Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Franco-German connection: Onfray, Houllebecq and Schopenhauer

Miroir du nihilisme – Houellebecq educator / A present at Schopenhauer
Forfatter: Michel Onfray/Michel Houellebecq
Forlag: Éditions Galilée/L’Herne (Frankrike/Frankrike)
Houellebecq and Onfray – Schopenhauer's uncritical running boys with books that have little new to bring?


The philosophical influence has largely gone from Germany to France. Heidegger, who influenced a number of thinkers from Sartre to Derrrida, is a good example. Victor Farias' book on Heidegger and Nazism from 1987 sparked a heated debate in France. When it came in German translation, the foreword was written by Jürgen Habermas. Other examples are Nietzsche, which was translated and disseminated by Pierre Klossowski. Or Friedrich Hegel, who was taught through Alexandre Kojève's lectures in Paris 1933 – 1939, where “everyone” was present. One could also mention Freud, who through Jacques Lacan's readings has had a great influence and then returned to Germany in another form.

The picture is obviously not clear. Post-structuralism came from France to Germany, and Manfred Frank was an important mediator. Nietzsche was indebted to Montaigne, and long before he invented psychoanalysis, Freud studied in Paris under the famous Charcot.

However, two French books from last year confirm the main trend. France's most famous novelist at the moment, Michel Houellebecq, published a small book in which he confesses to the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860). Michel Onfray, currently France's most talked-about and productive philosopher, published a book on Houellebecq with a subtitle taken from Nietzsche – "Houellebecq éducateur" – which reflects on Nietzsche's youth work Schopenhauer as a breeder.

Onfray's book gives a frightening picture of the harsh debate climate in France after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. 

Houellebecq drawers. But to say it right away: None of these books tell us anything new and exciting about Schopenhauer. In particular, Houellebecq's book is disappointing, consisting mostly of Schopenhauer quotes with brief comments from Houellebecq, which confirms to the highest degree that he is not a philosopher but a novelist.

This does not prevent Houellebecq's book from being translated into German with the title In Schopenhauers Gwartwart. It has been on Der Spiegel's bestseller list and gone into several editions. Preface to Agathe Novak-Lechevalier, like Houellebecq at the end of Submission thanks for the information about the university he used in the novel, is admittedly left out here. Anyone who reads Houellebecq must relate to his basic misanthropy, his pessimism or nihilism. One does not need much imagination to see a parallel to Schopenhauer's disillusioned view of life. Houellebecq also says in the preface that he is often tempted to believe that nothing intellectual has happened since 1860! He finds it embarrassing to live in a mediocre age without even being able to raise the level, and admits that he is also unable to bring about a single new philosophical thought.

Schopenhauer described existence as a commotion between suffering and boredom. The unsatisfied lust creates suffering, while security and abundance end in boredom. The lower classes struggle with the suffering, and the higher ones against the boredom. When you have achieved something, you always want something more: How to create ever dissatisfaction. And capitalism feeds off this discontent: The more unhappy and frustrated we become, the more we can be fooled into buying ever-new products that advertise solving our problems. This is called growth and progress. In that sense, it is easy to understand that Schopenhauer appeals to today's frenetic consumers.

When you try to achieve something you do not have, there is a joy of life in the experiment itself

Onfray about Houllebecq. After reading Onfray's book on Houellebecq, you can drop Houellebecq's book on Schopenhauer. In addition to a brief introduction to Schopenhauer's thinking which is better than Houellebecq's, one also receives criticism of the French reception of Submission. In addition, Onfray provides an interpretation of the book and an understanding of Houellebecq as a nihilist based on Nietzsche.

Onfray's book gives a frightening picture of the harsh debate climate in France after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Laurent Joffrin called in his review of Submission Houellebecq for "le Pen at Café de Flore". Café de Flore was a well-known meeting place for French intellectuals such as Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. For provincial intellectual Michel Onfray, the place is the incarnation of the Paris intelligentsia he hates. Joffrin is thus exposed to Onfray's anger. The philosopher viciously reminds us that Libertation's chief editor Joffrin is the son of Jean-Pierre Mouchard (b. 1929), who has financially supported Jean-Marie Le Pen. Joffrin's attack on Houellebecq is thus turned against himself. Onfray offends Joffrin by consistently calling him Mouchard. Joffrin's genealogy reads: "Repeating the old reactionary thesis of the loneliness of an individual without ideals is Submission highly political. ”Onfray recalls that“ the loneliness of an individual without ideals ”would also fit Roquentin in nausea by Sartre and Meursault i The stranger by Camus. Conclusion: "Mouchard looks reactionary everywhere."


