Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory: The Decay of Humanity

After dabbling in biology in The Elementary Particles and business development in Platform, Houellebecq turns to art in The Map and the Territory. Jed Martin was an artist who as a boy began drawing flowers in his small notebooks with color pencils.

Then, he turned to photographing manufactured objects such as such as handguns, diaries, and printer cartridges. But it was only when he began to photograph Michelin maps of France that he become rich and famous.

Houellebecq in tracing the rise of Jed Martin to wealth and fame also portrays his path toward the reclusive life. He lost his lover Olga. He lost his friend, the writer Michel Houellebecq. And he finally lost his father. In the end, he lived in a fenced estate and only drove to Carrefour to shop on Tuesdays.

Houellebecq delved into art not as a spiritual journey but as a vision of humanity in decline and decay. As in The Elementary Particles and The Possibility of an Island, he envisioned the disappearance of the human species and the emergence of a new breed in a new world. A prophet for the twenty-first century.

Michel Houellebecq (Photo by Mariusz Kubik)

Although the murder and dismemberment of the writer Houellebecq is gruesome, the most poignant scene is at the end of the book when Jed Martin dying filmed the photographs of Olga, Houellebecq, his father and other past acquaintances. He put them on a canvas in front of his home and recorded them as they faded, wrinkled and decomposed into pieces through rain and sun. As Houellebecq put it, “That feeling of desolation, too, that takes hold of us as the portraits of the human beings who had accompanied Jed martin through his earthly life fall apart under the impact of bad weather, then decompose and disappear, seeming in the last videos to make themselves the symbols of the generalized annihilation of the human species.” The final testimony of decay, not only of Jed’s life but also of humanity.

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