• Daniel Ethan Finneran

A Review of "Submission"

December 2018

Doomsday predictions seldom follow through on their claims. Had the auguries of the ancients proved themselves even slightly more accurate, or the calendars and the cosmos a smidge better aligned, we’d all be gone. We’d be dust twice over. After all, we’ve been promised since time well-neigh immemorial of the imminence of our imminent doom.

Yet we remain.

We’re warned that this life is in retreat, yet we relish with insouciance these days purchased on borrowed time. Cataclysms, revelations, millenniums, and raptures—all are to come and to come disquietingly soon. And it just might be for the best if they did. We’ve been awaiting their arrival and our destiny’s reversal for thousands of anxiety-ridden years. Instead of “why now?” and “why us?” I ask, what gives? Is there no limit to be expected of our patience?

Should we not invite this forthcoming end as a sort of cosmic coup d’grace? Our necks have been outstretched on the altars for far too long a time. Swing down, destiny, your blade!

Of course, these anxieties which are born of apocalyptic worldview are largely molded by the exhortations of the religious. Be it a rabbi or a priest, a shaman or an imam, an Egyptian or an Aztec, every religion—at one time or another in the development of its superstition and the refinement of its creed—has believed that a time of destruction and salvation is, if not at hand, rather acutely near. For the religiously, eschatologically inclined, obliteration is the infatuation—finality the ultimate pursuit. Hurry up, says the eager fundamentalist. The hungry ascetic’s cry is for us to relinquish this earth for the next. Their blind certainty is that a grander, more ethereal one awaits. And so, they plead: bring on the apocalypse and let the real party begin.

Literature, so much akin to religion in so many ways, is itself enamored of dates of doom. When thinking of the dystopian novel par excellence, one’s mind still rushes to George Orwell’s 1984—named in commemoration (and, it might be added, as a clever permutation) of the year of its writing in 1948. Enduringly harrowing, even if it’s portents haven’t yet been realized in the fullness of Winston Smith’s life, Orwell’s work still speaks through the dialect of a dystopian language intelligible by all today. Without my needing to say it, the work touches the various sensitive religious, political, and cultural fears we hold, while showing that dystopian futures are never too far ahead. Quite the opposite, they can be frighteningly close.

But in 1949, when finally Orwell’s dystopian chef d’oeuvre found its way to the publisher’s house and thence into the hands of Europe, it’s date of reckoning was admittedly, if not inconceivably far away. Back then, the world being as fraught as it was, one couldn’t easily sense the imminence of the early eighties. The great second World War had reached its expiry—the coming Cold War was in its infancy. The same can’t be said of the next great work of the genre, Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 novel, Submission.

When compared with the British Orwell’s work, the Frenchman Houellebecq’s is portentous in a similar way. But unlike Orwell’s unsurpassable book, Houellebecq’s predicts a future not decades, but mere moments away. Houellebecq’s dystopian inauguration day, his year zero for the rest of time is 2022—three measly years around the bend.

Whereas Orwell subsumes you in his totalitarian nightmare in media res (compelling you literally to peak over your shoulder being, such as you are, guilty of thoughtcrime after the first page) Houellebecq brings you to the threshold of a totalitarian state at his work’s end. In a word, the conclusion is where the book begins and where Western Civilization, where the fruits of Christendom fall apart and spoil.

A tocsin to the multiculturalists, an alarm to the Islamic apologists, Houellebecq presents a world in which the theocratic day-dream of a restive Islamist becomes real. The result, as any rational person might well predict, isn’t at all good; it’s an incipient theocratic state. It’s repressive toward and exploitative of the feminine form. It’s benighted and illiberal. And while we may shiver at the thought, it soon may come to pass.

But to know how this might come to be, one must first know Houellebecq’s protagonist—in this case the uninspiring professor Francois. Once eminent within his field and marginally respected outside of it, Francois is a figure who disinvites imitation. A desiccated scholar in the lull of his mid-forties, Francois finds himself confronting the all-too-familiar tension of lassitude and time. While the former waxes, the latter wanes. Too many of us, sadly I think, can empathize with such an increase and diminution of, respectively, inertia and time.

Francois, at the time of our meeting him, is in the decrescendo of his anticlimactic career. Increasingly of middling renown if not outright obscurity, his listlessness is exceeded only by his lecherousness—his passivity by his promiscuity. As a teacher of the nubile and young, he’s less interested in assignments than in raunchy assignations. As such, he courts his students on a yearly cycle, loving them only so long as a semester lasts. Not quite so pedophilic as a Humbert collecting Lolitas, Francois prefers his love interests young (undergraduate students in his field, namely), of that he makes us acutely aware, and his relationships brief.

Yet we mustn’t confuse Houellebecq’s prurience with his startling prescience. It’s the latter quality upon which the perceptive reader must commit his focus. Leaving aside for the moment our amorous academician, who describes in so exacting detail the female anatomy that you’d think it his scientific rather than his romantic pursuit, we turn to other matters. Indeed, we turn to the cultural, religious, and political milieu of the second decade of the twenty-first century of the eternally decadent state of France.

It’s there that the leftists and progressives have agreed to join in a political coalition with the Islamists. The party of the right, at whose helm in this quasi-fictive narrative stands the very real and irrepressible “Le Pen” name, has failed yet again. The nationalist, conservative embers in France have once again been doused. As it was in 2017, Marine’s party is again left in the wake. Thwarted is her right-wing “frisson of fascism”—the pungent phrase Houellebecq devilishly applies to the kind of movement that excites our tribal nerves. He’s of course right in saying that the “rise of the far-right had made things a little more interesting” in the political theater of France, but surely the consequences weren’t worth the heightened intrigue. Now, in the absence of those nettlesome “fascists”, France is to be ruled by the union of the Muslims and the left.

The policies born of this multi-culturally sensitive marriage are extraordinary and harrowing. Polygamy is not only to be legitimized, but—should one man’s means and status deserve it—wholeheartedly encouraged. This component of the religion proves especially appealing to our sexually rapacious professor Francois. For his own achievements, he’ll be permitted by Allah to treble his allotment of wives. Who cares about matters theological when one can be fulfilled with matters so enticingly carnal?

As is marriage, education is to be restructured in the full. No longer will students, be they male or female, have the opportunity to pursue the liberal arts. This, of course, was one of the great relics that survived Europe’s distinctly Scholastic, Medieval past and made it into the universities of our own day. The likes of Al-Ghazali, Avicenna, and Rumi will rather supplant than supplement the likes of Aquinas, Abelard, and Dante. Doubtless, these would be the more innocuous changes a newly Islamic France would bring. A change in pedagogy and a liberation of sexuality (as it pertains to the male) would be just the start; they’d serve as the initial gates through which one might enter a newfangled society defined by Sharia full-stop.

And thus, beneath Francois’ very feet, the tide of French culture has shifted. Charles Martel’s defenses may as well have been sieves. Doughty France has fallen and Islam marches at the helm. How exactly does our Francois respond? Unheroically, to say the least, but might we not respond in the same way? I fear we’ll soon learn that very answer; 2022 approaches inexorably fast.

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