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Words Without Borders


Some people claim that human beings are social animals. If that is the case, there is no doubt that the French author Michel Houellebecq is one of the worst social animals you can run into. (I had the privilege of touring with him through Belgium in the winter of 1999.)
But as an author, he belongs to the better ones who are alive. Still, some people claim that his style is stiff (and sometimes it is), that his sexual obsessions are perverse (probably they are), and that he has racist and misogynist tendencies.
But after reading, let's say, forty pages by Jonathan Safran Foer, a few pages of Houellebecq can be refreshing.
I still think his first novel is his best. In French it is called Extension du domain de la lutte. In the U.S., it is published as Whatever. Some publishers really manage to violate titles.
But anyhow, buy Whatever today and read it.
On September 10, 2000 The New York Times Magazine published a profile on Houellebecq written by Emily Eakin. It is one of the more brilliant pieces of journalism that have come out from that magazine in the last five years .
As we all know, a profile in the The New York Times Magazine is paradise for authors. It comes close to a Nobel Prize.
A quote from Eakin's article: 'He (Houellebecq) suggested I drop by his apartment in a see-through skirt instead. 'I don't really want to go out,' he said. 'I just want to have sex.' When this failed to elicit the response he was looking for, he made a feeble attempt at blackmail. 'We have reached the limit of talking,' he said. 'There are things only people who have physical relations with me get to hear.'"
It's seldom that a journalist interviewing an author for the New York Times gets this kind of response. But no need to second guess Houellebecq's motives. This was no publicity stunt. His solicitation for sex was as sincere as possible.
P.S. After writing my blog on Mao, I found out that there is a restaurant chain in Dublin called Mao. Very good Nasi Goreng. Let's see if there is somewhere on the world a restaurant called Stalin, specializing in Polish herring and pickles.

(Words Without Borders, September 23, 2005)