NRC, 2023-03-27

Michel Houellebecq: ‘Het was heel dom dat contract te tekenen’

Tristan Theirlynck, NRC, 2023 March 27

Original in Dutch

Translation to English

Michel Houellebecq: ‘It was very stupid to sign that contract’

“If I lose on Tuesday, I will continue litigating as long as the court allows. And then . if I lose, then I lose.”
Days before the verdict in Michel Houellebecq’s case against art collective KIRAC, the writer wants to tell his story. While the fuss over the “Houellebecq porn” swirled around the world, he remained relatively quiet for a long time. He did not want to give the impression that he was trying to influence the course of justice, he says. “But I don’t obey anymore.”
There are many theories about Houellebecq’s motivations for having sex on camera with multiple women. The media speculated that this is the logical endpoint of his strategic game of provoking societal norms. But if you listen to him, there is nothing strategic about it. He was careless, naive, and claims to have been misled.

On the phone, he gives the impression of being affected. He speaks gravely and slowly, anxious to be well understood. His story begins with a deep sigh. “I was invited by KIRAC to cut a ribbon and open an exhibition in Amsterdam. I accepted. It seemed interesting to me. A few weeks later, Stefan Ruitenbeek [founder of KIRAC, ed.] emailed that he and porn actress Jini Jane were in Paris to film gangbangs for Jini’s OnlyFans account. We were supposed to go out to dinner, but I was depressed, so I didn’t come. My wife did go.”
According to footage submitted to the court as evidence, Houellebecq’s wife Lysis Li stated during the meal suggested that instead of the ribbon-cutting, they shoot a sex film.
That happened. Houellebecq, Li and Jane had a threesome, Ruitenbeek filmed – it was meant for Jane’s OnlyFans account. The writer and his wife wore masks to remain unrecognizable.
“Well, there was sex,” Houellebecq says. “Then I refused to give my passport [which Jane called required for authorization of the videos on OnlyFans]. I didn’t know that was necessary. But then it would be too easy to recognize me. I didn’t want that to happen. I thought it would be anonymous, and only Jini’s subscribers would see it.”
Jane was dissatisfied; she felt used. Li emailed KIRAC that from now on they’d better handle this sort of thing in advance.
“Bon, that was the end of the sexual part of the story.”

‘I desire you’
Ruitenbeek’s meeting in Paris and conversation with Li gave him another idea. He asked Houellebecq to come to Amsterdam, to have sex with several young women who were fans of his, along with Li. Houellebecq accepted the ticket. Via e-mail, they agreed that Houellebecq’s genitals would not be in the picture at the same time as his face, that way Houellebecq could deny that it was him in the sex images.

At the hotel in Amsterdam, however, things broke down. “I was in bed with Isa [one of the women who came by the hotel] and we were kissing. Ruitenbeek wanted me to take her in my arms by the window. That I would say things to her like, ‘I desire you.’ But I couldn’t, I wasn’t attracted to her.”
After two other fruitless encounters, the project ended. “No one was happy. Ruitenbeek didn’t have his sex scenes.”
In a response, Ruitenbeek said Houellebecq did get intimate with some girls. Among other things, he allegedly penetrated a woman with his fingers.
Although the agreement was to have sex with multiple women, Houellebecq says he never intended to have sex in Amsterdam.
“It’s complicated to explain. But I don’t want to have sex with new people anymore. I’m afraid of the human papillomavirus. That spreads through sex and can cause oral cancer. That is the greatest horror imaginable for me. When I went to bed with Jini I didn’t know about it.”
So why did he come to Amsterdam anyway? Houellebecq thinks for a long time: “It sounds absurd…. My wife had written a script based on a book of mine. I thought that could be part of the film. Afterwards, it turned out not to be. And I thought: you can film other things besides fucking. In addition, the Amsterdam artist Tarik Sadouma, had painted a big, interesting portrait of me. He wanted to meet me.”
This should not be accepted in a normal country
If it were only about Houellebecq’s images in Amsterdam, Houellebecq wouldn’t mind. But in Amsterdam, he signed a contract stating that sex between Jini, Houellebecq and Li in Paris will also be part of the film. When Houellebecq and Li saw that footage in the trailer, the writer decided to sue KIRAC. “It was very stupid to sign that contract,” Houellebecq says with regret in his voice.
“I didn’t read it. Only paragraph 1.3, which said that my penis and face would not be portrayed at the same time, I read.
“I should have had it written in the contract that I didn’t want anything sexual in the picture. But I wasn’t honest when I signed it. I knew I wouldn’t have sex. So I thought, bon, he can film my face, but he can’t force me to be naked. I didn’t think I was at risk.”

Houellebecq’s lawyer calls the agreement the worst contract she has ever read hot. KIRAC’s lawyer calls it a standard contract for films. Houellebecq: “What you have to understand is that a contract that is retroactive, like now with the images from Paris, is illegal in France. I didn’t even know that was possible. That shouldn’t be accepted in a normal country.”

The discussion surrounding the film revolves around the meaning of consent. And not just Houellebecq’s consent. The woman who made love to Houellebecq in Amsterdam feels used, now that
the writer wants to ban the film. “I don’t feel I used her,” Houellebecq says. “I didn’t have that intention. I think Ruitenbeek used both of us hotly.
“I have nothing against the girls. But it’s my body and I don’t want it used without my permission.” He fears for his reputation and his state of mind if the images become public. “It will make me paranoid. People will look at me funny. I’ve already lost friends, from the Catholic right in France. I haven’t heard a word from them. I’m like a pariah.”
Houellebecq now regrets never having watched the KIRAC films Ruitenbeek sent him. Among other things, he is referring to Honeypot, KIRAC’s film in which conservative philosopher Sid Lukkassen had a sex date with a “left-wing girl” to combat polarization. Sex never came. Lukkassen felt humiliated and called KIRAC in vain in tears to stop the screening of the film.
“I think Ruitenbeek was hot to trap me like he trapped Sid Lukkassen. He wanted to do the same thing, but with someone more famous. When he didn’t get sex scenes in Amsterdam, he went back to the footage with Jini. It feels like blackmail.
“It’s an exaggeration, but I feel raped. I feel shame, when I think I shouldn’t feel that.
And for the first time in my life, sex feels like something unpleasant. My sexual desires are completely gone.”