Leon Lemmer: Van die sagte realisme van Edward Hopper tot die beperkte verbeelding van Michel Houellebecq

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Die Ierse skryfster, Christine Dwyer Hickey (gebore in 1960), is die outeur van tien fiksieboeke. Haar jongste boek is The Narrow Land (London: Atlantic Books, 2019, 384p, R228 (loot); Amazon Kindle $12,64). “The Narrow Land – that’s what we call this part of Cape Cod” (Kindle 429). In The Irish Times (8.10.2019) vertel Hickey hoe die boek ontstaan het. Sy het dit ironies gevind dat die grootskaalse intog van inkommers in Europa, veral Duitsland, in onlangse jare ‘n beweging van mense is in ‘n rigting teenoorgesteld aan wat ná die Tweede Wêreldoorlog gebeur het toe baie Duitse weeskinders uit Duitsland geneem en in bv Amerika hervestig is. (Daar was selfs so ‘n weeskind in my skool.) Hickey het ‘n operasie ondergaan waarin een van haar niere verwyder is. Terwyl sy daarvan herstel het, het sy ‘n dokumentêre video oor die Amerikaanse skilder, Edward Hopper (1882-1967), gesien, waarna sy na Amerika gereis het om die plekke te besoek waar Hopper sy lewe deurgebring het.

Hopper beeld in sy skilderye bv die eensaamheid van mense in daardie massakultuur uit. Hy doen dit myns insiens beter as enige ander skilder. Met die oog hierop hoef daar nie afbeeldings van mense in die skildery te wees nie, bv “Rooms by the sea” (1951) en een van sy latere skilderye, “Sun in an empty room” (1963). Daardie skilderye impliseer die bestaan van mense. Sonskyn kan steeds ervaar word al lewe ‘n mens soos Hopper nie meer nie. Maar hy beeld ook twee mense, hom en sy vrou, uit in sy laaste olieverfskildery, “Two comedians” (1965), waar hulle van ‘n denkbeeldige gehoor afskeid neem. As ‘n mens een keer ‘n reproduksie van Hopper se beroemdste skildery, “Nighthawks” (1942), gesien het, bly dit jou by.

Gordon Theisen het selfs ‘n hele (maar hoogs onbevredigende) boek (2007) oor hierdie skildery gepubliseer. James Newcombe het twee jaar lank Amerika platgereis om soveel moontlik van Hopper se skilderye eerstehands te ervaar en het ‘n boek (2019) oor sy wedervaringe en indrukke geskryf. Daar is selfs ‘n duur Hopper-ensiklopedie (2011) saamgestel. Al die genoemde boeke is by Amazon in Kindle-formaat beskikbaar, asook ‘n hele aantal met reproduksies van Hopper se skilderye. Die Kindle se 6 duim (15 sentimeter) skerm is egter te klein om reg aan skilderye te laat geskied. ‘n Beter opsie is Ivo Kranzfelder se gedrukte boek in groot formaat (24 x 30 cm), Edward Hopper, 1882-1967: Vision of reality (Cologne: Taschen, 2010, 200p).

Hopper het in 1953 gesê: “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world” (Wikipedia). Sy uitgangspunt was dat kuns die uitdrukking van die kunstenaar se innerlike ervaring is, dus ‘n objektivering van die subjektiewe. In sy skilderye gee hy dus sý siening van die wêreld weer. Benewens dít wou hy nie eintlik sy skilderye verduidelik nie; des te meer omdat hy ‘n introvert en hoogs onsosiaal was. Hy was ‘n swaarmoedige individualis wat lief vir stilte en rustigheid was. Hy het graag en wyd gelees, maar verbaal en skriftelik min gekommunikeer. In sy skilderye is daar min tekens van aksie. In ‘n hele aantal is daar mense wat lees.

