Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The BHL affair

I count myself a Francophile, though I am one who has long harbored grave reservations about those celebrated “maîtres à penser” who are loosely called poststructuralists. Still, for all their posturing and errors, a certain grandeur invests such figures as Michel Foucualt, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida.

Despite his celebrity, the same cannot be said for that atrocious mountebank Bernard-Henri Lévy, who has come a cropper with his latest book, which purports to reveal Immanuel Kant as a criminal and a madman. So far, so shocking. However, Lévy supports the book’s theories by citing the thought of a fake philosopher. As Doreen Carvajal notes in today’s New York Times, “[t]he blunder particularly resonated in Paris, where Mr. Lévy is a ubiquitous presence on talk shows and in magazines, and is known simply as B.H.L.”

The book cites the Paraguayan lectures of the noted thinker Jean-Baptiste Botul. In reality Mr. Botul is the longtime creature of Frédéric Pagès, a journalist with the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. “We’ve had a big laugh, obviously,” Mr. Pagès said of Mr. Lévy. “This one was an error that was really simple that the media immediately understood.”

“Mr. Pagès.” as Carvajal notes, "has never made a secret of his fictional philosopher, who has a fan club that meets monthly in salons throughout Paris. Mr. Botul’s school of thought is called Botulism, his followers are botuliens and they debate such weighty theories as the metaphysics of flab. As they describe it, Mr. Botul’s astonishing ideas ranged from phenomenology to cheese, sausages, women’s breasts and the transport of valises during the 1930s.”

Apparently BHL, the teflon thinker, is just shrugging it off. After all he has been the target of a whole book exposing his shallowness. “Une imposture française" by Nicolas Beau and Olivier Toscer (apparently not yet translated). He has event attempted to emulate Alexis de Tocqueville in “American Vertigo,” his account of his recent less-than epochal US trip. Garrison Keillor published a scorching critique in The New York Times Book Review in 2006, excoriating “the grandiosity of a college sophomore, a student padding out a term paper.”

Such are the degraded standards of Parisian intellectual life today that the egregious BHL will probably get a pass again. After all, he is so telegenic.



Post a Comment

<< Home