Platform Every summer, If you’re Michel’s This is Suddenly, Houellebecq Had his Is Houellebecq By the end Platform
By Michel Houellebecq
Knopf, 272 pages, $25.00
thousands of pale, exhausted Europeans flock to the beach resorts on the white
sands of Thailand in search of the standard middle-class holiday diversions:
spicy food, fruity cocktails, sunburn, malaria and Asian whores. As the days
grow longer in the major cities stretching across the continent, all but the
blindest consumers can’t help but register the pimping of this particular
destination in travel agency windows.
single–and/or a loser–you may consider a package tour. See everything
and experience everything alongside a group of total strangers with whom, out
of desperation, you may feel some sort of superficial bond. Or, if you happen
to be Michel, the narrator of Michel Houellebecq’s new novel Platform,
you may wind up feeling like you’re standing on the edge of civilization
next to a bunch of idiots. You start looking for the whores right away.
defense of sex tourism is as follows: Competitive capitalism has resulted in
our inability to relate to one another, to the extent that mutual sexual satisfaction
is all but extinct in the jaded West. On the other side of the world, he reasons,
"You have several billion people who have nothing, who are starving, who
die young, who live in conditions unfit for human habitation and who have nothing
left to sell except for their bodies and their unspoiled sexuality."
the argument Michel presents to his travel tour executive girlfriend, Valérie,
and is so convincing that she pitches the idea of "Aphrodite" package
tours to an investor. Travel with us, and we will provide the entertainment,
the once-empty resorts are overflowing with horny white people, all anxious
to sample a little more than just the Tom Kha Gai, and at these rates, who wouldn’t?
But whatever happens, the key is not to mistake this earthly paradise of tanned
flesh and salt water for reality. This seems to be Houellebecq’s message
at the end of the novel, when the reality train crashes into paradise in the
form of Muslim extremists, who blow up the resort and kill Valérie. Shattered
by the loss, Michel spends the rest of his days paralyzed by bitterness and
despair: "Every time I heard that a Palestinian terrorist, child, or pregnant
woman had been gunned down on the Gaza Strip, I felt a quiver of enthusiasm
that it meant one less Muslim."
and his book have already pissed a lot of people off. Upon Platform’s
publication in France (before 9/11), he gave an interview in which he condemned
Islam as "the stupidest religion." France’s national Arabic newspaper
published a photograph of a drunken, disheveled Houellebecq with the headline,
"This Man Hates You," and Muslim groups unsuccessfully sued him for
"inciting racial hatred."
deterrents bothered reading his novel, they would’ve found that the guy
is actually a humanist. Like his previous novels, Platform is peopled
with the hopeless denizens of New Europa, the bored, the pathetic, the depressed,
the uninspired, the all-too-typical specimens of human mediocrity, a mass of
individuals whose lives are so empty that they have nothing to look forward
to but that annual paid vacation and death. These are the people who tend to
be either ignored, or at best, laughed at in real life; Houellebecq affirms
their existence through empathy. He might end up fucking or killing off most
of his female characters, but the majority of them are just as pathetic as the
men, and he spills the same amount of ink on their inner lives.
a bigot? Probably yes, but so was Céline, who hated Jews but was also
a great writer. While there may be only barely enough anti-Islamic ranting in
Platform to satisfy an American audience, again, the force of Houellebecq’s
blows are ultimately dulled by his compassion: "Intellectually," he
poignantly admits early on, "I could manage to feel a certain attraction
to Muslim vaginas."
of the novel, Michel comes to the realization that it’s not all the fault
of the Muslim extremists, but largely the vast fuck-ups of the West for creating
a culture that its citizens wish only to escape. Thus tourism becomes the binding
metaphor for this age of transcultural confusion. "For the West, I do not
feel hatred; at most I feel a great contempt. I know only that every single
one of us reeks of selfishness, masochism and death. We have created a system
in which it has simply become impossible to live; and what’s more, we continue
to export it."
is firmly rooted in the present, offering no hopeful message and devastating
the reader with its stinging observations of what I call the alchexcremental
transformation of the world into a giant blue ball of floating shit. As a novelist
and now a postcolonial thinker, Houellebecq stands alone on a very small platform.
By the end