Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Stone to Trouble the Living Stream

Michel Houellebecq, Whatever:

I've just turned thirty. After a chaotic start I did very well in my studies; today I'm in middle management. Analyst-programmer in a computer software company, my salary is two and a half times the minimum wage; a tidy purchasing power, by any standards. I can expect significant advancement within my firm; unless I decide, as many do, to sign on with a client. All in all I may consider myself satisfied with my social status. On the sexual plane, on the other hand, the success is less resounding. I have had many women, but for limited periods. Lacking in looks as well as personal charm, subject to frequent bouts of depression, I don't in the least correspond to what women are usually looking for in a man. And then I've always felt a kind of slight reticence with those women who were opening their organs to me. Basically all I represented for them was a last resort. Which is not, you will agree, the ideal point of departure for a lasting relationship.
There is an interesting parallel to Sarang's second reason to avoid having to deal with friendly attractive women at work: "(2) They might be of the kind that are _into nerds_ -- which, for any sufficiently self-loathing nerd, is a turn-off (qua confirmation of one's own nerdiness)."

It is only a parallel, since being a nerd is not the same thing as being abjectly pathetic. But it suggests that there may be a sort of psychological barrier to mutually-beneficial transactions, much as there is when Westerners shy away from paying poor people in developing countries miserable wages to do dangerous, degrading work. Maybe another way of thinking about it is that the transaction is not mutually beneficial when you take into account the revulsion that the transaction arouses.

[Update: note that the minimum wage in France appears to be €9.22, so at current exchange rates, 2.5 times the minimum wage works out to just above $30/hour.]


Blogger Sarang said...

Thanks for the post title. Henceforth I will never think of Yeats w/o thinking of kidney stones.

I think a lot of one's motivations are partly self-regarding, i.e., you often want/like things partly because of the place they would have in the narrative you construct for yourself about your life. This is one of those cases.

2:11 PM  
Blogger James said...

I didn't mean to conjure up the image of a kidney stone. I was referring to an imperfection in the market, a barrier to the smooth functioning of supply and demand, to the laminar flow of capitalism.

2:18 PM  
Blogger James said...

Although while we're on the subject, Sarang, would you agree that a terrible beauty is porn?

2:33 PM  
Blogger Sarang said...


2:49 PM  
Blogger James said...

I agree about narratives, by the way. I wish I had a way to get some traction with this concept, but I don't seem to. It reminds me of Vonnegut's admonition, "Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be." Our narratives are almost constitutive of ourselves.

3:12 PM  
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