Ridiculously adorable comics about the adventures of a little cat - my 9-year-old is zooming through the nearly 500 pages of this compilation, and reaRidiculously adorable comics about the adventures of a little cat - my 9-year-old is zooming through the nearly 500 pages of this compilation, and reading a lot of it to me, and we both keep squee-ing over the insane cuteness ......more
I had heard that Houellebecq was a nihilist author, so I expected his writing to be bleak and boring and hard to get through. Instead I was pleasantlyI had heard that Houellebecq was a nihilist author, so I expected his writing to be bleak and boring and hard to get through. Instead I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging and funny his writing style and characters were. Nihilist or not, he has a good capacity for appreciating and savoring the small nuances of beauty, empathy, kindness, and pleasure in social interactions. I found his sense of humor really fascinating - it definitely runs dark, but it's also very humanizing, and betrays a certain level of bravery, honesty, and love that counterbalances the self-centered despair. Above all, it's a book full of intelligence, the oblique, charming kind that leaks out at the seams of descriptions and jokes rather than the dominating kind of intellect that attacks problems directly and tries to bully them into submission. It's interesting given that issues of dominance and submission, particularly as they relate to gender, shape the book in important ways.
The narrator's ex-girlfriend says at one point: "Yes, in theory you’re definitely macho. But then you have such refined tastes in writers: Mallarmé, Huysmans. They don’t exactly play to the macho base. Plus you have a weirdly feminine eye for household textiles. On the other hand, you dress like a loser. I could see you cultivating a macho slob thing, but you don’t like ZZ Top, you’ve always preferred Nick Drake. In other words, you’re a walking enigma." The narrator is truly an odd mix of machismo and delicate sensibilities - he is uninterested in feminism, and not worried about the welfare of women under the new repressive religious regime; mainly he is worried about whether women are sexually accessible, and the ideal wife for him, as for his idol the 19th-century writer Huysmans, is one who would be a combination of "a good little cook" and a whore.
There's an especially fascinating passage where one of the characters talks about Story of O, a classic of sadomasochistic literature, and its depictions of feminine submission to masculine desire. The idea is that just as the woman in the Story of O experiences bliss through total submission, so too society can experience bliss by submitting to the dominance of religion - in this case Islam, though it could just as easily have been Catholicism I think ... and so the Islamicized vision of France that Houellebecq presents is one where the public sleepily, dreamily, blissfully submits to the rule of religious authorities and everyone is happier. Men have the joy of submitting to a state that provides them with submissive wives who are good little cooks and sex slaves, and women have the double joy of submitting to the state and to their husbands.
Of course, the oblique point that the book makes is that this looks like joy only as long as no one looks too hard at the inner lives of women. Politically, submitting to the authoritarian right looks like joy as long as no one thinks too hard about who gets hurt. The sleepy, dreamy, blissful submission is its own kind of nihilistic suicidal impulse, a rejection of agency, choice, and autonomy - the impulse to negate selfhood through passivity, by saying, as the narrator says at one point, "fuck autonomy." The book is a warning and a guide: If you want to kill yourself, if you want to give up on meaning and integrity, on authenticity, here's how to do it.
One of the more insightful self-help books about relationships I have come across, and I've been thinking about it a lot since I finished. Basically,One of the more insightful self-help books about relationships I have come across, and I've been thinking about it a lot since I finished. Basically, the book gives you a kind of conceptual framework for thinking about how different people approach romantic attachment, and categorizes people's relationship behavior as either anxious, avoidant, or secure. The secure people are comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving, while anxious people crave intimacy and worry about their partner's ability to love them back, and avoidant people try to minimize closeness and worry about losing their independence. It may be a bit of an oversimplification, but the concepts are still really useful since they provide a pretty compelling explanation of why some relationships turn toxic and some are healthy and nurturing.
