The Art of Struggle by Michel Houellebecq

There’s a mordant humour at play in Michel Houellebecq’s poetry, says Paul Batchelor

Illustration by Clifford Harper Illustration: Clifford Harper/

Depression is poet’s flu: we all get it sooner or later. Michel Houellebecq is unusual in that he has brought the black dog indoors and put it to work. In his fiction, Houellebecq unashamedly projects his depression on to the worlds he creates. In his latest novel, the Prix Goncourt-winning La Carte et le Territoire, he even makes a personal appearance as a depressed character: "Houellebecq was notoriously misanthropic, he barely spoke to his dog . . ." In his poetry he goes further, founding an aesthetic principle on depression: "What we need now is an attitude of non-resistance to the world." Humans should aspire to the condition of lizards and "bask in the light of phenomena" but never fight: "We stay forever in a position of defeat."


The Art of Struggle was first published in 1996 as Le Sens du combat, appearing between the early novels that brought Houellebecq so much fame and notoriety: 1994’s L’Extension du domaine de la lutte (published in English as Whatever) and 1998’s Les Particules élémentaires (Atomised).

The argument of Houellebecq’s poetry is much the same as that of his fiction: the illusion of diversity has created cultural homogeneity and proscribed individualism. Intimacy is impossible, its place having been taken by casual sexism

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