on a whim. He also has echoes of Albert Camus' Mersault, as he is barely troubled by the deaths of his parents.

The levels of irony make it difficult to work out the author's exact attitude. Houellebecq apparently puts on a self-conscious image of a misogyny which might be sincere, might be ironic, or the good old It's just a joke that happens to be what I actually think. In the book, the women of France meekly accept their new roles as (often multiple) housewives and demure dress and are better off without work and independence. It's hard to tell whether this is supposed to be actually happening, the view of the narrator, the view of the persona of Houellebecq, or Houellebecq's actual view.

On the plus side, the book is well written (or translated) and an effective piece of satire in some ways. Not particularly recommended, but it's not a terrible read. Life in a Muslim France wouldn’t be so bad, Houellebecq winks, especially compared to the empty life that’s ultimately resulted from the Enlightenment. This is the novel’s big joke. It’s designed to agitate the right by suggesting the right may have a point about the erosion of France’s national culture, and to tweak the left by lending ironic credence to the right’s fears. Review, review, review, review, review, review, Interview.

What I'm Watching
Saw the Quentin Tarantino Western the Hateful Eight. Liked it a lot, thought it was well up to the standards of his best films. A blizzard strands a group of bounty hunters and desperadoes in a roadhouse, leading to intrigue and as you'd expect, a great deal of bloody murder. Great dialogue, decent humour, colourful characters. Well worth seeing.

Socioeconomics. The squeezed upper middle is no such thing

Sci/Tech. The 4-dimensional brain? The Rolex Oyster was once innovative. 80s workstation, via.

Articles. Did Alexander Wear my Hat? The Monstrous Vegan.

Video. Realistic Minecraft.

Politics. MEPs on Question Time by party.

Pics. Ashgabat: the city of the living and the city of the dead. Handcrafted Lowellian Mars globe, making. Wolf from Gladiators.

Random. 19th century fair games. Masochism was named after a guy called Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Suffragetto: police v. suffragettes board game. The 53 Thankful Villages where nobody died in WW1.

< and i, for one, welcome our new lizard overlords | If you remember the 1860s you weren't there >
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