From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Michel Houellebecq, born 26 February 1958 is a controversial and award-winning French author, filmmaker 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.
Houellebecq lived his first years on the French island of Réunion. He also lived in Algeria for a period of time. At the age of 6, he went to France to live with his grandmother. Her name was Houellebecq, which became his pen name. Later, he went to Lycée Henri Moissan, a high school at Meaux in the south of Paris, as a boarder. He then went to Paris in Lycée Chaptal 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.
Houellebecq graduated as an agronomical engineer in 1978. He later 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 the novel Extension du domaine de la lutte in 1994 (translated into English by Paul Hammond as Whatever), he won the 1998 Prix Novembre with his novel Les particules élementaires (translated by Frank Wynne) and published as Atomised (Heinemann, UK), or, The Elementary Particles (Knopf, US). The novel became an instant "nihilistic classic", although the New York Times described it as "a deeply repugnant read." The novel won Houellebecq—along with his translator, Frank Wynne—the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002.
The author's following novel, Plateforme (2001), earned him a wider reputation. It is a romance, told mostly in the first-person by an aging 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 and the Muslim faith, 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, in circumstances reminiscent of Britain's Salman Rushdie affair; 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.
His most recent novel is The Possibility of an Island (translated by Gavin Bowd. Original title La Possibilité d'une île), is a novel that alternates between three characters' narratives, Daniel 1 (a current day comedian) and Daniel 24 and 25, neo-human clones of the Daniel 1.
He has also released a music CD Présence humaine, on Bertrand Burgalat's Tricatel label in 2000, on which he sings over a rock band backing.
A recurrent theme in Houellebecq's novels is the intrusion of free-market economics into human relationships and sexuality. Extension du domaine de la lutte ("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 Plateforme, the logical conclusion is that they would respond positively to sex tourism organized and sold in a corporate and professional fashion.
- 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, trans. 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 0-8129-8078-6)
- "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. (Translated as "Religion for Immortals," The Utopian, December, 2010)
- "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).
- Cristal de souffrance (1978)
- Déséquilibre (1982)
- La Rivière (2001) Canal +
- La Possibilité d'une île (2008)
- 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.