March 17, 2005


I found in my e-mail inbox this afternoon a review from the London Times Literary Supplement, written by Frederic Raphael, of a new biography of the French writer and self-proclaimed "philosopher" Bernard-Henri Levy. The book --"BHL, une biographie," by Philippe Cohen -- was published several months ago in Paris by Fayard.

The T.L.S. review was circulated by my friend Danny Postel to a number of people. I responded with the following note:

My Dear Danny,
I'm rather curious as to why you thought F. Raphael's tendentious, mendacious review of P. Cohen's bio of Bernard-Henry Levy worthy of circulating. Raphael's defense of BHL (or, as he is jokingly referred to in France, "BHV"--which is the name of a chain of discount television-and-household-appliance stores) is as riddled with ignorant distortions, factual inaccuracies, and downright lies as is Levy's own work.
     Raphael sneers at the huge book on Le Monde which Cohen co-authored with France's premier investigative journalist, Pierre Pean. But he fails to mention that the findings of Pean-Cohen's book were subsequently echoed and confirmed by an avalanche of books by other serious journalists, including a number of eminent names who'd left or been forced out of Le Monde by the paper's current corrupt management (you can find an evaluation of all these books in the context of the crisis at Le Monde in a long piece of mine by clicking on http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2004/11/the_crisis_at_l.html; after I wrote this piece, of course, the forced resignation of Le Monde editor Edwy Plenel and the band of Trotskyite hitmen and other Plenelian lapdogs he'd placed in key posts at the paper was an admission that much of what Pean-Cohen had said was right-- see http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2004/12/update_the_cris.html).
     While I have not yet read Cohen's book on BHL, I can tell you that its critical dissection is confirmed in  "Le B.A. Ba de BHL" (The ABC's of BHL), a meticulously researched and footnoted, as well as witty, puncturing of the media myth of BHL by Xavier de la Porte and Jade Lindgaard (Editions de la Decouverte), which I read when it came out about four months ago.
      As someone who lived in France for a decade--where I even once had the unpleasant experience of passing three hours interviewing the arrogant and indigestible egomaniac BHL--I can tell you what most serious intellectuals in France know: that BHL is a fraud and an impostor, just as Cohen's book charges. As an assiduous flatterer and intimate friend of business barons, showbiz stars, and political leaders, his conduct is a thousand miles from the "intellectual liberty" of which BHL likes to pose as the lyric defender. His only real talent is his manipulation of a media microcosm without intellectual standards and his endless and skillful self-promotion--the lengths to which BHL and his trophy wife (the actress Arielle Dombasle, whom Raphael doesn't mention) will go to promote themselves and their obscenely luxurious lifestyle as the incarnation of the "glitterati" is a matter of great hilarity in France. Raphael's citation, in his T.L.S review,  of a couple of the more minor literary prizes awarded to BHL is a joke--everyone in France knows that the literary prizes are nearly all corrupt and dominated by the "copinage" (read: log-rolling and mutual backscratching) and commercialism that renders them practically worthless in any serious evaluation of a book. BHL is nothing more than a clever wind-surfer on l'air du temps.
     There are too many other omissions, distortions, and lies in Raphael's review for me to take the time to enumerate them here. But I must say, Danny, circulating this sort of pro-BHL propaganda from the conservative Murdoch press hardly gives an accurate portrait of BHL to those to whom you sent it.
     Regards as ever, Doug
I later received this note from Danny Postel:

My Dear Doug,

Thanks for confirming, with your characteristically effulgent, engrossing, and instructive antiseptic below, that it was indeed worthwhile to circulate this review. At the very least, it has occasioned the performance of a public service in the form of your laser-surgical antidote, which I encourage you to send off to the editor of the TLS right away if you haven’t already.                                                         Cheers and thanks,  Danny

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