Houellebecq Wins Goncourt, but the Argument?
Today on Tablet
Yesterday, French novelist Michel Houellebecq won the Prix Goncourt—France’s equivalent of the Pulitzer or National Book Award—for his latest, The Map and the Territory. It was his first Goncourt despite being arguably the most prominent (and certainly the most provocative) living French novelist.
Today in Tablet Magazine, new contributor Barry Gewen reviews Houellebecq’s exchange with another Frenchman who is his equal in prestige (though his superior in self-promotion), the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. The two men’s epistolary jousting turns to the question of whether political action is obligatory, or even anything other than futile:
Houellebecq refuses to be a battler for justice in Lévy’s mold. He wants only to be left alone to selfishly pursue his modest vices. Men are not “morally admirable” creatures, he tells Lévy; they are all too ready to form a mob, to turn themselves into savages for the sake of some cause or movement. Later, Houellebecq will compare mankind to bacteria, an image Lévy rejects as misanthropic and “repugnant,” but Houellebecq has already twisted the knife with a paradox that must have caused Lévy immense pain: “I find it extremely unpleasant that choosing to take the standpoint of selfishness and cowardice may, in the eyes of my contemporaries, make me more likeable than you who advocate heroism; but I know my peers and that’s precisely what will happen.”
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.