The Map and the Territory Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Jan 3 2012
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“Archly sarcastic, cheerily pedantic, willfully brutal.... But what remained with me of this singular novel is a powerful sense of the Houllebecquian mood, which the critic Paul Berman once characterized as ‘depressive lucidity,’ and which here consists of a heightened awareness of the impoverishment of everyday life and its landscape, along with a dammed-up pool of heartbreak.” —Judith Shulevitz, The New York Times Book Review
"Michel Houellebecq is the most interesting, provocative and important European novelist of my generation. Period. No one else comes close. He has written two or maybe three great books, and his latest, The Map and the Territory, is one of them." –Bret Easton Ellis
“A serious reflection on art, death, and contemporary society, The Map and the Territory is a tour de force….It is part crafty page-turner, part sociological inquiry, part satire, part mystery novel, part artist’s biography. In its seamless collage of artful pastiche, the novel captures with perfect irony the tone and texture of twenty-first-century discourses, from Wikipedia articles to operating instructions, from tacky pop songs to pompous art reviews in Le Monde. In the process, it offers original insights into the museumification of contemporary France, the eerie coincidence between art and death, an exegesis of socialist writer William Morris, and meditation on art as a practice, a produce, and a business.” – Cecile Alduy, The Los Angeles Review of Books
“Deeply amusing… A book of supreme importance, this is not to be missed.” —Library Journal
“Deadpan funny... A brilliantly astute work of social critique.” —Publishers Weekly
“A revelation for all who follow the controversial French novelist, whether they love him or loathe him.... Here he achieves a richness and resonance beyond his previous work ... a tender romance, a meditation of the function and value of art and a police procedural.... Very smart, very moving and occasionally very funny.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“A trenchant, sharp-tongued social commentator.... What kept me reading is Houellebecq’a scratchy, uncomfortable mind, his catalogue of hatreds and aversions, and the flurries of inventiveness and invective they inspire.” – Laura Kipnes, Bookforum
Praise from the UK:
“Beautifully, accurately translated.... Accessible and highly enjoyable. If ever there was a novelist for our globally dysfunctional times it’s Michel Houellebecq.... Long cast aside as the bad boy of books, [his] latest novel has seen him brought in from the cold, and embraced by the literary establishment for what he’s always been – not much short of a genius.” —The Mirror (4-star book of the week)
“One of the most important facts about Michel Houellebecq...is that he is a first-rate prose stylist….This novel was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 2010 and now, as it finally arrives in English in a finely nuanced translation by Gavin Bowd, it does not disappoint....Teasing and entertaining.... A page turner.” —Literary Review
“Very likely his best [book] ever, a serious novel about aging and death that also employs its author’s trademark lugubrious wit towards some delicious exercises in satire and self-parody.... A challenging, mature and highly intelligent book.” —The Daily Telegraph
“This is the brilliant and controversial French writer’s most intellectually ambitious book.... Funny, astonishing and authoritative.” —The Guardian
“A dark master of invention.... In a world of copycatting and fakery, Michel Houellebecq is an exceptional writer and a stand-out original.” —Evening Standard
“An astonishing writer.... The Map and the Territory is funny, shocking, brutal and unbearably poignant.... Sublime.” —Scotland on Sunday
“All novelists everywhere have benefited from [Houellebecq’s] audacity. Like Flaubert with Madame Bovary, Lawrence with Lady Chatterley’s Lover or William Burroughs with Naked Lunch, his temerity has recharged the form and reminded people what the novel can do and what latent, incendiary power it has at its disposal.” —The Sunday Times
“A great read.... A wonderfully strange and subversive enterprise.” —The Guardian
About the Author
Already honored with the Prix Novembre and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Michel Houellebecq won the Prix Goncourt for The Map and the Territory in 2010.See all Product Description
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The novel is divided into three parts, each dealing with the monetary and symbolic value of art. In part one, Jed's artistic development is described as being greatly influenced by his father's focus on straight lines and livable angles in architectural drawings and the beautifully designed photographic equipment of his grandfather. Jed matures from childhood drawings to photographing manufactured objects in relentless realistic detail, gradually eliminating background to focus on close-up shots. From these representations of the perfect blend of monetary value and functionality in an industrial world, Jed becomes interested in the symbols representing real objects in the environment. He photographs road maps of cities and countryside and contrasts them with their associated real world counterparts photographed from the sky. The juxtaposition of map and land, symbols and actuality are stunning in his artwork and gain high market value. Executives of a map making company pay Jed generous sums to use his work in their advertising.
