Wednesday, July 07, 2004

or I'll kick your head in

My campaign to be voted Britain’s top public intellectual is gaining momentum. But to what model can I aspire when I succeed to my rights? Ah, but of course!

A fixation with the plight of the Palestinians, Levy asserts, diverts attention from suffering in forsaken corners of the world such as Sudan, where he wrote three years ago about combat in the Darfur region that has now become a focus of international concern about slaughter and famine.

"The Palestinian 'victimocracy' has a tendency to hide wars that are infinitely longer and more murderous," Levy said. "Because we all have our eyes locked on one war alone — well, two, the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian war. And this emphasis has the terrible effect of hiding, of silencing, of erasing from our memories and our mental map the other wars that are thousands of times more lethal."

This is pure genius! I too would like to state with casual authority which lives are worth public attention and which not. Who do I write to to get permission? Is there a training course of some kind? Implying that Palestinians and the people who support them are somehow responsible for the escalation of violence in Sudan is a masterpiece of legerdemain, a cheap and nasty trick done in the high style. I shudder in tribute, and aspire to think harder.

And let’s not forget that in addition to his amazing way with a pensee, Bernard Henri Levy is also a man of action.

Godin showed me a video of this last operation, which shows Levy - as famous for his chest hair, silk blousons and Christian Dior shirts as for his philosophy - arriving at Nice airport with his third wife, the actress Arielle Dombasle. As they check in, shadowy figures can be seen in the background, ladling cream.

"They pick up their boarding cards, as you can see," said Godin, who has clearly watched this shaky footage hundreds of times but, like a footballer reviewing the goal of his career, seems unlikely to tire of it - "then three entarteurs fall on them, with me leading the charge. They shout: "Oh no. Oh not again." I deliver my cake, and he responds with punches. One of my young female comrades flans him again, point blank, while a second woman crushes a layered chocolate gateau topped with creme chantilly over the head of Arielle Dombasle. It was at that point", he added, "that things got out of hand."


Few have been more outstanding flanees that Bernard-Henri Levy, a man so sensitive that he was once credibly reported as observing that "when I find a new shade of grey, I feel ecstatic". He has also famously remarked that he dislikes seeing a woman pay in a restaurant. "I think," Levy explained, "that money does not suit a woman; or rather that I would not fall in love with such a woman." His own varied talents constitute, by his own account, "a landscape which does not have a fixed place in the classic topography of culture."

These are the kind of observations that guarantee the philosopher express deliveries of creme chantilly for years to come. "He is the worst," says Godin, who, on the subject of Bernard-Henri Levy, tends to sound like Herbert Lom on Inspector Clouseau. "He is the worst this decade." He is especially critical of Levy's consistent urging of armed intervention against the Bosnian Serbs, given that the philosopher, unlike other intellectual militants such as Andre Malraux or George Orwell, has shown no inclination to enlist himself.

But if a taste for personal involvement has not been a feature of Levy's contribution to the Bosnia debate, he cannot be accused of having shrunk from unarmed combat once the pies have started flying. At Levy's baptismal flanning, in Liege 10 years ago, the author of "Testament of God" delivered an unambiguous response. "I didn't even feel the uppercut," Godin told me, "because I was so happy to gaze up from the floor and see the peak of French intellectual thought so thoroughly snowbound." Levy, who emerges from his books as a reflective man unshakably committed to qualities such as reasonableness and tolerance, was dismayed to find that footage of the incident, which shows him shouting to his prone assailant: "Get up, or I'll kick your head in," was repeatedly broadcast on French television.

On their second encounter, at a Brussels bookshop where a gathering of what Godin describes as "100 painted old trout" had come to hear the thinker, and pugilist read from his work "The Last Days of Baudelaire", Godin was laid out on a table and subjected to further blows. The film of ther latest incident, which shows Arielle Dombasle scratching and lashing out at the entarteur's woman companions, ends with an abrupt thump. "Levy broke the camera," says Godin, "then punched the cameraman on the nose. A few minutes later he had his hands round my neck while Arielle Dombasle thrashed at me with her handbag. The police got me out of there."

Such episodes have done little to enhance Levy's profile. His puppet on the French equivalent of Spitting Image struggles to advocate a military solution in the former Yugoslavia through a hail of dairy products. In Japan, Godin claims, footage of the French philosopher's viscous misfortune has proved so popular with game-show viewers that Godin is known as "a kind of Belgian Jerry Lewis". "Levy was flanned in Reims by a mysterious splinter group," said Godin, "and recently I heard that he also ran into difficulties in a bakery at Montpellier. If those reports are true, he is under fire from all sides."


On a recent operation involving Levy, Godin claims, the cream pies were carried through a security barrier strapped to Alfred, a performing dog. "Alfred is a pedigree," said Godin, "but I refuse to reveal the breed. I like the thought of Levy experiencing a feeling of slight unease every time he sees a dog at a public function."

Yes, it’s a tough life being a top public intellectual. But I can take it.