The author thinks that the fact that although Houellebecq consistently denounces art and books as useless, he still writes books, is somehow of great significance. Human motivation is diffuse, and in all likelihood Houellebecq is driven by an amalgam of such mundane factors as needing an income and keeping himself busy. The final chapter is as silly as its embarrassing title suggests "There is actually no such thing as atheism". This level of reasoning is so embarrassing as to not merit a philosophical response. The editing is also very sloppy, but I believe that the publisher is, somewhat cynically, selling this as part of its brand.

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O Books, John Hunt. Paperback, pages. A more rigorous, less stylized version of the kind of long critical essay usually associated with writers like Geoff Dyer and Pierre Bayard, Anti-Matter is a work of criticism that honors—and occasionally exceeds—its source.

With God and art unmasked as mere contrivances that shield us from thinking about our own death, all that remains in male protagonists is sex drive, the desire par excellence.

Like anything that exerts power over us, great art has the capacity to unsettle if we cannot satisfactorily account for it. Jeffery is correct in noting that pessimism is integral to much of the literature that feels especially alive right now—Kafka, Beckett, Bernhard—but defaulting to pessimism is not enough.

We need literature and criticism that seeks ways out, rather than allowing artists to wallow in bleak solipsism. But one should not be too hard on Jeffery: Despite his own doubts, he successfully uses Houellebecq as a vehicle for meditating on significant questions about art and philosophy.

And this is in large part what makes Anti-Matter feel vital: In posing important questions about literature, doubt, and pessimism through an author he recognizes as fatally limited, Jeffery offers a vision of how criticism can detach from the literature that inspired it and become a thoughtful, necessary genre in its own right.

Where they fall short, however, is in failing to recognize that unrestrained doubt is no sturdier a philosophy than unrestrained belief, even if the former is more fashionable. Booth recognizes why these dogmas are seductive—they play into a disaffected worldview based on alienation from religion and politics—but he offers good reasons to reject them.

He edits The Quarterly Conversation, an online periodical of literary essays and reviews.


Michel Houellebecq

In a lengthy autobiographical article published on his website now defunct , he states that his parents "lost interest in [his] existence pretty quickly", and at the age of six, he was sent to France to live with his paternal grandmother, a communist , while his mother left to live a hippie lifestyle in Brazil with her recent boyfriend. He graduated in , married and had a son; then he divorced, and became depressed. They divorced in Six years later, in , he published a biographical essay on the horror writer H. Lovecraft , a teenage passion, with the programmatic subtitle Against the World, Against Life. It was followed by his first collection of poetry, La poursuite du bonheur The pursuit of happiness.


Anti-matter: Michel Houellebecq and Depressive Realism


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