Western incompetence in the art of living

Dalrymple writes:

Not reading many contemporary French novels, I am not entitled to say that Michel Houellebecq is the most interesting French novelist writing today, but he is certainly very brilliant, if in a somewhat limited way. His beam is narrow but very penetrating, like a laser.

Houellebecq’s theme, says Dalrymple, is

an important, indeed a vital one: the vacuity of modern life in the West, its lack of transcendence, lived as it is increasingly without religious or political belief, without a worthwhile creative culture, often without deep personal attachments, and without even a struggle for survival. Into what Salman Rushdie (a much lesser writer) called ‘a God-shaped hole’ has rushed the search for sensual pleasure which, however, no more than distracts.

Something more is needed, but

Western man—at least Western man at a certain level of education, intelligence and material ease—has not found it. Houellebecq’s underlying nihilism implies that it is not there to be found.

The result of this lack of transcendent purpose is

self-destruction not merely on a personal, but on a population, scale. Technical sophistication has been accompanied by mass incompetence in the art of living. Houellebecq is the prophet, the chronicler, of this incompetence.

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