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An Officer of Civilization

The Poetics of Michel Houellebecq

Nurit Buchweitz

Michel Houellebecq posits himself as an officer of civilization, offering a map of contemporary reality and according literature a substantial role in the field of public involvement. His unique style problematizes contemporary cultural processes and deconstructs the aesthetic and ideological thought-habits that design the collective imaginary of our era. As such, this book seeks to analyze the particularities of Houellebecq’s poetics in the context of literary tradition, intertextual relations, psycho-cultural aspects and social semiotics, alongside contacts with the contemporary field of art. The author focuses on Houellebecq’s poetical differentia specifica, the unique and innovative intersection between the cooperation with transnational capitalism and the resentment toward ignorant indulgence in it. This book reads Houellebecq as both iconoclastic and subversive and at the same time as a commodity in the literary marketplace and shows how his narratives are harnessed for the purposes of activism in the service of engaged impact.
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The Map, the Territory and the Poetics: Introduction


Let us begin with a warm up: Michel Houellebecq’s most recent novel, The Map and the Territory (La carte et le territoire, published in 2010), tells the story of the protagonist’s (Jed Martin) broken boiler. Most of the story unfolds in the prologue, with the incident of Jed’s broken heating system serving as a frame for the other events that are woven into it – the Christmas dinner that Jed is planning with his father and his completion of two paintings: Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market and The Architect Jean-Pierre Martin Leaving the Management of his Business. References to the boiler – which “uttered a succession of loud banging noises. It went rigid, paralyzed. It was already 15 December.” (Map, p. 4) [«le chauffe-eau émit une succession de claquements secs. Il se figea, tétanisé. On était déjà le 15 décembre.» (Carte, p. 11)] – are scattered throughout the prologue. Each section opens or concludes, sometimes both, almost verbatim: one ends with a description of the boiler’s collapse in the previous year – “One year before, on almost the same date, his boiler had uttered the same succession of banging noises before stopping completely.” (Map, p. 4) [«Un an auparavant, à peu près à la meme date, son chauffe-eau avait émisla même succession de claquements, avant de s’arrêter tout à fait.» (Carte, p. 12)] – and the next begins, “one year on, the boiler repair had held, and this was the first time that it had...

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