Hickey het ‘n gepaste motto vir haar boek gekies: “Every man has within himself the entire human condition” (Michel de Montaigne, 1533-1592). Ek gaan nie die storie hervertel nie. Die rede waarom ek die boek gelees het, is omdat ek in Hopper en sy skilderye belangstel. Edward Hopper het in 1924 met Josephine (Jo) Nivison (1883-1968) getrou. Hulle het nie kinders gehad nie. Hulle het in New York City gewoon en van 1930 af die somers in South Truro, Cape Cod, deurgebring, waar hulle in 1934 vir hulle ‘n huis laat bou het. Die verhaal speel af in South Truro en omstreke. Edward en Jo is die hoofkarakters in die boek. Party van die ander karakters maak met die Hoppers kennis wanneer Jo hulle van die strand verjaag. Edward maak beswaar: “They weren’t disturbing me … I don’t want my wife objecting to things on my behalf. That’s what I really don’t need right now – your constant meddling in my affairs” (564). Jo “smashed two of her favourite Mexican bowls against the wall, attacked him with whatever else came to hand” (571). “Life for her would be a series of battles, big and small, in one long and never-ending war” (596). Edward, daarenteen, “is … a creature of enviable self-control” (591). “I picked the wrong woman” (611).

Die verhouding van die Hopper-egpaar word uitstekend uitgebeeld. Die eintlike probleem is dat Edward ‘n suksesvolle en Jo ‘n onsuksesvolle skilder was: “Her yearning for a recognition that is never going to come” (1186). Jo was jaloers op die aansien wat Edward in sy latere loopbaan verwerf het. “He pulls his success around himself, a big warm blanket, made only for one” (621). Sy wou ook nie toelaat dat enige vrou behalwe sý as model optree as Edward ‘n vrou skilder nie (2771). Die gevolg is dat die vrouefigure in baie van Edward se skilderye dieselfde oninspirerende verknotte voorkoms het. Edward sou in hierdie opsig baie beter gevaar het as hy verskillende modelle kon gebruik, soos wat bv Henri Matisse (1869-1954) met buitengewone sukses gedoen het. Jo het ‘n dagboek – “her liber veritas” (1355) – gehou waarin sy Edward dikwels ongunstig voorgestel het. Ingevolge feminisme het Gail Levin in haar biografie (1995) van Edward heeltemal te veel van hierdie kritiek klakkeloos oorgeneem, bv asof dit Edward se skuld is dat Jo nie as skilder tot haar reg gekom het nie (5933). Dit herinner aan Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) wat soms daarvoor verwyt word dat sy vrou, Alma (1879-1964), nie tot ‘n gerekende komponis ontwikkel het nie.

Hoewel nie danig bekend nie, is Hickey ‘n ervare skryfster. Die struktuur van die roman is deeglik uitgewerk en het uitmuntende funksionele vergestalting gevind. Sy klim oortuigend in een na die ander karakter se gees en lê dit bloot. As ek hierdie boek met die romans van bv Ingrid Winterbach vergelyk, is dit duidelik dat ons plaaslike skryfster nog in baie opsigte kan verbeter. Die gehalte van Hickey se Engels is ook stukke beter as Winterbach se Afrikaans. Een van die redes waarom ek, in vergelyking met nie-fiksie, min fiksie lees, is omdat romanskrywers se verbeeldingskrag dikwels, selfs meesal, baie beperk skyn te wees. Dit wil voorkom asof fiksie se geslaagdheid in baie gevalle daarvan afhang of dit lewensgetrou is. Outobiografiese inligting kan gevolglik ‘n deurslaggewend rol in die sukses van ‘n roman speel. Daar is al beweer dat ‘n jong romanskrywer nie geslaagde werk kan lewer nie omdat hy nog nie genoeg van die lewe en wêreld ervaar het en genoegsame insig daarin het nie. Hickey het deeglike navorsing oor die Hopper-egpaar gedoen. In daardie opsig is die verhaal in die werklikheid gegrondves. Dit is sekerlik een van die redes waarom die boek so suksesvol is.

