10 things about Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island

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  1. The Possibility of an Island is a novel about a comedian and writer named Daniel. We read what appears to be Daniel’s diary entries. In between the entries are diary entries written by a clone of Daniel, hundreds or thousands of years in the future, commenting on the original Daniel’s writing.
  2. The clones perform endless textual analysis on the life of their “source human.”
  3. This is the second Houellebecq book I’ve read. The first was also about a slightly famous man, wealthy, but unsatisfied with life. Perhaps Houellebecq chooses these sort-of famous characters because now it seems possible for anyone to become slightly famous.
  4. I almost put this book down after reading the first chapter. Daniel is an asshole: cynically racist and causally misogynistic. At first it seemed like a boring rehash of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground but (I think, I hope) this book is more than that. However the misogyny is still a huge flaw that obscures a lot of the book’s substance.
  5. It sets up a tension between the animal-biological and the technological-cultural.
  6. But the opposition bleeds. One of Daniel’s girlfriends is the editor of a magazine for young girls. This leads them to discuss the cultural obsession with youth. Women want to escape aging (escape the biological) so they buy youth magazines (cultural products) which claim to help readers look young to appeal to male sexuality (back to the biological). It’s this biological-cultural back and forth that Daniel negotiates as well.
  7. The cultural obsession with youth does, in a sense, motivate the development of cloning to achieve immortality. The irony is that all the clones are born as fully grown adults. Youth is superseded.
  8. The cloning process is not developed by a team of scientists funded by the government, but rather by a single scientist working for an alien cult. The world is changed not by science alone, but by science coupled motivated by the religious doctrines of the cult. Even the world of the clones is a religious one; the clones talk of the Supreme Sister and the prophesied “coming of the Future Ones.”
  9. The challenge of this book is to affirm the existence of assholes like Daniel to avoid getting caught in misanthropic fantasies of an emotionless, post-social world of neohumans.
  10. This book is a relentless multiplicity of apocalypses: of love, of specific humans, of human society, and of an individual’s identity.
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