Houellebecq's Cautionary Tale About Liturgy Gone Awry

Much, maybe too much, has been written about literature.[1]
—Michel Houellebecq, Submission

One mysterious quality of “the word” is that it has always been, at least in potential, an invitation to encounter the radiance of theology and philosophy through the multivalence of its aesthetic forms. As Friedrich Hölderlin observes beautifully in the fourth strophe of his last elegy, “Bread and Wine” (1801), the word is abroad in the world as a gift-sign of community and relationship with The Maker. The word wakes up the imagination, “shaking the depths” of our being, and calls for a communal, liturgical response. The word as “ancient sign”:

called and flew from tongue to tongue
A thousand times, and nobody had to endure life alone.
Shared, such fortune is a joy; exchanged with strangers,
It becomes jubilant. Sleeping, the power of the word grows:
Father! Joyful! The ancient sign resounds, as far it reaches,
Inherited from the elders, striking, creating.
Thus the gods enter; thus the season of the gods falls
From the shadows down to men, shaking the depths.[2]

Of course, we have expressions of beauty in both action and in the varieties of aesthetic making. Hölderlin moves us firmly down this path by rhapsodizing expansively about the ways that “the gods enter” our lives, the “striking, creating” joy the encounter brings, and the jubilant community that Jesus (the “Syrian,” who arrives late in the poem) uniquely engenders as the Word incarnate. These holy liturgies of prayer, art, and culture bring “a trace of the fugitive gods/Down to the darkness of those who must live in their absence,” and, in ways that follow Maritain, “give radiance to being.”

But this can often work in reverse. There are also words of death—words that are corrupt or are fraudulent or are deployed to nefarious and annihilating ends. That is one category. Another category is when we discern the stark power of the word even in its absence. We are bereft of the good word most painfully and acutely when we have seen it revealed and then so quickly concealed—a phenomenon, one can argue, that discloses the sacramental impulse and explains the work of ecclesial liturgy, at least in some small way. There is a third category of word—one where the word confronts and calls to us—but its invitation is so fraught with demands that we turn away and retreat back into the easy safety of other words. Da mihi castitatem et continentam, sed noli modo, says St. Augustine, and he knew a thing or two about dwelling in this third kind of tension.[3]

Hölderlin’s poem is one linchpin of Josef Pieper’s 1963 book, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, and Pieper integrates the Hölderlin elegy beautifully in his text—especially because its central point is one that resonates outward in several directions.

Though there may be some minor variations in the interpretation of detail, the meaning of the poem is quite clear: the true existential poverty of man consists in his having lost the power to celebrate a festival festively.[4]

Hölderlin is a good interlocutor for Pieper and Pieper’s mid-century thesis: not only do we not know what festivity is, but the liturgies we construct instead are in fact cheap pseudo-festivals—“sham rituals” contaminated by commercialism or informed by the buried will to violence or to hedonic pacification. These kinds of communal rituals, devoid as they are of authentic objects of worship, conscript rather than liberate our souls and imaginations; and while they are very much akin to the “bread and circuses” approach to public liturgy that Juvenal decried in the early second century, what passes for liturgy and “holiday” in late modern life is even less nourishing today and, worse, increasingly more toxic and “mendacious.” Pieper observes:

Worse than clear negation, however, is mendacious affirmation. Worse than the silencing and stifling of festivity and the arts is a sham practicing of them . . . A deceptive escape from the narrowness of the workaday utilitarian world is found in the form of entertainment and “forgetting one’s worries.” And the same mendacious message also reaches men through the medium of the pseudo-arts, whether trivial or pretentious, flattering or entertaining, or intoxicating like a drug. Man craves by nature to enter the “other” world, but he can attain it only if true festivity truly comes to pass.[5]

Artificial holidays are created by vendors of culture and fed to the public by means of symbols that no longer carry meaningful symbolic freight. Hastened decisively by screen saturation and cyber intimacy, we have arrived at a state of what Mark Fisher calls “capitalist realism” where “beliefs have collapsed at the level of ritual or symbolic elaboration, and all that is left is the consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and the relics.”[6] Like Pieper before him, Fisher’s sensitivity to the nihilism he discerns becomes an apocalyptic vision. But where Pieper worries about such developments in terms of spiritual health, Fisher, who was a post-religious materialist, couches his concern in the mental health costs of disaffection brought on by the dark liturgies of neoliberalism, “repetition compulsions” taking place largely in the excarnate venues of digital life.