Michel Houellebecq is ‘n Franse skrywer wat in 1956 op die eiland Réunion gebore is en as kleuter aanvanklik in Algerië en later in Frankryk grootgeword het. Sy ouers het min belangstelling in hom getoon. Hy het in 1991 ‘n nie-fiksie boek oor ‘n skrywer van gruwelverhale, HP Lovecraft (1890-1937), gepubliseer, maar daarna fiksie, veral romans, en ook gedigte. ‘n Mens kan Houellebecq se fiksie beskou as ‘n tevergeefse soeke na liefde en die sin van die lewe, wat meebring dat sy gedagtes soms in nihilisme ontaard. Genot of plesier neem die plek van geluk in. Seks speel ‘n oordrewe rol, wat volgens kritici dikwels vulgêr uitgebeeld word. Die vrye mark word deur Houellebecq vertolk asof dit vrye seksuele verhoudings insluit. Sy opvattings is deur die marxistiese sosioloog, Michel Clouscard (1928-2009), beïnvloed, maar Houellebecq is geensins polities byderwets nie. Hy is daarvan beskuldig dat hy rassehaat aanblaas, veral vanweë sy anti-Islamitiese gesindheid. Hy dra eerstehandse kennis van hoe Islam hom deesdae in veral Frankryk en Algerië voordoen.

Breyten Breytenbach skryf, soos Houellebecq, romans en gedigte. In albei se werk is daar ‘n sterk outobiografiese element. Anders as by Hickey, is daar in albei se romans ‘n losse struktuur en die vertellings geskied in gemaklike geselstaal. Daar is ‘n skynbare moeiteloosheid wat die verwagting by die leser kan wek dat iets wat werklik die moeite werd is, meegedeel gaan word, maar aan daardie verwagting word myns insiens nie heeltemal voldoen nie. Daar kan dus kwalik sprake van grootse letterkunde by Breytenbach en Houellebecq wees. Soos Breytenbach, is Winterbach ook ‘n skilder, maar haar werk wek ‘n minder outobiografiese indruk. Ek het die meeste van Houellebecq se boeke gelees, maar beperk my aandag vervolgens by sy jongste twee. Ek gaan hoogs selektief te werk. Die aanhalings word moontlik nie altyd in konteks gebruik nie.

Submission

Dit is Houellebecq se roman, Submission (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 257p; Amazon Kindle $11,49), wat veroorsaak het dat die outeur van haatspraak teen Moslems beskuldig is. Die boektitel verwys na die onderdanigheid aan Allah, wat van iedere Moslem verwag word, asook dat Moslems ongelowiges, dus die aanhangers van ander gelowe, tot Islam moet bekeer, aan Allah onderdanig moet maak. Hierdie werk is ‘n satire wat die lesers met oordrewe stellings uitlok om standpunt oor Islam in te neem. Let op die sarkasme in baie van die aanhalings.

Houellebecq veronderstel ‘n Islamitiese staatkundige – en dus ook sodanige religieuse – bewind in 2022 in Frankryk. Hy bekommer hom daaroor dat die vinnig toenemende getal Moslems in Frankryk die tradisionele Franse kultuur al hoe meer ondergrawe. Daar word na Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) in die motto en elders in die boek verwys, by uitstek sy boek, À rebours (Against nature / Against the grain, 1884 – Kindle-weergawes is gratis beskikbaar), waarin die hoofkarakter hom aan die samelewing onttrek en estetika – soos gevind in die letterkunde, skilderkuns en musiek (Kindle 2257) – aan bod kom. Oor À rebours skryf Houellebecq: “Once you’ve written a book of such powerful originality, unrivaled even today in all of literature, how do you go on writing?” (364).

“The special thing about literature, the major art form of Western civilization now ending before our very eyes, is not hard to define. Like literature, music can overwhelm you with sudden emotion, can move you to absolute sorrow or ecstasy; like literature, painting has the power to astonish, and to make you see the world through fresh eyes” (47). Houellebecq noem dus die drie kunsvorme – letterkunde, (klassieke) musiek en skilderkuns – wat ek ook verkies om vir aandag en waardering uit te sonder. Dit is ook wat die konserwatiewe Britse filosoof, Roger Scruton (gebore in 1944), doen. Hy is ‘n orrelis wat twee operas geskryf het en naas die skilderkuns (met ‘n besondere waardering vir die werk van bv Hopper) ook in bv argitektuur belangstel. In letterkunde kan daar “musiek” wees. Dink aan PG du Plessis (1934-2017) wat wou verseker dat daar ‘n gepaste ritme in sy prosa aanwesig moet wees.

