Monday, October 16, 2006

without the feet you have nothing

Back at the end of May 2005 (scroll down here), I posted some photos and review of Michel Houellebecq in conversation with Sam Lipsyte at the Hammer (complete with burlesque dancers). The current issue of The Believer has Lipsyte's account of the week-long road trip that preceded the event.

We drive a few more hours and Houellebecq seems to nap through a lot of it. He has this uncanny ability to appear asleep and then rise up out of his slumber with some bon mot, as though he’s been listening to the conversation the whole time. It’s his M.O. in a wider sense, too, this disheveled, seemingly discombobulated man, an establishment outsider who looks like easy pickings until he opens his mouth (or laptop) and starts hurling thunderbolts. It’s hard to tell whether it’s all a big game or he’s some kind of narcoleptic savant. I’m beginning to think it’s a bit of both, but that his glue is a sometimes charming, sometimes grating, semi-autistic geekiness. He’s not a conversationalist, and he’s none too curious about anything or anybody that doesn’t directly feed his observational mechanism. He may be an artist for our age, but he’s got none of the media-ready gabbiness or false compassion that goes with it. Even his narcissism doesn’t seem to stem from the usual brew of selfishness and insecurity. It’s a cold, glittering thing. Life is painful and disappointing. And then you die. He may be a major writer, I tell my friend on the phone one night from my hotel, but you wouldn’t want him, say, running a country.

"Are you kidding?” says my friend, a Houellebecq fan. “You wouldn’t want that guy running the local gas station.”