Michel Houellebecq: Humanity and Its Aftermath

Michel Houellebecq: Humanity and Its Aftermath

Michel Houellebecq: Humanity and Its Aftermath

Michel Houellebecq: Humanity and Its Aftermath

Excerpt

Michel Houellebecq is without a doubt the most famous living French writer. Indeed, it is often suggested that no French author has achieved such global visibility since Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Not only that, but Houellebecq is commonly regarded as the single most controversial writer France has produced since Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the notoriously fascistic author of Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932). Although Houellebecq’s significant literary output amounts, essentially, to just five novels, published in the space of a decade and a half, the secondary literature on the author is already considerable. There are, to date, over fifteen books in print exclusively devoted to Houellebecq, together with several extended chapters in other books and a list of scholarly articles that are rapidly becoming too numerous to count. This abundance of critical interest in Houellebecq is surely a response to three interrelated factors: Houellebecq’s almost unprecedented commercial success (at least within the field of literary fiction); his unavoidable presence in the French media; and, most importantly, his apparent ability to capture, in his writing, something of the mood of the times and to identify those areas of experience that are the site of most tension and anxiety in contemporary culture (sexuality, most notoriously, but also work, travel, and consumerism, as well as ageing, loneliness and depression).

Houellebecq typically gives his birth date as 1958, although his biographer Denis Demonpion insists, on the evidence of documents dating from before his literary celebrity, that the author was in fact born in 1956. Following a short study of the American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft (discussed below, in Chapter 3), Houellebecq began his literary career as a poet, publishing a poetic ‘method’, Rester vivant, in 1991, and a first collection of poems, La Poursuite du bonheur, in 1992. His first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte – relating the hopeless sex life of a depressed IT consultant – was published in 1994 and became . . .

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