Botulism in the philosophical sense

Bernard-Henri Lévy is found out.

Le tout Paris can't quite contain its delighted disbelief at the news that the writer and "philosopher" Bernard-Henri Lévy has made a fool of himself (yet again). The Times reported yesterday that BHL had quoted liberally, in his new book De la guerre en philosophie, from the work of the anti-Kantian zealot Jean-Baptiste Botul. The only problem being that Botul is a fiction, the creation of Frédéric Pages, a journalist at Le Canard Enchaîné, the French equivalent of Private Eye.

In 1999, Pages published a book entitled La vie sexuelle d'Emmanuel Kant under Botul's name, and it's this volume that BHL was quoting from.

Pages also maintains a website, devoted to this "philosopher of the oral tradition about whose work and life we know little", and is the animateur of the "Friends of Jean-Baptiste Botul", an organisation which wrestles with the unfortunate fact that "botulism is also the name of a serious illness". Happily, the Friends' mission statement reassures us that their activities extend only to "disseminating botulism in the philosophical sense".

Pages says Lévy should have suspected something was up when he read the story, recounted in La vie sexuelle, of a "community of Germans from Königsberg who fled to Paraguay to establish a colony strictly governed by the principles of Kantian philosophy". This raises questions, he concludes, about "the way he [BHL] works". Quite.

UPDATE: Sholto Byrnes refers in the comments below to a diary piece that Lévy wrote for the New Statesman in 2007. You can read his reflections on Bernard Kouchner, Maurice Blanchot and Bono (!) here.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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On Wheels

A new poem by Patrick Mackie

The hills swarm and soften towards the end of the day just as
flames do in a fireplace as the evening
loosens and breaks open and lets out night.
A nasty, grotesque, impatient year ended,
and the new one will be bitter,
tired, opaque. Words wrangle in every inch of air,
their mouths wide open in stupid shock
at what they have just heard every time they hear anything. Venus,
though, blazes with heavy wobbles of albeit frozen
light. Brecht, who I like to call my
brother just as he called Shelley his,
has a short late poem where he sits by a roadside, waiting
while someone changes the wheel on his car,
watching with impatience, despite not liking
either the place that he is coming from or
the place that he is going to. We call it
connectivity when in truth it is just aggression
and imitation writ ever larger. Poems, though,
are forms of infinite and wry but also briskly
impatient patience. Brecht’s poem seems to end,
for instance, almost before you
can read it. It wheels. The goddess is just a big, bright
wilderness but then soon enough she clothes
herself again in the openness of night and I lose her.

Patrick Mackie’s latest collection, The Further Adventures Of The Lives Of The Saints, is published by CB Editions.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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