“Houellebecq Against The Literary Intelligentsia”

“Imagine a number of men in chains, all under sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of the others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition.”  Pascal

“If life is an illusion it’s a pretty painful one.” Houellebecq, Michel.

“You know, you don’t have to have permanent opinions. You can think, every morning, ‘I love the world’ and go to bed every night thinking, ‘I hate the world”.’ Houellebecq, Michel.

Michel Houellebecq (Born Michel Thomas; 26 February 1956), is a controversial and award-winning French author, filmmaker, magician and poet. Having written poetry and a biography of the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, he published his first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte, in 1994. Les Particules élémentaires followed in 1998, and Plateforme in 2001.

The son of Lucie Ceccaldi, an Algerian-born French doctor, and René Thomas, a ski instructor and mountain guide, Houellebecq was born on the French island of Réunion. He also lived in Algeria from the age of five months until 1961, with his maternal grandmother. As his website gloomily states, his parents “lost interest in his existence pretty quickly” and at the age of six, he was sent to France to live with his paternal grandmother, a communist, while his mother headed off to live the hippie lifestyle in Brazil with her newly met boyfriend. His paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Houellebecq, which became his pen name. Later, he went to Lycée Henri Moissan, a high school at Meaux in the north-east of Paris, as a boarder. He then went to Lycée Chaptal in Paris to follow preparation courses in order to join French Grandes écoles (elite schools). He began attending the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon in 1975. He started a literary review called “Karamazov and wrote poetry”.

“In France, there are two classic authors for children, Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas. I always preferred Jules Verne. With Dumas, the whole historical thing bored me. Jules Verne had this exhaustive vision of the world that I liked. Everything in the world seemed to interest him. I was also very struck by the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. They upset me.” Houellebecq, Michel and Susannah Hunnewell (Interviewer). “Michel Houellebecq, The Art of Fiction.” in: Paris Review. No. 206.

“I think that there is a sharp contrast for most people between life at university, where they meet lots of people, and the moment when they enter the workforce, when they basically no longer meet anyone. Life becomes dull. So as a result people get married to have a personal life”. Houellebecq, Michel

A recurrent theme in Houellebecq’s novels is the intrusion of free-market economics into human relationships and sexuality. Whatever (Original title, Extension du domaine de la lutte, which literally translates as “extension of the domain of the struggle”) alludes to economic competition extending into the search for relationships. As the book says, a free market has winners and losers, and the same applies to relationships in a society that does not enforce monogamy. Westerners of both sexes already seek exotic locations and climates by visiting developing countries in organized trips. In Platform, the logical conclusion is that they would respond positively to sex tourism organized and sold in a corporate and professional fashion.

“I am a solitary person but not very solitary so I don’t need to be alone, it’s a choice. Yes, if you want to be solitary, you have to write a book, the only way if you want to be creative and solitary.” Houellebecq, Michel

Although Houellebecq’s work is often credited with building on conservative, if not reactionary, ideas, his critical depiction of the hippie movement, New Age ideology and the May 1968 generation, especially in Les Particules Elementaires, echoes the thesis of Marxist sociologist Michel Clouscard.

“I think sometimes I need a break from reality. In my own writing, I think of myself as a realist who exaggerates a little.” Houellebecq, Michel

“My novels are all ideas”. Houellebecq, Michel.

“I tend to think that good and evil exist and that the quantity in each of us is unchangeable. The moral character of people is set, fixed until death. This resembles the Calvinist notion of predestination, in which people are born saved or damned, without being able to do a thing about it. And I am a curmudgeonly pain in the ass because I refuse to diverge from the scientific method or to believe there is a truth beyond science.” Houellebecq, Michel.

Don’t take yourself too seriously  There are precious few things worth hating nowadays,  And none of them are me  I was only trying to say how things used to be  ‘Til we grew up and we all went our separate ways  Looking for our own paths to immortality  This is how I thought I’d start my song  And it seems a little silly when I think of it  But now I’m so far along  And no one really wants to know that he’s wrong  That his ears can’t really hear or he’s blind a bit Or that he’s really weak when he thinks that he is strong  Now I’m in the middle and I just don’t know  If I’ll make it any further if the words don’t flow  When you live in silence any sound is dear  But for those who don’t, take heart because the end is near  This is the ending of my song  It has made me blind and deaf and weak but most of all  It shows you that I’m wrong  For you see it’s really twice this long  And if I should die tomorrow it will carry on – Songwriter(s): Todd Rundgren

“Alcohol is a great palliative. There are many reasons to drink, to rest. When you are mentally agitated, it calms you. When you are shy it helps you to socialise. And it destroys anxiety. It also can give you the impression of being brilliant and being brave. So it has a lot of uses.” Houellebecq, Michel

Literary critics have labeled Michel Houellebecq’s novels ‘vulgar,’ ‘pamphlet literature’ and ‘pornography;’ he has been accused of obscenity, racism, misogyny and Islamophobia. His works, particularly Atomised’ were poorly received by French literary intelligentsia; and though the critical response internationally was more positive, there were notably poor reviews in the New York Times by Michiko Kakutani and Anthony Quinn, Perry Anderson, as well as mixed reviews from the Wall Street Journal.

