Whatever (novel)

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Whatever (French: Extension du domain de la lutte literally "Extension of the domain of struggle") is the 1994 debut novel by French writer Michel Houellebecq. The French title refers to the main character's idea that the class struggle has extended to the realm of relations between the sexes, resulting in similarly unequal social hierarchies, stratifying the sexual marketplace into sexual 'haves' and sexual 'have nots', whereas the English title is a pithy example of the main characters dismissive and nihilistic view of life. The main character of the novel, Harel, lives through inceldom. It is perhaps the most frank depiction of inceldom ever in literature, containing arguments about inceldom that the media later attributed to incel forums around 2018. The novel was made into a film in 1999.

Like most of Houellebecq's novels, it is written in a darkly humorous style, is highly offensive and vulgar at times, and contains sharp criticisms/observations of the widespread social atomization, materialism and consumerism he implies is a result of modern Capitalism and Liberalism. Its acknowledgement of a social hierarchy as being instinctive to human sexuality makes it arguably the most sexual realist, arguably blackpilled novels in history.[1]


Synopsis[edit | edit source]

Harel is a 30 year old programmer earning "2.5 times the minimum wage". Ugly, depressive and lacking charisma, he is unsuccessful with women. He hasn't known a single woman since the separation from his girlfriend Véronique a few years ago, despite claiming to previously have "had many women, but for limited periods". He states that the relationships he had prior to his last one, were indelibly marred in his eyes by his perception that the women he slept with clearly saw him as a "last resort", their attitude towards him being cold and dismissive. He doesn't match what women seek on market of sexuality and narcissistic satisfaction, people don't even remember his name. Harel is an observer of the hypocrisy of globalized Western societies in which a strong social hierarchy based on sexuality prevails.

Most of the first part of the novel concerns Harel's mundane and depressing life, and documents his increasing sense of alienation from society and his growing visceral contempt for it.

In the context of his job he meets another programmer, Raphael Tisserand, a 28 year old a virgin and a truecel (described as having the appearance of a "buffalo toad", and suffering from extreme short stature, being roughly 5 feet tall), whom he despises because of his extreme ugliness and the consequential fact that women run away from him. Tisserand refuses to lose his virginity to a prostitute due to a lingering sense of pride, and continually attempts to hit on several women that he interacts with, to their great disgust.

During a work trip, Tisserand has a nervous breakdown over his inceldom and the hero leads him into a nightclub where he watches his pathetic attempts at approaching women who reject him. Tisserand tries to pick up another woman who resembles Véronique, the callous ex girlfriend of the narrator. The woman rejects him and leaves the nightclub with a young "half-caste" Black man to have sex with on the beach nearby. Harel has racist thoughts and decides that they follow the couple. He tries to convince Tisserand to murder and perhaps rape the woman first, arguing that if he can't take her heart and body, at least he can take her soul and life, to which the humiliated man agrees, adding that he would prefer to slaughter the man first. After stalking the couple to the secluded beach, Tisserand ultimately chickens out, describing himself as pathetically resigning himself to masturbating while watching the couple have sex, adding that "blood changes nothing". Later that night, he dies in a car accident on his way back to Paris, with the incident possibly representing a successful suicide attempt on Tisserand's part. Harel salutes what he views as Tisserand's indomitable fighting spirit, with Tisserand never having given up on his search for love, until his premature death.

Harel becomes increasingly nihilistic and suicidal, his thoughts increasingly morbid and violent. In an attempt to seek treatment for his deep depression, he is willingly interned in a rest home. While there, he is treated by a female psychologist, who after arguing with Harel about the meaning of the works of French novelist Guy de Maupassant, ascertains the chief cause of his despair is his persistent sexlessness. But she curtly rejects his subsequent offer to engage in sexual intercourse, and has herself replaced by a male colleague.

Harel comes to the realization that his fellow patients mainly suffer from the same woes he does - they were not mad, but had been driven so by an enduring lack of affection and love. Harel is discharged from the care-home and embarks on a long cycling trip through the French countryside, where he mentally resigns himself to his fate.

Excerpts[edit | edit source]

