Michel Houellebecq: Submission

Michel Houellebecq: Submission

Submission is the latest novel from the French author Michel Houellebecq. He is the author of Whatever, Atomised, Platform, Lanzarote, The Possibility of an Island, and The Map and the Territory.

Submission is a satire and meditation on isolation, faith, and love; and about the approach of 2022 French presidential election – Marine Le Pen of the Front National and Muhammed Ben Abbes of the nascent Muslim Fraternity.

The first person narrative encapsulates the post-education of the society in the West, the social democracies in Europe: “So it goes, in the remaining Western social democracies, when you finish your studies, but most students don’t notice right away because they’re hypnotised by the desire for money or, if they’re more primitive, the desire for consumer goods (though these cases of acute product-addiction are unusual: the mature, thoughtful majority develop a fascination with that ‘tireless Proteus’, money itself). Above all they’re hypnotised by the desire to make their mark, to carve out an enviable social position in a world that they believe and indeed hope will be competitive, galvanised as they are by the worship of fleeting icons: athletes, fashion or Web designers, film stars and models.”

The protagonist is a middle-aged academic watching his life dwindle to nothing. Parents are dead. Sex drive diminishes. His work on the nineteenth-century French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans enables him to get a tenured position. “For my part, I knew I was one of those ‘gifted’ few. I’d written a good dissertation and I expected an honourable mention. All the same, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a special commendation, and even more surprised when I saw the committee’s report, which was excellent, practically dithyrambic. Suddenly a tenured position as a senior lecturer was within my reach, if I wanted it. Which meant that my boring, predictable life continued to resemble Huysmans’ a century and a half before.”

Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) was French novelist, known for his novel (Against the Grain or Against Nature). He worked as fulltime civil servant but consistently wrote novels, and he is known for large vocabulary, descriptions (La Cathedrale), and idiosyncractic use of the French language. In Submission, the narrator reflects, “His life as a bureaucrat went on, and so did the rest of his life. On 3 September 1893, he received the Legion d’Honneur for public service. In 1898 he retired, having completed – once leaves of absence were taken into account – his mandatory thirty years of employment. In that time he managed to write books that made me consider him a friend more than a hundred years later. Much, maybe too much, has been written about literature. (I know better than anyone; I’m an expert in the field.)”

Michel Houellebecq is a poet, essayist and novelist. He is noted as ‘one of the most provocative and prescient novelists of today’. Emmanuel Carrere mentions about Michel’s Submission in Le Monde: “Extraordinary . . .  if there is anyone in literature today, not just in French but worldwide, who is thinking about the sort of enormous shifts we all feel are happening, it’s him.”

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