TamTam Books News

Friday, January 24, 2003:

Michel Houellebecq is one of my favorite current authors. I strongly suggest locating his new novel "Platform." The following is an essay I found on http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/ArticleView.asp?accessible=yes&P_Article=11738

Love thy clone
January 2003
I hate my father, I'm ambivalent about my son and I dislike myself. But I want to be cloned as soon as possible. It is the only consolation that science has to offer me against death

Michel Houellebecq
I don't like myself. I only feel a touch of sympathy, and even less respect, for myself; what's more, I don't interest myself much. As a teenager, then as a young man, I was full of myself; this is no longer the case. The mere prospect of having to recount a personal anecdote plunges me into boredom verging on catalepsy. When I absolutely have to, I just lie.

Paradoxically, however, I have never regretted reproducing. You could even say that I love my son and I love him more each time I recognise in him the trace of my own flaws. I see them displayed over time with an implacable determinism, and I rejoice. I rejoice immodestly at seeing there repeated, even made permanent, personal characteristics which have nothing particularly estimable about them; characteristics which are quite often worthy of contempt and have, in reality, the sole merit of being mine. Moreover, they are not even exactly my own; I fully realise some have been lifted straight from the personality of that vile cunt, my father. But, strangely enough, that takes nothing away from the joy I feel. This joy is more than selfishness; it is deeper, more indisputable.

On the other hand, what saddens me about my son is seeing him display (is it the influence of his mother? the different times we live in? pure individuality?) features of an autonomous personality, in which I cannot recognise myself and which remains utterly foreign to me. Far from marvelling at this, I realise that I will have left only an incomplete and faded image of myself.

Western philosophy hardly favours the expression of these sentiments. Such feelings leave no space for freedom and individuality, they aim for nothing but eternal, idiotic repetition. There is nothing original about them; they are shared by almost all mankind, and even by the majority of the animal kingdom; they are nothing but the living memory of an overwhelming biological instinct. Western philosophy is a long, patient and cruel training course whose objective is to persuade us that a few wrong ideas are right. The first idea is that we must respect our fellow man because he is different from us; the second is that we have something to gain at the moment of death.

Today, thanks to western technology, this veneer of proprieties is rapidly cracking. Of course I will have myself cloned as soon as I can; of course everyone will get themselves cloned as soon as they can. I will go to the Bahamas, New Zealand or the Canaries; I will pay the asking price (moral and financial demands have always counted for little next to the demand for reproduction). I will probably have two or three clones, as you have two or three children; between their births, I will allow for an adequate gap (not too narrow, not too wide); as an already mature man, I will behave like a responsible father. I will make sure my clones have a good education; then I will die. I will die without pleasure, because I do not wish for death. Through my clones, I will have reached a certain form of survival-not completely satisfying, but superior to the one which ordinary children would have brought me. For the time being, it is the most that western technology can offer.

As I write, it is impossible for me to foresee if my clones will be born outside a woman's womb. What appeared to the layman as technically straightforward (nutritional exchanges via the placenta are a priori less mysterious than the act of fertilisation) turns out to be more difficult to replicate. In a situation where techniques have sufficiently progressed, my future children, my clones, will spend the beginning of their existence in a jar; and that makes me a little sad. I like women's pussies, I like to be in their wombs, in the elastic suppleness of their vaginas. I understand the safety considerations, the technical requirements; I understand the reasons which will progressively lead to in vitro gestation; I merely allow myself, on this subject, a little hint of nostalgia. Will they, my little dears born so far from it, still have a taste for pussy? For their own sakes, I hope so. There are many sources of joy in this world, but few pleasures-and few of them are harmless.

If they have to develop in a jar, my clones clearly will be born without a navel. I do not know who was the first to use, in a pejorative sense, the term "navel-gazing literature"; but I know I have always been put off by this cliché. What interest would there be in a literature which pretended to talk about mankind by excluding all personal considerations? Human beings are, comically, much more similar than they let on; it is easier than you think to attain the universal by talking about yourself. And there we find a second paradox: talking about yourself is a tedious, even repellent activity; but to write about yourself is, in literature, the only thing worth doing, to such an extent that we measure-classically and rightly-the value of a book according to the author's capacity for personal involvement in it. You could call this grotesque, even insanely immodest, but that's the way it is.

While writing these lines, I am gazing at my navel, literally and figuratively. I think about it rarely, and that's just as well. This fold of flesh carries the sign of a cut, a hastily-tied knot; it is the memory of the scissors which, without any due process, threw me into the world and told me to look after myself. You too will not escape this memory; as an old man, even as a grand old man, you will preserve intact in your belly the trace of this cut. Through this badly-closed hole, your most intimate organs could, at any moment, spill out into the atmosphere. At any moment, you could die like a fish you kill with a kick to the backbone. Remember the words of the poet:

"God's body writhes

Before our eyes

Like an exhausted fish

We kick to death"

You will soon be there, oh futile children. You will be like gods-and it won't be enough. Your clones may lack navels, but they will have a navel-gazing literature. You too will be navel-gazers. Your navel will be covered with dirt; earth will be cast on your face.
Michel Houellebecq is the author of "Atomised" and "Platform." © 2003 Translated by Gavin Bowd

Tosh // 8:33 PM

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