The demon of Europe is Michel Houellebecq, and her angel is Karl Ove Knausgård. I belong to Generation Houellebecq, the generation that runs from the publication of his first novel, Whatever (1994), all the way up to his most recent novel, Serotonin (2019). My reaction on acquiring Atomised (2000) when I was seventeen, in 2002, was joy and repression. Houellebecq described the situation so well, particularly regarding men and women, I decided this could not be true; so I read his books and then repressed the knowledge. It can’t be this bad.
Houellebecq was the first to portray the sexual marketplace created by the spirit of ‘68 in a negative way—not simply tutting as conservatives did at the time, but describing the full brutality of the process. It is a process he likens to the privatisation of industry. Following Pareto, the liberated sexual marketplace creates gross inequalities; yet, unlike the inequalities of industry, the sexual marketplace, without marriage, consumes its assets. Houellebecq’s characters, ugly computer programmers, were incels avant la lettre. Thus Houellebecq automatically falls to the right: the left cannot speak about biological inequality—the inequality of sexual relations—because to do so is to admit an immutable inequality in man.
Aside from this, Houellebecq tackles the growing Islamisation of Europe, sometimes so acutely that we suspect he is writing it into reality—whether describing Islamist bombings of sex tourists or the cowardice in the face of Islam in France. Above all, Houellebecq skewers der ewige Boomer—smug and hedonistic post-war children—whose lack of restraint would be tolerable if only it were not mixed with a smug assumption of complete moral superiority, as best exemplified by Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton.
Knausgård’s work is placid, wistful, and yet honest about his personal thoughts and observations. His novels are lightly fictionalised accounts of his life; each novel might as well be his diary, for all we know. What is powerful about these works is his ability to capture the mundane and profound thoughts that occur to any person. In this he matches Houellebecq, a man who wrote poetry about trips to Carrefour.
The political aspect of his bestselling work—aside from the title: My Struggle—is found in the primal nature of everyday reality. The protagonist, Karl Ove, is a Viking stranded in Ikea. He takes his child to the park in the pram and feels stupid; he is not against doing it, but there is something wrong. He takes the child to a playgroup; he is the only man there, and he fancies the mothers. He goes to a party, his girl is trapped in the toilet. Karl Ove wants to smash the door down, but he is too weak; a fellow party-goer, a boxer, rescues her. It is all fine, rationally; except, for a man, it is not fine. Not at all. Finally, Knausgård’s protagonist mentions those old rebels against nihilism, Mishima and Jünger, favourably; and the man he most admires is an uncle who, after trying Maoism and poetry, retreats to a smallholding to study Heidegger.
Houellebecq is a reincarnation of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, another great racial vulgarian—Céline hated the Jews, Houellebecq has it in for the Muslims. These two men are seedy as only a Frenchman can be; always half-shaved, searching for a fag to droop from the side of the mouth, and with half a glass of stale red wine on the kitchen table—no doubt all tied together with the aroma of garlic. Houellebecq has taken, late in life, an Asian wife; the mandatory waifu of radical right Internet lore—perhaps he is just owning the feminists, or perhaps he cannot help but be the dirty Euro in Thailand. Knausgård, by contrast, confirming the iron of physiognomy, is a good-looking fellow; his work is without bitterness. He is married with children and consultant to an update of the Bible in Norwegian; he has an affection for angels. He is the hope of Europe, Houellebecq its squalid contemporary reality.