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Incel: A Novel (2023)
Incel: A Novel
Positive XP LLC
The tragedy isn’t new. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe accomplished the tragedy with his 1774 work, The Sorrows of Young Wether, which would later influence the Romantic period. The birth of the novel came about more than three centuries ago, and to this day, we are still fascinated by the technique that we can use printed language to construct creative fiction or prose. What is “novella,” or “new,” can only adapt to what we can do we the medium of the English language and how prose takes form as a new whole. Technology will always increase the potential of creative fiction and prose, and what is new will always transform the way we look at and understand textual art. As an example, 2023’s “Incel: A Novel,” found exclusively on Amazon.com delivers common tragedy with a new spin.
An “incel” is a common trope to describe a young male who is an “involuntary celibate.” The term is controversial itself, and I do not agree with its connotation and subculture that push it as a real subject. But the slang of being an “incel” is a placeholder to describe a man like Wether and his romantic pursuit of love and purpose in 2023, which is as old as the novel.
The author of the work, “ARX-Han,” markets the book as a comedy rather than a tragedy, like we are supposed to laugh and find the novel funny. However, there is a bleak seriousness in the text, as the first page is a disclosure warning the reader that “this is not a manifesto.” This assumes that ARX-Han wrote a political tract for an insecure audience he could have responsibility over. There is even a resources appendix at the end that includes a list of suicide hot-line phone numbers and websites. Both these warnings persuade me that ARX-Han is a Christian apologetic himself and wrote this more akin to The Screwtape Letters to save disbelievers.
The story revolves around a 22-year-old anonymous boy who wants to have sex at all costs. The setting takes place in the year 2012, a phenomenon year where the world would end. He believes that he can have sex by applying pick-up artistry skills of seduction. This, I believe, is ultimately true in the American landscape because of its hyper-fixation of capitalism and its influence on ethics in all aspects of American life. Men and women are indeed different and liberal democratic ideas of universalism distort and destroy natural pair bondings and confuse people further as exploitative objects of supply and demand. Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, and even Karl Marx have all predicted the same future situation we have now in 2023. America is indeed a failed state, and this novel could only accelerate that drive toward the suicide of capitalism.
American society tends to propagate an ideology that citizens are free to pursue whatever markets they want to commit to at the expense that there is no guarantee that profit is available for security or investment. Individualism projects itself upon society and people follow desires that don’t add up to reality. If a woman had a bad upbringing, she becomes a psychologist. If a man loves working out, he becomes a coach. Neither a psychologist nor a coach produces anything for people or society, and these jobs rely on private sector interest and borrowed money, antithetical to the concept of society. The psychologist and the coach rely on their selfish arrogance and continue their ignorance of an economic reality. If people just want to masturbate all day, what is stopping them from pursuing the dream of becoming a porn star? Jobs are created out of thin air, and nothing is ever produced for people or by them. Profit constantly needs a victim to exploit. This is the American state, and it relies on the same type of liberal projection also found in the narrative of Incel.
This common story of a man becoming “red-pilled” and destroying society is a popular trend in 2023 fiction. Matt Pegas wrote “Dragon Day” about an insecure college kid turned suicidal killer, Dan Baltic wrote “NUTCRANKR” about a businessman getting psychotic revenge on a lover and her feminism, and Alex Kazemi wrote “New Millennium Boyz,” about a 90’s nostalgic trip turning into self-destruction. Incel follows these same themes of “masculinity,” shame, and anger. Radicalization is the major thesis of these four novels.
In Incel’s Afterword, ARX-Han writes, “My friend took his life when he was twenty-three years old. After he died, I went to his home and read his suicide note… …I knew then the power of words.” The motivation text was written with the intent to save lives and to realize that the current generation of young people is headed in the wrong direction because of radicalization. To quote ARX-Han further, “I recognized the pain in these anonymous, digitized voices; the swirling vortex of torment, entitlement, and rage that seems so effective in activating the latent combustibility brooding in the minds of many a young man. …had I found the ghost of my friend?” The millennial generation could be described as internet prisoners, where the influence of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube makes everyone “famous” one way or another. This arrogance plays out in the selfishness of the liberal mind and is projected with parasocial relationships and fake forms of freedom that rely on consumption.
ARX-Han takes a note from Jean-Paul Sartre and writes that he is “integrating philosophy with literary expression to directly address the question of nihilism.” This statement alone can only bring up the fact that Incel is, indeed, a Platonic story of hidden homosexuality and virtue ethics. The “homosexuality” in question is the forlorn expression of the suicidal friend, and the text is a dialogue between an abstract form of Socrates seducing Alcibiades. If there is “deradicalization” happening, the direction is back to a Platonic society, and not the liberal one we have now.
I wouldn’t say nihilism or rage is evil. Classical nihilism is a good thing and has accelerated production, technology, and mankind’s pursuit of getting rich without capitalism. It’s rather the liberal type of nihilism, and the further distortion of the school of nihilism, that is an issue because it enforces liberalism as a core value to physics and reality. Just like what Jacques Lacan has argued about the Marquis de Sade, the post-Enlightenment can only result in discourse about sadism and desire, and whatever gets in the way is an enemy of the state. This assumes that nihilism made this possible when in reality it was a discourse between the Rousseauian ideology and Sadist criticism.
