poetry from michel houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq 1958–

réunion, france


One of the best-known and most controversial of contemporary novelists, Houellebecq has professed disgust for almost all the leading movements in France since the 1960s. He has written passionately against psychoanalysis, against the breed of socialism defined by the student uprisings, and against the bureaucracy of the French university system. Sexual liberation and materialism, he believes, have led to an unraveling of modern society and account for the violence and despair that characterize it. Houellebecq has served as an administrative secretary in the Assemblée Nationale. In addition to being an internationally known novelist, he is a best-selling poet in France. Principal works: La Poursuite du bonheur, 1991; Rester vivant: Méthode, 1991; Extensions du domaine de la lutte, 1994; Le Sens du combat, 1996; Renaissance, 1999.


In the Limpid Air


   Some say: look at what’s happening behind the scenes.

   How lovely, all this machinery working!

   All these inhibitions, these phantasms, these desires reflected upon their own history. All this technology of the seductive. How lovely!

   Alas, I have always loved, with great passion, these moments where nothing works any more. These states of disarticulation of the global system, which presage a fate rather than a moment, which suggest an eternity elsewhere denied. The genius of the species passes on. It is difficult to found an ethic of life on such exceptional presuppositions, I know. But we are here, precisely for difficult cases. We are now living as if on mesas in California, dizzying platforms separated by the void; the nearest neighbor is a hundred meters away, but remains visible anyway, in the limpid air (and you can read the impossibility of any reunification on every face). Now we are living like monkeys at the opera, mumbling and moving about in unison. Up there somewhere, a melody passes by.


—from The Yale Anthology of French Poetry. Translated by Mary Ann Caws.


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