Meeting Michel Houellebecq: Ceci N'est Pas Une Interview

By Prune Perromat

A man stares at a quadriptych by Michel Houellebecq at the opening of "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing," the author's first art show in the US on Friday in New York

A man stares at a quadriptych by Michel Houellebecq at the opening of "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing," the author's first art show in the US on Friday in New York

Last Friday, LSP met French lit star Michel Houellebecq in New York City at the opening of his first US art show "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing," a miniature adaptation of his Paris 2016 exhibit "Rester Vivant" (To Stay Alive). 

Two rooms, one dark, the other brightly lit, each covered with photographs, photo-montages and a multimedia setting designed to convey Houellebecq's bleak but bizarrely humanist vision of France: suburban areas, tollbooths, barbed wires, almost celebrated rust belt vestiges, a crumbling concrete EUROPE sign. 

"I had no more reason to kill myself than most of these people did." - "Balzac", "Lamartine", "Perec", "Vonnegut", "Bernhard" - the names of authors, poets and lines from his novels and poetry were superimposed here and there with deadpan humor onto some black and white images. 

Further, in the brighter room, fluorescent lamps shed an almost hostile light on a floor covered with a collage of hundreds of kitsch postcards from most French tourist destinations. 

The atypical novelist, who wasn't feeling well, made an obvious effort to appear in public, smiling weakly, elusive. He had canceled earlier in the day a public conversation with Paris Review publisher Susannah Hunnewell at French bookstore Albertine Books on Fifth Ave. In the intimacy offered by a room with darkly painted walls, he shared a few words with a couple of reporters, in a whisper, while visiting a room and then another. Here's a short excerpt from our elliptical Q&A, translated from the French. And then, some pictures.

THE LITERARY SHOW PROJECT: Art, like literature, does it come from intuition?

MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ: All choices are intuitive. ("Tous les choix sont intuitifs").

LSP: Why getting inspiration from photographs when writing?

MH: To apprehend a place. It helps me visualize the setting. ("Pour figurer les lieux. Ça m'aide à visualiser les décors.")

AFP/LSP: French Bashing, in this Macron era, is it still a relevant theme?

MH: It will come back. ("Ca reviendra.")

AFP/LSP:  Trump, what do you think of him?

MH: Nothing. I never think about him. ("Rien, je ne pense jamais à lui.")

LSP: What are those postcard collages? What do they mean?

MH: Well, it's tourism. ("Ben, c'est le tourisme."LSP

Novelist, poet, and artist Michel Houellebecq signing copies in the dark at the opening of his show "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing"  on Friday in New York. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

Novelist, poet, and artist Michel Houellebecq signing copies in the dark at the opening of his show "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing"  on Friday in New York. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

LSP's host Prune Perromat with French lit star Michel Houellebecq commenting his art at the opening of his show "French Bashing" on Friday in New York. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

LSP's host Prune Perromat with French lit star Michel Houellebecq commenting his art at the opening of his show "French Bashing" on Friday in New York. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

A photograph of a tollbooth hung on a darkly painted wall, the bleak representation of suburban France at "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing." The author's first art show in the US opened on Friday in New York.

A photograph of a tollbooth hung on a darkly painted wall, the bleak representation of suburban France at "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing." The author's first art show in the US opened on Friday in New York.

The foot of a man standing on a floor made of kitsch postcards from France's most iconic touristic spots at the opening of the art show "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing" on Friday in New York

The foot of a man standing on a floor made of kitsch postcards from France's most iconic touristic spots at the opening of the art show "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing" on Friday in New York

"Well, it's tourism..." Michel Houellebecq laconically describing his art to LSP's Prune Perromat at the opening of his first US art show "French Bashing" in New York on Friday night. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

"Well, it's tourism..." Michel Houellebecq laconically describing his art to LSP's Prune Perromat at the opening of his first US art show "French Bashing" in New York on Friday night. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

"Balzac," "Lamartine" - the names of 19th century French literary giants novelist Honoré de Balzac and poet Alphonse de Lamartine superimposed on a photograph at "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing" art show in NY on Friday

"Balzac," "Lamartine" - the names of 19th century French literary giants novelist Honoré de Balzac and poet Alphonse de Lamartine superimposed on a photograph at "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing" art show in NY on Friday

A phrase from Houellebecq’s 2015 novel, Submission: "I had no more reason to kill myself than most of these people did,” on the right panel of a large triptych at "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing" art exhibit in New York. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

A phrase from Houellebecq’s 2015 novel, Submission: "I had no more reason to kill myself than most of these people did,” on the right panel of a large triptych at "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing" art exhibit in New York. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

Photograph of crumbling concrete sign of the word "EUROPE" at the "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing" exhibit in New York

Photograph of crumbling concrete sign of the word "EUROPE" at the "Michel Houellebecq: French Bashing" exhibit in New York

“It’s time to place your bets,” a quotation from Houellebecq’s poem “The Memory of the Sea.” It's one of the first images visitors see upon entry. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

“It’s time to place your bets,” a quotation from Houellebecq’s poem “The Memory of the Sea.” It's one of the first images visitors see upon entry. Photo Credit: Joel Whitney

 

 

MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ: FRENCH BASHING
June 2 – August 4, 2017. VENUS gallery, 980 Madison Avenue, New York