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Michel Houellebecq: The Impossibility of Being an Island


Michel Houellebecq has encouraged the French press and media to cast him as an isolated writer with “island status.” Despite his attempts to revolt against trends in criticism since poststructuralism, Houellebecq creates an intertextual “archipelago” that links his work to both literary history and contemporary cultural thought. In addition to making reference to twentieth-century Anglo-Saxon novels and film, Houellebecq employs narrative techniques typical of nineteenth-century realist writers from the French tradition, like Zola, Flaubert, and, especially, Balzac. His use of speculation as a narrative device and his attention to moral defects in his characters could lead readers to believe that he supports a return to Humanist philosophy that shuns literary developments since May ‘68. However, the rebellious stance that appears in his novels and his recently published correspondence with Bernard-Henri Lévy ultimately betrays an engagement with the same literary and cultural ideas against which he attempts to rebel. As a result, Houellebecq illustrates the impossibility of being an island even while depicting himself, like his characters, as a social outcast.

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