Pathos, poetry and narrative perspective in Michel Houellebecq’s fiction

Russell Williams

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    4127 Downloads (Pure)


    This thesis is written in the context of several trends in the existing critical literature that considers Michel Houellebecq’s novels. Firstly, his work has been examined through the prism of the philosophical and socio-political issues and ideas it interrogates. Secondly, Houellebecq’s texts have been examined intertexually in relation to the work of canonical French and European authors, predominantly from the nineteenth century. Thirdly, critics have focused on the author’s flair for provocation in his writing and media interviews and considered Houellebecq primarily as a polemicist. Finally, and across all of these approaches, critical consideration of his literary style has largely been dismissive and derided his writing as ‘plat’ or foregrounded its ‘essayistic’ or discursive tropes.
    This thesis argues that a distinct ‘poetics’, creative principles that govern his use
    of language, can be identified in Houellebecq’s novels. From this starting point, this study proposes that Houellebecq’s work demonstrates a ‘pathétique’ quality of writing with a capacity to create an emotional effect on his readers. It argues that this quality contributes to a distinctly affective tone that characterises Houellebecq’s fiction. To achieve this, the thesis will explore the trajectory of this quality of language through a close critical reading of three little examined areas of Houellebecq’s writing: his earliest published poetry and its relationship to his prose; his distinctive and ubiquitous authorial voice and his exploitation of models from twentieth century literature, particularly genre fiction. In this way, the thesis demonstrates that Houellebecq’s novels display a preoccupation with the reader and his or her experience of reading that has not yet been taken into full consideration by his critics. It suggests that, in a way that challenges descriptions of it as ‘plat’, Houellebecq’s writing asserts a distinctive lyrical style, founded on his poetry, and is notable for the affective engagement it brings about. This thesis thus displays the techniques by which Houellebecq’s work tends towards a complex emotionality that provides a challenge to both the prevailing discourses of contemporary postmodern society and to what remains of the French literary avant garde.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    Award date1 Mar 2015
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

    Cite this