Work / Solitude

“…A less romantic model of retreat is offered up in Michel Houellebecq’s 2010 novel The Map and the Territory. Here, the artist protagonist, Jed Martin, absents himself from the art world for years at a time, secreting himself between shows in an anonymous Parisian apartment, and later his suburban childhood home, emerging only when he’s absolutely ready with work that brings him vast critical and commercial success, due to what art historians later identify as his ability to calmly express the end of ‘the industrial age in Europe’ and ‘the generalized annihilation of the human species’. (Significantly, his one artistic failure is an attempt to capture the ‘insurmountable contradiction’ of Jeff Koons’s face.) Indifferent to money and fame, Martin politely plays along with his gallery’s sales and publicity staff, then escapes back into fruitful solitude, which he occasionally punctuates with rather shiftless attempts at being a good son, lover and friend.

In many ways, this is an enviable inversion of most contemporary artists’ experience (lots of hustle, lots of worldly worries, little chance of deep art-historical impact), but there is also something profoundly melancholy about Houellebecq’s vision of a creative individual who finds that since his ‘real work’ – his ‘legitimate strangeness’ – suits the times, the times can, after a fashion, be made to suit him. TheMap and the Territory is a good book to read on an August beach holiday. It may be a great book to read amid October’s buzz and thrum.”


Full article: Frieze (Tom Morton)



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