A modest proposal for a less natural lifestyle
The paradoxes of sustainability and Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island
in Literature and sustainability

Sustainability is fraught with paradox: it seeks to change society in order to enable it to remain the same; it aims to reconcile a Neo-Malthusian conception of absolute natural limits with an emancipatory politics, and a normatively charged conception of ecology as ‘natural law’ with the imperative of species survival. Even though it also makes sustainability susceptible to co-option, this paradoxical quality is not a flaw; rather, it is what makes sustainability a fundamentally contestable and therefore political concept. This essay reads Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island (2005) as a satire on the discourse of sustainability which highlights these inherent contradictions, extrapolating from the confused desire for a more natural lifestyle a future which reveals the latter’s potentially dehumanising logic. The novel offers no positive vision of a sustainable society, but it clarifies what is at stake in the debate over what such a society might look like.

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Literature and sustainability

Concept, text and culture


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