LOS ANGELES, August 22 -- Action movie hero Dwayne Johnson, star of the "Jumanji" and "Fast and Furious" franchises, topped the annual list of the world's highest-paid actors, Forbes magazine reported.
Johnson, the former wrestler once known as The Rock, pulled in US$89.4 million (S$123 million) from June 2018 to June 2019, the magazine said. That includes his salary and a share of profits from films, US$700,000 per episode of HBO series Ballers, and seven figures in royalties from his line of clothing, shoes and headphones with Under Armour. Last year, Johnson was second behind George Clooney, who reaped a windfall from the sale of his tequila company. Next on this year's list were two stars of Avengers: Endgame, the highest-grossing movie of all time. Chris Hemsworth, who played Thor, took in US$76.4 million, while Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr earned US$66 million, Forbes said. Other "Endgame" stars - Bradley Cooper, Chris Evans and Paul Rudd - also landed in the top 10. Most of Cooper's earnings, however, came from A Star Is Born, the musical drama he directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in with Lady Gaga. Cooper collected US$40 million of his US$57 million total from that film, Forbes said. The fourth-biggest earner was Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, with US$65 million, and Hong Kong-born actor and martial artist Jackie Chan with US$58 million. The figures are pre-tax and do not include deductions for fees given to agents, managers and lawyers, Forbes said.
For an apparently abandoned village, Doel certainly seems to have a life, and it’s not just tourists. Despite many inhabitants taking up offers of cash premiums and selling voluntarily around 2000, Doel still has residents who have endured, residents who are once again legally allowed to stay there.
“Court bailiffs appearing at doors used to be a fairly normal occurrence; and so was dealing with vandalism because the municipality wouldn’t provide the appropriate measures to help,” said Brian Waterschoot. Waterschoot is a member of Doel2020, a group responsible for promoting and representing the village through dialogue discussions about its future. “Looting, arson; these were all things that Doel regularly had to deal with, with little done to prevent them from happening,” he explained. While there might not be many of them, the village’s few remaining inhabitants have a certain pride in their houses. As a result, there is a surreal contrast in the village between quaint homes and buildings left exposed to the elements and the whims of vandals. “We settled with the authorities to stop further deterioration of buildings and vandalism by allowing people to live there. Metal plates have been installed to prevent access to abandoned houses, and a barrier that requires a Belgian ID card has been set up on the main road. People now feel a bit safer,” said Waterschoot. There are many buildings that could be habitable or that could be assigned a new function with a minimum of effort, he added. “The current situation is that we’re just trying to live in relative peace. Everyone has different reasons for being in the area, but we all share a common concern,” said Waterschoot. That concern is crystal-clear: What comes next?
The future of Doel
While it has existed in a state of administrative deadlock for years, progress is being made on the issue of Doel with a view towards the long term. After years of uncertainty, some things have changed for the better. One important reason for this is the “complex project”, which aims to create a framework to be implemented by 2030. This is the first opportunity we’ve had in years to sit together and discuss Doel, said Waterschoot. In May 2019, the Flemish government announced that it had selected the so-called ninth alternative for the expansion of the port of Antwerp, which combines a limited new dock that connects to the existing Deurganck dock with new container capacity via a more compact building strategy. In this scenario, Doel is safe, said Waterschoot. The future of Doel and the form the village can take are now the things that need to be researched carefully. Doel can never become the village it once was but the potential is enormous, explained Waterschoot. Its location close to the River Schelde, the port, the history of the village and the historic buildings that are left are all important features which a future Doel could be proud of, he added. One further plan for the future of Doel is a project being developed by the architects of the University of Leuven. The students have prepared detailed repair schedules for three valuable historic buildings in the derelict village. In this way, the students hope to warm the government and the people from the neighborhood to the idea of the reconstruction of the village.
Another question that is yet to be answered is what would be done with the destroyed buildings. “In a way, it could make sense to keep some of these buildings in their current state, as they indeed show the impact of a government failing to act,” said Waterschoot. This decision may have given a reprieve to the people of Doel, but what happens next remains unknown. For now, the future of the village is similar to its past, uncertain, hopeful and well supported by a few loyal residents refusing to give it up.
