Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Michel Houellebecq

He won the 1998 Prix Novembre for his second novel Les Particules Élémentaires (translated by Frank Wynne) and published as Atomised (Heinemann, UK) or, The Elementary Particles (Knopf, US). The novel became an instant "nihilistic classic". The New York Times, however, described it as "a deeply repugnant read." The novel won Houellebecq—along with his translator, Frank Wynne—the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002.

His subsequent novel, Plateforme (2001), earned him a wider reputation. It is a romance, told mostly in the first-person by an aging male arts administrator, with many sex scenes and an approbation of prostitution and sex tourism. The novel's depiction of life and its explicit criticism of Islam, together with an interview its author gave to the magazine Lire, led to accusations against Houellebecq by several organisations, including France's Human Rights League, the Mecca-based World Islamic League and the mosques of Paris and Lyon. Charges were brought to trial, but a panel of three judges, delivering their verdict to a packed Paris courtroom, acquitted the author of having provoked 'racial' hatred, ascribing Houellebecq's opinions to the legitimate right of criticizing religions.

A recurrent theme in Houellebecq's novels is the intrusion of free-market economics into human relationships and sexuality. Whatever (Original title, Extension du domaine de la lutte), which literally translates as "extension of the domain of the struggle") alludes to economic competition extending into the search for relationships. As the book says, a free market has winners and losers, and the same applies to relationships in a society that does not enforce monogamy. Westerners of both sexes already seek exotic locations and climates by visiting developing countries in organized trips. In Platform, the logical conclusion is that they would respond positively to sex tourism organized and sold in a corporate and professional fashion.


Michel Houellebecq, France's most shocking novelist, made his name with tales of dysfunctional, estranged relationships. Now his own mother, portrayed as a sex-obsessed hippy in one of his books, has launched a devastating counter-attack in a new memoir. Here the foul-mouthed Lucie Ceccaldi, 83, grants her first British interview to Angelique Chrisafis:

"She calls her son an "evil, stupid little bastard" adding that "this individual, who alas came from my womb, is a liar, an imposter, a parasite and above all - above all - a petit arriviste ready to do absolutely anything for money and fame."

Here's his 1999 'Manifesto", To Stay Alive: A Method" : "Have no fear of happiness; it does not exist." etc.


I am wondering if he wrote "The Coming Insurrection" rather than "a Committee of Anonymous Academics."



  1. The "Coming Insurrection" could be characterized as romance of the Sans Culottes, or epitome of modern iconoclasm, Houellebecq's oeuvre. Even the idea of "the commune" is atomized in "Insurrection", more like a metaphysical condition than than a concrete social arrangement: a fictional paradox.

  2. "Romance of the Sans Culottes"; the 'commune' as a fictional paradox e.g.

    Alexis De Tocqueville observed that when the bourgeois monarchy was overthrown on February 24, 1848, the Deputies compared themselves consciously to the Girondins and the Montagnards of the National Convention of 1793:

    " The men of the first Revolution were living in every mind, their deeds and words present to every memory. All I saw that day bore the visible impress of those recollections; it seemed to me throughout as though they were engaged in acting the French Revolution rather than continuing it."

    They men of 48 were infected with the Romance of the Revolution. It might be worth considering that "The Coming Insurrection" is infected with the Romance of the Commune of 1870- often considered the first modern revolt of the working class though its leaders were often, like the Sans Culotte, from the skilled artisan classes ( anonymous academics?). But also "the spirit of 68" which "transposed the total (and totally politicized) activity of May 68 into depoliticized pseudo-activity (new lifestyles etc), the very form of social passivity" ["First as Tragedy, Then as Farce", page 60]: the paradox of 'The Coming Insurrection" in which the concept of commune is atomized as a fiction, and the dialectic of the current social situation is laid bare.