Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Gaul of Bernard-Henri Lévy...

I've only heard of "BHL" by reputation, described on the front page of the L.A. Times recently as a "philosopher, author, journalist, filmmaker, diplomatic envoy, world traveler, political activist and all-around celebrity intellectual." They forgot Oscar-worthy performer. I happened to catch him last night on Charlie Rose, and though I can't say I agree with him on all counts, the man makes so many well articulated points in the course of a minute, you can't help but nod and go, Oh yeah, that is true, isn't it? Indeed, I'm curious to check out his new book American Vertigo based on this interview alone. I know many people get squirrelly about the idea of a Frenchman commenting on The US of A. But there's the rub... this is exactly what motivates the guy to come here and visit little towns in the bible belt and talk to the people on their front doorsteps. Daring, especially if you imagine the reverse situation.

"When I grew up in France as a Jew," he said to Charlie, (I am paraphrasing here but basically he says), "My religion came from the ancient European tradition of Judeo-Christianity in which God is alive in our hearts yes, but also, more importantly, he is silent to us. Far away in the heavens. He is present but absent, and our faith is always put to the test. But today, in parts of America, I find that God speaks to everyone, ALL THE TIME! God is your best buddy. God is familiar. In this situation I think something strange starts to happen..." It does seem that we've lost touch with that Old Testament fire and brimstone. We have demystified God, and virtually eliminated Godfearing, so that now He sits on our porch talking to us about everything from baseball to Bathists. This God actively tells you what your country should do, what your politics mean in religious terms, who should lead, and how many flags to hang on your balcony. This chummy God, the one who is seen to have a national allegiance and a political agenda, is the image of America that scares so many people outside of our country. We could learn a lot (and not just the Red States) by listening to the ideas (even the flawed ones) of informed outsiders like M. Lévy. But we won't, and so our experiment in solopcism continues.

Of course, there may be reasons NOT to listen to M. Lévy. Wikipedia notes that "despite his lofty ideals, he is, with his third wife, actress Arielle Dombasle, regular fixture in Paris Match magazine, wearing his trademark unbuttoned white shirts and designer suits. Lévy's reputation for narcissism is legend. One article about him coined the dictum, 'God is dead but my hair is perfect'. He once said that the discovery of a new shade of grey left him 'ecstatic'. He is a regular victim of cream pie flinger Noël Godin, who describes Lévy as a vain, pontificating dandy."

While we're tossing pies, Charlie Rose has got to be the world's worst interviewer. He steps on his guests responses with wild non-sequiturs and half-baked statements that are more jumbled than a shell-shocked granny asking her dead husband to take out the trash. Which, I guess, makes the show all the more watchable.


Blogger pigatschmo said...

I have a distinct memory of hearing BHL interviewed by Ian Masters on KPFK a couple years ago. I was hiking up Mt. Rubidoux with the tiny radio and listening on headphones.

8:46 PM  
Anonymous hank said...

I can't imagine a better insult to have bestowed on one's self than, vain pontificating dandy."

well maybe, like, " he's so darn bad it hurts."

But still, I like the double dip dandied one up top.

9:16 PM  
Anonymous JM Colberg said...

If you want to do yourself a favour, go and buy the book, and forget all about those stupid stereotypes of unbuttoned shirts and all that stuff. I read the series in The Atlantic, and it was some of the smartest stuff I've read in quite a while.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Pablo Gazpachot said...

I agree. Forget the man, but weigh his words fairly.
I thought Garrison Keilor did a bang up job in the NYT Book Review of not listening, not weighing words fairly, but acting like a silly proud bird with badly ruffled feathers. Rather than opening dialog, the Times decided to use the old Bush trick: if you're not one of us we're going to humiliate you in the court of public opinion.

11:32 AM  

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