BANGKOK, August 20 -- In July, at the Bangkok Asean Film Festival, Vietnamese movie The Third Wife was honored with a Special Mention prize, with the jury noting its meticulous craftsmanship, strong acting and confident directing.
In the movie set in rural Vietnam in the late 19th century, a young girl becomes the third wife of a wealthy land-owner. There are sex scenes and sequences showing child-birth. But while the film has been well-received overseas, including winning a prize at Toronto International Film Festival 2018, it has been yanked out of cinemas in Vietnam. Audiences, reported Vietnam News, are shocked that the character is played by Nguyen Phuong Tra My, who was then only 13 years old. Citizens have blasted Vietnamese film-maker Ash Mayfair over her casting decision. My's mother was also slammed for allowing her daughter to be involved, with some detractors wondering if she was blinded by the pursuit of fame and money. The VnExpress portal cited child protection experts as saying that the sex scenes could have a psychological effect on a young actress. Mayfair told the Hollywood Reporter: "We didn't do anything wrong and we broke no law. They can't attack us on those grounds so there have been attempts to smear the ethics of the actress' mother, publishing her personal details online and saying she had sold her daughter for money."
Defending the subject matter in her film, she said: "These questions are open for debate and I have no problem with that. We talk about women's rights and we are very critical about patriarchal traditions that have been in the country for centuries." My was reportedly selected after the director auditioned more than 900 candidates. My, who is now 15 and was said to have convinced her parents that she could perform the role, is upset that the movie cannot be seen by Vietnamese, even as it has drawn applause elsewhere. Hollywood trade publication Variety, in its review of the film, said: "In May (portrayed by My) and in Ha and Xuan (the other two wives), there are all the women and girls of the past who've been ignored, abused, forced into competition with one another, made to endure a degradation of spirit and a commodification of body so complete it should have resulted in their annihilation, like silkworms steaming alive inside their cocoons". "But with The Third Wife, new talent Mayfair reclaims just a few of those silvery strands from the neglect of history and weaves them into a film so sensuous we can lose ourselves in it, but so vividly real we might also be able to find ourselves there." Vietnam's censors have reportedly asked Mayfair to submit an edited version of the movie for screening clearance.
LOS ANGELES, August 17 -- Actor and counterculture hero Peter Fonda has died in Los Angeles at the age of 79.
His family said in a statement that Fonda died Friday morning at his home in Los Angeles. The official cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer. Peter Fonda was the son of Hollywood leading man, Henry Fonda, and brother to actress, Jane Fonda. He earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing the psychedelic road trip movie, 'Easy Rider', which also starred Denis Hopper and Jack Nicholson. He would never win that golden statuette, but would later be nominated for his leading performance as a Vietnam veteran and widowed beekeeper in 'Ulee's Gold'. Fonda had an estranged relationship with his father throughout most of his life, but said that they grew closer over the years before Henry Fonda died in 1982. Fonda collaborated with another struggling young actor, Dennis Hopper, on the script about two weed-smoking, drug-slinging bikers on a trip through the southwest as they make their way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
He remained prolific for the rest of his life with notable performances performances as the heel in Steven Soderbergh's 'The Limey', from 1999, and in James Mangold's 2007 update of 3:10 to Yuma. Fonda is survived by his third wife, Margaret DeVogelaere, his daughter, actress Bridget Fonda and son, Justin, both from his first marriage to Susan Brewer. Following her brother's death, Jane Fonda said: "He was my sweet-hearted baby brother. The talker of the family. I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days. He went out laughing."
LONDON, August 8 -- Fifty years ago today The Beatles were photographed crossing a leafy street in north London, creating one of the most famous album covers in music history and an image imitated by countless fans ever since.
The picture of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr striding over a zebra crossing on Abbey Road was taken outside the EMI Recording Studios where they made the 1969 album of the same name, and nearly all of their other recordings. Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan took just six shots of the group on the crossing, with the fifth used as the cover of the band’s eleventh studio album, released on Sept. 26 1969. ‘Abbey Road’, which was voted the best Beatles album by readers of Rolling Stone in 2009, was the only one of the group’s original British albums to show neither the band’s name nor a title on the cover.
