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Title page for ETD etd-06292011-221510

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Betty, Louis Robert
URN etd-06292011-221510
Title Houellebecq, Philosophe: reading Michel Houellebecq as philosophy, theology, and ideology
Degree PhD
Department French
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Robert Barsky Committee Chair
Lynn Ramey Committee Member
Michael Bess Committee Member
Paul Lim Committee Member
Virginia Scott Committee Member
  • Michel Houellebecq
Date of Defense 2011-02-25
Availability unrestricted
Since the publication of The Elementary Particles in 1998, the work of Michel Houellebecq has continued to be the subject of intellectual, artistic, and legal controversy. Houellebecq has flouted twentieth-century French (and especially structuralist) conceptions of the author as “pure aesthetician,” preferring instead to use his stance as a novelist to expound philosophical and scientific theory, social observation and criticism, and ideological polemic relating to capitalism, Islam, and the future of religion in a highly secularized France. While few scholars have addressed the religious and theological dimensions of Houellebecq’s work, this dissertation offers broad and in-depth treatment of Houellebecquian perspectives on New Religious Movements, nineteenth-century French Utopianism and positivism, Philosophy of Mind and Transhumanism, Islam and Laïcité, and the decline of European Christian Civilization, as well as discusses the work of a wide range of intellectual figures and movements from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including Auguste Comte, Arthur Schopenhauer, Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Rodney Stark, Émile Durkheim, Raymond Aron, Jerry Fodor, Marcel Gauchet, Logical Positivism, Spiritism, Analytic Philosophy, Secularization Theory, and Quantum Physics. Also addressed are the stakes involved in reading Houellebecq from a specifically American perspective. While religious studies departments in France are non-existent (apart from private facultés de théologie), in the U.S., scholarly interest in religion (not to mention interest in and commitment to religion among the public) allows the researcher ample opportunity to approach literature as an expression, discussion, and depiction of religiosity. This dissertation argues that a full scholarly and intellectual appreciation of Houellebecq’s work requires a transatlantic—and specifically American—reading. If France has not yet grasped the full significance of Houellebecq’s fiction, this is due not only to French laical ideologies and policies, which consign religion to the private sphere, but also to scholars who have yet to incorporate a thorough discussion of religion into their treatment of Houellebecq’s work.
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