  • [ . . . ] in societies like ours sex truly represents a second system of differentiation, completely independent of money; and as a system of differentiation it functions just as mercilessly. The effects of these two systems are, furthermore, strictly equivalent. Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization. Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never. Some make love with dozens of women; others with none. It's what's known as `the law of the market'. In an economic system where unfair dismissal is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their place. In a sexual system where adultery is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their bed mate. In a totally liberal sexual system certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude. Economic liberalism is an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society. Sexual liberalism is likewise an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society ... Certain people win on both levels; others lose on both.[2]
  • [...] A woman fallen into the hands of the psychoanalysts becomes absolutely unfit for use, as I've discovered time and again. This phenomenon should not be taken as a secondary effect of psychoanalysis, but rather as its principal goal. Under the pretext of reconstructing the ego psychoanalysts proceed, in reality, to a scandalous destruction of the human being. Innocence, generosity, purity . . . all such things are rapidly crushed by their uncouth hands. Handsomely remunerated, pretentious and stupid, psychoanalysts reduce to absolute zero any aptitude in their so-called patients for love, be it mental or physical; in fact they behave as true enemies of mankind. A ruthless school of egoism, psychoanalysis cynically lays into decent, slightly fucked-up young women and transforms them into vile scumbags of such delirious egocentrism as to warrant nothing but well-earned contempt. On no account must any confidence be placed in a woman who's passed through the hands of the psychoanalysts. Pettiness, egoism, arrogant stupidity, complete lack of moral sense, a chronic inability to love: there you have an exhaustive portrait of the 'analysed' woman. [3]
  • [...] Véronique had known too many discothèques, too many lovers; such a way of life impoverishes a human being, inflicting sometimes serious and always irreversible damage. Love as a kind of innocence and as a capacity for illusion, as an aptitude for epitomizing the whole of the other sex in a single loved being rarely resists a year of sexual immorality, and never two. In reality the successive sexual experiences accumulated during adolescence undermine and rapidly destroy all possibility of projection of an emotional and romantic sort; progressively, and in fact extremely quickly, one becomes as capable of love as an old slag. And so one leads, obviously, a slag's life; in ageing one becomes less seductive, and on that account bitter. One is jealous of the younger, and so one hates them. Condemned to remain unvowable, this hatred festers and becomes increasingly fervent; then it dies down and fades away, just as everything fades away. All that remains is resentment and disgust, sickness and the anticipation of death. [4]
  • [...] Sure. It's been hopeless for a long time, from the very beginning. You will never represent, Raphaël, a young girl's erotic dream. You have to resign yourself to the inevitable; such things are not for you. It's already too late, in any case. The sexual failure you've known since your adolescence, Raphaël, the frustration that has followed you since the age of thirteen, will leave their indelible mark. Even supposing that you might have women in the future - which in all frankness I doubt - this will not be enough; nothing will ever be enough. You will always be an orphan to those adolescent loves you never knew. In you the wound is already deep; it will get deeper and deeper. An atrocious, unremitting bitterness will end up gripping your heart. For you there will be neither redemption nor deliverance. That's how it is. Yet that doesn't mean, however, that all possibility of revenge is closed to you. These women you desire so much, you too can possess them. You can even possess what is most precious about them. What is it, Raphaël, that is most precious about them? [5]
  • [...] 'Help yourselves.' No other word was uttered; each person chewed his food. Sometimes one of the inmates was overcome by a fit of trembling, or began to sob; he went back to his room, and that was that. The idea gradually dawned on me that all these people - men or women - were not in the least deranged; they were simply lacking in love. Their gestures, their attitudes, their dumb show betrayed an excruciating craving for physical contact and caresses; but that wasn't possible, of course. So they sobbed, emitted cries, lacerated themselves with their nails; during my stay we had a successful attempt at castration. [6]

Potential Influences[edit | edit source]

The novel has been argued to have been influenced by another French critic of sexual liberalism, Michel Clouscard, who explored similar ideas, but with an ultimately different train of thought. Clouscard notably critiqued the sexual revolution as aiming to distract the working class from their economic poverty by promoting a range of romantic choice not within the reach of most of the working class.[7] Clouscard indirectly criticized feminism as consumerist and a distraction through his critique of the sexual revolution.

Clouscard described the liberalized sexual marketplace being chiefly the domain of what is known is classical Marxist theory as the exploiter classes, namely the bourgeois and the Capitalists, whereas Houellebecq's characters described the sexual marketplace as all-encompassing. In other words, Clouscard focuses on classical materialist Marxist economics, and sees the values pursued in the sexual revolution and the French student uprising in May 1968 as a distraction, whereas Houllebecqs characters directly blame the sexually successful and are often wealthy themselves. However, both Clouscard and and Houllebecqs characters describe sexual license as something less within the reach of the masses than it is promoted. Clouscard argued that sexual liberalism has served to divide the working class against itself (by agitating women against men, through labeling all men as oppressive "Phallocrats") in what he has dubbed "The prostitution economy."[8]

Criticism[edit | edit source]

Due to the frankness of Houllebecq, incelphobes assert that reading to much into Houllebecq is a fools game, and assert (without any evidence and without challenging the ideas) that because the arguments are contained in fiction, that they cannot be taken seriously.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/whatever-1994-by-michel-houellebecq-a-superb-declaration-of-hostilities-1.3919923
  2. Michel Houellebecq, Whatever, 1994, translation by Paul Hammond, 1998, Part Two, chapter 8: Back to the Cows.
  3. Michel Houellebecq, Whatever, 1994, translation by Paul Hammond, 1998, Part Two, chapter 8: Back to the Cows.
  4. Michel Houellebecq, Whatever, 1994, translation by Paul Hammond, 1998, Part Two, chapter 10: The Port of Call.
  5. Michel Houellebecq, Whatever, 1994, translation by Paul Hammond, 1998, Part Two, chapter 10: The Port of Call.
  6. Michel Houellebecq, Whatever, 1994, translation by Paul Hammond, 1998, Part Three, Chapter 5: Venus and Mars.
  7. https://philitt.fr/2019/02/28/le-capitalisme-selon-houellebecq-une-lutte-perpetuelle-qui-ne-peut-jamais-avoir-de-fin-1-3/ In French.
  8. http://www.marxisme.wikibis.com/michel_clouscard.php In French.

See Also[edit | edit source]