AMSTERDAM, August 5 -- Rutger Hauer was a rugged Dutch actor who played Nazis, action heroes and bloodsucking vampires, but who was best known as the android outlaw in the 1982 science-fiction thriller Blade Runner.
The blond-haired, blue-eyed Hauer – who has died aged 75 – was scarcely known when he burst off the screen in the Ridley Scott-directed classic as a bioengineered android, or “replicant”, pursued by Harrison Ford. Adapted from a novel by Philip K Dick, the film was a neo-noir drama set in a dystopian future of giant corporations, overcrowded cities and environmental ruin – the year was 2019 – in which replicants are hunted down by special police known as Blade Runners. Although it opened to mixed reviews, the film is now highly regarded, with studies devoted to its examination of what it means to be human. The movie propelled the career of Hauer, whose square-jawed figure, icy stare and droll humour helped to make him a staple of action and horror films, if never quite a star. He won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for Escape from Sobibor, a 1987 TV movie about an uprising at a Nazi death camp – he played the Jewish hero, against type – and in 2005 was a morally corrupt Catholic cardinal in Sin City and a greedy Wayne Enterprises executive in Batman Begins. Hauer also starred in the 1985 medieval fantasy Ladyhawke, alongside Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer; played a vampire king in the 1992 movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and ruled a supernatural tribe in the HBO series True Blood. But he remained indelibly linked with Roy Batty, the murderous Blade Runner replicant who is programmed with a lifespan of four years. Hauer, wrote The New York Times, was “by far the most animated performer in a film intentionally populated by automatons”, and “often upstaged” Ford’s hard-boiled detective, Rick Deckard.
Rutger Oelsen Hauer was born in the Dutch town of Breukelen in 1944, and raised in nearby Amsterdam, where his parents ran an acting school. He was performing onstage by five and ran away from home at 15 to work on a freighter with the merchant marine. He began learning languages, ultimately mastering half a dozen, and after a year at sea returned to the Netherlands to work as a carpenter, gardener and electrician. Night school didn’t suit him, nor did acting school, and he dropped out to join the army. Once again, he said he felt bored and out of place. “It was another one of those so-called macho scenes – I just didn’t fit in,” he said in 1981. “So I played the sad soldier missing his mother and having problems adjusting, which was true – I was having problems adjusting, so they discharged me from the army. Then I finally was more motivated and managed to do the discipline thing.” Hauer tried drama school again and came to describe acting as “the urge to, let’s say, fulfil a certain black hole in you”. He worked in a rural touring company, performing plays by Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, and was launched to Low Countries stardom in 1969 on the medieval television series Floris, a kind of Dutch twist on Ivanhoe. The series was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who went on to cast Hauer in movies including Turkish Delight (1973), an Oscar-nominated Dutch blockbuster, as well as Soldier of Orange (1977) and Spetters (1980), which found some arthouse success in the US.
For his first American role, Hauer played a terrorist in the 1981 Sylvester Stallone thriller Nighthawks. One month before the release of Blade Runner, he portrayed Nazi architect Albert Speer in the TV movie Inside the Third Reich. Hauer reunited with Verhoeven for the 1985 medieval drama Flesh and Blood; one year later, he played a homicidal hitchhiker in The Hitcher and a bounty hunter in Wanted: Dead or Alive, an adaptation of the Steve McQueen TV western. He also made millions of dollars as the face of an advertising campaign for Guinness beer and starred as an alcoholic homeless man in Italian director Ermanno Olmi’s The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988), which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.
BARCELONA, June 9 -- Construction of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia basilica may have started 137 years ago, but the emblematic monument got a building permit only last Friday.
