One of many sights, or oddities, of France is its reverence of those that are thought to be philosophers, or not less than philosophical thinkers. Within the age of quick info, we even have quick philosophy — soundbite philosophy. Not that this has no worth, however this worth must be abstracted from the veneers that accompany not simply immediate thought however immediate thought that appears intellectually engaging: thrilling, provocative, maybe outrageous, however believable.
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It’s on this class that Bernard-Henri Levy now finds a house. It’s the activity of the reader to tell apart content material from veneer. However since many readers appear now not to strive, Levy has a prepared viewers for immediate analysis of significant conditions, rendered “philosophical” by the fixed dropping of names, acknowledged as the intense thinkers of the previous, and fixed references to his personal earlier work.
Sense of Exaggeration
That earlier work just isn’t inconsiderable. Though all the time controversial due to his willingness to eviscerate sacred cows, his condemnation of Stalinism was a daring problem to the European left to make a brand new begin that banished socialism achieved by tyranny. His mental histories of French thought, akin to in “Adventures on the Freedom Highway,” though even then striving for impact, have been vibrant and made thought appear integral to the French venture of a nationwide self. He needed that nationwide self to be humane and humanitarian.
Levy’s championing of refugees was staunchly inside the ethical want for a nation to be compassionate. His protection of freedom elsewhere, as in his taking of sides with Ahmad Shah Massoud in opposition to the Taliban and his more moderen advocacy of the Kurdish Peshmerga of their struggle in opposition to the Islamic State, have been proof of a cosmopolitanism that he noticed first evidenced within the life and adventures of his hero, the author Andre Malraux. Malraux had fought in China (with the Communists), Spain (with the Republicans) and France (with the Resistance), and wrote nice novels and artwork histories in addition to considerably exaggerated memoirs.
That sense of exaggeration has all the time been with Levy. Each journey has been a photograph alternative, together with in Bosnia throughout the Siege of Sarajevo or wandering the ruins of what had been Muammar Gaddafi’s headquarters in Tripoli. That, in fact, comes with kickback. Levy was certainly a frequent customer to besieged Sarajevo, however these visits tended to be fleeting, main the entrapped residents of Sarajevo to nickname him not BHL, as he’s broadly recognized in France, however DHL — Deux Heures Levy, out and in (safely on a United Nations aircraft) inside two hours.
That he then in contrast himself with Susan Sontag, who stayed within the metropolis for a prolonged interval, accepting the identical dangers as all others with out UN safety, was all the time wealthy. And his maybe seminal affect on the French and, by the French, on NATO to intervene in Libya had the unexpected consequence of battle with out finish within the “liberated” nation.
His latter-day championing of Jewish identification and tradition, echoing in some methods Levinas, however with out his philosophical gravitas and real luminosity, leaves open questions as to Levy’s stance on any Israeli settlement with the Palestinians that they themselves may discover simply. This can be a disgrace as, in some methods, he could be an inexpensive interlocutor between the 2 peoples making, one would hope, the proviso that human rights should deploy equality of political rights — and, in fact, that there isn’t a humanitarian settlement with out human rights.
Gadfly of Thought
As a result of he’s wealthy, given to Dior fits and Charvet shirts, lean sufficient and with ample hair to look dashing in his late center age, Levy crafts a picture that every one the identical now appears that of the jet-setting gadfly of the worldwide — and of thought.
That sense of the gadfly of thought comes by in his newest (quick) guide, “The Virus within the Age of Insanity,” on the COVID-19 pandemic. It is filled with references to (extremely excerpted) thought from nice philosophers alongside references to his earlier writing. However there’s a distinction stylistically to his earlier work. Levy was as soon as the pioneer of an evocative methodology that married philosophy with fiction that every one the identical was evocative and generally illuminating. That was inside the development of an imaginary dialog between himself, or himself in disguise, and one of many nice thinkers.
The nice thinker explains himself, however all the time inside the phrases posed by Levy as an interviewer. After all, this made Levy the commander of explication and interpretation of one other’s thought. However the method drew within the reader and did provoke thought among the many viewers.
This time, Levy appears merely to be interviewing himself, inviting himself to make declaratory and pontifical statements to do along with his (seemingly erudite) outrage that COVID-19 has rendered all different catastrophes on this planet second-rate as face masks and respirators subvert and overwhelm our consciousness of starvation, battle, (different) pestilence and political repression. This can be a honest level however made with a stunning shallowness that proposes no technique of balancing issues over the pandemic and for different worlds. It gestures towards the sacrifice of medical frontline employees however virtually dismisses them towards the tip in a frenzy of concern for the “on the market.”
The quick treatise is a polemic that has a theme however no goal. It pales beside Susan Sontag’s personal quick guide, “Sickness as Metaphor,” which discusses using metaphor within the methods we confer with critical sicknesses — simply as Levy broadcasts his intention to dissect the makes use of of metaphor however winds up proposing grand vistas of picture after picture for the sake of impact. And, in fact, he does examine himself to Sontag of their fairly completely different Sarajevo involvements. He additionally progresses using Benny Levy, as soon as the controversial aide to the aged Jean-Paul Sartre, from one aspect of Bernard-Henri’s interview-as-philosophical-insight method to the standing of excellent good friend. No aggrandizement is spared.
Levy’s guide doesn’t even interrogate the illness itself. One would have anticipated Levy to interview the coronavirus, however, in truth, he dismisses its personification even in medical discourse with out providing any epidemiological or biochemical investigation as to why the virus has been really easy to personify as an virtually considering antagonist. He affords no method ahead besides, fatalities and medical employees casualties however, that we must always diminish our issues over COVID-19 and elevate our consciousness as soon as once more to countenance dedication in opposition to the good crimes of the world.
However we by no means deserted our dedication in opposition to the good crimes. Levy’s proof that we did so depends solely on the plenitude of newspaper headlines about COVID-19, as if that alone have been sufficient to obscure ongoing and heroic struggles. He factors out, in fact, that he himself by no means ceased his battle on the world’s nice crimes.
However this proposal of singularity ignores the truth that in each case of his activism, he needed to cooperate with others and bear witness to the work of others. Levy by no means took up arms alongside the Peshmerga. He did, nonetheless, pose for lots of pictures with them. Maybe sooner or later he’ll publish a 1,000-page pictorial historical past entitled “How I Alone Tried to Save the World,” in hope that the world will overlook that he as soon as wrote significant books.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.