All That Exists is Egotism

Few beings have ever been so impregnated, pierced to the core, by the conviction of the absolute futility of human aspiration. The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition toward chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. The skies will be glacial and empty, traversed by the feeble light of half-dead stars. These too will disappear. Everything will disappear. And human actions are as free and as stripped of meaning as the unfettered movements of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure ‘Victorian fictions.’ All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact, and radiant.

Michel Houellebecq
H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life

In an odd way, summarising Michel Houellebecq’s work as a series of (mesmerising) quotes affirms the significance of his worldview-and the appeal of his nihilism for me-in a way that gets a little lost when I engage with each work on its own.

I hadn’t intended to read Houellebecq’s Lovecraft book, but these quotes propel it to my essential reading list. At the moment I’m reading The Map and the Territory for the first time, which I’d been saving as my only unread Houellebecq fiction, or so I thought but somehow Lanzarote escaped my attention. Did I read somewhere that Houellebecq intends to stop writing fiction? At some point I must read the BHL engagement, and then perhaps reread Houellebecq from the beginning.

12 thoughts on “All That Exists is Egotism

  1. His book on Lovecraft is actually my favorite of his works – that and his book of early essays – La Poésie du Mouvement Arrêté (which I think has never been translated) but it has much the same tone as his Lovecraft book, and is more artistic than some of his later work. I wondered if he would write after The Map and the Territory, because for me that book is the one that most radically (and yet subtly) cannibalizes himself into his fiction, and I wonder where he else he could go. But he is still young, so perhaps he’ll go in another direction.

    • Last night I was seeking out what I could find of Houellebecq’s poetry, which looks intriguing, not all very good, but worthwhile I think. Have you read any, Michelle?

      • Have only browsed his poetry. I agree it’s worthwhile, but his prose is never very lyrical (very emotional at times, but he does this without lyricism) and I find this is where his poetry puts me at a distance – he never seems to be interested in the sound of the word and/or the shape/texture/feel of the phrasing. But his thoughts are all there – and when read like prose poetry I find it more meaningful.

  2. The book in question contains Houellebecq’s essay + 2 or 3 HPL’s short stories (I think the number and selection vary, depending on edition), so you don’t really need the whole thing if you’re only interested in Houellebecq. You can read a (different) translation of that text from the link in the review of “Les particules élémentaires” on my blog. Coincidentally, the review opens with this same quote – I needed to go back to his Lovecraft essay after I had read that book, and just got those words stuck in my head for some reason. I knew what your post was about before I clicked to read it 🙂

    • Thanks, Milica, I’m nothing if not impulsive and I’ve ordered the book already, which I’ll collect from my bookshop tomorrow. I’ll also look forward to those HPL stories. How curious that you chose the same quote to open your review.

      • Though he’s not really a master of the written word, Lovecraft is surely worth reading (I love him despite many problems I have with his style and certain views, e.g. his racism). I’m looking forward to reading what you think of both HPL and Houellebecq’s essay. That quote tells as much about its author as it does about the subject, so it might not be that surprising that we both found it powerful (assuming you like Houellebecq as much as I do, even if liking him doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with him).

        • I’m very drawn to Houellebecq’s writing though it isn’t, at least in translation, elegant or beautiful. His nihilism, hinting occasionally at accelerationism, is what keeps me hooked.

          • I read him in English and Serbo-Croatian (the latter being more faithful translations, or so I concluded by comparing them to original French) and I agree with you, and like him for the same reason (though now I wonder whether “like” is appropriate word). It’s similar with Lovecraft, though his writing even gets boring and ugly. But one just can’t ‘unread’ or stop reading them.

  3. Houellebecq is one of those authors I always mean to read, but never get around to. Bearing in mind I love nothing better than a misanthrope with a bleak worldview, where on earth should I start?

    • Now that I am halfway through The Map and the Territory, I would suggest it as a perfect starting point. It seems to me so far that it is his most fully realised work, though it is less suffused with sex than his other work. If you get on with it and wish to read further, then you could go back to Whatever.

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