Printer Friendly

Democratic Metaphysics and Political Anxieties in Houellebecq's Novels.

1. Introduction

Houellebecq's fiction addresses numerous dominating political anxieties in present-day France. (Williams and Sweeney, 2019) In Houellebecq's novels a mechanism of de-politicization is identifiable that advances throughout the generations (Alican, 2017; Blacker, 2018; Coavoux, 2018; Fox, 2017; Michailidou, 2018; Nica, 2017; Petcu, 2018; Smith and Stirling, 2018), together with an acceptance of, or submission to, the worldwide market economy. (Bowd, 2019) Houellebecq conveys a practically distinct insurgent view integrated into despotic and benevolent perspectives. In Submission, Houellebecq employs the European notion of multiculturalism to invalidate the political architecture from within, articulating a substantial condemnation of French society and European advancements. (Demker, 2019)

2. Political Anxieties in the Alienated Capitalism

Houellebecq depicts the damaging dynamics of neoliberalism and consumerism. The May 1968 student demonstrations contributed to the radical individuation and objectification (Alican, 2018; Buchely, 2018; Coburn, 2018; Kozaki and Nakamura, 2018; Mihaila, 2018; Nica, 2018; Suojanen, 2018) operating in present-day Western society. The militants' requirements for new civil liberties worked out in demolishing the only remaining traces of a moral order that functioned as a barricade at odds with human segregation. (Willging, 2019) Houellebecq initiates an inflammatory condemnation of Islam: both literary approach and authorial magnetism substantiates the contentious themes of his texts. (Williams, 2019) In the anxious political setting of contemporary France, when extreme fear, migration, and Islam generate significant scrutiny and when the anti-elitist right is ascendant, Submission operates as a political channel in government-supportive view making and as a feasible resource for detractors who orient themselves as defending massive migration and integration policies. (Agerup, 2019)

Houellebecq's Submission delineates various paths of precarity, analyzing different kinds of dire straits. (Taylor, 2019)
Houellebecq's caustic nihilism appears through a largely parodic
presentation of characters and conflicts--most of which are spinning in
a postmodern void of meaninglessness. [...] France in 2022 is in a
state of irreversible social and cultural decay and so too is western
civilization. The prevailing, post-Enlightenment ideologies and their
accompanying moribund institutions that have been sustaining the social
network are quickly fading. [...] For Houellebecq, the novel's not-to-
distant bleak future is not crafted to be ultimately resolved or
reclaimed by history or art. [...] Submission, for the far-right,
nativist, reader, is an urgent warning about the rise of Islam and the
decline of the west. France, in this view, is being made fatally
precarious by secularism, open immigration, and social permissiveness.
[...] There is no triumph of an imperfect secularism at the end of
Submission. In this context, precarity is further extended into the
failure of western democracies, which are exposed as just as
politically and socially inadequate as any possible theocracy, Islamic,
medieval Christian, or other. [...] The Islam presented in the novel is
corrupt and used as a poorly disguised tool to perpetuate the
domination by an elite class at the expense of others (subalterns),
mainly women. [...] In the final passages the reader sees the irony of
the French Islamic republic, a republic that fulfills the contradictory
excessive desires of liberalism and secularism more effectively than
these political ideologies themselves are able to do. (Taylor, 2019:

Houellebecq calls into question the confines of political and ethical controversies, and redesigns fashionable approaches on European societies and their prospects. (Agerup and Larsson, 2019)
By creating captivating stories on provocative subjects such as
cloning, sex tourism and euthanasia, Houellebecq has revealed Western
society's ongoing identity crises and political malfunctions. Highly
esteemed for his sociological intuition and satirical wit, Houellebecq
belongs to the small minority of authors who are both bestsellers and
prize-winners. His works are often perceived as provocative:
Houellebecq's novels have been subjected to contention and debate on
many occasions, and the author has been accused of racism, sexism and
Islamophobia. (Agerup and Larsson, 2019: 1)

3. The Social Metaphysics of Genomic Cloning

Across Houellebecq's fiction, theology and metaphysics take turns as religious and secular issues negotiate authority. The Elementary Particles conceptualizes the techno-utopian narrative of a genetically advanced humanity, while Submission focuses on a religiously coherent social order developed under Islam, distrusting the positivist claim that humanity can surpass religion and metaphysics, and implying that metaphysics and its accompanying principle of individual rights and self-determination predictably disintegrates back into theology. (Betty, 2019a)