The Spanish seaside city council awarded the licence to a committee in charge of finishing construction of the Catholic church for €4.6 million (S$7.1 million), Ms Janet Sanz, in charge of urban planning, told reporters. In a quirk of history, the authorities discovered only in 2016 that the building which draws millions of visitors every year had never had planning permission since construction began in 1882. Ms Sanz said the council had finally managed to "resolve a historical anomaly in the city - that an emblematic monument like the Sagrada Familia... didn't have a building permit, that it was being constructed illegally." According to the committee in charge of finishing construction of the not-yet-completed basilica, designer Antoni Gaudi had asked the town hall of Sant Marti, a village now absorbed into Barcelona, for a building permit in 1885 but never got an answer.
Some 137 years later, it is finally legal. The new building permit states that the basilica will finally be finished in 2026, with a maximum height of 172m and a budget of €374 million. Designed by Gaudi, a famous Catalan architect also known for the Park Guell, another tourist magnet in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005. Construction, financed solely by donations and entrance tickets, is due to conclude in 2026, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the death of Gaudi, who was run over by a tram. The basilica is Barcelona's most visited monument, with 4.5 million visitors in 2017, and one of the main tourist landmarks of the country.
or a brief moment, just before the end of Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel Sérotonine, a ray of hope seems to galvanize its protagonist. For a short while he seems to recover his lust for life. Having languished for years without a sense of purpose, Florent-Claude resolves to end his reliance on antidepressants. Gradually something akin to a will to live begins to resurface: he notices skirts by the bar in a café, girls, facial expressions, emotion, desire, and irritation at the mind-numbing TV programs he had been watching every day. Indeed, he actually throws out his screen and begins to think again about Thomas Mann, about Proust—about the fate of our civilization. But it doesn’t last. The sun doesn’t rise. The glow on the horizon fades—just like in the closing passage of Houellebecq’s first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte, in which the subject’s hope similarly vanishes after a delightful, optimistic afternoon in the country: “It will not take place, the sublime fusion,” he reflects, “the goal of life is missed.” And everything melts away into an all-encompassing void. No mercy, no comfort: the project of our civilization has come to an end. In this sense, Sérotonine is typical of Houellebecq’s oeuvre. At some point in the course of their lives, all of Houellebecq’s characters are forced to acknowledge that their romantic ideals have become untenable in the modern age, since individualism has made profound, long-term relationships impossible. This simple idea forms the fundamental conviction of Houellebecq’s work. It echoes, it certain ways, Marxist Verelendungstheorie: as technological innovations have made jobs boring and interchangeable, and as free trade has destroyed traditional farm life and honest labor, we now pass through life as atomized wage slaves in the service of incomprehensible, unfathomable government organizations and overwhelmingly powerful multinational corporations. Erratic consumer preferences, capricious fashions, and an unpredictable herd instinct dictate the opinions (or the whims and fancies) of most of us who no longer have a family, a home, a church, and a nation to reinforce our sense of identity. Unable to chart a course for ourselves, we are floating around in an empty sea. Rudderless. All control of life—andof who we are—is lost. In some of his books (such as La carte et le territoire), Houellebecq allows his characters to achieve a degree of happiness in consumerism—as in the massive hypermarket where one can wander about endlessly in search of yet another self-indulgent pleasure—small comfort indeed. In Plateforme, the limitless supply of sex in Thailand’s coastal resorts leaves the author’s subjects on a temporary high. Yet even these delights finally fade amid the loneliness, the isolation, and the pointlessness of it all—and that is why Houellebecq’s books generally culminate in a kind of religious vision. From disappointment (at the lack of an all-embracing cultural ideal, romantic love, meaningful social intercourse) to depression. Then, via desperate consumerism and sexual hedonism, to a futile, feeble cry for help into the cosmos.
In La possibilité d’une île (2005), that cry finally brings a new holistic world religion into being, which sublimates desire in an almost Buddhist manner. In Les particules élémentaires (1998), the pursuit of knowledge itself assumes religious proportions that raises mankind to a divine perspective through genetic manipulation. And in Soumission (2015), the West succumbs to the Muslim creed. Sérotonine, too, ends in a quasi-religious meditation. While the protagonist deliberates over whether or not to jump from his apartment (and after he has just worked out the speed and duration of the fall in a dry, almost surreal calculation), suddenly there is this:
Actually, God does care about us, he thinks about us all the time, and he guides us, sometimes quite precisely. These loving impulses that enter into our hearts to the point of suffocation, these illuminations, these ecstasies which cannot be explained by simple biological nature, by our status as primates: these are extraordinarily clear signals. So today I understand how Christ felt, his frustration at people’s hardened hearts: they have seen the signs and yet they pay no attention. Do I really need to offer up my life for these whingers? Do I really have to be so explicit?