“It was amazing, even, to think that the only thing left to people in their despair was reading” (329). Dít is my manier om sover moontlik aan die nuwe Suid-Afrika te ontsnap. Dit is hoofsaaklik jonger blankes wat nog probeer om moed te hou: “She was too young to give up” (506). Die verteller is ‘n letterkunde-dosent aan die Universiteit Sorbonne in Parys. Doseerwerk “soon convinced me that the transmission of knowledge was generally impossible, the variance of intelligence extreme, and that nothing could undo or even mitigate this basic inequality” (91). Ek het tot ‘n soortgelyke gevolgtrekking gekom: “Kan ‘n slak geleer word om klavier te speel?” (Praag 3.11.2013). Geen wonder “the students honored Nelson Mandela as their class patron” (942) – Mandela wat die dogma van gelykheid verkondig het.

Vóór die Moslem-bewindsoorname: “No one talked about violence in the banlieues or race riots anymore. That was all passed over in silence” (440) – soos in Suid-Afrika vóór die ANC se oorwinning in die 1994-verkiesing toe die geweldpleging van die ANC “ter wille van stabiliteit” in die massa-inligtingsmedia onderbeklemtoon is. Verder: In die ou Suid-Afrika was daar die neiging om Chinese en Japannese as blankes te aanvaar. In hierdie boek staan: “I was grateful to the Chinese for having always kept the neighborhood free of blacks or Arabs” (608). “Saudi women … were exactly the opposite of Western women” (776).

Oor die politieke party van die Moslem-Broederskap word gesê: “The economy is not their main concern. What they care about is birthrate and education. To them it’s simple – whichever segment of the population has the highest birthrate, and does the best job of transmitting its values, wins. If you control the children, you control the future … They want every French child to have the option of a Muslim education … Also, every teacher would have to be Muslim … the curriculum itself would have to reflect the teachings of the Koran” (686). Die ANC se variasie hierop is: Alle skoolonderrig moet verkieslik in die koloniale taal, Engels, verskaf word en boonop uit die oogpunt van die meerderheid, dus die swartes benader word (bv die vertolking van die geskiedenis), gevolglik moet al die leerplanne geafrikaniseer word. “Obviously, the public schools would soon become second-class” (709). Weens die Islamitiese bewind is blanke emigrasie aan die orde van die dag, bv: “They’re emigrating to Israel” (891).

Daar was weerstand teen hierdie onderwysstelsel. Ouers wou hê dat hulle kultuur in die skole eerbiedig moet word. “More and more families – whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim – wanted their children’s education to go beyond the mere transmission of knowledge, to include spiritual instruction in their own traditions” (947). Die hoë geboortesyfer onder Moslems en ander inkommers het spanning veroorsaak. “For a long time France, like all the other countries of Western Europe, had been drifting toward civil war” (1018). Die Moslems was militant. “The jihadists are rogue Salafists. They may have resorted to violence, instead of prayer, but they’re Salafists all the same. For them, France is a land of disbelief – Dar al-Kufr. For the Muslim Brotherhood, France is ready to be absorbed into the Dar al-Islam” (1231). “They’re obsessed with global jihad … jihad is the one true path … It’s exactly the same with the nativists [traditional French citizens]. For them, civil war is the one true path” (1238).

Party groepe het versoening vooropgestel, bv die sosialiste: “With Islam … the time has come for accommodation, for an alliance” (1296), dus hande vat, soos in Suid-Afrika met die kortstondige Regering van Nasionale Eenheid van 1994 af. Die sosialiste en Moslem-Broederskap het teen die regse Nasionale Front saamgestaan: “Putting politics aside and unifying to bind the wounds of the divided nation” (1307). “[The] real stroke of genius was to grasp that elections would no longer be about the economics but about values” (1341). Bas Abbes was die leier van die Moslem-Broederskap. “The left, paralyzed by his multicultural background, had never been able to fight him … He’s a moderate Muslim” (1346). Maar sy volle naam is Mohammed Ben Abbes (2384).