Genomic cloning, in The Elementary Particles and The Possibility of an Island, claims humanity self-governance from the aggressive and predestined reproductive relations of contemporary capitalist society in addition to evolutionary biology. Houellebecq's clones deconstruct biological disbelief and political despondency, and problematize exploitable buoyancy. Houellebecq's works straighten out the consequences of the epistemological entangling of neoliberal capitalism and evolutionary essentialism, and highlight how it is undergone, frequently as representative popular culture remembrances and representations. (Sreenan, 2019)
The clone is an autonomous, biosocial territory, withdrawn from the
myriad cruelties of Neo-Darwinian neoliberalism--constituting, de
facto, a new species of emancipated human. [...] Metaphysical
liberation of humanity from materialism--or the transition from the
metaphysical to the final positive stage--is catalysed not by
evolutionary change, but by recurrence, the intensification of the
conditions of the materialist stage and, specifically, the possibility
of biological repetition through techno-scientific progress in
evolutionary genetics. [...] To the extent that Houellebecq does offer
a solution to the problems of life under neoliberal materialism, it
involves not the liberation of humanity, but the creation of distinct
species, and humanity's elimination. [...] Particules offers a savage
indictment of contemporary society, as well as a critique of the
utopian perspective from which this indictment is articulated--a
repudiation of its very possibility. Possibilite tells a similar story,
emphasising the emptiness and violence of twenty-first-century life,
while at the same time suggesting that evolutionary transcendence is
not only impossible, but would nevertheless be undesirable in its
synthetic form, just as our own late capitalist atomisation is
intolerable today. If these novels attack the essentialism and
evolutionary determinism of posthumanist and transhumanist visions of
the future, they also seek to repudiate the optimism that defines both
these and more critically sophisticated and anti-essentialist images of
posthuman emancipation. [...] Houellebecq's failed clones, then, are
not solutions to the desperation caused by the twenty-first century's
epistemological and material self-imprisonment, but totems of an anti-
solution. They are in their irreducible ambivalence an affirmatively
aporetic response to a crisis that seeks at all costs, through
biological reduction and historical determinism, through an iron grip
on the horizons of our political imagination, to eliminate uncertainty
in all its forms. (Sreenan, 2019: 2-16)

4. Cultural Nostalgia and Symbolic Posthumanism

The unnoticeable argumentation in Houellebecq's novels disagrees with present-day disparaging society expectation or longing for a cohesive society. The cogent correlate to Houellebecq's thoroughgoing anti-liberalism is remembrance of both conservative Catholicism and 19th-century socialism. (Viard, 2019) Houellebecq's referential conventions are fashioned out of challenges to synecdochic inference highlighted by occasions of literal representation: the deciphering of The Map and the Territory lies in the link between these two approaches. (Crowley, 2019) Houellebecq's extra-textual intolerant instigations are rooted in the techno-scientific and posthuman perspective of his early writings. Houellebecq's inclination to undermine the routes of his literary and extra-textual challenges originates in the broadening of neoliberalism to the intimate and biological realms of life detailed in his work. (Grass, 2019)

Houellebecq's fiction represents a prism via which characteristics of present-day cultural policy are displayed. His public influence is contingent on the explicit sex scenes that pervade substantially his work and offensive remarks on sensitive issues such as Islam and Vichy France. Platform and The Map and the Territory are narratives impregnated in the rhetoric of cultural policy both unambiguously and indirectly. (Ahearne, 2017)
A structural feature of Houellebecq's art is the reimagining of
institutional configurations. [...] The protagonists of Houellebecq
live in worlds saturated by powerful cultural forces working to shape
symbolic environments. [...] An achievement of his novels, as with
certain other novels dealing imaginatively with cultural policy themes,
seems to me to lie not in edification but in something like its
opposite: the opening of a space where, underneath the rhetorical
certainties of official discourses, moments of doubt, uncertainty and
ambivalence are acknowledged and voiced. [...] Platform and The Map and
the Territory are populated by manifold forms of official institutional
culture-shaping discourses. Some of these are attached to organizations
traditionally associated with the world of culture (the national
ministry of culture to start with, but also other appendages of the art
world, particularly in The Map and the Territory). The novels stage,
however, the rise to imperium of other culture-shaping discourses,
associated for the most part with non-State and increasingly
transnational agencies (tourism operators, television companies, global
brands, etc.). The resulting configurational play with imaginary
institutions provides a frame for the two novels, with an important
element of continuous development across the two. The novels also
stage, however, the encounter between the meanings promised by such
recognizable institutional discourses and the subjective experience of
protagonists. This is an encounter which the novel as a genre is
particularly apt to explore. It takes up but repositions in our minds
those discourses that constitute the 'power and reality of the world'.
Not only does Houellebecq modulate our reading of these through the
insidious play of the style indirect libre, the transcription that
seems only to cite such discourses but actually insinuates ironic
fissures into their compact institutionally endorsed solidity. He also
underscores them with a kind of undervoice, a voice that expresses all
those things for which ambitious expansionist enterprises have little
enthusiasm: ambivalence, doubt and self-doubt, exasperation. This may
seem something of a nebulous entity for the reader to walk away with.
(Ahearne, 2017: 4-14)