In Incel’s narrative, the protagonist is referred to by the name “anon.” The novel begins with him trying to ask girls out on a date. Anon is incredibly analytical with his seduction skills by assuming it has to do with precise detail or scientific function (humor is implied). The detailed nature of Anon’s gaze reads like a Cormac McCarthy confession. It becomes a game for Anon, and his depression lingers on with each failed attempt, fixating on the goal and ironically, not the process.
As said in the afterword, Anon’s narrative is somewhat of ARX-Han’s projection of the “incel” or of cause-and-effect anger. At a subconscious level, the text can be read as the author’s hidden feelings about the world, even though it may be presented as “fiction” and not a “manifesto” of any sort. What is interesting is that Anon makes proper citations throughout the text, that without a first-person Gonzo narrative, could instead be presented as actual academic research. Something similar was established with Nick Land and Sadie Plant’s “theory-fiction” of “Cybernetic Culture Research Unit.” It’s a funny device and reminds me of Jack Isidore in Confessions of a Crap Artist. The “novel” is about inward thinking and analytical operation. What I love is Anon’s sexual desires coming out, even though he tries to hide them with rational decision-making. The best thing an author can do is describe eroticism in personal detail, as it enlightens the soul of the reader with beauty and intimacy.
Like in Kazemi’s text, ARX-Han creates a collage of internet-related words found in both incel culture and “human biodiversity” semantics. A skim through the pages reveals words like “Tyler Bateman,” “Reproductive success,” “productive psychology,” and “phenotype.” The words have a common trend of being related to biology and matter. There are also figures of incel culture and concept, which are too long to list here, but apparent in the text if understood out of context of each sentence.
In the text, there are also subtle criticisms of the liberal state, such as “a taxpayer-funded poster presents a multi-ethnic panoply of gleaming white smiles printed over a slogan that commands me to Celebrate Our Differences.” Anon’s observations are correct of the American state, and I don’t think ARX-Han could make an argument that this is not its intention, that there are indeed “hack” professors, and that we lost intellectual interest in the analysis and history. There is no need to follow a society that is decadent and destructive, and I believe the real tragedy behind Incel is the society that attacks Anon’s psyche. What is supposed to be “satire” often condescends the intellectual reader who deconstructs and finds new sincere meanings in the text.
There is renewed interest in the work of Chuck Palahniuk and especially focused on his 1996 novel, Fight Club. This also relates to the work of Jim Goad, who wrote the hatecore punk zine Answer Me!, and later with Jack Donovan and his book, The Way of Men. The focus on Palahniuk is central to understanding Incel and the ideal that men live in a weak society. In sum, it could be justified as “We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like.” Anon’s downfall is his innocence and his realization he has been exploited this entire time by a corrupted system. What is “transgressive” is a misnomer and rather a raw realization of what is happening to society as it falls. The allusions in the text relate to revolution and death.
It utterly confuses me that such a profound and stupid thing like “hookup culture” could exist at the twilight of American capitalism. It is bizarre that liberalism believes that everyone should be treated as equal individuals, and yet when women want to have sex, they turn into commodification to get raped by men who are confused and looking for a lover. If both “consent” to such rape, it’s supposedly not that and rather mutual murder they enjoy on each side. The hypocrisy leads to distrust, sexism, commodification, and alienation from the very liberal system that believes there should be integrity in everyone, even though a woman’s sexuality relies on masochism and arousal over-penetration. I write this as criticism against incel culture because incels believe sex should be demanded of them like a McDonald’s cheeseburger, even though the hookup culture rewards people with good seduction skills and ethics around liberalism. This is ultimately hypocritical to our understanding of sex and continues to cast people in dark ignorance by letting men treat women as objects and let women choose their killers based upon irrational whims. If a woman denies a man’s courtship and then throws herself at a random brute to get raped for the fun of it, she is evil. This is how I read into Incel, and what I can take from it.
I wrote before that Dan Baltic’s NUTCRANKR was similar to Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Wether. Now when I think about it, I was really trying to address the notion of virtue ethics and why a man needs to make a sacrifice for a woman at all costs. This thesis would go against ARX-Han by stating that suicide is a favorable protest and outcome of a man who follows virtues over false ethics. Yukio Mishima is famous for his outrageous ritual suicide and his dedicated works of the protagonist sacrificing himself for a greater cause. I wouldn’t make any conclusion that there is equality between people or that everyone equally suffers, as that is a Christian understanding of the world. What is missing in Incel is the unapologetic force to act without regret, as shame seems to belittle everything.
Incel is a long read that changes direction often. It is in the tradition of the play, which I can easily see be converted into a movie. Depression plays the role of drama, and can only end in death. Is the novel a critical answer to the incel problem? No. I believe the text starts to read like Jay McInerney once it gets into the middle, and Anon is transformed into a film noir agent when we forget about the lingo.
The best part is chapter 23. “Tuesday after class the redhead texts me she’s free around nine on Thursday night. I decided not to kill myself.” This limited chapter shows how playful the text can be when dealing with an incredibly depressive topic of loneliness and failure. Incel can save readers’ lives and show them that there is something greater than parasocial consumption. The novel can be a remedy.