Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seduction and Bernard-Henri Levy

A fascinating review by Molly Guinness in the Spectator of La Séduction by Elaine Sciolino, a former New York Times journalist, who considers that:
The tools of the seducer — anticipation, promise, allure — are powerful engines in French history and politics, culture and style, food and foreign policy, literature and manners.
Sciolino interviews chefs, diplomats, gardeners and even engineers. And then. . . sex:
The singer and actress Arielle Dombasle comes out with unsettling, darkling knowledge: seduction is war, nudity is a violent thing, do not be naked in front of your husband or he will not buy you lunch.
I’m sure that is good advice. Ms Dombasle, who is a singer, dancer and actor, probably knows a thing or three about seduction. Guinness continues:
Sciolino has an engaging tone, and is happy to shrug in incomprehension rather than breathlessly accept whatever the husky voices are telling her — Dombasle, she says, was just too sexy for her.
I wonder if Ms Dombasle’s advice “do not be naked in front of your husband or he will not buy you lunch” tells us something about the home life of Bernard-Henri Lévy – the man routinely described by Anglophone journalists as “France’s leading philosopher” and by Esquire as 2007’s Best-Dressed Pseudo-Intellectual – for Lévy is Ms Dombasle’s husband.

Even Sciolino describes Lévy as a philosopher. But he isn’t. He has a degree in philosophy. Not the same thing at all. In the 70s he taught an undergraduate course in epistemology at the University of Strasbourg, and also taught at the ENS. He has published no papers in academic journals that I can find (corrections welcome). So he is not a philosopher. But why do the Guardian, Observer et al call him a philosopher?

I guess because it makes him sound like a deep thinker. Lévy is a campaigning journalist and author. Nothing wrong with that. He has bravely gone to places I wouldn’t – Pakistan, for example. He has argued well for some uncomfortable positions – broadly pro-Israel and anti-Serbia, gung-ho for bombing Libya – and one has to support anyone prominent adopting an uncomfortable position. He is not reliably left-wing and is not a knee-jerk contrarian like Christopher Hitchens. So good for him.

And he is good talent on TV chat shows. In France, public intellectuals do appear on chat shows. As Laurence Sterne put it in the opening sentence of his 1768 novel A Sentimental Journey:
They order, said I, this matter better in France.
But OMG when Lévy is wrong he is spectacularly, Frenchly, wrong. He defended Dominique Strauss-Kahn against the recent rape charge on the grounds that his friend of 20 years:
bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd.
In his book On War in Philosophy he attacked Immanuel Kant, an actual philosopher, as “raving mad” and a “fake”:
To support his claims, he cites a certain Jean-Baptiste Botul, whom he describes as a post-War authority on Kant.
But the chorus of approval turned to laughter after a journalist from Le Nouvel Observateur pointed out that Mr Botul does not exist: he is a fictional character created by a contemporary satirical journalist, Frédéric Pagès.
And his book American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, based on a series of articles in the Atlantic, is merde and was demolished by Garrison Keillor in the New York Times. I read those articles each issue as they were published and thought: if we had been handed copy like this at the Listener or Metro, and even Quote Unquote, we would have handed it back. It was deeply shallow.

The great thing about being a French intellectual and “philosopher” is that you can talk bollocks and be admired for it. But somehow I feel that it is a shame that he never sees his wife naked: 


Phil said...

maybe he got to see other people's wives naked

Anonymous said...

He's probably philosophical about it.