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10 February 2010

Botulism in the philosophical sense

Bernard-Henri Lévy is found out.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

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.

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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.