|Name Michel Houellebecq|
|Children Etienne Houellebecq|
|Born 26 February 1956 (age 65) Reunion island, France (1956-02-26) |
Occupation Novelist, filmmaker and poet
Spouse Marie-Pierre Gauthier (m. 1998)
Movies The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq
Parents Rene Thomas, Lucie Ceccaldi
Books Submission, The Elementary Particles, The Map and the Territory, Platform, Whatever
Similar Michel Onfray, Delphine de Vigan, Alain Finkielkraut
Exclusive interview with michel houellebecq
Michel Houellebecq ([miʃel welbek]; born Michel Thomas; 26 February 1958 or 1956) is an award-winning French author, filmmaker, and poet. Having written poetry and a biographical essay on the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, he published his first novel, Whatever, in 1994. Atomised followed in 1998, and Platform in 2001. He published a book of poems, Le sens du combat (translated into English as The Art of Struggle), in 1996. After a publicity tour for Platform led to his being taken to court for inciting racial hatred, he moved to Ireland to write for several years. He currently resides in France. In 2010 he published the Prix Goncourt-winning La Carte et le Territoire (published the same year in English as The Map and the Territory), and in 2015, Submission.
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- Early life
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The son of Lucie Ceccaldi, a French doctor born in Algeria of Corsican descent, and Rene Thomas, a ski instructor and mountain guide, Houellebecq was born in 1958 on the French island of Reunion. He 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 grandmother's maiden name was Houellebecq, which he took as his pen name. Later, he went to Lycee Henri Moissan, a high school at Meaux in the north-east of Paris, as a boarder. He then went to Lycee Chaptal in Paris to follow preparation courses in order to qualify for Grandes ecoles (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 agronomist in 1980, married and had a son; then he divorced, became depressed and took up 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: methode (To Stay Alive) appeared the same year, and was followed by his first 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 debut novel Extension du domaine de la lutte in 1994 (translated by Paul Hammond and published as Whatever).
He won the 1998 Prix Novembre for his second novel Les Particules Elementaires (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, Platform (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 approving attitude towards 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 Possibilite d'une ile) (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 via e-mail between Michel Houellebecq and Bernard-Henri Levy.
Houellebecq has also released three music CDs on which he recites a selection of his poetry. Two of them, Presence de la mort and Etablissement d'un ciel d'alternance (his best as handwritten by Houellebecq in the 2007 libretto) were recorded with composer Jean-Jacques Birge in 1996 for Radio France and Grrr Records labels. Presence humaine (2000), on Bertrand Burgalat's Tricatel label, has a rock band backing him.
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 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 Atomised, 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 prestigious Prix Goncourt. This is the tale of an accidental art star and is full of insights on the contemporary art scene and the prices paid. 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 sorts of raw materials in literature, even advertising, recipes or math problems.
On 7 January 2015, the date of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, the novel Soumission was published. The book describes a future situation in France (2022), when a Muslim is ruling the country according to Islamic law. On the same date, a cartoon of Houellebecq appeared on the cover page of Charlie Hebdo and the caption, "The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq.". In an interview with Antoine de Caunes after the shooting, Houellebecq stated he was unwell and had cancelled the promotional tour for Soumission.
Whatever has been filmed by Philippe Harel with the same title 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 screenplay for the film Monde exterieur (2002) by David Rault and David Warren.
Atomised has been made into a German film, Atomised, directed by Oskar Roehler, starring Moritz Bleibtreu and Franka Potente. The film premiered in 2006 at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival.
The film La Possibilite d'une ile, 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 Preliminaires, 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, received high praise from the French literary intelligentsia; and though the critical response internationally was generally 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. 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."
Houellebecq 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, Houellebecq faced trial on charges of racial hatred after calling Islam "the dumbest religion" in an interview about his book Platform published in the literary magazine Lire. He told a court in Paris that his words had been twisted, saying: “I have never displayed the least contempt for Muslims [but] I have as much contempt as ever for Islam". The court acquitted him. He was sued by a civil-rights group for hate speech and won on the grounds of freedom of expression.