Less Human, More Ourselves: Michel Houellebecq's Neohumans and the Anthropocene subject

Patricia Malone

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This essay explores the way in which Michel Houellebecq’s literary depictions of a genetically modified ‘human’ race, described as ‘neohumans’, articulate the distress of the Anthropocene subject and explore the evolution of subjectivity in a techno-natural context. Considering Houellebecq’s work in an ecocritical context, this essay seeks to expand current readings of the author in order to illuminate the implications of his vision of the self-reflexive Anthropocene subject. It seeks to explore how creation myths evolve in the Anthropocene era and what it means for humans to act on themselves in this context. This also opens up questions around the framing of our current epoch as ‘Anthropocene’, and seeks to examine, through Houellebecq’s account, the pessimism of this understanding, and the myth of human exceptionalism that underpins it. Focusing on Atomised (2000) and The Possibility of an Island (2006), I seek to illuminate Houellebecq’s gestures towards an Anthropocene sensibility, and to assess his accounts of self-negation at subject and species level with regard to the concept of ‘shadowtime, defined as ‘the sense of living in two or more orders of temporal scale simultaneously’. Further, it seeks to question the role of literature in addressing these concerns, positing the emergence of a contemporary literature of ‘futurised presents’ (J. G. Ballard’s ‘next five minutes’), of which Houellebecq’s work is part.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
JournalC21 Literature: Journal of 21st-century Writings
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2018

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