It seems so.
Does he then sacrifice himself and plummet to the ground in a desperate attempt to save us all? Or is it the writer who is speaking here, presenting his oeuvre as an attempt to offer salvation? Perhaps the protagonist remains lying on the sofa in his apartment, crushed, unable even to gather the strength to walk to the open balcony door and hop over the railing? It is left to the reader to decide.
Modernity’s Joyless Liberation
Sérotonine tells the story of Florent-Claude, who grows up somewhere near Paris, trains as an agriculturalist, finds a job with Monsanto, and later works in Normandy’s cheese industry before ending up in the French Ministry of Agriculture. He has a series of relationships, all of which ultimately fail. When he finds out that his current Japanese girlfriend has been going to orgies behind his back, where she has serviced not only groups of other men but even three dogs (a pit bull, a boxer, and a terrier, as he specifies rather precisely), he resolves to disappear without a trace. Quitting his job, he leaves their joint apartment without a word and decides to carry on anonymously for as long as his savings will allow. He takes antidepressants, launches into a kind of farewell tour of his exes—some of whom he actually speaks to, while others he watches from a distance (and he notices with some satisfaction that they, too, have ended up unhappy). Subsequently, he experiences up close how rural life is collapsing as a consequence of free trade and unfair competition from Third World countries. Milk, grain, and meat from massive tillages in South America are dumped onto the French market, effectively sealing the fate of the farmers of France. His best friend from college days, a man of aristocratic ancestry currently running the family château near Caen in Normandy, organizes a short-lived protest movement of farmers against free trade—but even this attempt to finally do something meaningful, to resist the slash and burn of modern existence, proves ineffectual. In desperation, the resistance leader commits suicide at a demonstration not unlike today’s gilets jaunes protests. When Florent-Claude realizes soon after that his savings account is about to run dry, the short religious meditation I quoted earlier concludes the calculations about leaping from his apartment to the ground.
So yes, the modern world brought liberation. But this liberation has not made us happy. Instead, it has left our lives empty, without purpose, and, above all, extremely lonely. Existential connections have become almost impossible since few are genuinely prepared to sacrifice short-term pleasure for the commitment required to establish a deep mutual connection. Television, internet, and pornography have replaced organic social intercourse and physical intimacy. As more options open up each day, our hearts close to the possibility of real human warmth, having been betrayed too many times—and having witnessed ourselves betraying others—for the brief moments of seductive thrills that we, as “liberated individuals,” can no longer resist. Now this fundamental point which Houellebecq makes time and again deserves further reflection, because it challenges the very fundamentals of both the contemporary “Left” and the “Right.” It challenges modern anthropology as such. Both the social-democratic and the liberal wing of the modern political spectrum (respectively advocating the welfare state and the free market) wish to maximize individual autonomy. Liberalism and socialism differ when it comes to the most effective way to achieve that objective, but they do not differ in the objective itself. They are both liberation movements; they both want the complete emancipation of the individual. And both base their vision of society on the (unfounded but supposedly “self-evident”) principle that every individual enjoys certain “inalienable rights,” which by definition eclipse all other claims, and to which all other ties, loyalties, and connections must ultimately be subordinated. Over time, all such institutions that the individual requires to fully actualize a meaningful existence—such as a family and a connection to generations past and future, a nation, a tradition, perhaps a church—will weaken and eventually disappear. Today, even new life (in the womb) may be extinguished to avoid disturbing the individual’s freedom. In the Netherlands (where I live), suicide is facilitated to ensure that here, too, no constraints—such as the duty to care for your parents—are placed on the individual. It is this fundamental assumption of the modern age—that individual autonomy (be it through free markets or welfarism) leads to happiness—which Michel Houellebecq challenges. He questions the sacred trinity of the modern worldview. As we once worshipped the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, we today venerate liberty, equality, and fraternity. And Houellebecq proposes that this new trinity falls short—thatthe very idea that we should be trying to pursue individual happiness is itself flawed. Getting what we want does not make us happy; it actually makes us unhappy. Constantly enticed by the promise of relief, which in the end never really relieves, we keep hopelessly searching for the thing that “truly” makes us, as “individuals,” “be ourselves.” In Houellebecq’s view, the very philosophical concept of “the individual self” is wrong. For without the ability to define ourselves in an unbreakable connection with our surroundings, there is nothing for us to derive meaning from and we end up depressed. Thus, the freest people who have ever lived have also come to live the least meaningful lives. The more we “liberate” ourselves from our social ties, the more we become the slaves of our own distorted self-image.
