It’s been some time since I read Houellebecq’s earlier novels. A week ago, I read Serotonin (2019) with bewilderment and discomfort. While trying to gather my senses, I thought I can store some ideas about his literature here, maybe to come back in the future. His interview after the publication of the novel in Denmark was also interesting. I was unable to notice the weight of the agricultural crisis in France in the novel before encountering the interview. Also, the story of the initial disappearance from one’s own life overlapped with the villain of the documentary I recently watched, Don’t F**K with Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer (2019).
Random keywords: depression, sexuality, capitalism, agriculture, commodification, memory, Europe
Article: Gut feelings: depression as an embodied and affective phenomenon in Houellebecq’s Serotonin
Author(s): Jenny Slatman, Inge van de Ven
Abstract: Current debates about the possible causes of depression reinforce the age-old body–mind dualism: while some claim that depression is caused by psychological or societal stress, others underline that it results from a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the central nervous system. This paper shows that Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel Serotonin can be read as an account of depression that goes beyond this body–mind dualism. Moreover, we will argue that his way of narrating invites us to reconsider the restorative power of narrative in ‘pathography,’ a genre that is a primary focus within medical humanities. The first section of the paper discusses, while drawing on Wilson’s work on new materialism, that although the title of the novel Serotonin may suggest that Houellebecq takes sides with those who believe that depression is a brain disease, the protagonist of the novel suffers mainly from his gut feelings, which affects his entire embodied existence. Against the background of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, the second section specifies this existential disruption in terms of an embodied ‘I cannot.’ In the third section, we make clear how Houellebecq’s way of narrating—plotless and episodic—reinforces these embodied feelings of incapacity. The final section, then, traces how Houellebecq, by means of his style of writing and his choice of themes, succeeds in transferring gut feelings onto the reader. If illness narratives aim at sharing experiences of illness, the ‘narrative’ of depression, so we argue, had better take the form of an anti-narrative or a chaos story. Indeed, Houellebecq’s anti-narrative succeeds in passing on to the reader the experience of a debilitating gut feeling, and a gradual loss of grip that manifests itself as a temporal and spatial disorientation.
Article: À la recherche de l’amour perdu : Sérotonine de Michel Houellebecq
Author(s): Eva Voldřichová Beránková
Abstract: Serotonin (2019) undoubtedly represents Michel Houellebecq’s most “Proustian” novel. His narrator, a forty-six-year-old agricultural engineer, who became desperately impotent by a regular absorption of “new-generation anti-depressants”, scrutinizes his “phallocentric memory” to revisit all his missed appointments with the great Romantic Love that could have saved him. Our analysis proves that Serotonin is not just a “prefiguration of the Yellow vests movement”, an “illustration of European agricultural crisis” or a “conservative flirt with Christianism” (which commentators are accustomed to identify in Houellebecq’s work) but also a somewhat astonishing reflection on the functioning of memory and the mechanisms of love.
Article: Sérotonine ou la quête du bonheur selon Michel Houellebecq
Author(s): Ruth Amar
Abstract: In this article I will analyze the quest of happiness in Serotonin, the latest book by Michel Houellebecq. But first, it will be necessary to consider the aspects of happiness as they appear in his work. Being an avid and intellectual reader, Houellebecq summons many authors in his novels, which he quotes more or less literally. Two of them, namely Auguste Comte, the father of positivism, and Schopenhauer, the spiritual master of Houellebecq, are seemingly the major influences of the conception of happiness in the work. Apparently, these two philosophers have nothing in common, but it is possible to identify some similarities in relation with the idea of happiness expressed in Houellebecq’s novels. In his latest book Serotonin, the interest in happiness is even more precise, but this time, it is no longer a question of philosophy: the scientific title emerges in the form of a hormone: a neurotransmitter influencing our mood, used in antidepressants for better mental health. Does this mean that Houellebecq has given up? Or is it, on the contrary, a new effort of resistance? In this article I will try to answer the question and understand if the quest for happiness persists in his latest novel.
Article: Get Hard or Die Trying: Impotence and the Displacement of the White Male in Michel Houellebecq’s Sérotonine
Author(s): André Pettman
Abstract: Taking up Paul Preciado’s theories in his book Testo Junkie (2013) concerning contemporary biocapitalism, this essay argues that Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel, Sérotonine (2019), represents a radical move away from the hegemony of the white cis-male, heterosexual body depicted in his earlier literary corpus. The narrator of Sérotonine is stripped of his sexual capacity by an antidepressant that makes him impotent. Once unable to escape the stimuli and commodities designed to incite pleasure, thus leaving the body in a constant state of arousal, Houellebecq’s male subject is now unequivocally portrayed as being flaccid. Rather than disclose a sense of reconciliation or resignation with the market, the novel reveals an expulsion from it entirely. The narrator’s futile attempts to reinstate his male dominance further demonstrate the totalizing presence of sex, pleasure, and pharmaceutical drugs in Houellebecq’s novels and attest to the notion that the once-hegemonic male body of his literary universe is now simply hanging on to life itself as contemporary biocapitalism careens forward on its never-ending quest to maximize pleasure and desire.
Article: A Matter of Life and Death: Michel Houellebecq’s Vibrant Materialism
Author(s): Gai Farchi
Abstract: Michel Houellebecq’s fiction is often perceived as essentially materialistic, in the sense that it follows the decline of humanity in the loss of transcendence, while every human interaction, including love and sex, is reduced to the logic of the capitalist market. Taking on a new materialistic approach, this article aims to challenge this presumption with readings that emphasize the vibrant, subversive nature of materiality in Houellebecq’s fiction, particularly in the novels La carte et le territoire and Sérotonine. Drawing on recent new materialistic thought, I show that the shared destiny Houellebecq ascribes to both humans and objects under the logic of late capitalism makes, at times, this interdependence challenging to political economy. Vibrant matter, or the ex-nihilo rise of the “thing” from within the “object”, becomes the ultimate rescue of both the human and the non-human in his novels. This perspective enables us to conceive of Houellebecq not merely as a pessimistic voice lamenting the decline of the human, but one that presents affirmative posthuman ethics, undermining the circulation of commodities, and of people as commodities, from the margins of the system itself.