Liminality and the Sex Worker in Michel Houellebecq's 'Platform'



Publication Details

James, K. (2020). Liminality and the Sex Worker in Michel Houellebecq's 'Platform'. Women: a cultural review, 31 (1), 88-107.


In his novel Platform (2001) Michel Houellebecq examines the interrelationship between high levels of social alienation in the West and sex tourism in the developing world (an interrelationship consolidated by the commercial products of mass tourism). With reference to Hall and Ryan's theory of liminality in Sex Tourism: Marginal People and Liminalities (2001) this article shows how the novel depicts (primarily female) sex workers and their clients as liminal and interdependent entities, operating in an equivocal and shadowy state between the legal and illegal, the self-empowering and the self-abasing, the mundane and the out-of-the-ordinary. By applying concepts of liminality and its corollaries to Houellebecq's work, the article seeks a better understanding of the portrayal of the sex trade's grey areas (including their exploitative, dehumanizing basis). At the same time, this approach casts light on a new dimension of Houellebecq's notion of 'sexual liberalism' (the extension of free market individualism into the domain of sexual competition) to show that such a system not only brutally picks its winners and losers but, in the world of sex tourism, perpetuates an interdependency of faceless victims and elusive perpetrators.

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