Controversial French Novelist Michel Houellebecq Photographs the Beauty of Our Brutal Society – Artsy

There’s a description in the French writer Michel Houellebecq’s best novel, The Map and the Territory, that recurs to me often. Jed Martin, a painter and photographer who gets entangled with the famous novelist Michel Houellebecq, is walking down a Parisian boulevard:

A Casino hypermarket and a Shell service station were the only perceptible centers of energy, the only social propositions likely to provoke desire, happiness, or joy. Jed already knew these lively places: he had been a regular customer of the Casino hypermarket for years, before switching to the Franprix in the boulevard de l’Hôpital. As for the Shell station, he also knew it well: on many a Sunday, he had appreciated being able to go there for Pringles and bottles of Hépar.

I have never been to Paris, but I too already know these lively places. So do you. Fungible temples of the commodity “as a force aspiring to the complete colonization of social life,” to quote Guy Debord. For most of us, such spaces are dead zones, not worth noticing, pit stops and way stations. (I never noticed the chintzy chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the deli I frequent almost daily until, thinking about Houellebecq’s work, I took a good look at the place.) Houellebecq’s protagonist sees these spaces as the only throbbing hearts in a diseased social body. Of course this means that contemporary society—French, but the idea extrapolates—is idiotic and brutal. Jed finds an oddly comforting beauty in it nevertheless.

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