I have been reading all that has been written recently about Bernard-Henri Lévy. I’ve been observing the incredible campaign of which he has been the object, impugned for an obscure story of a pseudonymous author who supposedly tricked him. And it seems to me the intellectual discourse in this case has descended to zero. (Wasn’t the daily, Libération, forced to close the discussion section that usually accompanies articles about and by Bernard-Henri Lévy, due to an invasion of anti-Semitic comments?)
As I write these lines, I am absorbed by Pièces d’Identité, the most voluminous of his two books published just days ago. There I have found the voice and the passion of someone who supported me to the very end and beyond, never doubting or tiring. I found his texts concerning the Left, its future, its values, and its necessary reconstruction theoretical, often controversial, sometimes unjust, but always stimulating.
I read his prescient analyses, most of them published in the American press and consequently inaccessible to the better part of French readers, about the man who at that point would become President Barack Obama only in the distant future. I also found many other treasures about infinitely fascinating subjects I am less familiar with, ones I would be dismayed to see written off in the name of these petty and unjust controversies that hound him with every book he publishes but that seem to me, this time, to take on an unprecedented importance, encouraged by a new kind of cruelty.
The pages about Romain Gary, for example, are stunning in their truth. The portrait of Alberto Moravia, this great antifascist writer, fond of the good life, is striking. I learned a great deal in the course of the 300 pages that make up the heart of the book, entitled « The Spirit of Judaïsm. » I loved the pages on Jean Genet in Tangiers, and I devoured the series of articles that took this indefatigable globe trotter from one end of the earth to the other. And all that in only four years!
These one-thousand-three-hundred-some-odd pages recount just four years of wide-reaching and frenetic work. And I haven’t even mentioned the part of the book specifically concerning philosophy — these portraits of Louis Althusser, who was the teacher of Bernard-Henri Lévy and the youth of his generation, this reflection on evil that politicians would do so well to take as an inspiration, or these pages on Spinoza, « the philosopher of joy. »
It’s comical, really, all these nasty little curs who criticize him for a line about the now notorious « Botul » and who, with this reproach, have good reason — or at least, believe they do — to jettison Spinoza, Althusser, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the charismatic commander Massoud or the mysterious Emmanuel Levinas! Although I know BHL very well, I must confess that I was always carried away by the breadth of his erudition, the élan of his curiosity and, every time, his sense of nuance. « Society » or « media » intellectual? That’s not the Lévy I know. Nor is it the man I discover in my reading, which I recommend to all who wish to progress.
In conclusion, allow me to quote words penned by neither Lévy nor me but an illustrious socialist: « I knew Bernard-Henri Lévy when he had just begun at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, » he wrote, in a splendid page of L’Abeille et l’Architecte. « I like to think that I sensed in this grave young man the great writer he would become. One danger threatens him: fashion. But suffering, the friend of the strong, will save him. Everything prepares him for it. I’m not worried about his desire to please, that drags him out of his territory today. When he realizes that he possesses in himself all he is looking for, he will come back to it. He could not avoid the fire that burns him, even if he wished to do so. The trace of ashes is already perceptible in the gaze of this dandy. Perhaps I’m mistaken, perhaps he will give in to the seductions of the century longer than he should. That would sadden me. I accept that he may expend a good deal more pride before recognizing it as vanity. I took La Barbarie à Visage Humain [Barbarism with a Human Face] with me, from France, and am annotating it for my chronicles. The book is in the image of its author, superb and naive. Superb in its language, its interior rhythm, the bitter certainty that there is only uncertainty. Naïve in the object of its pursuit, that escapes the author as soon as he approaches it. The development of the dialectic is lofty. » The author of these lines is François Mitterrand.
These words were written thirty-two years ago, but they haven’t aged in the least. The Bernard-Henri Lévy I know, whose advice I occasionally seek, the straightforward and committed man for whom I have profound esteem, is in fact exactly the one François Mitterrand divined. Does that surprise you? Not me.