This is my quick and rough translation of Michel Houellebecq’s open letter about the pandemic published on Radio France, May 4, 2020:
Just A Little Worse
Answers to some friends
It has to be admitted: most of the emails exchanged in recent weeks were primarily aimed at checking that the person they were talking to was not dead or dying. But, once this verification was done, we still tried to say interesting things, which wasn’t easy, because this epidemic managed the feat of being both frightening and boring at the same time. A banal virus, with little or no reputation compared to obscure flu viruses, with poorly known conditions of survival, with unclear characteristics, sometimes benign, sometimes deadly, not even sexually transmissible: in short, a virus without qualities. This epidemic may have killed a few thousand people every day around the world, but it nevertheless produced the curious impression of being a non-event. In fact, my esteemed colleagues (some of them, nevertheless, are esteemed) did not talk about it so much, they preferred to address the issue of containment; and here I would like to add my contribution to some of their observations.
Frédéric Beigbeder (from Guéthary, Pyrénées-Atlantiques). A writer doesn’t see many people anyway, he lives like a hermit with his books, confinement doesn’t change much. I completely agree, Frédéric, when it comes to social life, it doesn’t make much difference. But there’s one point you forget to consider (probably because, living in the country, you’re less of a victim of the forbidden): a writer needs to walk.
This confinement seems to me the ideal occasion to settle an old Flaubert-Nietzsche quarrel. Somewhere (I’ve forgotten where) Flaubert says that people only think and write well when they’re seated. Protests and mockery of Nietzsche (I’ve also forgotten where), who goes so far as to call him nihilist (so it happens at a time when he had already begun to use the word wrongly and incorrectly): he himself conceived all his works by walking, everything that is not conceived in walking is null and void, moreover he has always been a Dionysian dancer, etc. Hardly suspicious of any exaggerated sympathy for Nietzsche, I must however admit that in this case it is rather he who is right. Trying to write if one does not have the possibility, during the day, of walking for several hours at a sustained pace, is strongly to be discouraged: the accumulated nervous tension does not manage to dissolve, thoughts and images continue to spin painfully in the poor head of the author, who quickly becomes irritable, even mad. Continue reading