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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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Visions of the Future, Persistence of the Real: A Quest


Two of Houellebecq’s novels, The Elementary Particles (Les Particules Elementaires) and The Possibility of an Island (La Possibilité d’une île), take a leap into the future, solidifying the author’s position as a trans-writer who tackles the major questions facing humanity and ascribes great importance to the human knowledge of his time.1 These restless and probing books offer a picture of humanity in the future, while in fact discussing the implications of that future for the present. They belong to the genre of futuristic novels, a sub-genre of science-fiction that grapples with questions relating to the future of humanity and society based on an exploration of elements and technologies already present in current civilization and an analysis of their implications.2

In The Elementary Particles, Houellebecq provides us with a glimpse of humanity 60 years into the future: biotechnology has fulfilled its promise and cloning has become common practice. This is basically the ← 73 | 74 → realization of a utopian project, designed to exterminate the human suffering which results from age and sexuality that could no longer be sustained, described through the life stories of Michel and Bruno. The picture of the future in The Elementary Particles is limited to an account of scientific achievements, delivered by a neohuman who laments the extinction of humanity and its replacement by a superior race. The connection between the diegetic future and present in Houellebecq’s works is evident from the elaborate references to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, especially in The Elementary...

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