Traces of Individuality

It is wrong to pretend that human beings are unique, that they carry within them an irreplaceable individuality; as far as I was concerned, at any rate, I could not distinguish any trace of such an individuality. As often as not it is futile to wear yourself out trying to distinguish individual destinies and personalities. When all’s said and done, the idea of the uniqueness of the individual is nothing more than pompous absurdity. We remember our own lives, Schopenhauer wrote somewhere, a little better than a novel we once read. That’s about right: a little, no more.

Michel Houellebecq

8 thoughts on “Traces of Individuality

  1. Pingback: Wordpress Blog Post On Traces Of Individuality - Wordpress Blogs .NET

    • Yes, very much so. The common ground between Beckett and Houellebecq is their nihilism. Beckett is resigned to the absurdity of the universe; Houellebecq is unable to give up his belief that love offers a possibility, however faint, of redemption, and therefore never reaches the clarity of complete resignation. This is also the source of Houellebecq’s rage, manifested in some of his darker projections, a rage that is absent in Beckett.

  2. Fascinating exposition. It seems transparently dishonest. I believe it is good for us to believe that we are not unique, but as I have experienced others, it is absolutely undeniable that I have met people with the most unique qualities imaginable, and I cannot find their replacements.

    • I lean toward the position that both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard took on individuality: that it is not inevitable and very rare.

      Houellebecq’s narrators are never completely consistent-who of us is-and in ‘Platform’, exposition aside, seems to share this view.

  3. Not sure I understand in what ways uniqueness is proposed here by Houllebecq’s character. Is this supposed to argue that myriad differences between people that we experience every day is superficial? I accept the way that psychological experiments chillingly show the hackneyed views we can readily adopt, and the groupings by which people’s reactions to situations can fall under, and the cognitive biases to which we are prone etc. etc. Nevertheless, there is surely a joy in others that operates in much subtler ways? Does the narrator deny this in Platform? (have only read Atomised, I’m afraid)

    • Houellebecq, as I see it, is taking a lofty view of our species, an anthropological perspective. Flying over a herd of buffalo, they all appear identical, though there will be physical and temperamental differences to take into account if you were to live amongst the herd.

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