Trading Butterflies: The Representation of Asian Sex Workers in Vollmann and Houellebecq


  • Marco Malvestio University of Toronto


Parole chiave:

William T. Vollmann, Michel Houellebecq, Orientalism, Satire, Sex Trade


The article compares the representation of Asian sex workers in William T. Vollmann’s Butterfly Stories(1993) and Michel Houellebecq’s Platform(Plateforme, 2001). Both the novels are set in South-East Asia, and both involve an apologetic and romanticised description of the sex trade. By comparing the two novels, I argue that both authors’ treatments of the sex industry develop a critique of Western Orientalism, and at the same time sympathy for and complicity with the colonial power dynamics that regulate the relationships between Asian countries and the West.

Riferimenti bibliografici

Bauman, Zygmunt. “From Pilgrim to Tourist – or a Short History of Identity.” Questions of Cultural Identity, edited by Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay. Sage, 1996, pp. 18-36.

Betty, Louis. Without God. Michel Houellebecq and Materialist Horror. Pennsylvania State U, 2016.

Bishop, Ryan and Lillian S. Thompson. Night Market. Sexual Cultures and the Thai Economic Miracle. Routledge, 1997.

Buchweitz, Nurit. An Officer of Civilization. The Poetics of Michel Houellebecq. Peter Lang, 2015.

Carrigan, Anthony. Postcolonial Tourism: Literature, Culture, and Environment. Routledge, 2011.

Coffman, Christopher K. “Introduction: Lonely Atoms.” William T. Vollmann. A Criti-cal Companion, edited by Christopher K. Coffman and Daniel Lukes. U of Dela-ware P, 2015, pp. 1-22.

Hemmingson, Michael. William T. Vollmann. A Critical Study and Seven Interviews. McFar-land & Company, Inc., 2009.

Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. South End P, 1992.

Houellebecq, Michel. Plateforme. Flammarion, 2001. Translated by Frank Wynne as Plat-form. Vintage Books, 2003.

---. “The Art of Fiction No. 206.” The Paris Review, 194 (2010),

Huggan, Graham. The Postcolonial Exotic. Marketing the Margins. Routledge, 2001.

Jeffrey, Leslie Ann. Sex and Borders: Gender, National Identity, and Prostitution Policy in Thai-land. UBC P, 2002.

Kauffman, Linda S. Bad Girls and Sick Boys: Fantasies in Contemporary Art and Culture. U of California P, 1998.

Kirsch, Adam. “A French Novelist Imagined Sexual Dystopia. Now It’s Arrived.” The New York Times, 12 July 2018,

Lehardy Sweet, David. “Absentminded Prolepsis: Global Slackers before the Age of Terror in Alex Garland’s The Beach and Michel Houellebecq’s Plateforme.” Comparative Literature, vol. 59, no. 2, 2007, pp. 158-76.

Loingsigh, Aedín Ní. “Tourist Traps: Confounding Expectations in Michel Houel-lebecq’s Plateforme.” French Cultural Studies, vol. 16, no. 1, 2005, pp. 73-90.

Lukes, Daniel. “‘Strange Hungers’: William T. Vollmann’s Literary Performances of Ab-ject Masculinity.” William T. Vollmann. A Critical Companion, edited by Christopher K. Coffman and Daniel Lukes. U of Delaware P, 2015, pp. 240-70.

Lyttleton, Chris. Endangered Relations: Negotiating Sex and AIDS in Thailand. Harwood Aca-demic Publishers, 2000.

Matthews, Graham. Ethics and Desire in the Wake of Postmodernism: Contemporary Satire. Con-tinuum, 2012.

McCann, John. Michel Houellebecq: Author of Our Times. Peter Lang, 2010.

Morray, Douglas. “Michel Houellebecq and the International Sexual Economy.” Portal, vol. 1, no. 1, 2004, pp. 1-12.

---. Michel Houellebecq: Humanity and Its Aftermath. Liverpool UP, 2013.

Ryan, Chris and C. Michael Hall. Sex Tourism: Marginal People and Liminalities. Routledge, 2001.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. Penguin Books, 1978.

Sweeney, Carole. Michel Houellebecq and the Literature of Despair. Bloomsbury, 2013.

Vollmann, William T. Butterfly Stories: A Novel. André Deutsch, 1993.

---. “The Shame of It All: Some Thoughts on Prostitution in America.” Expelled from Eden: A William T. Vollmann Reader, edited by Larry McCaffery and Michael Hemmingson. Thunder’s Mouth P, 2004, pp. 167-87.

van Wesemael, Sabine. “Michel Houellebecq: a Fin de Siècle for the Twentieth Century.” Novels of the Contemporary Extreme, edited by Alain-Philippe Durand and Naomi Man-del. Continuum, 2006, pp. 100-08.



Come citare

Malvestio, M. (2019). Trading Butterflies: The Representation of Asian Sex Workers in Vollmann and Houellebecq. ENTHYMEMA, (23), 57–72.



«We Should Never Write Without Feeling». Studi su William T. Vollmann – A cura di Giuseppe Carrara e Marco Malvestio
Ricevuto 2019-07-10
Accettato 2019-07-10
Pubblicato 2019-07-18