Reading Houellebecq And His Fictions

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Romance Languages
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This dissertation explores the role of the author in literary criticism through the polarizing protagonist of contemporary French literature, Michel Houellebecq, whose novels have been both consecrated by France’s most prestigious literary prizes and mired in controversies. The polemics defining Houellebecq’s literary career fundamentally concern the blurring of lines between the author’s provocative public persona and his work. Amateur and professional readers alike often assimilate the public author, the implied author and his characters, disregarding the inherent heteroglossia of the novel and reducing Houellebecq’s works to thesis novels necessarily expressing the private opinions and prejudices of the author. This thesis explores an alternative approach to Houellebecq and his novels. Rather than employing the author’s public figure to read his novels, I proceed in precisely the opposite direction, employing the implied author derived from his novels to read his public author figure. My first chapter, Reading Houellebecq and his fictions, explores the evolutions in the author’s public presentation that render personalist readings of his work particularly problematic. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 Houellebecq’s Islamophobic, Misogynistic and Racist Character(s) reveal attenuating factors in the scenes of enunciation and the characterization of the speakers that systematically undermine the Islamophobic, misogynistic and racist discourse in these novels, preserving the author’s possible difference of opinion. Despite myriad doubts sewn throughout these narratives, however, the portrayal of minority characters in Michel Houellebecq’s novels not only fails to provide a compelling counterargument, it overwhelmingly coincides with the ideas of his Islamophobic, misogynistic and racist speakers. Our narratological analysis of Michel Houellebecq’s novels, therefore, shows that the implied author broadly corresponds to the public author’s unsavory reputation as an Islamophobe, “réactionnaire, cynique, raciste et misogyne honteux” (Houellebecq Ennemis 7). From this perspective, the author may strategically package himself as a provocateur and satirist as a means of expressing his Islamophobia, misogyny and racism with impunity. The results of this dissertation, however, by no means justify a personalist approach to literary criticism. Houllebecq’s case suggests that the presence of a provocative public author merits an even more intense focus on his writing.

Gerald J. Prince
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