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Congratulations to Louis Betty, recent Vanderbilt Ph.D., on his new book: Without God: Michel Houellebecq and Materialist Horror, published by Penn State Univ. Press

Posted by on Monday, June 27, 2016 in Uncategorized.



Without God: Michel Houellebecq and Materialist Horror

by Louis Betty


Entirely brilliant from a methodological point of view, Without God sheds a great deal of light on the work of Michel Houellebecq. Given its very broad perspective and the importance of the issues at stake, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers.”

“Michel Houellebecq is the most important novelist writing about religion today, and Louis Betty has written the first book to explore Houellebecq’s views on religion. Betty guides the reader through Houellebecq’s oeuvre, makes French discussions of Houellebecq accessible to English-speaking audiences, and situates Houellebecq’s work in the context of recent scholarly discussions about the secular. This book should be of broad interest to scholars of religion and literature as well as to those interested in contemporary French thought.”

Michel Houellebecq is France’s most famous and controversial living novelist. Since his first novel in 1994, Houellebecq’s work has been called pornographic, racist, sexist, Islamophobic, and vulgar. His caricature appeared on the cover of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015, the day that Islamist militants killed twelve people in an attack on their offices and also the day that his most recent novel, Soumission—the story of France in 2022 under a Muslim president—appeared in bookstores. Without God uses religion as a lens to examine how Houellebecq gives voice to the underside of the progressive ethos that has animated French and Western social, political, and religious thought since the 1960s.

Focusing on Houellebecq’s complicated relationship with religion, Louis Betty shows that the novelist, who is at best agnostic, “is a deeply and unavoidably religious writer.” In exploring the religious, theological, and philosophical aspects of Houellebecq’s work, Betty situates the author within the broader context of a French and Anglo-American history of ideas—ideas such as utopian socialism, the sociology of secularization, and quantum physics. Materialism, Betty contends, is the true destroyer of human intimacy and spirituality in Houellebecq’s work; the prevailing worldview it conveys is one of nihilism and hedonism in a postmodern, post-Christian Europe. In Betty’s analysis, “materialist horror” emerges as a philosophical and aesthetic concept that describes and amplifies contemporary moral and social decadence in Houellebecq’s fiction.

Louis Betty, Ph.D Vanderbilt University,  is Assistant Professor of French at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater.