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ILLUSTRATION: Sullivan’s Travels • watercolor • 5×7″

Last year my friend Bryan suggested I read Michel Houellebecq’s 2005 novel The Possibility of an Island which I didn’t enjoy very much at all. That said, his recommendation may very well have been, “This novel is very dark, and you’re probably going to hate it. It’s a really hateful book.” John Updike’s book review was titled “90% Hateful.” So it’s not like I should have been surprised.

The main character Daniel is a successful French comedian who specializes in shock comedy aimed at various religions, especially Islam. In a tale as old as time, Daniel falls out of love with his wife, in love with a 22-year-old Spanish girl, and then joins and helps lead a futuristic sex cult obsessed with cloning (or a cloning cult obsessed with sex, it’s hard to say). The progression to dystopia is half narrated by two asexual clones living in the future, creating a story that feels as if you mixed a Lars Von Trier movie with a Paul Verhoeven one, then paid for a novelization by Haruki Murakami in his most unfeeling prose with Bret Easton Ellis as translator, perhaps adding his own disturbing sexual flourishes.

I’d like to hope that the whole of the book’s cynicism is trenchant satire (which I’m ashamed to admit I sometimes miss in practice), but I’m afraid that often Houellebecq may be projecting his worldview quite directly in passages such as this one:

“Like the revolutionary, the comedian came to terms with the brutality of the world, and responded to it with increased brutality. The result of his action, however, was not to transform the world, but to make it acceptable by transmuting the violence, necessary for any revolutionary action, into laughter—in addition, also, to making a lot of dough. To sum up, like all clowns since the dawn of time, I was a sort of collaborator. I spared the world from painful and useless revolutions.”

There’s a lot here to be unpacked, but in summary, Houellebecq gives us no way to win—the complicit comedian forestalls revolution, sublimating people’s anger, while the revolutionary is engaged in a “painful and useless” enterprise. It denies the possibility of change at all. What we have is where we’ll stay, or, in the context of the book, will only get worse. And that’s just one bitter paragraph among 300 pages full of them. Screw you Michel Houellebecq and your portrait of an artist as a middle-aged sellout.

Yet I’ve been thinking a lot about this passage in the last week after the shooting in Paris, thinking about outrage and violence as the emotional counterpoint to laughter. Although feelings of outrage can drive necessary social change, the emotion’s lack of nuance may also be the breeding ground of mob rule and totalitarianism. Sometimes it occurs to me (and frightens me) that outrage might be the defining emotion of our Internet age—the emotion of demagoguery, of participatory hashtags, of surprise over completely-to-be-expected human weakness, of overly earnest agreement, and overly bombastic disagreement. As my friend Inga suggests, we don’t live in a world full of irony, but rather we often live in a world where it’s completely lacking.

It’s occurred to me that if “comedy equals tragedy plus time,” perhaps then laughter equals outrage plus perspective. To improve our lot, it’s perspective we need more of, not outrage. And in that world, comedy is hardly a collaborator to anything we want to avoid.

What books did you read in 2014? What books do you plan to read in 2015? Do you hate Michel Houellebecq? Comment away. Or not. That’s cool too. Happy 2015!

ILLUSTRATION: Rust & Ella’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure • watercolor & ink on paper • 5×7″

Here’s how I pretty much felt about Interstellar in four scenes.

Spoiler warnings, I guess.


EMILIO LIZARDO (70) and RUST COHLE (40) in rocking chairs on the porch. A Playa-esque dust storm rips through covering them in sediment. A boy LITTLE CASEY AFFLECK (15) teases his sister MURPH (7).


Shame about all the okra dyin’. And my daughter.


This place is like somebody’s memory of a town, and the memory is fading.


Also shame that you have to travel through a wormhole to save the Earth.


It’s all one ghetto man, a giant gutter in outer space.


Daddy, don’t leave! What about the ghost? It says stay!

Rust walks to his pickup truck and turns the ignition.


Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward.


Hey, I thought my truck was contractually required to be a Lincoln?


Lincoln doesn’t make a pickup.


Remember when I visited the 8th Dimension and brought back the Red Lectroids. That movie was way better.


NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON (40) calculates stuff and throws up in a barf bag. ELLA ENCHANTED (30) secretly kisses a picture of her sweetheart and makes puppy dog eyes.

FAKE JAKE GYLLENHAAL (30) puts some more gel in his hair and looks at a map...of Disneyland? He circles Space Mountain and draws a smiley face.


So, explain this wormhole thing to me again, Neil. Is this like the movie Tremors?

Neil rolls his eyes. Rust stops cutting out little spacemen from Lone Star cans.


It’s like in this universe, we process time linearly, forward. But outside of our space time, from what would be a fourth dimensional perspective, time wouldn’t exist and from that vantage could we attain it? You see our space time would look flattened, like a single sculpture, matter in a super position, every place it ever occupied.

Wooderson, I mean, Rust crushes a beer can on his head.


You see everything outside our dimension, that’s eternity. Eternity looking down on us. Now, to us it’s a sphere.

(holding up the can)

But to them it’s a circle.


And love! Love is the most powerful force in the universe.


Yeah, what they said, plus space origami. So have we decided which planet we’re going to land on first?


My ladyboner tells me... this one!

Fake Jake nods his head in agreement just as an AWESOME ROBOT enters the room.


You guys are f*ing useless. The only job you have is sleeping and docking with other spaceships. They could have just sent robots. We’re the funniest, most complex characters in this movie.


Someone put his honesty setting at 100% again.


Rust and DR. MANN (Get it? You will.) tromp across a frozen wasteland that looks like Everest Base Camp.


I get a bad taste in my mouth out here... aluminum... ash... like you can smell a psychosphere.


That’s because I’m about to kill you and steal your spaceship! Bwahahah!


Doesn’t matter. I have seen the finale of thousands of lives, man.


That’s Doctor Mann to you.


Young, old, each one so sure of their realness. You know that their sensory experience constituted a unique individual with purpose and meaning. So certain that they were more than biologic --

Dr. Mann bashes in Rust’s space helmet.


Dammit, do I have to save you guys again? This is why you write three acts, not four.


Black hole! Wormhole! Event horizon! Relativity! Math! You know, basically what that would look like on screen. I give up. GEORGE CARLIN arrives in a telephone booth from the year 2688.


Rust, I’ve been sent from the future to ensure you pass your history --


I mean, wait, sorry. That was a different, better movie about time travel.


Someone once told me time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again


Eh. Maybe. I guess, but I’ve been sent from the future to ensure you teach your daughter the coefficients of space time, so she can harness the power of gravity to launch the world’s least aerodynamic building into space.


I thought I was mainlining the secret truth of the universe.


No, sorry. Just stand behind this bookshelf and push books and shit until she understands.


Ah, all your life, all your love, all your hate, all your memories, all your pain, it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream, a dream that you had inside a locked room ... behind a bookcase.


Just push the damn books on the floor already.

“God Gave Rock and Roll to You” by KISS plays.