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The Possibility of an Island (2005)

by Michel Houellebecq

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English (20)  French (3)  Spanish (3)  Italian (2)  Dutch (2)  Polish (1)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
On the evidence of this book, Houllebecq is the most advanced author of the 21st century. Not advanced like advanced algebra, which is harder and more useful and more interesting than basic algebra; not like a martial artist who's advanced and just much better than a beginner. He's advanced the way a disease is advanced, particularly a disease that causes pustules to break out all over your body before filling your lungs with bile.

The conceit of this novel is that a new species is created: the neohumans. They're like us, except they don't need to eat and they don't have sex. They have their pleasures, but they're very moderate. This is the eye-catching stuff. It's more important, though, that they believe in and are conscious that the world is totally determined. According to the neo-human philosophy, Dawkins is right to say that we're just sacks of meat that our genes use us to reproduce themselves; Nietzsche was right that morality is a fraud perpetrated on the strong by the weak; everyone who rejected the possibility of individualism was right. Despite this supposed fact, the creators of this new race had to try very hard to make the units' behavior behavior "as predictable as the functioning of a refrigerator."

This might sound awful, but the important thing to remember is that Houllebecq's a satirist. Maybe he really believes this stuff, I don't know. And it doesn't matter. The important thing is that he takes these very contemporary ideas and runs with them: it's an experiment in post-modern thought. What would the world look like if a) these ideas are correct and b) everyone believes that they're correct?

In short, godawful. It's kind of a platitude in philosophy that 'subjective' is ambiguous. On the one hand, the subject is the bearer of reason; only subjects can, say, do maths or build bridges or write novels. On the other hand, 'subjective' means partial, tendentious, emotional and basically irrational. Only subjects do things that they really don't have any good reasons to do. On the other hand, 'objective' can mean either non-conscious, inert material existence or rational, conscious and justified. In this book, this platitude is elevated to a way of life. The neo-humans live out this split: they're completely determined by their 'programming,' just like objects, and they are utterly rational (according to their own definition of reason). They're also profoundly dull, leading the most repulsive and alienated life imaginable (they only communicate via computer feeds, often in numerical code). This is what the world looks like if biological/sexual/social determinism is as true as everyone's always saying it is. In this world, even religion - which Houllebecq has called stupid - starts to look worthy of nostalgia.

And this is what the book satirizes. The neo-humans aren't so neo after all; they're just a really, really exaggerated version of us. At the same time, their only intellectual activity is writing commentaries on the life stories of the humans from which they're cloned/evolved. Our emotional to-and-fro-ing, dazzling highs and terrifying lows and so on fascinate them. They can't quite understand it all. This is not to say that the book holds our present way of life up as an ideal in any way. Generally it's even worse than the neo-humans' life. Maybe there isn't really a good way of life left. But pointing out the stupidities of the ways we think about and lead our way of life is a good start toward a better one.

As a side note, this is also a pretty funny rip on fame, and obviously takes a lot from Houllebecq's own experiences. Much better than, for instance, Roth's Zuckerman Unbound. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
The species have reached immortality. Through cloning and the propagation of historical memories. But the time of the humans is over. It is the age of the neo-humans, clones without joy and grief, without neurosis, without community, without sexuality desires. Only a lifetime of reviewing and of analyzing the life of the human from which their DNA came. A lifetime of isolation, except for a pet. A lifetime of pseudo-touch through electronic communications. A lifetime of reflection and contemplation.

When the grief, the denial, the struggle to remain virile and attractive dominated the aging man or woman, the life of the neo-human seemed heavenly. And no wonder the creator of these neo-humans chose to eliminate the neurosis associated with aging.

Neo-humans live without joy; and they die without grief. They don’t need food, only minerals and water. A superior race more suitable for survival. Living in a post-apocalyptic world. What does it mean when a few decided to leave their isolation, to end their immortality, to trek across the dried ocean surface, in search of a legendary community?

Would you choose to be human or neo-human?

The Possibility of an Island is a sad, sad depiction of the possibility, or impossibility, of humanity. Without youth and sexual virility, what is man or woman? When our mind and body decline, what do we make of life? Is a lifetime of tranquility more preferable to the fluctuations between joy and grief? What kind of Omega Point are we moving toward? ( )
  Leonard_Seet | Oct 3, 2012 |
ספרו הגרוע ביותר של וולבק. הזכות היחידה שלו היא שה​ ( )
  amoskovacs | Apr 9, 2012 |
The Possibility of An Island is an unusual novel, meandering as it does around questions of religion, relationships between men and women and the very different lives of future neo-humans. It has three narrators: Daniel 1, a present day human, and Daniels 24 and 25, regenerations of Daniel 1 after he was cloned. At times it is movingly written - particularly when describing the relationship between Daniel 25 and his cloned dog towards the end - and along the way it demonstrates flashes of insight into human nature. A large chunk of the novel deals with the emergence of a weird sect that evolves into a major new religion, the Elohimites. This well observed part of the plot draws heavily on the history of christianity. But for me the novel has serious downsides. Daniel 1's attitude to women is one of these: it is sometimes strange, even alarming. Ultimately though, the thing that really lets this book down is that - despite the occasional moments of writing that were good enough to keep me reading in the hope there would be more - the bulk of the text is turgid, and really difficult to wade through. All in all, I found this very disappointing. ( )
  YossarianXeno | Mar 28, 2012 |
Overall impression: meh.

This one was positively boring and I finished this mostly out of a sense of duty. I was mildly interested to see where Houellebecq would take some of his thoughts about the future, but of course he wasn't concerned with developing ideas and preferred to let the main character whine about not getting any young women to sleep with him.

Houellebecq's spiel is played out at this point as far as I'm concerned. His previous novels at least built upon the ideas introduced in "Extension du domaine de la lutte" (still my favourite of his), though they'd gotten a bit threadbare by the end of "Les particules elementaires". But this one is merely beating the same old rotting horse corpse. ( )
  Petroglyph | Mar 5, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michel Houellebecqprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Haan, Martin deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Antonio Munoz Ballesta and his wife, Nico,
without whose friendship and great kindness
this novel could not have been written.
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Welcome to eternal life, my friends.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307275213, Paperback)

A worldwide phenomenon and the most important French novelist since Camus, Michel Houellebecq now delivers his magnum opus–a tale of our present circumstances told from the future, when humanity as we know it has vanished.

Surprisingly poignant, philosophically compelling, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, The Possibility of an Island is at once an indictment, an elegy, and a celebration of everything we have and are at risk of losing. It is a masterpiece from one of the world’s most innovative writers.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Daniel, an increasing disillusioned man, becomes entangled in the cult of the Elohimites who teach that cloning will bring peace to humanity.

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