1 Feb 2013

Seven Minutes Inside Bernard Henri Lévy’s Head (Because that’s all we could take)

Philosopher, intellectual, diva, poster boy for humanitarian interventionism, post-Foucauldian striptease artist. Bernard Henri Lévy has been called many things over the years, but none of those descriptions quite capture the essence of France’s Numéro Un public intellectual (now that all the others have died). Who is the real BHL, as he is lovingly referred to in France, and why does his moniker sound like the name of a French department store? In order to answer those questions, and have an excuse to call him a few more things, we spent seven minutes inside his head. Here’s the transcript narrated by the Gallic Über-coif himself. 

I woke up feeling rather good this morning. We had taken Timbuktu. My heart pumps with anticipation at the thought of handling the ancient erotic manuscripts from Timbuktu’s library. And the locals that we liberated from the tyranny of the barbarians of course. But those manuscripts! The glistening naked bodies under the hot desert sun, depicted with love and attention by great artists. I am breathless. (At this stage, we had to interject and tell BHL to move on, it was getting awkward.)

I spend a mere 35 minutes in front of the mirror arranging my hair in its classic form, a visual allusion to Napoleon’s famous hat, recreated in the gentle upward curves of my hair strands. I am of course the embodiment of his persona and political will. I reminded, what’s his name,… oui, Hollande, of this the other day. I said, ‘Philip, we must go into Mali. This is your chance to leave your mark on history.’ Then I remembered his name was Francois, but he didn’t seem to mind. The Napoleon analogy was attractive to him. A simple man.

I put on one of my silk shirts and leave the top six buttons open. Just to give a hint. We don’t want to be crass after all. There is a balance to be maintained between intellect and physique, like the Greeks knew very well. Sometimes I imagine myself one of the ancient philosopher-warriors, the bringers of truth and justice. Who else today can claim such a noble vocation? And I do it tastefully, not like that vulgar man, Eric Cantona. A sweaty monstrosity, although some of his philosophical insights aren’t to be dismissed.

In my first book, La Barbarie à Visage Humain I described man as 'a failed species’. But there are exceptions obviously. (He seemed to be pointing to himself.) It is this sense of responsibility for our fate that propels my mission for mankind’s salvation. What is the use of all our modern weapons; jets, warships, laser-guided artillery; if we can’t use them to improve the world? A wine in the bottle is no good to anyone, it is only when it is acquainted with the tongue that it fulfils itself. The same is true of weapons. Let us not repress them, but allow them to be. To liberate.

I begin to sway in front of the mirror. A gentle dance. My morning dance with the air around me. I imagine myself dancing a tango with La Liberté on the newly liberated, dusty fields of Africa. The natives watching in silent admiration, grateful for our help, destitute, yet with enough grace to appreciate our civilised pirouette of salvation. We’re in a Muslim country, so she’s wearing a shirt. Damn this multiculturalism that makes La Liberté cover her plentiful, round breasts. (We cough. He takes the hint.) But one step at a time. First, liberation, then civilisation. 
La Liberté

Liberty is my lifelong mistress, but philosophy is my true soul mate. Not the only one, but the preferred among my favourite seven mistresses. You know what we say, to be French is to have a wife, a mistress and a Citroën. And nobody’s more French than me. Ha, ha, ha. I have many passions, opera, music, poetry, saving the world, chess, but it’s when I am in the presence of philosophy that I feel complete. When she takes the form of epistemology, my seduction is complete. I ‘know’ her. Ha, ha, ha. Do you get that? ‘Know’ her. That’s a good joke.

People ask me, how can a man of thought and philosophy be a man of action? Isn’t that a contradiction? Mais non! I give flesh to abstract philosophy and make it tangible. I make it moral. I ask the questions nobody else is asking. If al-Qaeda cut down a tree in the middle of the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? If al-Qaeda are in a cave facing a wall, and they are watching the shadows, are the shadows their representations of reality? And my response is: bomb al-Qaeda! Destroy them. Solve the problem once and for all. You don’t get that from Plato, Kant, Hegel. And don’t get me started on that fool Derrida. He would invent a new word nobody has ever heard of.

Which other philosopher dared write his own commandments? They are there in my book Le Testament de Dieu. God issued ten, I issued seven. They are the new ethics for our era. Some people accused me of being shallow and superficial. But they only think that because of my limited vocabulary and lack of depth. Fools. Especially those Marxist cretins who insist on analysing everything. Dogmatic vermin. Ethics overrides everything.

I turn again to the mirror, and fondly study my profile. A sculptor is working on a statue of me, we will produce a few hundred of them, they will be placed in Arab cities as a mark of their gratitude for my role in liberating them from dictators. Luckily they have many vacant pedestals. I try to decide on a suitable pose. Something that says ‘sexy philosopher’, projects virility and profoundness simultaneously. The essence of Bernard Henri Lévy is impossible to capture in stone or bronze, so we’re using Chinese plastic.

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  1. My favorite BHL moment was when, during the early days of the Libyan uprising, he was a guest on a TV talkshow hosted by the very proper and straight-laced Mr. Khan. At some point Khan asked BHL what he hoped would come of all these uprisings, and the answer was, mangling the English idiom completely, that he hoped it would lead to the West no longer "making zee blow-jobs to zee dictators."

    1. It is that syndrome where you say horribly vulgar things, because you are speaking a foreign language. Like this:


    2. That is all you have to say about french action in Libya, sorry!

  2. Man, this guy is such a boob.

  3. Amusing piece but for many English people it's just Bernard Henri Who ? The guy maybe a good controversialist, but not an intellectual. He is perhaps an "intellectual".
    Karl succinctly explains the moral bankruptcy of European political though for the last few decades as 'left thinking' has morphed into various brands of Thatcherism. Sadly problems like increasing population and unfair distribution of resources no longer seem part of philosophy. When you get on to energy generation and climate change it may be best to forget philosophy altogether. Engels (sponsor of Marx) was an industrialist who already appreciated the possibility of electrical power even in 1848.


Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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