The Void of Atomization
The remedy for this collapse of the modern promise is clear. Although Houellebecq, a poet more than a philosopher, shies away from laying out a detailed political manifesto, he tells us on every page that we need to rediscover a territorial, social, and historical connection with others around us, a connection which transcends individual choice, momentary whims, and instrumental interests. This naturally implies a powerful nation-state that protects the social fabric, along with a high degree of skepticism towards immigration and free trade. But this in itself is not enough. To recreate embeddedness in society, the individual himself has to be embedded again. He has to be deliberalized. Indeed, apart from implying the indispensability of a strong national state, Houellebecq indicates that two much more fundamental challenges must be overcome: our sexual and spiritual liberation.
To start with sex, in Extension du domaine de la lutte Houellebecq writes:
From the amorous point of view, Véronique belonged, as we all do, to a sacrificed generation. She had certainly been capable of love; she would have wished to still be capable of it, I’ll say that for her; but it was no longer possible. A scarce, artificial and belated phenomenon, love can only blossom under certain mental conditions, rarely conjoined, and totally opposed to the freedom of morals that characterizes the modern era. Véronique had known too many discothèques, too many lovers; such a way of life impoverishes a human being, inflicting sometimes serious and always irreversible damage. Love as a kind of innocence and as a capacity for illusion, as an aptitude for epitomizing the whole of the other sex in a single loved being rarely resists a year of sexual immorality, and never two. In reality, the successive sexual experiences accumulated during adolescence undermine and rapidly destroy all possibility of projection of an emotional and romantic sort. How encouraging to finally read a modern writer who takes the problem of sex seriously! Of course, the cult of virginity lost its credibility in the Western world some time ago, today’s philosophy being that we have to experiment to find the right partner. Houellebecq, however, draws upon older intuitions which maintain that the bond which forms through sexual intimacy may reemerge once or twice, but not much more, and that we should therefore be extremely cautious in acquiring amorous experience. Sex, in short, can be a threat—and not simply an aide—to intimacy and love. Now this may be true, or partly true, or there may at least be some truth to it. But whatever the case, it is not easy to see how we could possibly constrain the forces that we have unleashed. In this age of instant hookups and online pornography, renewed chastity seems very far off. Then, religion: Houellebecq argues that we will always conceive of ourselves in terms of a metaphysical purpose. Those who believe that the heavens above us are devoid of a divine presence will invariably meet their existential needs in other ways: first with the superficial pleasure of a libertine lifestyle, and, in due course, with barely secularized heresies—such as naïve humanitarianism and one-worldism. This desperate moralism opens the doors to massive numbers of immigrants, undermines real political communities, and makes distinctive national and civilizational aspirations impossible. Again, all this may be true, or partly true: the comforting conviction that we are not alone, the idea that we are part of a greater plan and that a fatherly figure is watching over us, may well be necessary to accept the existential shortcomings of ourselves and those around us. Yet to recommit ourselves to the embedded life rests on a leap of faith which, according to Houellebecq, simply is no longer tenable in today’s scientific age. This is the tragedy that has befallen us.