The writer and playwright Christine Angot wrote in a review of Submission in Le Monde (16.01.15) that the novel defiles (dirty) the one who reads it. And even more fiercely: She read the Marquis de Sades 120 days in Sodom without feeling humiliated. But Houellebecq made her feel like a crap, like a zero. Onfray row breaks in the book Angots review over four pages. She concluded the review by claiming that, under the guise of its "normcore" neutrality, Houellebecq actually says in the novel that if you oppose Front National, the Arabs will rule France. Onfray concludes that Angot fantasizes freely without coverage in the text and has left the world of reality.

Submission According to Onfray, it is not a book about Islam, it analyzes collaboration as a phenomenon and uses Islam as a pretext. The collaborator compensates for his own powerlessness by being party to power. This is the story of the main character in Submission. Houellebecq looks at power as an animal he vivisures with a smile.

Onfray admits that he previously thought "nihilism's novelist" was himself a nihilist, but now he knows better. Submission is nothing short of French literature 1984. Without laughter, nihilism becomes a resignation, with the good mood it transforms into a force. Houellebecq repeats his analysis decadance: We are in a nihilistic situation, in a world without real values, where the only pseudo-value is the golden calf. The 68s are blamed. 1968 destroyed a lot, but has not built anything new, according to Onfray. The ancient values ​​of civilization collapsed like a house of cards. The 68s still maintain what he calls liberal nihilism. May 68 abolished meaning and what made sense. Paternalistic capitalism was only replaced by a more liberal form.

But according to Onfray, Houllebecq is not remiss of the nihilism of the epoch, he is a novelist who expresses this exhausted power of the times.

Submission according to Onfray is not a book about Islam.

Wear and absence of criticism. The more you read Onfray, the more you see the ideology-infested wear in his language. He re-uses the same researched analogies, such as the one diagnosing cancer has not caused the cancer, and he names his opponents with the same cliché-filled characteristics. Furthermore, Schopenhauer is presented without any real criticism. Onfray's writing business is becoming more and more like part of the problem.

Neither Onfray nor Houellebecq make arguments against Schopenhauer. There is something fundamentally wrong at the outset, that existence consists in a commotion between suffering and boredom. Thus, a kind of aesthetic ascetic becomes the solution to a problem that could have been formulated differently. We have seen this Schopenhauer enthusiasm before, it came in the neo-romanticism, where it was dreamed of "Nirvana's noise".

There is something passive about Schopenhauer's fate: Everything is determined, you think you have free will. But this is a skin, man is in the violence of a blind force. When this is the starting point, the project is to escape. What Nietzsche emphasizes at Schopenhauer is the heroic project of realizing oneself, one must stay away from the illusions, destroy the stupidity of all its forms. The art of living should cushion the suffering. At Schopenhauer, compassion, the arts and the sexual ascetic are three remedies to help alleviate the suffering.

Michel Onfrey

Incorrect diagnosis. But the diagnosis is crazy. Life is not suffering, and we are not blind victims to some fundamental force that can be called "will" or destiny. It is important to practice managing and shaping the biological conditions that we are subject to without counteracting life. One must learn to know the bio-rhythms and take signals from the body without becoming a slave of its impulses. The more artificial and neurotic the civilization becomes, the more alienated people are by nature. Postmodernism and constructivism are symptoms of this development. Admittedly, "nature" can be so many. It is far from obvious. But it is important to adjust to it instead of dreaming of improving man through new technology, as the transhuman human does. Humans have always developed techniques for dealing with nature. But it is not the same as longing for the prehuman or the superhuman, as our own schopenhauerian Tor Ulven (1953–1995) did.

When you try to achieve something that you do not have, there is a joy of life in the experiment itself, not just in the happiness of achieving a result. Thus, Schopenhauer's notion that you have achieved what you long for or not, you will be unhappy. It is regrettable that France's leading intellectuals do not see this point.


Eivind Tjønneland
Eivind Tjønneland
Historian of ideas and author. Regular critic in MODERN TIMES. (Former professor of literature at the University of Bergen.)

You may also like