26 February 1956
||Novelist, filmmaker and poet
Michel Houellebecq (French pronunciation: [miʃɛl wɛlˈbɛk]) (born Michel Thomas), born 26 February 1958 or 1956 (birth certificate) on the French island of Réunion, is a controversial and award-winning French author, filmmaker and poet. To admirers he is a writer in the tradition of literary provocation that reaches back to the Marquis de Sade and Baudelaire; to detractors he is a peddler of sleaze and shock. Having written poetry and a biography of the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft he brought out his first novel Extension du domaine de la lutte in 1994. Les particules élémentaires followed in 1998 and Plateforme in 2001. After a publicity tour for this book, which led to his being taken to court for inciting racial hatred, he went to Ireland to write. He lived in Ireland for many years, and now lives in Spain.
The son of Lucie Ceccaldi, an Algerian-born French doctor, and her husband, 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 lead the hippie lifestyle. 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.
Michel Houellebecq, Warsaw, June 2008
Houellebecq graduated as an agronomical engineer in 1980, got married and had a son; then he got divorced, got depressed and got on with writing poetry. His first poems appeared in 1985 in the magazine La Nouvelle Revue. Six years later, in 1991, he published a biography of the horror writer H P Lovecraft , a teenage passion, with the prophetic subtitle 'Against the World, Against Life'. Rester vivant:méthode (To Stay Alive) appeared the same year, and was followed by his first proper collection of poetry. Meanwhile he worked as a computer administrator in Paris, including at the French National Assembly, before he became the so-called "pop star of the single generation", gaining fame with his début novel Extension du domaine de la lutte in 1994 (translated into English by Paul Hammond as Whatever).
He won the 1998 Prix Novembre for his second novel Les Particules Élémentaires (translated by Frank Wynne) and published as Atomised (Heinemann, UK) or, The Elementary Particles (Knopf, US). The novel became an instant "nihilistic classic". Michiko Kakutani, however, described it in The New York Times as "a deeply repugnant read." The novel won Houellebecq—along with his translator, Frank Wynne—the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002.
In 2000, Houellebecq published the short fiction Lanzarote (published in France with a volume of his photographs), in which he develops a number of the themes he would explore in later novels, including fringe religions and cult leaders. His subsequent novel, Plateforme (2001), earned him a wider reputation. It is a romance, told mostly in the first-person by a 40 year-old male arts administrator, with many sex scenes and an approbation of prostitution and sex tourism. The novel's depiction of life and its explicit criticism of Islam, together with an interview its author gave to the magazine Lire, led to accusations against Houellebecq by several organisations, including France's Human Rights League, the Mecca-based World Islamic League and the mosques of Paris and Lyon. Charges were brought to trial, but a panel of three judges, delivering their verdict to a packed Paris courtroom, acquitted the author of having provoked 'racial' hatred, ascribing Houellebecq's opinions to the legitimate right of criticizing religions.
The Possibility of an Island (La Possibilité d'une île) (2005) is a novel that cycles between three characters' narratives, Daniel 1 (a contemporary comedian) and Daniels 24 and 25, neo-human clones of Daniel 1. He later adapted and directed the film based on his novel. In 2008, Flammarion published Ennemis publics (Public Enemies) a conversation by e-mails between Michel Houellebecq and Bernard-Henri Lévy.
Houellebecq has also released a music CD Présence humaine, on Bertrand Burgalat's Tricatel label in 2000, on which he sings, or rather declaims a selection of his poetry, over a rock band backing.
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.
Although Houellebecq's work is oftentimes 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.
His novel The Map and the Territory (La Carte et le Territoire) was released in September 2010 by Flammarion and won the Prix Goncourt. Slate magazine accused him of plagiarising some passages of this book from French Wikipedia. Houellebecq denied that this was plagiarism, stating that "taking passages word for word was not stealing so long as the motives were to recycle them for artistic purposes", evoking the influence of Georges Perec or Jorge Luis Borges, and advocating the use of all kinds of raw materials in literature, even advertisings, food recipes or mathematics demonstrations. During a visit to Israel in March–April 2011, Houellebecq said that he "was always pro-Israel".
Extension du domaine de la lutte has been filmed by Philippe Harel and adapted as a play in Danish by Jens Albinus for the Royal Danish Theatre.
The English translation of his novel Platform was adapted as a play by the theatre company Carnal Acts for the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London in December 2004. A Spanish adaptation of the novel by Calixto Bieito, performed by Companyia Teatre Romea, premiered at the 2006 Edinburgh International Festival.
Along with Loo Hui Phang, Houellebecq wrote the manuscript for the film Monde extérieur (2002) by David Rault and David Warren.
Les Particules Élémentaires has been made into a German film, Elementarteilchen, directed by Oskar Roehler, starring Moritz Bleibtreu and Franka Potente. The film premiered at the 2006 Berlinale.
The film La Possibilité d'une île directed by Houellebecq himself and based on the novel premiered in France on 10 September 2008.
