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Michel Houellebecq
Réunion 26 Feb. 1958 • French prose writer

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‘The Left has been leading the ideological debate for years. And the results haven’t been brilliant,’ said Michel Houellebecq in an interview about his novel Platform (2001). For the past few years, the self-proclaimed rightwing intellectual has done everything possible to dominate the social debate in France – and has been extraordinarily successful. Since the resounding success of his second novel, Atomised, in which he makes short shrift of 1960’s leftist radicalism, he has grown into a cult figure who likes nothing better than to kick sacred cows and pinch sore spots. ‘Hit ‘em where it hurts’ is his motto, and predictably, this has led to wrangles with May 68-ers, feminists, the ecology movement, and militant Islam.

According to Houellebecq, who trained as a biologist, the modern novel should contain ‘everything’: from philosophical theories to pure emotion and from scientific debates to literary criticism. The idea itself isn’t new – the German romanticist Novalis first came up with it in the 18th century – but there are few modern authors who actually put it into practice. Unimpeded by his academic, somewhat wooden style, Houellebecq, in his first novel Whatever, decries the modern consumer society, in which sexual desire has become the source of all hate and sorrow. In Platform, he disguises a plea for prostitution and foreign aid as the story of a man who opens a travel agency for sex tourism. And in Atomised,
he shows how beneficial genetic manipulation can be in solving the (sexual) problems of humankind.

However indebted Houellebecq may feel to writers like H.P. Lovecraft and Aldous Huxley, Atomised isn’t really science fiction. The novel begins in the year 2079, when a human clone sets down the tragicomic adventures of two half-brothers, victims of the sexual confusion of the late 20th century: the teacher and failed writer, Bruno, and the molecular biologist, Michel. Both men – like the writer Houellebecq, incidentally – have been raised by their grandmother, because they hampered the ‘personal freedom’ of their parents: as a result, both are doomed to emotional and social failure.

Bruno’s sexual Werdegang, in particular, gives Houellebecq the freedom to rail against camping orgies and penetration parties, in the wake of Free Love. Atomised is, at times, a hilarious book, but the moral is dead serious. The individualism and sexual freedom of the sixties and seventies has resulted in the disintegration of society, and our only hope is technological progress, which will enable man to reproduce without any inference from sex.

This plea for human cloning breaks the greatest taboo of our time – no doubt to the immense satisfaction of the writer himself. You’re either an auteur provocateur, or you’re not.

St. Paul,
The Letters of St. Paul: according to Houellebecq ‘a nervous author’, as insolent and aggressive as he is.

The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte
Auguste Comte, 1898
The positivism of French sociologist Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who believed that scientific progress would lead to a better society.

Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky, 1871-1872
The ‘Leftist intelligentsia’ of 19th-century Russia is cut down to size.

The Call of Cthulhu, and Other Weird Stories
H.P. Lovecraft, 2002
The fantastic stories (influenced by Edgar Allen Poe) of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937).

Brave New World
Aldous Huxley, 1932
The science fiction of Aldous Huxley, especially Brave New World (1932), about a genetic ‘paradise’.

American Psycho
Bret Easton Ellis, 1991
Shocking satire on the consumer society.

Hymns to the Night
Novalis, 1800


Cultural-critical ‘novel of ideas’, in which a human clone looks back on the excesses of the sexual revolution in the 60’s and 70’s.
(In the US, this novel is published as The Elementary Particles)

Journey to the End of the Night
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, 1932
Monologue of a disillusioned man.

The Piano Teacher
Elfriede Jelinek, 1983
Joyless sado-masochism in Vienna.

Tim Parks, 1997
On a bus, en route to a protest march, English teacher vents his feelings.

Baise Moi / Rape Me
Virginie Despentes, 1995
Two aggrieved women get (sexual) revenge on ‘the Male’.

[Les belles âmes]
Lydie Salvayre, 2000
Middle-class tourists take a bus trip through the poorest neighborhoods in Europe.

₤ 9.99
Frédéric Beigbeder, 2000
Amoral adman spews gall.

The World According to Garp
John Irving, 1978
The sexual revolution devours her children.

[Onder professoren]
Willem Frederik Hermans, 1975

The History Man
Malcolm Bradbury, 1975
Modern academic imposes his lust on the world.

About a Boy
Nick Hornby, 1998
Hippie-ideals breed maladjusted children.

Looking Backward, 2000-1887
Edward Bellamy, 1888
A 19th-century man finds social utopia in the year 2000.

The Time Machine
H.G. Wells, 1895
Class society of the distant future only seems perfect.

[Rester vivant]
A (cynical) course on 'How to Become a Successful Poet'
[Extension du domaine de la lutte]
Two systems analists in search of sex in the consumer society.
Novel about Canary island sketches tourism as exponent of human misery
Bureaucrat, together with the woman he loves, sets up agency for sexual tourism, but his hopes for a better life are blown to bits in a (Muslim) terrorist attack.
Possibility of an Island
A professional comic's empty career is one of the strands in this science fiction story about the meaning of life
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The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht,
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
Design: Maurits de Bruijn

Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
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