Daar is gerieflikheidshalwe geredeneer: “Abbes’s … plans had nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalism. There’s an idea you hear in far-right circles, that if the Muslims came to power, Christians would be reduced to second-class citizens, or dhimmis. Now, dhimmitude is part of the general principles of Islam, it’s true, but in practice the status of dhimmis is a very flexible thing … In France, I promise you, they won’t interfere with Christian worship … They think of Catholics as fellow believers. Catholicism is a religion of the Book. Catholics are one step away from converting to Islam” (1358). Dit is doelbewuste misleiding, soortgelyk aan Nelson Mandela wat oornag van ‘n geweldenaar en terroris tot ‘n versoener en vredesikoon getransformeer is. Die aaklige gevolge van swart oorheersing vir veral blankes is verbloem.

In die tweede rondte van die presidentsverkiesing het Abbes “by a landslide” gewen (1447). Dit het onder meer beteken dat die verteller in die boek, as ‘n nie-Moslem, nie meer aan die Sorbonne, nou hernoem as die Islamic University of Paris, mag doseer nie (1566). “All the female students wore veils” (2369). Soos by die ANC, is benaminge van die eerste dinge wat die Moslem-regering verander het. Soos in Suid-Afrika in 1994 – en vóór dit in Rhodesië/Zimbabwe in 1980 – was daar in Frankryk aanvanklik euforie voordat ontnugtering ingetree het. “The first days of Ben Abbes’s national unity coalition had been a unanimous success. All the pundits agreed that no newly elected president had ever enjoyed such a ‘state of grace’ … Morocco had reentered negotiations to join the EU. There was already a timetable in place for Turkey” … and in his domestic policies Ben Abbes had gone from strength to strength” (1749). Die nuwe regering se beleid het gou geblyk anti-kapitalisties te wees, maar die EU het verkies om hom nie daaroor te bekommer nie (1784).

“What struck me most about Brussels was the filth and sadness of the city, and the ethnic hatred, which was even more palpable than in Paris or London. In Brussels, more than in any other European capital, you felt on the edge of civil war” (2467). “These developments were turning France into a new kind of society” (1790). Desnieteenstaande “Ben Abbes reached nearly mystical heights” (1759) – soortgelyk aan Nelson Mandela wat vir alle praktiese doeleindes tot ‘n heilige verklaar is. “The really surprising thing was that he’d [Abbes] lost none of his hypnotic magic. Even now, his projects met with no serious opposition … I saw that the negotiations to bring Algeria and Tunisia into the EU were proceeding apace, and that by the end of the year both countries would, with Morocco, become European states. Preliminary talks had begun with Lebanon and Egypt” (1856). Ter ondergrawing van tradisionele Europese kultuur verloor hierdie domino-effek glad nie stoom nie: “The negotiations with Lebanon and Egypt were going well … and feelers had been put out to Libya and Syria, where Ben Abbes had reklindled old friendships with the local Muslim Brothers” (2574). Dit lyk dus asof Abbes, soos Mandela, histories met terrorisme verbind kan word.

“Now the Muslim Party of Belgium had just won the national elections. This was generally considered big news for the balance of European politics. Of course, the Muslim parties already occupied government seats in Britain, Holland, and Germany, but Belgium was the second country, after France, where the Muslims had won an outright majority … Ben Abbes had immediately issued a warm statement hailing the victory of the Muslim Party of Belgium” (2467). Naas die tradisionele spyskaarte maak halal-spyskaarte hulle verskyning in die restaurante (2477); die eerste van vele transformasies.

Wat doen die verteller (soos bv baie van die Broederbonders in Suid-Afrika ná die “oorgang”/ondergang in 1994)? Hy bekeer hom tot Islam teen ‘n groter salaris. “You could have three wives without too much trouble – not that anyone would force you to, of course” (2613). “Muslim women were devoted and submissive, that much I could count on, its how they were raised; they aimed to please” (2641). “I had nothing to complain about. Until I died I was guaranteed a generous income, twice the national average … Humanity didn’t interest me. I didn’t think of human beings as my brothers” (1820). “As time went on, I subscribed more and more to [Arnold] Toynbee’s [1889-1975] idea that civilizations die not by murder but by suicide” (2247). “Europe had already committed suicide” (2252) – soos Suid-Afrika in 1994.

