Precarity as a Mode of Being-in-the-World in Michel Houellebecq’s Possibilité d’une Île

Modern and Contemporary France 1 (Published online):1-16 (2022)
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Michel Houellebecq’s Anéantir has received mixed reviews. Houellebecq’s focus on loving intimacy and care for the elderly within the nuclear family allegedly showcases his transformation from an embittered critic of the capitalist status quo to an apolitical novelist interested in the private sphere. I argue that this criticism overlooks Houellebecq’s concerns about old age and love in his earlier novels and how they relate to his social critique. Particularly Houellebecq’s Possibilité d’une île presents a critique of lonely precarity as the dominant mode of being-in-the-world today. Though critics of post-Fordism have already described post-Fordist forms of life as opportunistic, fearful, and cynical, Houellebecq adds that this uncertain marketized lifestyle also leads to bitterness that increases with old age. By confronting Houellebecq’s phenomenology of contemporary life to Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein, I argue that, whereas Heidegger highlights the role of anxiety and death in fostering a sense of meaning to human existence, Houellebecq rather argues that such an authentic confrontation with death has become impossible in contemporary culture and that love is instead the emotional tonality most responsive to the cultivation of a meaningful good life.

Author's Profile

Tim Christiaens
Tilburg University


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