Experiencing Literature: Discourses of Islam through Michel Houllebecq’s Soumission

Wening Udasmoro

Abstract

This article departs from the conventional assumption that works of literature are only texts to be read. Instead, it argues that readers bring these works to life by contextualizing them within themselves and draw from their own life experiences to understand these literary texts’ deeper meanings and themes. Using Soumission (Surrender), a controversial French novel that utilizes stereotypes in its exploration of Islam in France, this research focuses on the consumption of literary texts by French readers who are living  or have lived in a country with a Muslim majority, specifically Indonesia. It examines how the novel’s stereotypes of Muslims and Islam are understood by a sample of French readers with experience living in Indonesia. The research problematizes whether a textual and contextual gap exists in their reading of the novel, and how they justify this gap in their social practices. In any reading of a text, the literal meaning (surface meaning) is taken as it is or the hidden meaning (deep meaning), but in a text that is covert in meaning, the reader may either venture into probing the underlying true meaning or accept the literal meaning of the text. However, this remains a point of contention and this research explores this issue using critical discourse analysis in Soumission’s text, in which the author presents the narrator’s views about Islam. The question that underpins this analysis is whether a reader’s life experiences and the context influence his or her view about Islam in interpreting Soumission’s text. Five French readers participated in this survey by reading the novel and offered their opinions on the narrator’s views on Islam in France. Overall, the responses showed that the respondents based their readings not only on the literary text, but used a  contextualization  process to comprehend the work within their own social contexts. Their views about Islam differed significantly from the narrator’s in Soumission. They also used their life experiences to understand and process the literary texts, highlighting the value of varied life experiences and sharing others’ social experiences in the present socio-political climate.

Keywords

Discourses; Stereotype; Islam; Text; Context

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2020.03505