Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.
I read Mr. Ganesh’s column earlier in the week, but felt like I could not offer a cogent or relevant comment, that didn’t repeat what I had said many times before . Yet in my internet explorations , I encountered John Sturrock’s review of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Whatever, the English translation of Les Particules élémentaires , in the London Review of Books of January 1, 1999: That seems to describe in detail the political/ethical/rhetorical stance of Janan Ganesh, or at the least it strongly echoes that stance, in his essay under the headline:
Britain is overexposed to its ruling class
Sub-headline :If government is weak, or strong but wrong, little stands between us and its doings
… hard-line neo-Darwinian, but what he has is more a case of localised spleen than of cosmic angst., …he writes ‘animal fiction’, or sardonic fables of feral behaviour that constitute his ‘ethical meditations’,‘I associate little with human beings,’ ‘…as a red-in-tooth-and-claw reminder that the animal world is no place to look for ethical improvements on the human one.
This is the ‘domaine de la lutte’, the brownfield site of struggle as it might have been marked out by some hard-line neo-Darwinian, in which, once expelled from childhood, a stage of life that Houellebecq looks sentimentally on (as he does on grandparents, virtuous folk whose sons and daughters have somehow gone terribly wrong), we’re asked to spend the rest of our lives locked into a society in which men are in the business of wholesale domination and women that of seduction. It’s tempting to take Houellebecq’s own struggler at something like his own valuation, as a metaphysical Outsider, but what he has is more a case of localised spleen than of cosmic angst. He is far from being party to the old, exalted humanism that saw our species as being trapped in godless immanence, but potentially admirable for the lucidity with which it embraces its predicament. ‘I associate little with human beings,’ Houellebecq’s lone ranger declares, and in a formal act of dissociation from them he writes ‘animal fiction’, or sardonic fables of feral behaviour that constitute his ‘ethical meditations’ – in the new novel, the Aesopian mode makes way for the Attenboroughesque, and natural history on TV serves as a red-in-tooth-and-claw reminder that the animal world is no place to look for ethical improvements on the human one.