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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 Cult of Happiness: A Gnostic Theology


The motto of Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island is “Who, among you, deserves eternal life?” (Qui, parmivous, mérite la vie éternelle?). This theological question is intended to guide believers to follow a morally appropriate path – principally emphasizing restraining one’s urges and carefully preserving virtues as the highest moral values – in order to gain rewards in the next life. The question of meriting eternal life is a central issue not only in The Possibility of an Island but throughout all of Houellebecq’s writing, interwoven with questions regarding the possibility of religious belief in a secularized capitalist world. From his earliest prose works, Hoguellebecq employs the terminology of religion and faith and hints at doubts concerning their existence/absence in our postmodern world. Indeed, his first novel, Whatever, opens with a motto taken from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,1 and the topic is fully developed in the novella Lanzarote and later in The Possibility of an Island.

Houellebecq’s basic intuitions regarding the state of the world are largely gnostic. Sandrine Schiano-Bennis writes that “In all of the contemporary history […], a modern gnostic would consider it as the inevitable outcome of the permanent scandal of the existence of the world and of men as they are” [«Dans tout ce que l’histoire contemporaine […] un gnostique d’aujourd’hui y verrait le fatal aboutissement de ce scandale permanent qu’est l’existence du monde et de l’homme tels qu’ils sont.»].2 As a religious and philosophical movement, gnosticism bears a similarity to...

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