In 1988, Bernard-Henri Lévy publishes his second novel, Les derniers jours de Charles Baudelaire, which fails to win the Prix Goncourt by one vote, that of André Stil, winner of the Stalin Prize for Literature in 1952, who announces that his intention was to make the author pay for his anticommunist stance. Lévy’s novel, which goes on to win the Prix Interallié, retraces Baudelaire’s long death agony in Brussels (and particularly at the Hôtel du Grand Miroir) and then at his mother’s home in France.
In February of the following year, Ayatollah Khomeini issues his fatwa against British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie. Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the first thinkers to take a public position in support of the persecuted novelist. Support for Rushdie will be one of Lévy’s constant preoccupations for fifteen years. In October 1992, with Lévy’s help, Rushdie will appear again in public for the first time.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bernard-Henri Lévy is asked by Thierry de Beaucé, France’s secretary of state for international cultural relations, to tour eastern and central Europe. In Budapest, Berlin, Sofia, Warsaw, and Bucharest, Lévy explores ways to strengthen France’s role. He also considers the feasibility of establishing an academy of European culture, the model for which he finds in a 1937 proposal by Franz Werfel.
In 1990, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Gilles Hertzog, Jean-Paul Enthoven, Guy Scarpetta, Gabi Gleichmann, and others found La Règle du Jeu. The title is a double salute to Michel Leiris and Jean Renoir. The editorial committee includes Czelaw Milosz, Carlos Fuentes, Amos Oz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Sontag, and Salman Rushdie. In it Lévy publishes the text of his report to Thierry de Beaucé and François Mitterrand.
The third volume of Questions de Principe: La suite dans les idées (Questions of Principle: Ideas and Consequences) appears in the spring, offering a new collection of writings ranging from political reporting to reflections on the art of the novel and an analysis of the painting of Frank Stella. Lévy’s admiration for Stella gives rise to a book, Stella: The 1980s. Lévy writes that never has he found in literature Stella’s “alliance of grace and composure … except in Baudelaire.”
In 1991, Grasset publishes Les Aventures de la Liberté, Lévy’s literary version of a series of four films directed by Alain Ferrari and produced by Simone Harari. This “subjective history of intellectuals” (as the book is subtitled) extends from the time of the Dreyfus Affair through the death of Jean-Paul Sartre. In this fresco of the twentieth century appear Althusser, Barthes, Camus, Malraux, Foucault, Sartre, and Drieu la Rochelle, among many others. Les Bronzes de César is published by Editions de la Différence.
Also in 1991, Minister of Culture Jack Lang appoints Lévy to a two-year term as chairman of the French film fund. This new function does not prevent Lévy from turning his attention once more to painters, devoting a book in 1992 to the master of the Italian Renaissance, Piero della Francesca and another to Mondrian (Editions de la Différence).
In May 1992, Bernard-Henri Lévy and several companions (Gilles Hertzog, Jean-François Deniau, and the young mayor of Lourdes, Philippe Douste-Blazy) are the first western Europeans to enter besieged Sarajevo. Upon his return to France, Lévy passes on to François Mitterrand an appeal for help from the president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic. This message and Lévy’s insistence convince the French president to make his historic visit to Sarajevo. With Alain Ferrari and Thierry Ravalet, Lévy films his first documentary, Un jour dans la mort de Sarajevo, which is broadcast on France 3 on 20 December 1992. The 63-minute film depicts the agony of the cosmopolitan and multicultural city and the suffering of its residents under incessant bombardment.