“Houellebecq may despair of love in a free market, but he takes love more seriously, as an artistic problem and a fact about the world, than most polite novelists would dare to do; when he brings his sweeping indignation to bear on one memory, one moment when things seemed about to turn out all right for his characters, and didn’t, his compassion can blow you away.” Lorin Stein

“First of all, they hate me more than I hate them. What I do reproach them for isn’t bad reviews. It is that they talk about things having nothing to do with my books—my mother or my tax exile—and that they caricature me so that I’ve become a symbol of so many unpleasant things—cynicism, nihilism, misogyny. People have stopped reading my books because they’ve already got their idea about me. To some degree of course, that’s true for everyone. After two or three novels, a writer can’t expect to be read. The critics have made up their minds.” Houellebecq, Michel

“I read Baudelaire oddly early, when I was about thirteen, but Pascal was the shock of my life. I was fifteen. I was on a class trip to Germany, my first trip abroad, and strangely I had brought the Pensées of Pascal. I was terrified by this passage: “Imagine a number of men in chains, all under sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of the others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition.” I think it affected me so deeply because I was raised by my grandparents. Suddenly I realized that they were going to die and probably soon. That’s when I discovered death.”  Houellebecq, Michel and Susannah Hunnewell (Interviewer). “Michel Houellebecq, The Art of Fiction.” in: Paris Review. No. 206. No date.

“Pop Against the American jazz Experts”

The Stooges singer said, that he was inspired by the novel “The possibility of an Island,” written by controversial French novelist Michel Houellebecq.

“I recognized a lot of myself in this book,” he said. “It might be because I’m interested in sex, death and the end of the human race. Like Daniel, the book’s protagonist, I too have grown weary of a career as an entertainer and I wish for a new life.”

He initially wrote the songs to be synched on a documentary about Houellebecq, not intending it to be an Iggy Pop album.

The rock veteran told journalists during a press conference that he used an “old wooden guitar” to write the music he had in his head when reading the book. Although he joked that he initially did it for the money, Pop said “it then grew to create the music that’s on the record.”

 The album, called “Preliminaires” (“Foreplay”), was produced by Hal Cragin. In a video posted on his website, he describes it as a “quieter album, with some jazz overtones, because at one point, I just got sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars banging out crappy music and I’ve started listening to a lot of New Orleans-era, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton type of jazz.”

“Preliminaires” features a cover of the popular 1940s song “Les Feuilles Mortes” (‘Autumn Leaves’) in its original French language.

“I’ve wanted to sing ‘Autumn Leaves’ for a dozen years,’ explained Pop, who suggested the song after seeing Houellebecq wandering around in the documentary footage. “But the rights [of the English adaptation] were too expensive for the movie, so they told me ‘If you sing it in French, I think we don’t have to pay rights.'”

The album also features a cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova standard “How Insensitive.”

After joking about all the good reasons people from all over the world would like the record, Pop predicted that American jazz experts would criticize it “to death” and rock people wouldn’t like it.


4 thoughts on ““Houellebecq Against The Literary Intelligentsia”

  1. This is why I make it such a point to read your posts whenever I get the chance, or even make the chance when I have to, because it is so important to exchange ideas…I especially liked what Houellebecq said about leaving the university and going into the world and not meeting anyone, so you marry, etc.
    I rarely encounter people who read or are interested in intellectual and artistic concepts in my workplace, which consumes far too much of my life.
    You have become a reminder of my passion for expression, creativity, and the exchange of ideas, and in fact, you were my first reader on this site. Galactic Jukebox was my introduction to you posts, and I was drawn into the avatar you used. It spoke to me on several levels…and then one day while researching DaDa, I found yet another site by you.
    I became a blogger because I saw it as a way to promote my writings, only to discover that thanks to sites like yours, it is like being back at the university again.
    The Pascal quote is amazing….
    And thank you.
    Chazz Vincent

    • Hi Chazz , thank you for your feedback, I guess I am living a similar reallity like yours, working many hours and little time to enjoy reading a good writings or thinking in a creative way, what Im lately considering is to not loose sight of some of the fantastic gifts delivered to us, human beings: imagination, humour, passion …etc. Thanks again and I look forward to continue reading your posts. Best Regards

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