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Michel Houellebecq

Author of our Times


John McCann

Michel Houellebecq is a French author whose profile in the English-speaking world is unusually high. He is an author who has put the humour back into the Absurd, without losing any of the awareness of the bleakness of the human condition. Undoubtedly one of the most trenchant satirists of our time, he deflates the projected utopias that we imagine protect us from the ills that beset us. More than many other novelists, his work is a reflection of the social and economic reality of life in a post-industrial society. Houellebecq shows a world of violence and tension, a world where people find it hard to be at ease, so that life becomes a process of disease. This book foregrounds Houellebecq’s scrutiny of our various attempts to confront and transcend the fundamental reality of the human condition, in particular the horror of death.


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Chapter 4 Plateforme : Writing about Sex-tourism 133


Chapter 4 Plateforme : Writing about Sex-tourism Tourism is a combination of two elements: travel and hospitality. The travel element is an example of Delorme’s ‘voyage circulaire’ since tourism involves visiting places before returning to the point of origin (home) so that there is a lack of full engagement with a locality and its people. The level of engagement is further skewed by economic advantage since the tour- ist purchases hospitality. A visitor who comes from abroad may engage on terms whereby everything that is specific to the locality is accepted totally or, more likely, there may be a refusal to accept anything considered too foreign so that the local has to re-create at least some of the elements with which the incomer is familiar – as when restaurants in Turkey, for example, advertise a full English breakfast. The tourist has an economic advantage which the local provider must acknowledge. Sex-tourism exploits that economic advantage. It allows the visitor to exercise power not just over services but over bodies. It exploits the welcome at its most intimate and caring. It devalues the exchange between people of different cultures and makes of it a commercial transaction. Heidrun Friese’s describes the ideal of hospitality in the following terms: Hospitality enacts the deferment of definite belongings and evolves in a space that neither demands sacrifice nor the ‘pure gift’, nor calculates greedy use or predatory exploitation.1 One can trace point by point the ways in which the sex-tourists in Plate- forme violate the principles of...

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