“A Letter to the American Left” (Feb. 27) by Bernard-Henri Levy (aka BHL) ignited a firestorm of (mostly) angry mail. Readers described Levy’s writing as “inane,” “tripe,” “blather,” “windbaggery,” “merde,” “condescending and crass,” “shortsighted” and “best left to line the bird cage.” They called Levy a “fashionable lightweight,” “motor-mouth,” “posturing populist,” “narcissistic” and an “arrogant,” “self-promoting” “rock-star philosopher.” Kevin Beavers of Freiburg, Germany, suggests that BHL has been “bumbling about America more like Inspector Clouseau than Tocqueville.” Many wrote to inform Levy that Susan Sontag is dead (an ambiguity of translation caused some to mistake his complimentary invocation of Sontag as referring to her in the present tense). –The Editors
THE ABCS OF BHL
You heard it here first: Bernard-Henri Levy is actually an agent provocateur. The NSA has planted him to convince all us lefties that everything the right wing says about the French is true: They put on airs; they sneer; they are given to breezy, supercilious pronouncements about broad currents in American society and politics on the basis of little or no information. Don’t be taken in. There are many thoughtful, intelligent, sympathetic French people out there. Levy just isn’t one of them.
I find Bernard-Henri Levy’s view from the outside looking in very enlightening. Our country needs more mirrors held up to show us how we look to the larger world. I agree that there is indeed a strong undercurrent hoping for “great voices capable of echoing their impatience in a momentous way.”
As someone who follows French intellectual life closely, I can assure you that “BHL” is a buffoon, a human caricature, all the more amusing because he cannot realize what a ridiculous mediocrity he is. He is taken more seriously by the French punditocracy than by actual perceptive intellectuals, philosophers, thinkers or critics. He is the sort of media intellectual that is ruining discourse in this country, as well as in France. Neil Godin, “le gloupier,” a Belgian pie-throwing prankster, has pied BHL on five occasions, for his pretentious tendentiousness. I realize BHL is having one of his Tocquevillean moments, but that is no reason to print this rubbish
New York City
In France serious people, especially on the left, find Bernard-Henri Levy to be an egomaniacal poseur and an intellectual fraud, as is meticulously documented by two recent irrefutable books: Le B.A.-BA du BHL (The ABCs of BHL), by Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte, and Une Imposture Francaise, by Nicolas Beau and Olivier Toscer. BHL has made a career of attacking the left. So I find The Nation‘s decision to publish this latest fantasy appalling. BHL’s article, however, does contain proof that for him anything goes in his war on the left. He writes, apropos the CIA’s special prisons in Eastern Europe, “Since when does the press excuse citizens from their political duties? Why haven’t we heard from more intellectuals like Susan Sontag…?” It seems that it never occurred to BHL or the editors that it would be a tad difficult for my friend Susan Sontag to have commented on this issue for the simple reason that she is dead. Susan succumbed to a long illness on December 28, 2004, long before the special prisons were exposed by the press. As someone who has written dozens of articles for The Nation, I say shame on it for promoting BHL’s garbage and for publishing this embarrassing slander on one of the jewels in America’s intellectual firmament–who is, unfortunately, no longer here to defend herself.