29 August 2010

JK Huysmans

I'm reading some JK Huysmans at the moment. I've just finished Down there and With the flow, and have started on Against nature.

Down there was hilarious. It is, as the blurb declares, 'the classic of satanism'. It has a crazy bell-ringer, an astrologer, a cynical doctor, a bourgeois wife by day and succubus by night, a 15th century child murderer, graphic descriptions of Satanic practices and the Black Mass, and whopping great rants against Naturalism in art and literature, the Americanisation of modern life, and bad restaurant food (the last being the main subject of With the flow).

The rants against Naturalism are the best. I'm really fascinated by these kind of forgotten, irrelevant aesthetic arguments. I can't help but get involved and take sides. I've even got a couple of pictures out of it.

Here are the final lines of Down there:
'To think that a century of positivism and atheism has been able to overthrow everything but Satanism, and it cannot make Satanism yield an inch.'

'Easily explained!' cried Carhaix. 'Satan is forgotten by the great majority. Now it was Father Ravignan, I believe, who proved that the wiliest thing the Devil can do is to get people to deny his existence.'

Oh, God!' murmured Durtal forlornly, 'what whirlwinds of ordure I see on the horizon!'

'No,' said Carhaix, 'don't say that. On earth all is dead and decomposed. But in heaven! Ah, I admit that the Paraclete is keeping us waiting. But the texts announcing his coming are inspired. The future is certain. There will be light,' and with bowed head he prayed fervently.

Des Hermies rose and paced the room. 'All that is very well,' he groaned, 'but this century laughs the glorified Christ to scorn. It contaminates the supernatural and vomits on the Beyond. Well, how can we hope that in the future the offspring of the fetid tradesmen of today will be decent? Brought up as they are, what will they do in Life?'

'They will do,' replied Durtal, 'as their fathers and mothers do now. They will stuff their guts and crowd out their souls through their alimentary canals.'

Against nature is shaping up to be even better:
His contempt for humanity grew fiercer, and at last he came to realise that the world is made up mostly of fools and scoundrels. It became perfectly clear to him that he could entertain no hope of finding in someone else the same aspirations and antipathies; no hope for linking up with a mind which, like his own, took pleasure in a life of studious decrepitude; no hope of associating an intelligence as sharp and wayward as his own with that of any author or scholar.

He felt irritable and ill at ease; exasperated by the triviality of the ideas normally bandied about, he came to resemble those people mentioned by Nicole who are sensitive to anything and everything. He was constantly coming across some new source of offence, wincing at the patriotic or political twaddle served up in the papers every morning, and exaggerating the importance of the triumphs which an omnipotent public reserves at all times and in all circumstances for works written without thought or style.

Already he had begun dreaming of a refined Thebaid, a desert hermitage equipped with all modern conveniences, a snugly heated ark on dry land in which he might take refuge from the incessant deluge of human stupidity.

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