Lotus Eating, 2022

With this in mind, what follows explores various ways that spirituality, theology, and religion function in Michel Houellebecq’s dystopian satire, Submission (2015). From the escalating fatigue and acedia of its protagonist, François, to his lazy, bad-faith conversion to Islam that concludes the novel, we are called to see in François a symbol of something bigger and something so quietly tragic: how Western capitalism has itself become a religion—one that proceeds by a curious set of unique and all-encompassing public liturgies.

Encapsulated today by the catchall term “neoliberalism,” late modern capitalist liturgies perform an old form of devotion: recapitulated fidelities to both Mammon and to the languid comfort of Lotus eating. François’s tragicomic submission to this reality—and to the fraudulent rituals that sustain it—make available a reading of the novel as a kind of realist fable. In this case, “François” is so blatantly and aptly named. He becomes not only a symbol of France and its capitulation to neoliberalism, but of all Western cultures that operate, like lemmings off the cliff, from the demanding catechisms and rituals of insatiable consumerism and corpse-cold technocracy.

Submission takes place in a France in the very near future of 2022. It is an election year and there is a resurging nationalism on the one hand and battles over cultural agency and political liberty on the other. The republican parties have split; and the top vote-getters are Marine Le Pen, of the extreme right, and Mohammed Ben Abbes, a Houellebecq-invented character who is the leader of a French Muslim Fraternity. In the runoff, the French left backs Ben Abbes; and in a second general election—the first having been negated after widespread voter fraud—Ben Abbes beats Le Pen with support from both socialist factions on the left as well as voters on the religious and republican right.

The Ben Abbes government soon imposes a kind of relaxed Sharia law throughout France. Crime and unemployment drop, and there emerges a surprising, functional peace. If he converts, François keeps his job and gains three young wives in the bargain; and, as critic Adam Gopnik observes, this is the book’s central joke and point—“that the French élite are cravenly eager to collaborate with the new regime, delighted not only to convert but to submit to a bracing and self-assured authoritarianism.” Gopnik punctuates the observation by offering that, “like the oversophisticated Hellenists in Cavafy’s poem,” the French depicted in Houellebecq’s novel “have been secretly waiting for the barbarians all their lives.”

Astute critics such as Heller McAlpin have rightly noted that Houellebecq's target villain in the novel is not Islam. Instead, it is the “myopic European chattering classes—intellectuals, politicians and journalists” who bear the lash of Houellebecq’s critique. Houellebecq creates a character—a François—a misanthropic, misogynist Huysmans scholar whose only interest in teaching is procuring students for his serial affairs (like Huysmans)—but in a manner that is derivative and unoriginal, unlike Huysmans. Like Huysmans, François feels “plunged into decadence by the pressures of modern life”—and like Huysmans his response to this pressure is to gorge his way into decadence and crisis; but, unlike Huysmans, such gorging can be accomplished in 2022 in a morally indifferent, compulsively sanitary, economically rewarding, socially normative, and spiritually non-transcendent way.

The grain François works against, to stay with Huysmans, is one that has been adopted and embedded by late modern culture—so much so as to be a chief attribute. There is nothing disruptive or transgressive about it, nothing á rebours. His misogyny, too, is banal and co-opted as François divides women into two categories—good little cooks or good little playmates—and he makes deft use of online escorts to further pad his tedious hungers and habits of ritual commodification—even if the experience is repetitive, mechanical, and provides zero gratification:

It was the same as before. Though I never lost my erection, I never experienced any pleasure, either . . . The truth was, I wasn’t interested . . . All of which is to say, these two escorts were fine. Still, that wasn’t enough to make me want to see them or have or have sex with them again, or to make me go on living. Should I just die? The decision struck me as premature.[7]

François, as a character, attracts little if any sympathy. Even the relationship with his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Myriam—a character who almost breaks the mold of François’s various pathologies with her intimacy and care—fails to move us. François cowardly sabotages his last chance with her—his last chance at authentic, person-to-person love—and casually abandons her and her family in the middle of real trial. Fittingly, she later dumps him via e-mail. This is all rendered humorously by Houellebecq, of course, but the novel can be quite painful to read. As Heller McAlpin notes, “if the insidious, passively accepted anti-Semitism and misogyny don't turn you off, Houellebecq's gratuitously graphic, loveless sex scenes will.”