“Now that we live in a democracy … Thank God Ben Abbes has all the actual power” (2596). Die verteller sien sy bekering tot Islam in ‘n positiewe lig: “I’d be given another chance; and it would be the chance at a second life, with very little connection to the old one. I would have nothing to mourn” (2675). Insgelyks is daar min sprake van kontinuïteit tussen die ou en nuwe Suid-Afrika. Die land is feitlik onherkenbaar getransformeer; eintlik opgedonder. In die jare negentig was daar in Suid-Afrika nie evolusionêre staatkundige ontwikkeling nie; eerder ‘n volskaalse kommunistiese revolusie, grootliks onder die dekmantel van sosialisme.

Serotonin

Die Engelse vertaling van Michel Houellebecq se boek, Serotonin (London: Heinemann, 2019, 311p; Amazon Kindle $21,11) is in September gepubliseer. Serotonin is ‘n chemiese bestanddeel in die bloed wat glo help dat mense tevrede en gelukkig voel. Die hoofkarakter, Florent-Claude Pierre Labrouste, is neerslagtig. “Like all cities, Paris was made to generate loneliness” (Kindle 1877). Maar hy besef dat dit deels sy eie skuld is. “Neither friendship nor compassion nor intelligence of situations is of any use: people manufacture the mechanism of their own misfortune” (2389). Hy gebruik die goedvoelpil Captorix om die vrystelling van sy serotonin te vermeerder sodat die lewe vir hom meer leefbaar kan wees.

Die resultaat is “a peaceful, stable sadness” (1057). “More specifically, serotonin was linked to self-esteem, to the sense of recognition from the group” (1089). Daarin het Labrouste geen behae nie. “I was rather proud of my lack of civic spirit” (628). Labrouste is ‘n amptenaar van ‘n Franse landbou-instansie. Houellebecq het in sy jeug self formele onderrig in landbousake ontvang. Soos in sy ander romans toon die hoofkarakter sterk outobiografiese ooreenkomste, gevolglik is dit dikwels onnodig om tussen Labrouste en Houellebecq te onderskei.

Die Franse blankes het deesdae, soos ons plaaslike blankes, baie rede om pessimisties te wees. “The whole point of bureaucracy is to reduce the possibilities of your life to the greatest possible degree when it doesn’t simply succeed in destroying them” (250). “I’m now forty-six and I’ve never been capable of controlling my own life” (261). Die voorbeeld van burokrasie wat in die boek in besonderhede beskryf word, is die opstand van boere teen landboumaatreëls wat deur die Europese Unie se “Eurocrats” (1975) aan hulle opgedring word. “Nine farmers were killed on the spot; and a tenth died during the night at the general hospital” (2790). “The European Union had … been a fat slut with that business about milk quotas” (2752). “The scandal of the abolition of milk quotas returned like an obsessive, guilty, unspoken question that nobody could quite shake off” (2810). “Monsanto [an American agricultural corporation] must have seemed to them [the farmers] like a company that was about as honourable as the CIA [America’s Central Intelligence Agency]” (1223).

Die volgende aanhaling het my aan die Suid-Afrikaanse grondwetlike onderhandelinge van 1990/94 laat dink: “Negotiation is an autonomous universe which obeys its own laws, a universe that will always be inaccessible to non-negotiators” (447). Wat is die nalatenskap van 1990/94? Die Afrikanervolk is soos ‘n weduwee wat nie weet waarnatoe nie. Die donners wat hom moes oppas, het hom vermoor. Daardie dwaasheid het tot ons daaglikse wrede, gewelddadige werklikheid gelei. “You plunge into the past, you begin to plunge into it and then it seems as if you’re being engulfed by it, and nothing can put a limit on that engulfment” (2090). “You can live and be despairing – most people live like that in fact, although sometimes they wonder whether they can allow themselves a whiff of hope; well, at least they ask themselves the question before answering in the negative. And yet they resist, and it’s a touching sight” (2525). “I had no hopes and I was fully aware that I had nothing to hope for” (3222).