Take, for example, the protagonist of Soumission, who tries with all his might to convert to Christianity in the legendary cliffside city of Rocamadour:
The Virgin waited in the shadows, calm and timeless. She had sovereignty, she had power, but little by little I felt myself losing touch, I felt her moving away from me in space and across the centuries while I sat there in my pew, shriveled and puny. After half an hour, I got up, fully deserted by the Spirit, reduced to my damaged, perishable body, and I sadly descended the stairs that led to the car park.4
Any reader, in my view, will be hard-pressed to deny that Houellebecq has identified—in passages such as this one—a crisis we all recognize. A crisis of atomization. We are free, and we are glad we are free. Yet we are also sad, fundamentally uprooted, always wandering, never at home, never safe—exiled, in effect, from the garden we still vaguely remember having once inhabited. So the paradox is this: the freedom we desire eventually makes us unfree and unhappy, while the constraints that we reject eventually make us happy and free. We are profoundly incapable of defining ourselves as individuals (although we think we can). We constantly overestimate our own abilities to create a world on our own. If you allow yourself a brief moment to view the world from Houellebecq’s perspective, his philosophy is validated all around us. Consider the emancipation of women and the feminist ideology that underpins it (a favorite topic in Houellebecq’s work). The “liberated” status of women is usually celebrated as one of the great triumphs of late-liberal society. Today women, from an early age, are encouraged to pursue a career and be financially independent. They are expected to reject the traditional role of supporting a husband and strive instead for an “equal” relationship in which “gender roles” are interchangeable. But how has this really been working out for them? What happens when they hit thirty? If they continue to work full hours, building a family becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible. This is why women in the Western world increasingly tend to have fewer children—if they even have them at all. Work and children then often limit the time available for the maintenance of a committed relationship, and rare are the lovers that both work full hours, rear children, and invest sufficiently in each other for the marriage to remain healthy over time. An inevitable result of all this is the demographic decline of Europe. Another outcome is constant conflict, constant competition—and in the end, fighting, divorce, and social isolation—and a new generation of boys and girls growing up in such disfigured settings.
This frustration is expressed directly by the character Christiane in Les particules élémentaires:
Never could stand feminists. . . . always going on about washing dishes and the division of labor; they could never shut up about the dishes. Oh, sometimes they’d talk about cooking or vacuuming, but their favorite topic was washing dishes. In a few short years, they managed to turn every man they knew into an impotent, whining neurotic. Once they’d done that, it was always the same story—they started going on about how there were no real men anymore. They usually ended up ditching their boyfriends for a quick fuck with some macho Latin idiot. . . . Anyway, they fuck their way through two or three, maybe more if they’re really pretty, and wind up with a kid. Then they start making jam from Marie Claire recipe cards. . . .
. . . I know what the veterans of ’68 are like when they hit forty. I’m practically one myself. . . . They feel the presence of the Angel or the flower blossoming within but then the workshop’s over and they’re still ugly, aging and alone. So they have crying fits. . . . Especially after the Zen workshops. They don’t have much choice, really—most of them have money problems too. Liberation, once again, hardly liberates.
Brave New World?
In Les particules élémentaires, probably his most theoretical book, Houellebecq attempts to formulate the explanation for today’s specious anthropology. Where does this liberal view of man, which has ushered in the rapid decline of Western civilization, originate? When did we go astray? Metaphysical mutations—that is to say radical, global transformations in the values to which the majority subscribe—are rare in the history of humanity. The rise of Christianity might be cited as an example. Once a metaphysical mutation has arisen, it tends to move inexorably toward its logical conclusion. The “metaphysical mutation” that prescribes maximum individual pleasure and materialistic gain reached its logical conclusion, Houellebecq explains, in the liberal vision of mankind found in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Here, people can experience instant pleasure but duties—the care of children and elders—are avoided. Houellebecq blames the Flower Power generation that spawned the revolution of 1968 for bringing that vision to fruition. But has this been an autonomous process? Or has it been manufactured? Houellebecq does not really reach a conclusion. In a way his vision reminds me of something my PhD supervisor, the British philosopher Roger Scruton, once (jokingly) told me, that “the discovery of fossil fuels is the greatest tragedy in the history of man.” Whatever he really meant by that (he certainly wasn’t referring to that other modern heresy, the quasi-religion of “climate change”), he seemed to suggest that we have unleashed forces which we are unable to control. We fly towards the light like moths; we are constantly drawn by its maddening attraction—and yet we are never fulfilled by the thing we pursue.