New Pilgrim of the Absolute? Non, Merci

Given François’s brokenness, it is no small coincidence that Submission has as its main subtext the work of Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) whose pilgrim journey through aestheticism and decadence to an uneasy relationship with Catholicism in the late nineteenth century functions as a textual, cultural, and theological compass of Houellebecq’s narrative—even if such a compass is, by novel’s end, voluntary and comically forfeited by its protagonist. Still, the place and power of beauty—of a meaningful and intelligible theological aesthetics—is one of novel’s primary achievements, even if too many critics view it as a quiet subtext, as a kind of dowager aunt shouting toothless instructions from the back bedroom. Astute readers know better.

Houellebecq manages to construct a narrative that blends both familiar strokes about dissipation and slow decline with, at first glance anyway, the possibility of redemption that usually attends in late modern novels where God-hauntedness is also the key protagonist. But God-hauntedness in Houellebecq’s novel is a red-herring, even if it is given to us as a keystone in the novel’s epigraph—a text of Huysmans from En Route (1895): 

I am haunted by Catholicism, intoxicated by its atmosphere of incense and candle wax. I hover on its outskirts, moved to tears by its prayers, touched to the very marrow by its psalms and chants. I am revolted with my life, I am sick of myself, but so far from changing my ways! And yet . . . and yet . . . however troubled I am in these chapels, as soon as I leave them, I become unmoved and dry.

However much François is intellectually moved by Huysmans (and his En Route character double, Durtal), François is decidedly post-God—even if, his back against the wall, he does attempt one last-ditch pseudo pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Black Madonna of Rocamadour to find out once and for all. If there is a God in Submission, his name is self-preservation; and the graces he bestows are atomization, exhaustion, and, finally, a cheap and pusillanimous descent into accommodation. As Ellis Hanson notes, for François, by novel’s end, it is “not only his intellectual life, but also his opportunity for a spiritual and emotional transfiguration, that he abandons when he finally admits that his ‘long, very long relationship with Joris-Karl Huysmans’ was over.”

Of course, Houellebecq’s sustained engagement with Huysmans in the novel draws us into a certain kind of territory, but it is also the encounter in the novel with prophetic figures who emerged from the decadence of fin de siècle Europe to became two central engines of the twentieth century Catholic literary revival: Léon Bloy and Charles Péguy. Péguy is particularly important to the narrative and François is clearly sympathetic to him—even if he misses what Péguy means to communicate and exalt at every turn. But the reader sees it if François does not; and Péguy’s famous observation—that “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics”—is the very spine of Houellebecq’s novel, even if Houellebecq does not include the famous line in the text.[8] While Péguy’s project was to rejuvenate and instill a mystical vitality to civic virtue in French life, precisely by putting his body on the line, François (like most of us) lacks the interest, imagination, and capacity for such pointed and brave work.  

In this sense, François is a tour de force burnout. Still, he tells the truth of things—even if it is informed by the incipient, transactional sociopathy that forms his inner life. After all, as François muses, “For the French, an intellectual didn't have to be responsible. That’s not his job.”[9] And the reader can learn much from this 18-wheeler-driving-off-a-cliff-in-slow-motion narrative of personal and collective exhaustion. French society and its political cultures are burned out. The rapacious and insatiable demands of global economic systems are exhausting the very people those systems are meant to serve. Religion and spirituality have been evacuated of their radiant objects by a weird kind of social fiat and so are left abandoned and dismembered. Infantilized and impotent. People are world-weary and fragile. The only thing missing in this mix is a global pandemic.

In the novel—and closer to home for us—work in the academy has also lost its compass and appears more and more like a soulless, utilitarian game than it does a vocation, as François postulates early in the narrative: 

The academic study of literature leads basically nowhere, as we all know, unless you happen to be an especially gifted student, in which case it prepares you for a career teaching the academic study of literature—it is, in other words, a rather farcical system that exists to replicate itself and yet it manages to fail nearly 95 percent of the time.[10]

This, decidedly, is not the call of the word; and one thinks immediately of Walker Percy here—and that Houellebecq’s novel makes the same point Percy does, albeit from a different literary universe: “You live in a deranged age,” writes Percy in Lost in the Cosmos, “more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”

