Intertextual geopolitics and La Carte et le territoire: a cautionary tale for UNESCO and the repas gastronomique des Français?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Downloads (Pure)


La Carte et le territoire features a France in decline, saved, entre autres, by attracting foreign tourists with ‘heritagized’ French food. Eight days after the novel won the Prix Goncourt, the repas gastronomique des Français was inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list (ICH). Considering Houellebecq’s use of tropes of culinary heritage alongside the French ICH bid reveals parallels in their manipulation of culinary heritage to create globally-marketable products. Yet the motivations and ramifications of the ‘gastrodiplomacy’ in the novel and in the French state’s arguably neo-imperialist initiative differ tellingly. Houellebecq’s novel brings into cautionary focus how responding to perceived geopolitical imperatives by creating narratives of cultural heritage can instead eradicate the conditions of renewal upon which it depends and limit cultural diversity. The instrumentalization of food heritage by a global corporation, national government and UNESCO—an ostensibly benign supranational institution—risks creating new conditions of global competition. However, comparing the novel and the narratives surrounding the repas gastronomique des Français nonetheless suggests that, representations of food—like language—can exceed authorial intention, and the gastronomic miscegenation that is strategically missing from Houellebecq’s novel and elided in the ICH bid may yet continue to feed French food heritage.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Pages (from-to)95-110
Number of pages16
JournalModern & Contemporary France
Issue number1
Early online date25 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • La Carte et le territoire
  • La Carte et le territoire; Michel Houellebecq
  • le repas gastronomique des Français
  • cultural heritage

Cite this