The alternative world of Michel Houellebecq

Boukje Cnossen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review

Abstract

"In La possibilité d’une île , Houellebecq describes the fall of humanity and the emergence of a society of neo-humans. These neo-humans are a result of the scientific efforts of the Elohimites, a religious cult. The Elohimites preserve their genetic material for the future in order to gain immortality through the creation of clones. Houellebecq modelled the cult in his book on the Raelians, an existing religious community originating in France. The novel consists of two story lines. The first storyline is a first-person account of Daniel, a successful French comedian who lives in Paris. To Daniel, his financial wealth and his fame are the only benefits he gets from his job, because these ensure he has access to sex. 8 He starts a relationship with Isabelle, the editor of Lolita , a magazine whose target audience, as the name suggests, consists of young women. A few years into their relationship, both Daniel and Isabelle realise they are unable to overcome the fact that Isabelle is losing her youth and beauty, and they separate. Daniel then starts a relationship with Esther, a Spanish actress in her early twenties. Not long after he has met Esther, Daniel joins the Elohimites. Visiting a conference organised by the religious community on the island of Lanzarote, he hears a neurologist talk about the difficulty of preserving a person’s character through cloning. Daniel then conceives of the idea of writing his autobiography. He believes the writing of personal accounts will inform future clones of their heritage, and as a result, they resemble their ancestor even more. The example of writing an autobiography is met with much approval by Daniel’s fellow Elohimites and becomes common practice within their community. In the post-human society that comes to emerge in the novel, neo-humans do nothing more than read and interpret the history of their predecessors. The second storyline of La possibilité d’une île is told from the viewpoint of Daniel24 and Daniel25. They are neo-humans and both clones of Daniel, to whom they refer as Daniel1. They live in an apocalyptic environment, incarcerated in their small apartment, unable to go outside. They know neither love nor any other emotion. They have no mouth, so they have lost the capacity of speech. It turns out that the neo-human condition is not the state of happiness that the Elohimites were hoping for. Instead, it is a state of utter numbness. The religious leader of the neo-humans, who is called the Soeur Suprême, calls it ‘the freedom of indifference, the condition for the possibility of perfect serenity’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAlternative Worlds
Subtitle of host publicationBlue-Sky Thinking since 1900
EditorsRicarda Vidal, Ingo Cornils
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherPeter Lang
Pages197-212
ISBN (Print)9783034317870
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

NameCultural History And Literary Imagination
PublisherPeter Lang
Volume22

Fingerprint

Isabelle
Clone
Esther
Storylines
Religious Communities
Autobiography
Cult
History
Heritage
Apartment
First Person
Serenity
Raelians
Happiness
Religious Leaders
Emotion
Human Condition
Personal Account
France
Actresses

Cite this

Cnossen, B. (2015). The alternative world of Michel Houellebecq. In R. Vidal, & I. Cornils (Eds.), Alternative Worlds: Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900 (pp. 197-212). (Cultural History And Literary Imagination; Vol. 22). Oxford : Peter Lang.
Cnossen, Boukje. / The alternative world of Michel Houellebecq. Alternative Worlds: Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900. editor / Ricarda Vidal ; Ingo Cornils. Oxford : Peter Lang, 2015. pp. 197-212 (Cultural History And Literary Imagination).
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Cnossen, B 2015, The alternative world of Michel Houellebecq. in R Vidal & I Cornils (eds), Alternative Worlds: Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900. Cultural History And Literary Imagination, vol. 22, Peter Lang, Oxford , pp. 197-212.

The alternative world of Michel Houellebecq. / Cnossen, Boukje.

Alternative Worlds: Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900. ed. / Ricarda Vidal; Ingo Cornils. Oxford : Peter Lang, 2015. p. 197-212 (Cultural History And Literary Imagination; Vol. 22).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review

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AB - "In La possibilité d’une île , Houellebecq describes the fall of humanity and the emergence of a society of neo-humans. These neo-humans are a result of the scientific efforts of the Elohimites, a religious cult. The Elohimites preserve their genetic material for the future in order to gain immortality through the creation of clones. Houellebecq modelled the cult in his book on the Raelians, an existing religious community originating in France. The novel consists of two story lines. The first storyline is a first-person account of Daniel, a successful French comedian who lives in Paris. To Daniel, his financial wealth and his fame are the only benefits he gets from his job, because these ensure he has access to sex. 8 He starts a relationship with Isabelle, the editor of Lolita , a magazine whose target audience, as the name suggests, consists of young women. A few years into their relationship, both Daniel and Isabelle realise they are unable to overcome the fact that Isabelle is losing her youth and beauty, and they separate. Daniel then starts a relationship with Esther, a Spanish actress in her early twenties. Not long after he has met Esther, Daniel joins the Elohimites. Visiting a conference organised by the religious community on the island of Lanzarote, he hears a neurologist talk about the difficulty of preserving a person’s character through cloning. Daniel then conceives of the idea of writing his autobiography. He believes the writing of personal accounts will inform future clones of their heritage, and as a result, they resemble their ancestor even more. The example of writing an autobiography is met with much approval by Daniel’s fellow Elohimites and becomes common practice within their community. In the post-human society that comes to emerge in the novel, neo-humans do nothing more than read and interpret the history of their predecessors. The second storyline of La possibilité d’une île is told from the viewpoint of Daniel24 and Daniel25. They are neo-humans and both clones of Daniel, to whom they refer as Daniel1. They live in an apocalyptic environment, incarcerated in their small apartment, unable to go outside. They know neither love nor any other emotion. They have no mouth, so they have lost the capacity of speech. It turns out that the neo-human condition is not the state of happiness that the Elohimites were hoping for. Instead, it is a state of utter numbness. The religious leader of the neo-humans, who is called the Soeur Suprême, calls it ‘the freedom of indifference, the condition for the possibility of perfect serenity’.

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PB - Peter Lang

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Cnossen B. The alternative world of Michel Houellebecq. In Vidal R, Cornils I, editors, Alternative Worlds: Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900. Oxford : Peter Lang. 2015. p. 197-212. (Cultural History And Literary Imagination).