Pseudo-sites and Simulacra in Houellebecq’s France

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Australian Journal of French Studies


This article argues that in Michel Houellebecq’s literary works, French provincial and tourist settings frequently appear manufactured and inauthentic. In La Carte et le territoire, rural villages in France are characterized as parodies of one another, as fabricated French Disneylands, wherein “tout donnait l’impression d’un décor, d’un village faux, reconstitué pour les besoins d’une série télévisée”. The traditions of la France profonde, while depicted as experiencing a cultural evanescence, are nonetheless shown to be maintained through an artificial form of life support: the tourist industry and its hollow marketing apparatus. At the same time, the inhabitants of provincial France, whether the nobility or paysans, are depicted as playing the roles accorded to them (by society, by the tourist industry) as well as being satirized as mean and troubled. The article concludes that, throughout Houellebecq’s œuvre, France’s cultural heritage and the conventions of provincial life are frequently reduced to the simulacra of a bygone era. This reduction also problematizes what are assumed to be the author’s reactionary leanings, since his works offer no solution for returning the country to its anterior state; indeed, in Ennemis publics, Houellebecq insists on the irreversibility of cultural and societal decline.

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