But, having said all this, is there any hope in Houellebecq’s oeuvre? If, as in his view, the modern world is based on a fundamentally flawed anthropology—and has, as a consequence, produced a completely dysfunctional society—then it cannot continue to exist for very long. Individualism has reached its final stage and cannot develop any further. It has started to consume itself. We are now at the point where we must begin to think about what comes after—and this will necessarily be some form of traditionalism. Because individualism makes our societies so weak (resulting, as we have seen, in an unwillingness to defend our civilization, to resist mass immigration, and even to reproduce, among other things), our society shall either regress and regenerate, or it will be replaced. In most of his books, Houellebecq refers to some form of identitarian movement, of nationalists and populists, or, as in Sérotonine, a popular uprising à la today’s gilets jaunes. Indeed, Soumission even involves a paramilitary resistance group led by the fascinating Godefroy l’Empereur, who incidentally appears to serve the finest pear liqueur in all of France. In all these movements, Houellebecq sees (correctly, in my view) an attempt to preserve traditional European culture or indeed to reestablish it: a world in which the family is once again at the center, in which nations are restored, maybe even a form of Christianity is reinstated. In contrast to such movements stands the alternative: the conquest or replacement of our civilization by a new “metaphysical mutation.” Such a metaphysical mutation also conforms, though in a different way, to some traditionalist standard and involves the sacrifice of the individual’s desires and liberation in favor of the group. This is most concretely seen in the strong internal loyalties of Arabic, African, and Turkish immigrants who follow Islam, which Houellebecq describes in Soumission. As things stand today, this second scenario clearly represents the most likely future for Europe. And in a famous 2015 interview in the Paris Review, Houellebecq in fact commented: “I accelerate history, I condense an evolution that is, in my opinion, realistic.” He added: “The Koran turns out to be much better than I thought. I feel, rather, that we can make arrangements. The feminists will not be able to, if we’re being completely honest. But I and lots of other people will.”7
Are the cards then dealt? Or do we still—despite the Herculean challenge of overcoming modern individualism—have the option of revitalizing our civilization?
Houellebecq, in the end, does not really answer the question. And, to be honest, I am a little disappointed that Sérotonine has not explored this greatest question of our age any further. Soumission ended in a vague conditional tense, like a dream, with a distant vision of an Islamized Europe. The final struggle between Godefroy l’Empereur and the Islamists remained undescribed—and in our world, too, the future remains undecided and our vision is often warped by the frame of liberal individualism. But, given the astonishing rise of populists and nationalists in Europe and beyond, the question cannot be avoided. Why, then, has Houellebecq, for his latest book, chosen a protagonist who belongs to the nihilistic 1990s rather than the assertive 2010s? Why has he returned to the old theme of an exhausted midlifer who watches it all happening but is powerless to intervene? While reading, I was struck by the thought that Sérotonine may perhaps have been based on an older manuscript (from the period of Plateforme and La possibilité d’une île) which Houellebecq still wanted to finish. Or perhaps he finds himself as an author unable to rid himself of that sense of defeat which characterizes his generation (Houellebecq was born in 1956—the truly lost generation). If that is true, we must wait not just for his next book, but for the next generation of authors to pick up the challenge and run with it a little further: and to help us express, and even revive, the Western will to live.
ฮอลลีวูดวันที่ 21 พฤษภาคม -- ปรากฎว่าตำนานทั้งหมดเกี่ยวกับจอห์นวิก - บูกี้แมน, บาบายาย่า - การผ่านพ้นไม่หยุดหย่อนเป็นเรื่องจริงทั้งหมด
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HOLLYWOOD, May 21 -- It turns out all those myths about John Wick – the boogeyman, Baba Yaya – being unstoppable are entirely true.
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