The first thing I noticed when I picked up my used copy of Platform by Michel Houellebecq, were the bits of jizz on the edges, making the pages stick together. Not surprising, given the amount of orgy scenes.
Houellebecq’s exploration of our contemporary malaise is only relieved through the constant pursuit of sexual adventure. The protagonist, Michel, is a depressing character with really no personality to speak of. He drifts through life bored and alone. “Anything can happen in life, especially nothing (Houellebecq, 148).” He is unable to find a suitable partner, or even really, connect with anyone at all. But then he meets Valerie on a group tour in Thailand, where he goes to enjoy the benefits of Thai prostitutes. In Valerie he discovers a sexually giving nature with the benefit of having someone to love, talk to, and enjoy life.
She works in the tourism industry, dealing with the problem of customers who are bored by their vacation experiences. Michel suggests a line of hotels that specialize in sex tourism. At first it’s a huge success – until Muslim terrorists step in.
“The problem with Muslims, he told me, was that the paradise promised by the Prophet already existed here on earth. There were places on earth where young, available, lascivious girls danced for the pleasure of men, where one could become drunk on nectar and listen to celestial music; there were about twenty of them within five hundred meters of our hotel (Houellebecq, 250).”
Michel listens quietly to his companion, but he is more concerned with the sexual problems of westerners. “Something is definitely happening that’s making westerners stop sleeping with each other. Maybe it’s something to do with narcissism, or individualism, the cult of success, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that from about the age of twenty-five or thirty, people find it very difficult to meet new sexual partners… so they end up spending the next thirty years, almost the entirety of their adult lives, suffering permanent withdrawal (Houellebecq, 172).”
In my early twenties I attracted more men and even women than I ever have since. And since then I have been analyzing exactly why this is so. I had that youthful glow and was always smiling and laughing, whether it was nervous laughter or not. I was much more friendly and open to all experiences – not yet scarred by all that was thrown at me later. I was naïve, which older men found highly amusing for a while. In fact, I was everything they were looking for to make them feel young again. I was the answer to their existential crisis – youth.
For a number of these men – sex in its basic form wasn’t cutting it anymore. They were resorting to cocktails of Ecstasy and Viagra, group sex, role-playing, bondage, domination, whips, hooks, orgy-parties. And yet, they were still always bored. “Organized S&M with its rules could only exist among overcultured, cerebral people for whom sex has lost all attraction. For everyone else, there’s only one possible solution: pornography featuring professionals; and if you want to have real sex, third world countries (Houellebecq, 175).”
When I did date normal, mainstream guys, I was bored out of my mind. They were so vanilla, with nothing to talk about and a limited capacity for pleasure that was stunted and one-sided. They were also not as honest.
Since then I have gained much more than lost. But if I have lost anything, I would like to bring back that openness I had to people all around me. I want to love fully without fear, with more effort on my part in the awareness that we are all as one. Houellebecq, of course, puts it more bluntly, “It is in our relations with other people that we gain a sense of ourselves; it’s that, pretty much, that makes relations with other people unbearable (Houellebecq, 63).”
Houellebecq has a dire view of the world, and though he writes of the dangers of isolationism, he also gravitates to it. I see it as laziness. How can you feel connected to others, if you are not first willing to give? The character of Michel expects women to sexually fall all over him when he has not given them anything to fall over. He is a walking dead man. There is nothing lovable about him. And when he meets Valerie, it is hard to understand why she is attracted to him.
Behind Houellebecq’s fictional sexual forays is the mind of a Puritan. His characters are always punished for finding sexual satisfaction. They begin and end in their fear of intimacy. The sterile, noncommittal experience of a prostitute becomes the safer approach.
I watched Houellebecq’s interviews, and got the sense that he is already dead. He appears to fall asleep, and takes an inordinate amount of time to answer questions. His hands and mouth constantly grab for the stimulus of a cigarette. In an interview for The Paris Review, he was asked how he has the nerve to write some of the things he does. He answered, “Oh, it’s easy. I just pretend that I’m already dead.”