Submission or Joy?

The release of the English translation of Michel Houellebecq’s “Submission” has brought a spate of new reviews, although Rod Dreher was all over it when the novel was still just in French — whence my uncharacteristic swerve into matters literary.

Houellebecq’s title is evocative and equivocal. “The word Islam means voluntary “Submission” or “Surrender” to the Will of God.” By one account, that of Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books,

Soumission is not the story some expected of a coup d’état, and no one in it expresses hatred or even contempt of Muslims. It is about a man and a country who through indifference and exhaustion find themselves slouching toward Mecca. There is not even drama here—no clash of spiritual armies, no martyrdom, no final conflagration. Stuff just happens, as in all Houellebecq’s fiction. All one hears at the end is a bone-chilling sigh of collective relief. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Whatever.

Lilla calls this a “dystopian conversion tale,” and the conversion is in his description more of resignation than enthusiasm.

Concurrently with all these reviews, I’m re-reading (from the perspective of a maturing Orthodox faith, whereas I was a rank novice at first reading) Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World:

The purpose of this book is a humble one. It is to remind its readers that in Christ, life—life in all its totality—was returned to man, given again as sacrament and communion, made Eucharist.

the Eucharist is the entrance of the Church into the joy of its Lord. And to enter into that joy, so as to be a witness to it in the world, is indeed the very calling of the Church, its essential leitourgia, the sacrament by which it “becomes what it is.”

Only in a world where dominant Christian traditions totally miss this mark, or the Evil One darkens our minds, could Christendom be ready to forsake the call to life, joy and communion — could be so exhausted that we’re ready to settle for a dystopian conversion to mere submission.

But dystopian novels are powerful only insofar as they’re plausible, and by all accounts, Submission is powerful.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.