The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

SEROTONIN

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on March 7, 2020 13:24

4 users

Serotonin is a chemical in our brain chemistry for which doctors prescribe SSRI inhibitors to fight depression. It is also the title of novelist Michel Houellebecq's dark satire about rural life in contemporary France.

source: Amazon.com

Like Michel Houllebecq's other novels, SEROTONIN is one-half pornography and one-half political philosophy.

Against a background of international, interracial, and inter-generational sex, Houellebecq analyzes the impact of the EU and globalization on an endangered French peasantry and aristocracy who are losing their farms and way of life.

His hero, Florent Claude-Labrouste, is a depressed agricultural expert with life in Paris centering on the promotion of French cheeses. He takes medication for existential sadness. One side effect is diminished libido with a Japanese companion named Yuzu (reminiscent of Yoko Ono). He abandons their apartment to move to Normandy, in search of solace in a life closer to nature, and to his old aristocratic friend Aymeric on a nearby estate.

It's not "Green Acres," but country living is equally unsatisfactory, although not as lighthearted.

Instead of peace and joy, he finds despairing farmers, angry aristocrats, giant agribusiness, sexual perversion by German holiday-makers, and violent confrontations between peasantry and the police. All this ends in the death of his friend by suicide as well as becoming motivation for an attempted murder of an old girlfriend's child, luckily unsuccessful, which in turn leads him to contemplate suicide for himself when he returns to Paris.

The tone is almost Proustian, centering on a journey to re-examine his lost past, despite considerably more explicit sexual perversion and acts of violence. It is reminiscent of of Remembrance of Things Past when Houellebecq says: "You plunge into the past, you begin to plunge into it, and then it seems as if you are being engulfed by it, and nothing can put a limit on that engulfment."

The past for Houellebecq is one of aristocratic noblesse oblige, sturdy peasant farmers, distinctive villages, and of course, French cheeses.

The present is one of globalism, anonymous apartment blocks with names like "Totem Tower," EU regulations that destroy local agriculture, depraved sex, and violent clashes.

Paris is the present, Normandy the past--except it turns out the past and present are hopelessly intertwined and cannot be easily escaped.

Some have called SEROTONIN a prophetic depiction of the "Yellow Vest" riots currently sweeping France. Others, as mere self-indulgence masquerading as literature.

My view, having read other Houellebecq novels, is that SEROTONIN is a metaphor for a French BREXIT. 

The antidepressant drug represents the European Union, which treats symptoms of the malaise affecting France but does not address the cause, which, to Houellebecq, is the loss of France's national greatness and civilizing mission--in other words, French identity.

Perhaps the saddest section of the book deals with buying frozen food in a supermarket to reheat in a microwave. It is a reminder that the golden age of French cooking has passed and been replaced by globalized food, which may have plenty of calories but none of the culture that made French cuisine legendary.

His moral seems clear: Only by returning to past grandeur and becoming more French will France be able to shake off its current malaise.

The alternative is national suicide, according to Houllebecq.

 

 

 

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on March 7, 2020 13:24

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Source: The Guardian

Michel Houellebecq's real targets in this near dystopian future are France's bloated institutions and venal politicians A...

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest