It is almost a half of my stay here. Finally, I'm reading Houellebecq's Soumission, although I had promised myself to read it first thing after my arrival here. Unsurprisingly, I identify with several ideas, such as that of triplication of the professors' salaries and La Sorbonne sponsored by the Saudis (meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, as a source of unconditional founding, has almost disappeared under the horizon; Houellebecq couldn't have predicted that). And of course the idea of Mediterranean Europe, not necessarily as a restitutio imperii, but at least as a restitutio oecumenae. I am very much in favour of this. Instead of aimless sponsoring of those territories eastwards where the only dream, deep down, is the restitutio of Moscow as the Third Rome.
I can't avoid subscribing to the pervasive sadness of this novel. I am a decadent myself, and I used to love Huysmans just as the novel's hero did, although I only wrote a single conference paper about À rebours, and the text was lost due to a computer failure. I see his point, a very pertinent point indeed, the death of Christianity. The inefficiency of Madonna de Rocamadour and of those abbeys in the vicinity of Poitiers. I am sensitive to the charm of Christian tradition, how could be otherwise, but also to the stale smell of all those Benedictine abbeys, the rampant depressiveness of Hildegard von Bingen. And curiously, my Christianity has nothing Polish in it. It is a Romance Christianity, entirely western. As a part of my Polish destiny, I rejected it long ago, in my early teens. So it survived exclusively as a westernised, museal Christianity of a late, very late European erudite. A Petronius of Christian Europe.
There are resemblances, and there are contrasts of course. Houellebecq's hero was removed from Sorbonne about the same age as I, when the vogue of Christian -rather than Islamic- fundamentalism washed me out of the University of Warsaw. Yet I live -and live intensely- the remaining twenty years of intellectual career that I have in front of me.
Last but not least, I am sensitive to the poignant eroticism of this novel, to the fate of being abandoned that European modernity has brought to our erotic destinies. Arabian love never ends; this is why it ends up in death, precisely because it does not have any natural ending, it doesn't burn out. European love does end; according to the author's diagnosis, it lasts one academic year. And the way is down down down, with the natural decadence of human body, female and male as well. Lover of his students, the hero ends up paying for sex, finally overcome by his own anhedonia.
Yet there is an even more pungent moment in Soumission, the death of the hero's mother, that putain névrosée, an abandoned woman who ends up buried in a communal grave because no one reacted even to the news of her death. The quintessential portrait of the female old age in Europe. Certainly not as sympa as that of her ex-husband. He could at least buy, she could not.
And in the background, Islamic call for prayer -never directly mentioned, as I think, in the text- rising over Paris. It would have awaken me from the deepest depression, tenfold more efficient that Faust's bells of Easter. In fact it did awake me on several dire occasions. Strangely, it is so easy for me to imagine Paris as Istanbul or Cairo or Casablanca, at sunset, when suddenly the call for prayer starts in a mosque, and immediately a hundred voices take it up across the city.