Sullying the Sacred

John McCann

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Michel Houellebecq has often been in trouble for his outrageous remarks. Indeed one of his comments on Islam saw him arraigned before the courts for his remarks on Islam. However much secular liberals may deplore the attempt to curb the free speech of a distinguished author, now a Goncourt laureate, there are still areas that we are supposed to treat with respect if not indeed deference. In fact Islamophobia is one of those areas.Another is the canon. Certain works are treated as sacred and indeed it is curious that the transgressive is often canonised. Yet even here, there are norms that appear inviolable and not every response is equally tolerated. Certain forms of trangressive behaviour are still frowned on. We are supposed to be less prudish in sexual matters and accept the fact that people masturbate. Yet if a reader masturbates while reading Les liaisons dangereuses, that is considered deplorable. When Michel in Plateforme, masturbates while turning the pages of a John Grisham novel, it seems to be less of an outrage. The status of the text has surely something to do with this.The article explores an interesting passage in Les particules élémentaires where Proust is being studied in a lycée. It examines the differing responses of pupil, teacher and reader to a passage describing the Duchesse de Guermantes as the pinnacle of pure aristocratic womanhood. This is juxtaposed with the covert racism of the teacher towards his student whom he sees as sullying what is part of the canon and the embodiment of what is noble and French. It looks at how the expectations of deference and value are transgressed and how they are replaced in the contemporary world by a more dynamic and inherently unstable system.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages8
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Apr 2014


    • Sacred
    • transgression
    • hierarchy


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