5. Conclusions

Houellebecq's novels exhibit a contentious and far-seeing feature, expressing issues concerning religion, immigration, sexual emancipation, feminism, etc. (Betty, 2019b). In Houellebecq's fiction, a caustic disapproval of functionalist framework operates: this configuration is the vehicle by which the market society organizes the present-day realm (Ariso, 2017; Chapman, 2018; Fox, 2018; Michailidou, 2017; Nica and Taylor, 2017; Petcu, 2017; Roberts and Marchais, 2018) in conformity with its own exigencies. (Novak-Lechevalier, 2019) In Submission, social alteration signifies a readjustment of the accounts that are instrumental in constituting the social fabric. (Qadiri, 2019) Thus, the only manner to reanimate Europe and to redirect the civilizational downturn is by restoring the values and principles that have been suppressed by post-'68 moral and sexual loosening. Only the cultures unaffected by reforming politics can reconstruct Europe. (Sweeney, 2019)


This paper was supported by Grant GE-1283945 from the Social Analytics Laboratory, Los Angeles, CA.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


Agerup, K., and Larsson, G. (2019). "The Use and Understanding of Michel Houellebecq's Novel Submission in Today's Europe: Introduction," European Review. doi: 10.1017/S1062798719000176

Agerup, K. (2019). "The Political Reception of Michel Houellebecq's Submission," European Review. doi: 10.1017/S106279871900019X

Ahearne, J. (2017). "Cultural Policy through the Prism of Fiction (Michel Houellebecq)," International Journal of Cultural Policy 23(1): 1-16.

Alican, N. F. (2017). "Ontological Symmetry in Plato: Formless Things and Empty Forms," Analysis and Metaphysics 16: 7-51.

Alican, N. F. (2018). "Who Mourns for Adonais? Or, Where Have All the Gods Gone?" Analysis and Metaphysics 17: 38-94.

Ariso, J. M. (2017). "Unamuno's Mirror-Games: On the Seeming Omnipotence and Meaningfulness of Writing in the Grammatical Void," Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 16: 90-103.

Betty, L. (2019a). "'F&#% Autonomy': Houellebecq, Submission, and Enlightenment's 'Last Dismaying Dregs'," Modern & Contemporary France 27(1): 27-43.

Betty, L. (2019b). "Who's Afraid of Michel Houellebecq? The Answer: Almost Everyone," Australian Journal of French Studies 56(1): 37-52.

Blacker, D. J. (2018). "Post-Productivist Education and the Challenge of Extreme Identities," Knowledge Cultures 6(3): 62-79.

Bowd, G. (2019). "The Anti-Sartre? Michel Houellebecq and Politics," Australian Journal of French Studies 56(1): 8-23.

Buchely, L. (2018). "The Affective State and Precarious Citizenship: Conflict, Historical Memory, and Forgiveness in Bojaya, Colombia," Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice 10(1): 7-34.

Chapman, B. (2018). "Sloan on Geopolitics, Geography and Strategic History in Geopolitics," Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 10(2): 7-16.

Coavoux, S. (2018). "Beyond Masculinity, the Female Gaze, and the Greek Crisis: Exploring Athina Rachel Tsangaris's Chevalier and Its Particularizing Reception," Journal of Research in Gender Studies 8(2): 144-168.

Coburn, N. (2018). "The Guards, Cooks, and Cleaners of the Afghan War: Migrant Contractors and the Cost of War," Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 10(2): 17-29.

Crowley, M. (2019). "Houellebecq's France," Australian Journal of French Studies 56(1): 24-36.

Demker, M. (2019). "Converted by un confit de canard: Political Thinking in the Novel Soumission by Michel Houellebecq," European Review. doi: 10.1017/S1062798719000188

Fox, M. A. (2017). "Double Features and Exhibition Programming Choices by Drive-in Movie Theatres," Economics, Management, and Financial Markets 12(3): 11-24.

