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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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Familiarity, Kinship, and the Autobiographical Topos


Balzac’s novel César Birotteau conveys the cultural logic of capitalism at its industrial stage,1 in which sexual liberalism is as yet an unforeseen future and unlimited opportunities in personal life are practically non-existent. From within this social order, Balzac describes the mechanism of falling in love and maintaining a good marriage:

Some moralists think that love is the most involuntary, most disinterested and least calculating of passions, apart from maternal love. This belief is grossly mistaken. Though most men are unaware of the causes that urge them to love, it is nonetheless true that every physical or moral sympathy is founded on the calculations of the mind, the emotions or brutish instinct. Love is an essentially egotistical passion, and whoever speaks of egotism, speaks of deep calculation. Thus, to any mind that considers everything only in terms of results, it might at first appear unusual, or even incredible, that a beautiful girl like Césarine should be smitten with a poor, lame, red-headed boy. Yet this prodigy is consistent with the arithmetic that governs the feelings of the bourgeoisie, explaining it would account for the marriages, ever a source of unfailing surprise to those who observe them, that take place between little men and gracious, beautiful women, or ugly little creatures and handsome men […]. For all her innocence, [Césarine] could read in the clear eyes of Anselme a passionate feeling that is always flattering, whatever the lover’s age, rank or appearance. Little Popinot...

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