Symposium – Houellebecq’s Cultural Transgressions – 29th September – London

Houellebecq’s Cultural Transgressions

29th September 2018

10am – 5.30pm

Senate House, London


Keynote speaker: Agathe Novak-Lechevalier (Université Paris X Nanterre)

Since the publication of his first novel Extension du domaine de la lutte, Michel Houellebecq has pushed the boundaries of genre, moral scruples, and literary style, provoking a lively critical debate amongst his many readers. His narratives go against the grain of dominant ideologies, offering a scandalous portrayal of France’s social past and present, described in his infamously ambivalent style of écriture blanche. Likewise, through his literary and public presence Houellebecq draws deliberate parallels between his characters and his own authorial persona, thereby rendering the distinction between the fictional and non-fictional contexts of these works decidedly problematic.

This bilingual symposium investigates the ways in which Houellebecq problematises the representation of contemporary society through the antagonistic use of both constraint and transgression as aesthetic and critical devices in his works. Bringing together a selection of Houellebecq specialists from Australia, France and the United Kingdom, the programme offers a range of perspectives on the topic of cultural transgressions, including transmediality, stylistic hybridity, political provocation, socio-economic consumption and religious conversion.

Through discussion and debate, we are seeking to explore the notion of transgression not only as the process of crossing social and generic boundaries, but also as a means to assume and overcome the constraints placed upon contemporary literary works. Rather than assigning him to a given artistic, cultural or political viewpoint, we want to ask what we can learn from Houellebecq’s transgressions. Papers will be published in a special issue of French Cultural Studies.

We welcome registration from scholars, students, and the wider public to join the conversation. However, as numbers are limited please register as soon as possible.

Registration fee (includes morning & afternoon tea, lunch, and post-symposium reception)

Standard : £ 25

Students/Unwaged : £ 15




Depuis la publication de son premier roman, Extension du domaine de la lutte, Michel Houellebecq a repoussé les limites des genres, des scrupules moraux, et du style littéraire, provoquant ainsi une critique vive parmi ses nombreux lecteurs. Les narratives houellebecquiennes vont à contre-courant des idéologies dominantes. Dans un style infamant et ambigu de l’écriture blanche, Michel Houellebecq dépeint une France passée et actuelle scandaleuse. De plus, à travers sa présence à la fois littéraire et publique, Houellebecq établit délibérément des parallèles entre ses personnages fictifs et sa propre position d’auteur, rendant ainsi problématique la distinction entre les contextes de la fiction et du réel.

Cette journée d’étude bilingue enquête sur les moyens par lesquels Houellebecq problématise la représentation de la société contemporaine dans ses œuvres à travers l’emploi antagoniste de la contrainte et de la transgression comme dispositifs esthétique et critique. Rassemblant des spécialistes de Houellebecq venant de l’Australie, de la France et du Royaume Uni, ce programme offre une variété de perspectives sur la transgression culturelle, incluant : la provocation socio-politique, la conversion religieuse, l’hybridité stylistique, la transmédialité, et la consommation socio-économique.

À travers ces discussions et débats, nous souhaitons explorer la notion de transgression, non seulement en tant que pratique pour franchir les bornes sociales et génériques de l’expression littéraire, mais aussi comme une façon d’assumer et de surmonter les contraintes auxquelles la littérature contemporaine est sujette. Plutôt que de le positionner dans un certain champ artistique ou politique, nous nous interrogerons sur ce que l’on peut apprendre des transgressions culturelles de Houellebecq. Les interventions seront publiées dans un numéro spécial de French Cultural Studies.

Les places étant limitées, nous vous invitons à vous inscrire dès que possible pour assister à cette journée.   

Frais d’inscriptions (rafraîchissements inclus pour la journée)

Standard : £ 25

Étudiant/Non-salarié : £ 15




Symposium Programme:

9:30-10:15       Check-in & Morning tea

10:15-10:30      Introduction

10:30-11:30     Keynote

Vertiges de la limite : Houellebecq et la transgression poétique (Agathe Novak-Lechevalier, Université Paris X Nanterre)

11:30-12:30      Panel 1

Michel Houellebecq: Uncreative writer? (Russell Williams, American University of Paris)

La transgression chez Houellebecq au regard des internautes-lecteurs (Samuel Estier, Université de Lausanne)

12:30 -1:30       Lunch

1:30 -3:15        Panel 2

On the return of the (Media) author: Michel Houellebecq, écrivain médiatique (Ashley Harris, Queen’s University Belfast)  

Extended struggle: The transgression of narrative boundaries in Extension du domaine de la lutte (Françoise Campbell, University of Melbourne)

Feeding Flore-less Literary Posterity?: Consuming Houellebecq in La Carte et le territoire (Ruth Cruickshank, Royal Holloway University)

Houellebecq’s World of Wine: Literary device or cultural transgression? (Jacqueline Dutton, University of Melbourne) 

3:15-3:45         Afternoon tea

3:45-5:30         Panel 3

Extension du domaine de la norme ou transgression de la transgression (Caroline Julliot, Université du Maine-Le Mans)                

Between postmodern irony and post-secular sincerity: On Houellebecq’s Soumission (Douglas Morrey, University of Warwick)

Michel Houellebecq and the Hacking of Liberal Democracy (Delphine Grass, University of Lancaster)

Michel Houellebecq, Virginie Despentes et Mai 68 (Bruno Viard, Université de Provence)

5:30 -7:00        Wine Reception


Jacqueline Dutton (University of Melbourne), Françoise Campbell (University of Melbourne, l’Université Paris 7 Diderot), and Dominic Glynn (Institute of Modern Language Research).



Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne; AHRC Research Network: Literature Under Constraint; French Cultural Studies journal; Cassal Trust fund


Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Socioeconomics of (additional) Languages

The School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Queensland is advertising for a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Socioeconomics of (additional) Languages. This is a three year, Level A position.

The primary purpose of the position is to undertake a research program on the social and/or economic benefits of learning additional languages.  This may include topics such as, but not limited to: the policy-practice nexus in relation to second language education, intergenerational transmission of languages other than English, the socioeconomic benefits of second language education, the relationship between cross-linguistic/cross-cultural competence and social cohesion and innovation, and the implications of increasingly sophisticated machine translation for second language education and use.

Details here:

Teaching Assistants program in New Caledonia is now open

Applications for the 2019 round of the English Language Teaching Assistants programs in both New Caledonia and Wallis-et-Futuna are now open!

This program is designed to give students the opportunity to discover a new region and culture by working alongside an English teacher in a French school environment. It is not aimed at experienced teachers, and whether or not students intend to become language teachers, it is a fantastic opportunity to gain seven months of paid international experience which is invaluable on a student’s CV.

These two separate programs in New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna each offer unique experiences in two environments rich in culture and diversity and participants will discover a completely new and foreign daily life immersed in the local environment.

All information, including details of the role, the contract, eligibility requirements and how to apply are available on the embassy’s website here:


New Caledonia:

Wallis et Futuna: