Sunday, 24 April 2016

Cząstki elementarne - book review

The book emerged out of anger; anger at spiritual powerlessness, metaphysical emptiness and omnipresent consumption, at easiness of liberalism and duplicity of religion; and above all at our inability to experience happiness.

The blurb of the book unfailingly hints at the ominous purport of it. Atomised is the second book of the author I have read and I would not have come across it, had it not been for the earlier reading of Uległość, probably the most famous novel of Mr Houellebecq, whose premiere coincided with attacks on Charlie Hebdo editorial office. I read “Submission” to catch up with several folks around who had been familiar with the book and somewhat moved by it. Slightly stirred up, yet not enchanted by the book, I voluntarily reached out for “Atomised”, released at the beginning of the twenty-first century, yet emanating with the same degree of glumness as the more famous work.

Looking at the evolution of Western societies, one can say they drift in the same direction since 1968 and things have not taken turn for a better since early 2000s. The book dwells on side effects of unfettered liberalism and individualism fought over in 1968 and spread blissfully across the lands west of the Iron Curtain. The society which holds dear independence of a single human being, inadvertently slackens off the human being’s relationships with other people. Lifting social norms and abandoning inhibitions in several realms of life, particularly sexual life, has deprived humans of the taste of the forbidden fruit. Whatever is come by without effort is let go without pain… Unrestrained consumption and abundance of goods weaned people off appreciating what they possess. Pursuit of one’s own happiness in isolation from other people led individuals to satisfaction with the they have achieved that cannot be shared with anyone…

The very book and pictures it paints go forward with the plot. It starts off with dejecting depiction of overwhelming nihilism, construed more broadly than just demise of values and authorities. The characters are unable to find sense in anything they do or whatever happens to them. The overpowering inability to draw pleasure from not only ordinary stuff but also the experiences which should be pleasurable arises from being shaped as insatiable by the culture of consumerism, but more importantly from too loose relationships with people. Were they closer and more valuable, finding sense in what people do would be far easier.

Then the novel goes on to turn into pornography several times more scandalising than infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Brushing aside detailed descriptions of bodily entertainments, even if the author wishes to play with his own fantasies, the message put across through licentious scenes is that the very intercourse, especially in profusion and with accidental partners, no matter how exquisite, adds not much more value to a spirit than crass masturbation. Bad news for those seeking relief and pleasure in sexual life devoid of intimacy, as you move on, you begin to realise you go nowhere and lose sight of any contentment.

And as you read on towards the back cover, sadness is given off in such vast amounts that it takes over the reader. The tragic end is inevitable, as characters have taken the path leading to it several years earlier. The only question one should ask, is whether in circumstances imposed on by life and society surrounding them, they had the chance to arrange their lives differently.

The author incisively tears to pieces the attainments of post-1968 Western Societies, yet the blame must not be put on social framework, but on people who could not resist those direful norms and swam with the tide, as such choice was the most convenient. The decay of inter-human relationship is illustrated in the book on its every page. The pathology has its roots in barely non-existent bonds between parents and children. Thus children, not loved and cared for properly in their formative years, are incapable of building healthy relationships with other people as adults. Their contact with parents is lost and they learn about their deaths from strangers, then not shedding a single tear when parents are buried. They find no common ground with their siblings so they talk to one another only when they really need to. They cannot make more than shallow acquaintances, the one based rather on mutual benefits rather than care, devotion and spiritual intimacy. Their marriages are meant to break up, their contacts with children are meant to demise, they are bound to pass away in solitude. With such emotional disability, the society is bound to break down into atoms, each adrift without direction. One can only ask who designed the world in such way and who has power to change it.

Truth be told, I read the book in February, yet the right moment to review it ensued after last week’s not the most joyful note.

Yesterday morning, before setting off to the swimming pool, I signed in to facebook on my phone. The first news item from the feed was a (high-school) friend’s request to lend her a suitcase having dimensions of cabin luggage, as her new online-ordered one has not been delivered in time. My first thought was whether to ask her to come to pick up mine or jump into the car and bring the suitcase to her place some 20 kilometres away. And then a penny dropped!

Why the hell have I rushed to help her? Why do I always care the most? If I posted a similar appeal, would she even read it until the end? If I were in need, would she take the trouble to help me in any way, would she sacrifice her time and energy for me? After all we have not seen for a few years and it is uncertain whether we will meet soon, so why? For the sake of clarity – I have not even got in touch with her.

So what drove my behaviour? I googled the phrase “Why do I always care the most” and the English-language Internet responded to me most probably I suffer from inferiority complex and in such way seek people’s approval. Loads of nonsense! I have come up with two other reasons. Firstly, I take pleasure in helping people, watching they are happier or better off because of my deeds – this is commendable in essence, yet without reciprocity, with time a good-doer loses heart. Secondly, I simply seek company…

For the end, two questions which I have at the back of my head me since last Sunday:
1. Should I turn on my the birthday reminder on facebook?
2. Should I do something about the 10-years-after-graduation reunion or let things drift, because given reaction of former classmates, there is no use in meeting up?

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