“It’s not like night, it’s worse than that; and without having personally known that experience I have a sense that even when you plunge into true night, polar night – the one that lasts for six months in a row – the concept or the memory of the sun remains. I had entered an endless night, and yet there remained, deep within me, there remained something less than a hope, let’s say an uncertainty. One might also say that even when one has personally lost the game, when one has played one’s last card, for some people – not all, not all – the idea remains that something in heaven will pick up the hand, will arbitrarily decide to deal again, to throw the dice again, even when one has never at any moment in one’s life sensed the intervention or even the presence of any kind of deity, even when one is aware of not especially deserving the intervention of a favourable deity, and even when one realises, bearing in mind the accumulation of mistakes and errors that constitutes one’s life, that one deserves it less than anyone” (3228).

“The world had changed, not necessarily for the better” (3084). “France, and perhaps the whole of the West, was probably regressing to the oral stage (3381, ook 3450) – iets wat baie vroeër in Suid-Afrika as in Frankryk sal plaasvind en ook groter afmetings sal aanneem. Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) het geskryf: “Once our heart has harvested its grapes / To live is torment” (3292). ‘n Geneesheer stel vas dat daar in die hoofkarater ‘n buitengewoon hoë vlak van kortisol is. Hierdie dokter kom dan tot die volgende gevolgtrekking: “I have the sense that you are, very simply, dying of sorrow” (3320). “You’re stressed; you’re stressed to a terrifying degree and it’s as if you were having a static burn-out, as if it was consuming you from within” (3362). Die moontlike sukses van inwaardse emigrasie word daarmee gefnuik.

Thomas Mann (1875-1955) het in sy boek, The magic mountain (1924), 1914 beskou as “the failure of the very idea of European culture; it signified the final victory of animal atttraction, the definitive end of all civilisation and all culture” (3507). Houellebecq skryf: “The whole of the world’s culture was pointless – the whole of the world’s culture provided no moral benefit and no advantage … Marcel Proust [1871-1922], at the end of Time regained [1927] concluded with remarkable frankness that it was not only social relationships that supplied nothing substantial, friendships didn’t either, they were quite simply a waste of time; and that what the writer needed was not intellectual conversations, contrary to popular belief, but ‘light affairs with young girls in bloom'” (3491). Nihilistiese wanhoop is al wat oorbly. “What can we do, any of us, about anything?” (3415).

“The most undesirable side effects most frequently observed in the use of Captorix were nausea, loss of libido and impotence. I have never suffered from nausea” (272). Die boektitel gee dus ‘n aanduiding dat seks, soos in Houellebecq se ander romans, ook in hierdie verhaal ‘n oordrewe rol gaan speel. “Perhaps I will be rebuked for placing too much importance on sex” (884). Baie skrywers is aanhangers van die dogma: Seks stimuleer verkope. “The phallus [is] the core of men’s being” (863). “With sex everything can be resolved, and without sex nothing can be resolved” (2209). Wat Houellebecq oor seks in hierdie boek skryf, is feitlik noodwendig soortgelyk aan wat in sy ander boeke staan. Dit is “the sector of human activity in which there is least room for innovation, and absolutely nothing new happens” (1255), al is daar prostitusie (826, 1701) en selfs perversies (879) soos pedofilie 2300) en bestialiteit (688).

“A career is a more considerable whore [than girls] and one that doesn’t give you any pleasure” (1557). “We were no longer living in a time when mothers [and the (Dutch Reformed) Church] were relieved to accept their son’s homosexuality – now they form couples, the little faggots” (3151). Naas “suicide” is daar “feminicide” – “it sounded like insecticide” (704). Hy het sy voorbehoude oor vroue, bv “The number of things that she needed to maintain her status as a woman was actually startling” (798). By “liefde” word twee benaderings onderskei: “Love for men is … an end, an accomplishment, and not, as for women, a beginning” (868). Soms word die kloof tussen mans en vroue baie wyd voorgestel. “He talked about her quite vaguely, as if discussing a species closely related to him but with which he was relatively unfamiliar” (2204).

“Love can only develop on the basis of a certain level of difference, that like never falls in love with like” (1101). Dalk kan dit genadiglik die entoesiasme vir selfdegeslaghuwelike besweer. Daarna gaan Houellebecq oor tot sarkasme. “It is bad for those who love each other to speak the same language, it is bad for them to truly understand one another, to be able to communicate through words, because the vocation of the word is not to create love but to engender division and hatred [the k-word, the h-word], the word separates as it produces, while a formless, semi-linguistic babble – talking to your lover as you might talk to your dog – creates the basis for unconditional and enduring love” (1106). “Sex remains necessary for the loving fusion to occur; nothing can happen without it, and all the rest, normally, flows gently from it” (884). Naas seks is daar verwysings na drank- en ook dwelmgebruik (1546). Teen die einde van die boek kom uiteindelik die erkenning: “I was a decadent” (3480) en vroeër: “I was impervious to convention” (2268).

Soos in sy ander romans blyk multikulturaliteit, by name inkommers in Europa, vir Houellebecq ‘n irritasie te wees. “We had to prioritise quality” (1234). “All French people think it’s wonderful to leave France” (742) – amper soos blankes in die nuwe Suid-Afrika. Saam met die inkommers het al hoe meer misdaad hom in Frankryk tuisgemaak. Voorheen “people often left their doors open when they went away during the day, which was rare these days even in a rural area” (2826). “No one in the West will ever be happy again … never again; happiness today is nothing but an old dream, the past conditions for its existence are simply no longer being fulfilled” (1163). “Things couldn’t go on like that – there are things that can’t be allowed, there are times when you have to react” (2855). Nostalgie oor bv die ou Suid-Afrika is tevergeefs. “What could social democracy offer me? Nothing of course, just the perpetuation of absence, a call to oblivion” (1746).

“Although the impressive increase in homelessness had gradually made Western society relax its criteria in this field, I knew that too pronounced a stench would eventually make me stand out in an inappropriate fashion” (1068). Daar word verwys na bv “illegal Malians” (414), “a Somalian refugee” (490), “a black woman” (1185), “a ravising little black girl” (1970), “hot mixed-race girls” (1244), “Lebanese” (1530) en “two Arabs” (2872). In advertensies word blankes uitgeskuif. “Even in deodorant ads there was clearly no room for Norwegian[s]” (1250). “The Chinese would come, they were bound to come, I had no doubt that they were on their way” (542). Chinese koop deesdae eiendom in Frankryk. “They were willing to buy ten times more and pay twice the market rate” (1612). In Parys is daar ‘n oorwegend Chinese woonbuurt (3466). Daar is ook ‘n verwysing na “a little Vietnamese girl” (2145). Baie van hierdie verwysings na inkommers is na vroue in die konteks van seks. “A Moldovan girl, or a Cameroonian or a Malagasy girl, a Laotian even” (2243). “[They are] a lot more sexy than all those aristocratic bitches” (2249).

Houellebecq het dit ook teen die “Latvian and Bulgarian” bestuurders van “HGV’s” (heavy goods vehicles) (2052). Maar hy het ook nie juis waardering vir Nederlanders nie. ‘n Nederlandse vrou word as “plump and appetising” beskryf, “who really looked like an advertisement for Gouda” (1111). Die Nederlanders is glo “a race of opportunist polyglot tradespeople” (458). Hy hou ook nie vir die Engelse nie: “I suffered rebuffs from the English (which wasn’t very serious, you’re never well received by the English – they are almost as racist as the Japanese, like a lite version of them), but also from the Dutch, who obviously didn’t reject me out of xenophobia (how could a Dutch person be xenophobic? That’s an oxymoron: right there: Holland isn’t a country, it’s a business at best)” (479).

Soos Donald Trump het Houellebecq ‘n kramp in militante omgewingsbewustes, wat hulle klem van die fiktiewe gat in die osoonlaag en aardverwarming na die meer realistiese kwessie van klimaatsverandering verskuif het. “I hated Paris; that city infested with eco-friendly bourgeois repelled me. Perhaps I was a bourgeois too but I wasn’t eco-friendly” (623). “It would help me shut up Green activists when the conversation turned to the real consequences of climate change” (1563).

 

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