In part 2, Jed becomes interested in the combination of symbol and form and tries to capture the integration of these two factors in the motivation of outstanding working individuals. Photographs do not capture this merging of human characteristics even with computerized manipulations of images. Jed realizes that only in painting can the artist fuse symbolism and realism to show the essence of human beings, to go beyond the structure of the paintings' depictions. He spends years (7 as does Hans in an Alpine sanitorium) in relative isolation attempting to perfectly capture this fusion. The subjects of the work and those who accumulate art are fascinated by the results because they see themselves as more than they thought they were, and more fascinating than they actually are. Jed becomes very rich due to supply and demand for these coveted paintings. He remains indifferent to his riches but does organize a showing of his work. In order to present the work, he needs a catalogue writer who can set the stage for the exhibition. Jed approaches the eccentric and controversial writer Michel Houellebecq to write the catalogue and listens to his concepts, theories, and disjointed aphorisms that increase with wine intake. This is reminiscent of Hans Castorp who listens with increasing interest to the wide-ranging debates of Settimbrini and Naphta as he ventures on brief trips down the mountain to the village. In this novel, the two asocial creative characters form a chaotic working relationship that leads inevitably to great financial success.
In part 3, the connection between finances, artistic production, psychological disintegration, and end of life circumstances bring some resolution to the reader. It is a nice acceptance of evitability with a conclusion that at the extremes, both financial success and failure provide the circumstances of insightful art. The vast middle ground between these extremes where most of us live involves distortions of creative views of personal experiences and restricted happiness. Representations of humanity are inextricably tied to money and social competition reducing much of human motivation to basic survival activities. Capitalism maintains this vast middle class rationalization. Jed seeks the integration of ideas he achieved in his art in his own work life history. The reader will judge if he reaches this goal just as I had to judge whether Jed Martin and Hans Castorp found something worth living for.
I really enjoyed reading this novel. Again, it produced a strange relaxation, a welcoming of unruly thoughts and circumstances and a view of an avenue to an acceptable death. From a different dimension, I experienced the same withdrawal from social determinism reading The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq as I did in reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. I had a feeling of a perfect personal fit in the symbolic worlds of the two authors and a genuine reluctance to return to the mundane world of daily activity. I do not think I ever will return completely from these more interesting existences, and I certainly do not want to.
The M and the T is the story of an artist, Jed Martin, who produces work from a position of great detachment without really relating to or buying into the world he depicts. Like the art-world version of M. Mersault, he rubs up against his cultural milieu but never gets admitted on a human level even after he accrues a mountain of wealth. Two-thirds of the novel is magnificent allegory but (no spoilers) the final third is outstanding dark comedy.
American reviewers will, in so many words, point out that Houellebecq is not a graduate of the Iowa Writing School. In America, fiction writing is supposed to be pruned to perfection and demonstrate a subtle balance of political correctness and Shell Silverstein whimsy that, above all, showcases the writer's ability to craft a commodity for the New York Times book review set. Houellebecq achieves none of this. His plot lurches. He uses dialogue to disgorge philosophical stance. Who cares? He is as consistently allergic to cultural masquerading and social posturing as Zarathustra, and yet, he is sentimental as well. Sentence after sentence in this novel are worth saving as talismans against soullessness, and serious readers will find it worthwhile.
The Map has a substantially less vitriolic tone than H's earlier works, and it also lacks their long sociological discussions. This probably explains its broader market appeal and the more consistent critical acclaim it has received. Yet it's still a very strange novel by traditional standards, pervaded by discussions of commercial products (almost theological in their depth, but also comic), and with a rather disjointed organization. I'd rather read Houellebecq's magnificent discussion of the virtues of an Audi sedan than 99% of what passes for 'literature' these days. The man has made modern life the subject of literature, and done so by focusing on what that modern life actually consists of -- not by dull repetition of tired novelistic cliches from the past. He's also a fearless innovator who is willing to take the novel anywhere he finds interesting.
It's hard to know where Houellebecq goes from here, in terms of further novels, if he even keeps writing them at all. I personally suspect he'll take a massive detour, maybe slum it with a crime novel or a space opera sci-fi story. Can't wait.
The photographer switches to portrait painting focusing on a variety of occupations. He paints his elderly father the retired architect, a bar owner, a duality of Gates and Jobs, and a French author Houellebecq. However as Martin gains fame and fortune, his work is well received as an aloof artist focusing on the captains of capitalism. Over the decades Martin grows increasingly isolated from the world he draws.
With a nod to Voltaire's Candide, this amusing but dark allegorical biographical fiction satirizes the belief that capitalism is a superior culture in which the market insures "everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." Timely on several philosophical levels, readers will relish Martin's sojourn as an artist in a capitalistic culture that encourages the individual to seek unconnected betterment at the cost of other members of society; as Martin's dad says about capitalist morality, the creator is a hell of a good best-selling author.