I Would Prefer Not To

It is interesting to note another book that came on the scene in 2015: The Burnout Society by Korean born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han. Han’s brief foray into exhaustion, while incomplete, is to be commended as he broaches the malignant phenomenon through several helpful texts and ideas. One that is of particular interest is Han’s treatment of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”—a sure precursor to the age of exhaustion if ever there was one. Following a reading developed by both Agamben and Deleuze, Han presents Bartleby as a prototype of late modern fatigue—a victim of the liturgies of pre-Fordist mechanization and the insatiable machinery of runaway capitalism. As Deleuze writes: “Even in his catatonic or anorexic state, Bartleby is not the patient but the doctor of sick America, the Medicine Man—the new Christ or brother to us all.”[11] François, of course, is no Bartleby; but he is certainly a symptom of a neoliberal woundedness. In his case, it is a sustained moral and spiritual blindness, reinforced by the “pressures of modern life”—the business ontologies of commodification and atomization that not only disconnect him from the people he “loves,” but which also foreclosed upon his interior development as a person from day one, ensconced as they are in culture: “I wondered what could interest me, now that I was finished with love,” muses François in a moment of utilitarian splendor, “I could take a course in wine tasting, maybe, or start collecting model airplanes.”[12]

Neither Houellebecq nor Han are moralists, of course, but the links among moral injury, psychological turmoil, and spiritual aridity are under serious review in their work. Han’s The Burnout Society indicts the toll that highly competitive achievement cultures take on us all. He then posits a kind of solution to this problem, one you, dear reader, will surely recognize: “We owe the cultural achievements of humanity—which include philosophy—to deep contemplative attention,” an insight Josef Pieper develops much more fully than Han in his 1963 study.

As Pieper argues, contemplation is central to any philosophy of ritual, festivity, and culture: “The concept of festivity is inconceivable without an element of contemplation”; and this contemplation, performed in intentional liturgies, explodes outward as a sign of recognition, right relationship, and praise. “This is as true today as it was a thousand years ago,” observes Pieper, “It remains the form of the praise given in ritual worship, which is literally performed at every hour of the day. By its very nature that praise is a public act, a festival celebrated before the face of creation.”[13]

Certainly, the liturgies of late modern capitalism and neoliberalism provide a few of us with a rich and technologically proficient world—and this is a world that many of us appear to prefer. But as Pope Francis has shown, this vision of the good life masks a “general sense of disorientation” and comes with a high price: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless,” and too many people are treated as disposable “consumer goods to be used and then discarded.”[14] This scenario seems to be acceptable to so many—that is until the realization comes that she or he is caught up in a sad matrix and victimized by it in subtle and often imperceivable ways. The sensuality of their being plundered, as Terry Eagleton might say, the person who is imprisoned in such a world “now made amusing no longer misses real festivity. He does not notice the emptiness. And thus he even stops grieving over his loss—and the loss is thereby finally sealed.”[15]

For his part, in The Burnout Society Han also indicts the toll that competitive achievement cultures take on us all. In multi-tasking, highly technologized cultures such as ours, the goals of convenience and freedom are quickly derailed by the very tools we invent to attain them. As Han asserts, “not just multitasking but activities such as video games produce a broad but flat mode of attention, which is similar to the vigilance of the wild animal,” a debasement of the human person that requires no further comment here.[16]

Every Day is an Endless Scene/of Twitter Posts and Insta Memes

One byproduct of living in an excessively technologized achievement culture is an almost ironic kind of disaggregation—both personally and collectively—of community and solidarity. Han posits a psychological postmortem under these lights early in his text, namely that “The Burnout Society occurs when the ego overheats, which follows from too much of the Same,” an insight that drives much of Pieper’s thesis as well. Working from Kierkegaard and the soul-killing underbelly of repetition, Pieper brings an unusual heat to his critique of the plight of the person as they navigate late modern culture:

He is driven out of his own house—into the hurly-burly of work-and-nothing-else, into the fine-spun exhausting game of sophisticated phrase-mongering into incessant “entertainment” by empty stimulants—in short, into a no man’s land which may be quite comfortably furnished, but which has no place for the serenity of intrinsically meaningful activity, for contemplation and certainly festivity.[17]

It is interesting to note that Han’s most recent book is called The Disappearance of Rituals: A Topology of the Present (2020) where he builds on the idea that “where there is no longer higher order, rituals disappear” and suggests, incompletely (for he has yet to make a sustained theological turn even though he has admitted in an interview that he is a Catholic), how rituals mitigate against exhaustion precisely because they nourish and renew the soul. And Houellebecq, in his sui generis Houellebecquian way, is climbing up the same tree.[18]

This is to say that Submission demands the recognition that we are deep into a system of rituals that replace or parody true festivity and the old ones, already in the category of trace cultural memory, are fading totally from view. Han’s insight from The Disappearance of Rituals that “porn pervades the neoliberal dispositive as its general principle” is revelatory here and is one that constitutes the setting of any number of Houellebecq’s novels. But “porn” requires qualification as Han is using it in a specifically innovative, rhetorical way; and it is an approach that Houellebecq dramatizes as a subtext of Submission to revelatory, complex, and darkly humorous ends.

