negative epiphany: michel houellebecq’s self-negation


On 21 June, around seven, I get up, have my breakfast and leave by bike for the Forest of Mazan. Yesterday’s hearty dinner has had the effect of giving me renewed strength; I ride supply, effortlessly, through the pines.

The weather is wonderfully fine, pleasant, springlike. The Forest of Mazan is very pretty and also profoundly reassuring. It is a real country forest. There are gently rising paths, clearings, a sun which penetrates everywhere. The meadows are covered in daffodils. One feels content, happy; there are no people. Something seems possible, here. One has the impression of being present at a new departure.

And of a sudden all this evaporates. A great mental shock restores me to the deepest part of myself. And I take stock, and I ironize, but at the same time I have respect for myself. What a capacity I have for grandiose mental images, and of seeing them through! How clear, once more, is the image I have of the world! The richness of what is dying inside me is absolutely prodigious; I needn’t feel ashamed of myself; I shall have tried.

I stretch out in a meadow, in the sun. And now it hurts, lying down in this softest of meadows, in the midst of this most amiable and reassuring of landscapes. Everything which might have been a source of pleasure, of participation, of innocent sensual harmony, has become a source of suffering and unhappiness. At the same time I feel, and with impressive violence, the possibility of joy. For years I have been walking alongside a phantom who looks like me, and who lives in a theoretical paradise strictly related to the world. I’ve long believed that it was up to me to become one with this phantom. That’s done with.


I cycle still further into the forest. On the other side of that hill is the source of the River Ardèche, the map says. The fact no longer interests me; I continue nevertheless. And I no longer even know where the source is; at present, everything looks the same. The landscape is more and more gentle, amiable, joyous; my skin hurts. I am at the heart of the abyss. I feel my skin again as a frontier, and the external world as a crushing weight. The impression of separation is total; from now on I am imprisoned within myself. It will not take place, the sublime fusion; the goal of life is missed. It is two in the afternoon.

from Michel Houellebecq, Whatever