ONE OF THE MORE TELLING recent developments in French cultural life has been the sudden nostalgia for Jean-Paul Sartre coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of his death this year. No one really misses Sartre's ideas about “Being” or the Communist International, but a reconsideration of the place he filled in French culture has signaled a genuine EU-era cultural identity crisis. He was the last in a long line of engaged and very public intellectuals, a tradition that included, in the twentieth century alone, Zola, Malraux, Camus; if France is no longer turning out Voltaire-quality men of letters, then what is France? Or, put another way, why has the most gifted French writer in several generations, forty-one-year-old Michel Houellebecq, just come out with a pop CD?
Houellebecq is the author of the 1998 novel Les Particules élémentaires, a controversial bestseller in France, Germany,
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