Han posits that “under the compulsion of production, everything is being presented, made visible, exposed and exhibited”—and that everything is “subjected to the relentless light of transparency.” But the kind transparency he describes is raw and unmediated, a never-ending data dump that evacuates culture of both decorum and mystery:

Communication becomes pornographic when it becomes transparent, when it is smoothed out into an accelerated exchange of information. Language becomes pornographic once it no longer plays, once it only conveys information. The body becomes pornographic when it loses all its scenic aspects, when it simply required to function. The pornographic body lacks any symbolism. The ritualized body, by contrast, is a splendid stage, with secrets and deities written into it.

We turn back to Hölderlin and the questions he asks become our own:

Why are the ancient holy theaters silent?
What happened to the joyful ceremonial dancing?
Why doesn't a god place his sign on a human forehead,
Leaving his mark on the person he has struck?

To be written upon—to be inscribed by the Imago Dei: this is the most unifying subtext, and one that draws us to both deeper contemplation and decisive action. Where there is no higher order, rituals disappear; where there are no acts of liturgical affirmation that express themselves in “praise, glory, and thanksgiving for the whole of reality and existence”—and write themselves onto our bodies—there is instead hunger, longing, grieving, and need.[19]

These points are not lost on Pieper or Melville. The subtitle of Melville’s 1853 story is “A Story of Wall Street” and it appears to the reader—with all of its transignified elements of Christianity reordered to a commercial trajectory—as a lifeless pseudo-liturgy of our own making. Bartleby’s Stations of the Cross odyssey on his way to the dead letter office—and finally to imprisonment and death in the Tombs of lower Manhattan—presents as a kind of capitalist via dolorosa.

In Submission, the pilgrimage trope is also in play, but it is of altogether different quality. François escapes the volatile republican rallies in Paris to visit Rocamadour, where Huysmans, Poulenc, and so many pious French regents had also made pilgrimage to the Black Madonna. He sits before the Virgin in the Chapel and listens to young Catholics dressed in Polo shirts artfully recite a grouping of Péguy’s 4,000 alexandrines that make up his 1913 poem, Eve. François’s cynicism is softened by the sacred as he arrives at the critical (that is, spiritual) turning point in the novel—and let us quote Houellebecq in full here, along with the Péguy alexandrine he interposes, so as to properly inhabit the space:

As for these young Catholics, did they love their homeland? Were they ready to give everything up for their country? I felt ready to give up everything, not really for my country, but in general. I was in a strange state. It seemed as if the virgin was rising from her pedestal and growing in the air. The baby Jesus seemed ready to detach himself from her, and it seemed to me that all he had to do was raise his right hand and the pagans and the idolators would be destroyed, and the keys to the world restored to him, as “its lord, its possessor, its master.” 

Mother, behold our sons so lost to themselves.
Judge them not on base intrigue
But welcome them back like the Prodigal Son.
Let them return to outstretched arms.

Or maybe I was just hungry. I’d forgotten to eat the day before, and possibly what I should do was go back to my hotel and sit down to a few duck’s legs instead of falling down in the pews in an attack of mystical hypoglycemia.[20]

A “mystical hypoglycemia”? This is so downright funny and perfect and I cannot help but think of Dickens and A Christmas Carol here—when Scrooge, awakened and read the riot act by Marley, decides that Marley is a bio-phantom, “an undigested bit of beef.” Scrooge was wrong and François, in characteristic form, is mistaken yet again.

Conclusion: Ubi Caritas Gaudet, Ibi Est Festivitas

There is a theology here, of course—one offered by Henri de Lubac and one that provides a closing anchorage, thinking as we do about the Françoises of the world—or our own inner François: “If God had willed to save us without our own cooperation, Christ's sacrifice by itself would have sufficed. But does not the very existence of our Saviour pre-suppose a lengthy period of collaboration on man’s part?”[21] At first glance, the insight sounds a bit Pelagian, does it not? But it is not. In its heart, the collaboration de Lubac distills and amplifies the call to relationship, the call of the living Word to be in particular, liturgical relationship with creation.