American rock singer and "godfather of punk" Iggy Pop released in 2009 the rather quiet album Préliminaires, which he described as influenced by his reading of Michel Houellebecq's novel The Possibility of an Island. The author considered it a great honour, as he was himself deeply affected as a teenager by Iggy Pop's music with The Stooges.
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 notable 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.. Meanwhile, without ignoring the book's grotesquerie, Lorin Stein from Salon, now editor of The Paris Review, made a spirited defense:
- "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."
Here is Houellebecq's response to negative reviews, ten years later:
- "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."
Houllebecq has been accused of polemic stunts for the media. The author's statements in interviews and from his novels, led to the accusation that he was anti-Islamic. In 2002, a court acquitted Houellebecq of spreading racial hatred after he declared "Islam the stupidest of all religions". He was sued by a civil-rights group for hate speech and won on the grounds of freedom of expression.
- Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994 ; Trans. as Whatever by Paul Hammond, 1998)
- Les Particules élémentaires (1998 ; Trans. as Atomised by Frank Wynne, 2000 ; published in the US as The Elementary Particles)
- Plateforme (2001; Trans. as Platform by Frank Wynne, 2002)
- La Possibilité d'une île (2005 ; Trans. as The Possibility of an Island by Gavin Bowd, 2006)
- La Carte et le Territoire, Paris, Flammarion (2010) (Tran. as The Map and the Territory)
- H. P. Lovecraft: Contre le monde, contre la vie (1991; Trans. as H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Dorna Khazeni, Intro by Stephen King, 2005), an analysis of the life and work of H. P. Lovecraft.
- Rester vivant, méthode, La Différence (1991)
- La Poursuite du bonheur, poèmes, La Différence (1992)
- Le Sens du combat, poèmes, Flammarion (1996)
- Interventions, recueil d'essais, Flammarion (1998)
- Renaissance, poèmes, Flammarion (1999)
- Lanzarote (2000, Trans. by Frank Wynne, 2002)
- Ennemis publics (letters between Michel Houellebecq and Bernard-Henri Lévy), Flammarion (2008; Transl. as Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take on Each Other and the World, Random House, 2011, paperback, 320 pages, ISBN 0812980786)
- "Description d'une lassitude" (2002) in Houelle 10, Paris.
- "Je crois peu en la liberté – Entretien" (1998) in Revue Perpendiculaire 11, Paris: Flammarion, p. 4–23.
- "L'homme de gauche est mal parti" (2003) in Le Figaro 6/1/03, p. 1, 13.
- "La question pédophile: Réponse" (1997) in L'Infini 59, Paris: Gallimard, pp. 96–98.
- "La privatisation du monde" (2000) in L'Atelier du roman 23, Paris, pp. 129–34.
- "Le haut langage" (1995) in La Quinzaine littéraire, 670; Paris; pp. 21–22.
- "Michel Houellebecq répond à Perpendiculaire" (1998) in Le Monde 18 September 1998
- "Neil Young" (2000) in Michka Assayas (ed.) Dictionnaire du rock, Paris: Robert Laffont (second part of the article, co-signed with Yves Bigot who wrote the more chronological first part).
- "Préface" in Tomi Ungerer (2001) Erotoscope, Paris: Éditions Taschen.
- "Préface: L'Humanité, second stade" (1998) in Valérie Solanas, Scum Manifesto, Paris: Éditions Mille et une nuits, pp. 63–69.
- "Préface: Préliminaires au positivisme" (2003) in Bourdeau, Braunstein & Petit (eds.): Auguste Comte aujourd'hui, Paris: Éditions Kimé, pp. 7–12.
- "Préface: Renoncer à l'intelligence" (1991) in Rémy de Gourmont, L'Odeur des jacinthes, Paris: Orphée/La Différence, pp. 7–20.
- "Un monde sans direction" (1996) in La Quinzaine littéraire, 700; Paris; pp. 8–9.
- "Wilde Flucht" (2000) in Tageszeitung Berlin, 30 October 2000.
- "En présence de Schopenhauer" (2010) in Mediapart.fr, feb. 2010 (5 parts).
- Le Sens du combat (1996) Paris: Les Poétiques de France Culture.
- Présence humaine (2000) Paris: Tricatel.
Published in collaboration
- Judith Barry, Pascal Convert & Rainer Pfnür (eds.) (1993) Genius Loci, Paris: La Différence.
- Catherine Breillat (ed.) (1999) Le livre du plaisir, Paris: Éditions 1.
- (1995) Objet Perdu: fictions – Idées – Images, Paris: Lachenal et Ritter & Parc Éditions.
- Claus Hegemann (ed.) (2000) Kapitalismus und Depression II: Glück ohne Ende, Berlin: Alexander Verlag.
- Dominique Noguez (ed.) (2002) Balade en Seine-et-Marne: Sur les pas des écrivains, Paris: Éditions Alexandrines.
- Thomas Ruff & Michel Houellebecq (2002) Nudes, München: Walther König.
- Sarah Wiame (drawings) & Michel Houellebecq (poems) (1993) La Peau, Paris: Sarah Wiame.