Fox, M. A. (2018). "Drive-in Theatres, Technology, and Cultural Change," Economics, Management, and Financial Markets 13(2): 24-39.

Grass, D. (2019). "Ghosts in the Text: Writing Technologies, Authorial Strategy and the Politics of Reactionary Autoimmunity in Houellebecq's Works," Australian Journal of French Studies 56(1): 53-69.

Kozaki, T., and Y. Nakamura (2018). "The Evolving Life Improvement Approach: From Home Taylorism to JICA Tsukuba, and beyond," Psychosociological Issues in Human Resource Management 6(1): 121-159.

Michailidou, A. (2017). "Feminine Cities: New Orleans in the Work of John Gregory Brown," Journal of Research in Gender Studies 7(2): 11-26.

Michailidou, A. (2018). "Parallel Narratives, Colorful Visions: Enclosure and Liberation in Tracy Chevalier's The Virgin Blue," Journal of Research in Gender Studies 8(2): 11-28.

Mihaila, R. (2018). "The Ascendance of Postmodernism in the Educational Sphere," Educational Philosophy and Theory 50(14): 1578-1579.

Nica, E., and L. Taylor (2017). "New Media Technologies, Digital Sharing, and the Neo-liberal Economy," Ekonomicko-manazerske spektrum 11(2): 103-110.

Nica, E. (2017). "Foucault on Managerial Governmentality and Biopolitical Neoliberalism," Journal of Self-Governance and Management Economics 5(1): 80-86.

Nica, E. (2018). "The Social Concretisation of Educational Postmodernism," Educational Philosophy and Theory 50(14): 1659-1660.

Novak-Lechevalier, A. (2019). "Comment habiter le monde? Michel Houellebecq architecte," Modern & Contemporary France 27(1): 111-128.

Petcu, C. (2017). "Democratic Sexuality and Alienated Capitalism in Houellebecq's Novels," Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice 9(2): 81-87.

Petcu, C. (2018). "Cultural Decline, Capitalist Deterritorizalition, and Social Degeneration in Houellebecq's Fiction," Review of Contemporary Philosophy 17: 93-99.

Roberts, T., and G. Marchais (2018). "Assessing the Role of Social Media and Digital Technology in Violence Reporting," Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice 10(2): 9-42.

Qadiri, S. (2019). "Notions of a Postsecular Nation," Journal of Romance Studies 19(1): 115-133.

Smith, A., and A. Stirling (2018). "Innovation, Sustainability and Democracy: An Analysis of Grassroots Contributions," Journal of Self-Governance and Management Economics 6(1): 64-97.

Sreenan, N. (2019). "Universal, Acid: Houellebecq's Clones and the Evolution of Humanity," Modern & Contemporary France. doi: 10.1080/09639489.2018.1557130

Suojanen, M. (2018). "The Philosophy-Ladenness of Perception: A Philosophical Analysis of Perception in Husserl and Sartre," Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 17: 110-129.

Sweeney, C. (2019). "'Le mot declin est presque trop doux': Michel Houellebecq's (Euro)declinisme," Modern & Contemporary France 27(1): 45-59.

Taylor, V. E. (2019). "Michel Houellebecq's Novel Precarities: Literature That Leads Nowhere," Continental Thought & Theory 2(3): 167-179.

Viard, B. (2019). "Houellebecq romancier catholique et socialiste," Australian Journal of French Studies 56(1): 70-74.

Williams, R., and C. Sweeney (2019). "Introduction, 'La France, ce n'est pas Michel Houellebecq'," Modern & Contemporary France 27(1): 1-9.

Williams, R. (2019). "Uncomfortable Proximity. Literary Technique, Authorial Provocations and Dog Whistles in Michel Houellebecq's Fiction," Modern & Contemporary France 27(1): 61-76.

Willging, J. (2019). "A Critique of Everyday Life in Michel Houellebecq's Extension du domaine de la lutte" Modern & Contemporary France. doi: 10.1080/09639489.2019.1604500

Carmen Petcu

University of Craiova, Romania

Received 16 March 2019

Accepted 13 July 2019

COPYRIGHT 2019 Addleton Academic Publishers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2019 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Petcu, Carmen
Publication:Review of Contemporary Philosophy
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jan 1, 2019
Previous Article:Regulating Human Germline Genome Editing: Medical Counseling, Ethical Permissibility, and Potentially Grave Threats.
Next Article:Constructing Human Body as Digital Subjectivity: The Production and Consumption of Selfies on Photo-Sharing Social Media Platforms.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters