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Research

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Publication details for Dr Gerald Moore

Moore, Gerald (2011). Gay Science and (No) Laughing Matter: The Eternal Returns of Michel Houellebecq. French Studies 65(1): 45-60.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Michel Houellebecq has repeatedly presented his literary work as something of a return to Schopenhauer. Yet this interpretation risks understating the complexity of Houellebecq's negotiations with Nietzsche — the self-proclaimed enemy of Schopenhauer — and the Nietzscheanism of la génération 68. In particular, it overlooks both his repetition of the Nietzschean themes of eternal return and Zarathustran laughter and the constitutive parody of this repetition, the effect of which is simultaneously to offer, withdraw, and suspend the withdrawal of the criticisms he articulates. The ambiguity plays out across Les Particules élémentaires (1998) and La Possibilité d'une île (2005), both of which can be read as staging a tension between two extreme, commodified versions of eternal return, namely the exhausted pseudo-transgression of popularized Zarathustra and a literal eternal return achieved through the science of cloning. These parodies of science and laughter contribute to Houellebecq's depiction of lifelessness rather than the joys of existence, but manage to preserve the prospect of affirming life in spite of nihilism. Filtered through an imminent critique of the post-68 reduction of philosophy to laughter, parody becomes a condition of Houellebecq's earnest reworking of the French Nietzschean legacy.