But in a world where desire, happiness, and wonder are increasingly manipulated by the scripts of plastic desire and the raw power of markets—by the mundane liturgies of bread and circuses—it is often difficult to discern the call and hear the voice. It becomes easier and easier to lawyer-oneself-out of engaging with the religious dimension altogether, and easier to lose contact with the life-giving liturgies of Bread and Wine.

Of course, there is also sacramental principle in play here as Pieper knows well: “to celebrate a festival means to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole.”[22] The local expressions of our assent and praise—embedded in the many forms our local liturgies take—must also affirm truths of life that are credible and worthy in cosmopolitan and cosmic ways: “Of course, everything depends on whether or not we think the historical world and human life are ‘made whole’ or at any rate ‘capable of being made whole’ by Christ. This is the all-important question.”[23]

Han’s point that the “pathology of today’s society is the excess of positivity,” that it is “a ‘too much,’ not a ‘too little’ that is making us sick,” is most shrewd—and it informs the liturgical imagination that lives at the heart of social organization and cultural value.[24] As the Word incarnate, Jesus is the vital balance that exists at the nexus of opposites like abundance and lack, revelation and concealment, word and silence. The tinderization of ritual and the tyranny of the immediate, on the other hand—as but two symptoms of neoliberal confusion—have intoxicated the liturgical imagination and left so many carcasses in their wake, “a noisy pomp of pseudo-festivals to be celebrated at the command of any despotism.”[25]

Houellebecq’s satire, spun so deftly by an unreliable narrator, helps us to think more clearly about these things—about the sham liturgies that stoke fraudulent desire play whack-a-mole with our souls. Instead of descending into the churches of late modern liberal media consumerism and technocratic utilitarian functionalism, we should think twice and Houellebecq does us a service here. His surprisingly astute cautionary tale about love and liturgy gone awry in the twenty-first century invites us to authentic contemplation and serious review of where we place our hearts, minds, and bodies. Taking that queue, we think again on the radiant proposition of St. John Chrysostom illuminated in Pieper’s text: ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivitas, where love rejoices, there is festivity.

[1] Michel Houellebecq, Submission (New York: FSG, 2015), 4.

[2] Friedrich Hölderlin, Odes and Elegies (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan, 2020), 138.

[3] Augustine, Confessions, 8.7.

[4] Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity (New York: Harper Brace, 1965), 59.

[5] Ibid, 58.

[6] Mark Fisher Capitalist Realism (Winchester, UK: Zero, 2009), 4.

[7] Houellebecq, 153, 152, 153.

[8] Charles Péguy, Notre Jeunesse (Paris: Cahiers de la Quinzaine, 1910), 27. Context: “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics. The interest, the question, the essential is that in each order, in each system, mysticism be not devoured by politics to which it gave birth. Politics laughs at mysticism; nevertheless it is still mysticism which feeds these same politics.”

[9] Houellebecq, 221.

[10] Ibid., 8.

[11] Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society (Palo Alto: SUP, 2015), 56.

[12] Houellebecq, 24.

[13] Han, The Burnout Society, 13; Pieper, 86.

[14] Pope Francis, Evangeli Gaudium (11/24/2013). §§64; 53.

[15] Pieper, 59.

[16] Han, The Burnout Society, 13.

[17] Han, The Burnout Society, 7; Pieper, 27.

[18] Byung-Chul Han, The Disappearance of Rituals (Cambridge: Polity, 2020), 91.

[19] Cf. Pieper, 38.

[20] Houellebecq, 136.

[21] Henri de Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Mankind (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988), 124.

[22] Pieper, 30.

[23] Ibid., 38.

[24] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 89.

[25] Pieper, 84.


Michael P. Murphy

Michael P. Murphy teaches at Loyola University of Chicago where he also directs the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. His first book, A Theology of Criticism: Balthasar, Postmodernism, and the Catholic Imagination, was named a “Distinguished Publication” in 2008 by the American Academy of Religion. His most recent book is an edited volume, “this need to dance / this need to kneel”: Denise Levertov and the Poetics of Faith.

Read more by Michael P. Murphy