Houellebecq’s vicious satire of New Age culture

Houellebecq makes a clear connection between the individualisation, secularisation and rationalisation of society on the one hand, and the growth in New Age beliefs and practices on the other. He describes a centre in rural France which, having started as a place of hedonistic revolutionary idealism in the sixties, has turned by the nineties into a commercialised refuge for middle-aged hippy types, desperately looking for meaning and connection in their empty lives:

‘In 1987 the first quasi-religious workshops appeared at the Lieu. Christianity was excluded, of course, but a sufficiently nebulous mysticism – for these people were spiritually impoverished – dovetailed neatly with the cult of the body beautiful which, against all sense, they continued to promote. There were still workshops on sensual massage, and the liberation of the orgone, but interest in the esoteric – astrology , Egyptian tarot, working with chakras – boomed. There were Encounters with the Angel and courses on crystal healing. Siberian shamanism made a remarkable debut when in 1991, during the long initiation in a sweat lodge fired by sacred coals, an initiate died of heart failure. Tantric Zen, which combined vanity, mysticism and frottage, flourished. In a matter of years the Lieu – like many centres throughout France and Western Europe – became a New Age institution, while maintaining a reputation as a hedonist’s paradise, which became its unique selling point.’

To be continued…

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