I like how the book not only gives a good explanation of where things go wrong, especially in relationships where one person is anxious and the other avoidant, but also gives a lot of positive examples of what works in relationships and where things go right. There's solid discussion of when and how to end an unsatisfying relationship, as well as of ways to try to bring a relationship between one or more insecure partners into a more secure and mutually satisfying place. The writing is clear and easy to understand without feeling dumbed down.
The authors mention at some points that attachment styles are malleable, and we can change over time and go from having a secure attachment style to an insecure one, and vice versa, based on life events and relationship experiences. It would have been interesting to have deeper discussion of this, and the degree to which the attachment styles are a continuum or varying spectrum versus cut-and-dried categories. I recognized past and current parts of myself in the descriptions of each of the three styles. It also seems to me that some people might be more malleable than others - and a person who is particularly sensitive and malleable might shift more depending on who their partner is. It seems like in the past, when I've dated more clingy anxious types, for example, I've become more avoidant, and when I've been involved with more avoidant types I've become more anxious ... It was a little surprising to me that the quiz at the beginning categorized me as "secure," but it would make more sense if there was a shifting spectrum or continuum, such that, per my quiz answers, on that particular day I was 60% secure, 25% anxious, and 15% avoidant -- the more complicated mix would seem to reflect reality a little better for most people ...
Anyway, all in all a really good and thought-provoking book!...more
Parts of this short book were pretty dense, like where she discusses the history of psychology, and I only skimmed them ... she also has a kind of oblParts of this short book were pretty dense, like where she discusses the history of psychology, and I only skimmed them ... she also has a kind of oblique style even when she writes from a more "human interest" standpoint about bad boyfriends and teenagers unjustly accused of narcissistic behavior. In other words, she makes her points indirectly, which sometimes makes it hard to follow the nuances of her argument. Her main point seems to be that the fear of narcissism easily gets out of hand and sometimes winds up making people engage in the very behavior might be labeled narcissism from someone else's perspective.
Basically, the book revolves around how there is a tendency in popular culture to label anyone who rejects us (bad boyfriends) or whom we want to villainize (kids today, why don't they get off our lawns!) as narcissists. It's easier to deal with romantic rejection by pathologizing the behavior of the person who rejects us and painting them as a sick narcissist, than to see them as complex human beings who have their reasons. Ironically, by demonizing the rejecting romantic partner as a narcissist rather than just acknowledging the validity of their feelings, the rejected person is the one who actually displays a lack of empathy - supposedly a narcissistic trait.
The dating advice given to the "victims" of supposedly narcissistic bad boyfriends is that they should hold out for someone who makes them the absolute center of their universe, and they should be on their guard against and immediately drop anyone who fails to make them feel special, worshipped and unique ... in other words, ironically, they should have narcissistic expectations of their romantic partners. Additionally, the self-help and pop psychology industries as a whole encourage people to sit around diagnosing and condemning the psychological ills of others, rather than, again, seeing our commonalities with others, having genuine sympathy for their struggles and mistakes, and putting ourselves in their shoes.
The idea of narcissism is further discredited as the author points out how it started in modern psychology with Freud as an accusation that was leveled against homosexuals and attractive women - since Freud felt threatened by his homoerotic impulses, and of course also by self-sufficient women who were uninterested in undergoing psychoanalysis. Apart from the accusation of narcissism now being thrown at bad boyfriends a lot, apparently some famous reformed pickup artists dudebros have turned it around and blamed their bad-boyfriend-hood on having narcissistic mothers. So, basically, it tends to get tossed out at whoever activates one's insecurities and makes one feel threatened.
Even though a dense book to get through, this book provides a nice cautionary counterpoint for me, since I've been doing some reading the past year or so in the self-help and pop psychology genres. I've definitely noticed how easy it is to slide onto the slippery slope of applying the concepts to judging others rather than trying to make myself a better (wiser) person. And also, concepts from psychology have to be taken with a grain of salt, since they aren't always well-grounded even when they have a long intellectual pedigree - they can be somewhat arbitrary and artificial, and you always have to do your own thinking about how well they really match the reality of your own and other people's experiences ......more