|Inte en stormarknad i sikte! Foto: Astrid Nydahl
In Houellebecq’s world people buy without need, want without real desire, and distract themselves without enjoyment. Their personal relations reflect this: they are shallow and no one is prepared to sacrifice his or her freedom, which is conceived of as the ability to seek the next distraction without let or hindrance from obligation to others. They are committed to nothing, and in such a world even art or cultural activity is just distraction on a marginally higher plane – though it is a natural law in this kind of society that the planes grow ever closer, ever more compressed.
For Houellebecq, the institution that best captures the nature of modern existence is the supermarket, in which people wander between stacked shelves making choices without discrimination or any real consequences, to the sound of banal but inescapable music. This music is like the leprous distilment that Claudius pours into the ear of Hamlet père as he sleeps in his garden once of an afternoon. The shoppers in the supermarket are not asleep, of course, but they are sleepwalking, or behaving as quasi-automata. At any rate, they are certainly not alert (most of them don’t even have a list of what they need, or think they need), and the drivelling music makes sure that they do not awake from their semi-slumber.
The whole of modern life is an existential supermarket, in which everyone makes life choices as if the choices were between very similar products, between Bonne Maman jam, say, and the supermarket’s own brand (probably made by the same manufacturer), in the belief that if they make the wrong choice it can simply be righted tomorrow by another choice. Life is but a series of moments and people are elementary particles (the title of a book by Houellebecq).
Och gästbloggaren själv finner man förstås här.One certainly knows what Houellebecq means. Children are now adults and adults children. Once-serious newspapers review cartoon strips with the same solemnity as works of scholarship, rock music is reviewed far more than any other even though the average age of the population has risen and there are as many geriatrics as infants, and relationships between human beings are analysed for their ingredients as if relationships were ready-made salad dressings. (The very existence of ready-made salad dressings, when it takes about two minutes to make a good one yourself, would be grist to Houellebecq’s mill.) Houellebecq and Call, by Theodore Dalrymple