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Maps and TerritoriesGlobal Positioning in the Contemporary French Novel$
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Joshua Armstrong

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781786942012

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786942012.001.0001

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Absolute Clarity

Absolute Clarity

Michel Houellebecq’s La carte et le territoire

(p.21) Chapter One Absolute Clarity
Maps and Territories

Joshua Armstrong

Liverpool University Press

This chapter examines Michel Houellebecq’s La carte et le territoire [The Map and the Territory] (2010). In this Prix Goncourt-garnering novel, we see the world through the eyes of artist Jed Martin, who—like his cartography-inspired work—gazes upon the world with an ‘absolute clarity’ of vision. For Houellebecq’s protagonist, the map is ‘more interesting’ than the territory, but cartography is not the only visual paradigm lending its authority to his constructed gaze. I take Jed Martin’s mysterious and overlooked admission that he is above all a ‘television viewer’ as a starting point for an interrogation of the high-definition visual and rhetorical dynamics of Houellebecq’s prose. Ultimately, in this novel, in which Michelin the mapmaker becomes Michelin TV, and in which descriptions of landscapes read like commercials for automobiles, I propose that the true ‘television viewer’ is in fact Houellebecq’s ideal reader. This chapter mobilizes Bruno Latour on cartographic megalomania, Paul Virilio on visual media, and Antoine Compagnon on the Antimodern, delivering a new perspective on Houellebecq’s literary aesthetic.

Keywords:   Michel Houellebecq, La carte et le territoire / The Map and the Territory, Soumission/ Submission, Antoine Compagnon, Antimodern, Media, French television, Geography, The Gaze, Cartography

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