- Sarah Wiame (drawings) & Michel Houellebecq (poems) (1995) La Ville, Paris: Sarah Wiame.
Works on Michel Houellebecq
- James Grieve, "A Mongrel in the Path: Prose and Poetry by Michel Houellebecq", in Art & Authenticity (2010)
- Aurélien Bellanger, Houellebecq écrivain romantique (2010)
- Lucie Ceccaldi, L'innocente (2008)
- Murielle Lucie Clément, Michel Houellebecq revisité (2007)
- Murielle Lucie Clément and Sabine van Wesemael (eds.), Michel Houellebecq sous la loupe (2007)
- Gavin Bowd (ed.), Le Monde de Houellebecq (2006)
- Fernando Arrabal, Houellebecq (2005)
- Éric Naulleau, Au secours, Houellebecq revient ! (2005)
- Jean-François Patricola, Michel Houellebecq ou la provocation permanente (2005)
- Denis Demonpion, Houellebecq non autorisé, enquête sur un phénomène (2005)
- Sabine van Wesemael, Michel Houellebecq, le plaisir du texte (2005)
- Olivier Bardolle, La Littérature à vif (Le cas Houellebecq) (2004)
- Sabine van Wesemael (ed.), Michel Houellebecq (2004)
- Dominique Noguez, Houellebecq, en fait (2003)
- Murielle Lucie Clément, Houellebecq, Sperme et sang (2003)
- Thomas Steinfeld, Das Phänomen Houellebecq (2001)
- Manuel Chemineau, "Michel Houellebecq. Vive le trash!", in Wiener Zeitung, Extra (2 April 1999)
- ^ Denis Demonpion: Houellebecq non autorisé, enquête sur un phénomène (2005)
- ^ The Sex Export the Independent on Sunday, 21 August 2005
- ^ Mac Cormaic, Ruadhán (9 September 2010). "French novelist rejects claims of plagiarism". Irish Times. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2010/0909/1224278513426.html. Retrieved 14 September 2010.
- ^ Guardian.co.uk
- ^ Davies, Lizzy (8 September 2010). "Houellebecq fights off claims of plagiarism in new novel". The Guardian, Main section, p. 16. Published online (7 September 2010) as "Michel Houellebecq novel ruffles literary world again". Retrieved 15 September 2010.
- ^ Lichfield, John (8 September 2010). "I stole from Wikipedia but it's not plagiarism, says Houellebecq". The Independent. UK. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/i-stole-from-wikipedia-but-its-not-plagiarism-says-houellebecq-2073145.html. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
- ^ http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4049926,00.html Ynet article in Hebrew
- ^ a b c d Susannah Hunnewell (2010) 'Michel Houellebecq, The Art of Fiction No. 206' Fall 2010 The Paris Review
- ^ "Michel Houellebecq Profile at the European Graduate School. Biography, bibliography, photos and video lecture.". Saas-Fee,Switzerland: European Graduate School. http://www.egs.edu/faculty/michel-houellebecq/biography/. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
- ^ Perry Anderson, Dégringolade, London Review of Books, September 2004.
- ^ "The Elementary Particles (Atomised) by Michel Houellebecq.". The Complete Review.. http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/houelbqm/partelem.htm. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
- ^ Stein, Lorin (23 October 2000). "What to Read in October." Salon, Published online (23 October 2000) as "What to Read in October". Retrieved 8 November 2011.
- ^ The Australian (10 August 2010) 'Has Mad, Bad Michel Houellebecq Come In From The Cold?' Arts Section http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/has-mad-bad-michel-houellebecq-come-in-from-the-cold/story-e6frg6so-1225911561705
- ^ A selection of poems from 'La Poursuite du bonheur' and 'Le Sens du combat' has been translated into English by Robin Mackay in Collapse: Journal of Philosophical Research and Development vol. iv, Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2009, ISBN 978-0-9553087-3-4, pp.173–183.
- Fan club
- Houellebecq et le “Prix Clone-court”: ou le Nouvel-Âge du clonage de clowns raëliens—(Cloning Clowns with the “Clonecourt Prize” is now “Raëlity”!)
- Holidays in the Sun by Travis Jeppesen
- "A dog's life (poodles excepted)" by Michael Worton, The Guardian, 29 October 2005
- "L'Étranger in a Strange Land: Michel Houellebecq's Weekend in L.A." by Brendan Bernhard, LA Weekly, June 2005
- The man can't help it, In-depth interview, The Guardian, 31 August 2002.
- 'Confused Extremes', review of Atomised in the Oxonian Review
- An essay on Houellebecq and critical theory
- The Possibility of An Island Reviews & Scores at Metacritic.com
- The Possibility of an Island Review on Stalker.
- The Pursuit of the Hole, review of The Possibility of an Island in the Oxonian Review
- Critical bibliography on Michel Houellebecq's works (Auteurs.contemporain.info) (French)
- "90% Hateful" by John Updike, The New Yorker, 15 May 2006
- Interview with Houellebecq's mother, regarding her own memoir