Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

The Possibility of an Island, or, the Double Bind of Houellebecq's Apocalypse: When the End Is Not the end/The Possibility of an Island: Of, Die Dilemma Van Houellebecq Se Apokalipse: Wanneer Die Einde Nie Die Einde Is Nie

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

The Possibility of an Island, or, the Double Bind of Houellebecq's Apocalypse: When the End Is Not the end/The Possibility of an Island: Of, Die Dilemma Van Houellebecq Se Apokalipse: Wanneer Die Einde Nie Die Einde Is Nie

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that "The possibility of an island" (2005), the latest novel by the controversial French author Michel Houellebecq, utilises a variety of so-called marginal genres such as millennial, apocalyptic, Utopian writing and science fiction to question and to continue the millennial project he elaborated in "Atomised" (2001). The latter novel, first published in French in 1998, explores the idea of a new order that would gradually come into existence during the new millennium, namely that of a neo-humanity produced through cloning. In "The possibility of an island" this Utopian construction turns unequivocally into a dystopia. This novel thus adds a double bind to the Apocalypse foreseen in "Atomised": the end was not the end, but just the beginning of an intermediary phase. This analysis of Houellebecq's novelistic techniques is based on theoretical descriptions of the genres on which the two novels draw, as well as narratological concepts formulated by Roland Barthes and Gerard Genette. The conclusion of the article points out that Houellebecq's utilisation of marginal genres enables him to question contemporary civilisation and to investigate the consequences of scientific research on future generations.

Opsomming

Die doel van hierdie artikel is om aan te toon dat "The possibility of an island" (2005), die jongste roman van die omstrede Franse skrywer, Michel Houellebecq, 'n verskeidenheid sogenaamde marginale genres, soos wetenskapsfiksie, apokaliptiese en utopiese geskrifte asook profesiee rondom die nuwe millennium, gebruik om die millenniumprojek van "Atomised" (2001) te bevraagteken en voort te sit. Laasgenoemde roman, waarvan die oorspronklike Franse weergawe in 1998 gepubliseer is, ondersoek op 'n verbeeldingryke manier die gelydelike totstandkoming van 'n nuwe orde tydens die nuwe millennium, naamlik die van 'n nuwe mensheid geproduseer deur kloning. In "The possibility of an island" verander hierdie utopiese konstruk op ondubbelsinnige wyse in 'n distopie. Hierdie roman voeg 'n dubbelslagtigheid toe tot die apokalipse geteken in "Atomised": die einde was nie die ware einde nie, maar net die begin van 'n nuwe intermediere fase. Hierdie analise van Houellebecq se romantegnieke is gebaseer op teoretiese beskrywings van die genres waarop sy twee romans berus, asook op narratologiese konsepte ontwikkel deur Roland Barthes en Gerard Genette. Die artikel kom tot die konklusie dat Houellebecq se gebruik van marginale genres hom in staat stel om die huidige samelewing te bevraagteken en die gevolge van wetenskaplike navorsing op toekomstige generasies te ondersoek.

Key concepts:

apocalyptical writing

Houellebecq, Michel: Atomised

Houellebecq, Michel: The possibility of an island science fiction

Kernbegrippe:

apokaliptiese geskrifte

Houellebecq, Michel: Atomised

Houellebecq, Michel: The possibility of an island wetenskapsfiksie

I. Introduction

The possibility of an island, the controversial French author Michel Houellebecq's latest novel, made its entry in 2005 (1) onto a stormy literary stage. According to Jean Bessiere (2006:9), critics and writers currently complain that there are no more French writers of the calibre of Gide, Malraux and Sartre. In Qu'est-il arrive aux ecrivains francais? (What happened to the French writers?) (2006), Bessiere argues that the role of certain marginal forms of writing (like science-fiction, detective novels, works on the Shoah and on colonisation) is overlooked. He claims that these authors mediate in a much more "lucid" way the relationship between literature and reality than those who hope to continue the so-called canon of literature (Bessiere, 2006:16). This well-known French theoretician of literature cites Michel Houellebecq's The possibility of an island (2005) as exemplary of the very relevant way in which, for instance, science fiction can reflect on contemporary society (Bessiere, 2006:75-78), thus implying that this novel could be considered an important contribution to French literature. …

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