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Saturday, 21 January 2012

The map is not the territory

Here is why Michel Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory will be the next novel I read:

The book opens with an epigraph by the persecuted poet noble Charles D'Orleans"The world is weary of me, And I am weary of it."and then, turn the page, begins:
Jeff Koons had just got up from his chair, enthusiastically throwing his arms in front of him. Sitting opposite him, slightly hunched up, on a white leather sofa partly draped with silks, Damien Hirst seemed to be about to express an objection; his face was flushed, morose. Both of them were wearing black suitsKoon's had fine pinstripesand white shirts and black ties. Between them, on the coffee table, was a basket of candied fruits that neither paid attention to. Hirst was drinking a Bud Light. 
The Map and the Territory is about the art world, a semblance, satirical, of our current art world, but also about how art attempts to capture the world; the title is a direct reference to a quote by the philosopher Alfred Korzybski, a Wittgensteinian, "the map is not the territory". The main character, Jed, is a Warhol-indebted artist. The Koons and Hirst of that opening scene are not the novel's representation of the real thing but representations in a representation, part of a painting our protagonist Jed is working on (he finds Hirst's image easy to capture and Koons elusive).

The D'Orleans epigraph could be about Houellebecq himself. He is the kind of provocateur that inspires easy criticism, accused of emptiness, flashiness, misogyny, racism. His ostentation also breeds fandom. Like Koons and Hirsh, whether you like him or not, Houellebecq is a relevant cultural figure concerned with relevant culture.

Most reviews I've read boast The Map and the Territory as Houellebecq at his best.

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