Bernard-Henri Levy (Author of American Vertigo)Bernard-Henri Levy (born November 5, 1948 in Beni Saf, Algeria) is a French public intellectual and journalist. Often referred to today, in France, simply as BHL, he was one of the leaders of the Nouvelle Philosophie (New Philosophy) movement in 1976.
Levy was born to a Jewish family in Beni Saf, Algeria on 5 November 1948. His family moved to Paris a few months after his birth. His father, Andre Levy, was the multi-millionaire founder and manager of a timber company, Becob.
After attending the Lycee Louis-le-Grand in Paris, Levy enrolled in the elite and highly selective Ecole Normale Superieure in 1968, from which he graduated with a degree in philosophy. Some of his professors there included prominent French intellectuals and philosophers Jacques Derrida and Louis Althusser. Levy is also a pre-eminent journalist, having started his career as a war reporter for Combat, the famous underground newspaper founded by Camus during the Nazi occupation of France. In 1971, he traveled to the Indian subcontinent, and was in Bangladesh covering the war of independence against Pakistan. This experience was the source of his first book, Bangla-Desh, Nationalisme dans la revolution (Bangla-Desh, Nationalism in the Revolution), which was published in 1973.
Returning to Paris, Levy became famous as the young founder of the New Philosophers (Nouveaux Philosophes) school. This was a group of young intellectuals who were disenchanted with communist and socialist responses to the near-revolutionary upheavals in France of May 1968, which articulated a fierce and uncompromising moral critique of Marxist and socialist dogmas years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Throughout the 1970s, Levy taught a course on epistemology at the Universite de Strasbourg and philosophy at the Ecole Normale Superieure. It was in 1977, on the television show Apostrophes, that Levy was presented, alongside Andre Glucksmann, as a nouveau philosophe. In the very same year he published Barbarism with a Human Face (La barbarie a visage humain), arguing that Marxism was inherently corrupt.
In 1981 Levy published LIdeologie francaise (The French Ideology), arguably his most influential work.
Levy is married to French actress Arielle Dombasle. His eldest daughter by his first marriage to Isabelle Doutreluigne, Justine Levy, is a bestselling novelist. He also has a son, Antonin-Balthazar Levy, by his second wife, Sylvie Bouscasse. He is a member of the Selection Committee of the Editions Grasset, and he runs the La Regle du Jeu (The Rule of the Game) magazine. He writes weekly a column in the magazine Le Point and chairs the Conseil de Surveillance of La Sept-Arte.
When his father Andre died in 1995, Levy became the manager of the Becob company, until it was sold in 1997 for 750 million francs to the French entrepreneur Francois Pinault.
In September 2008, Levy made an American book tour to promote Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism.
Le Philosophe Provocateur
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He's the exemplar of a uniquely French phenomenon: the preening, pugilistic public intellectual who's as likely to be found in the pages of Paris Match , confirming or denying the latest rumours of an affair with a starlet or heiress, as in more learned journals, refuting the writings of Kant or berating governments for inaction in the face of the Syrian conflict or the renewed impetus of France's right-wing National Front. The BHL visage is a chiselled, well-groomed one. At 65, he still boasts a luxuriant, nonchalantly groomed grey mane suited to a polo player, and he favours fitted dark suits over raffishly unbuttoned white shirts, revealing an ample expanse of firm, creamy chest. Arielle Dombasle, his wasp-waisted actress wife, said that the first time she saw a picture of BHL, she thought he was Jesus Christ. But the man himself sort of demurs: 'I am someone who thinks he can influence things and do it with fire and passion and energy, and then the other side of me speaks up and says, 'Just write. One of his best friends, the painter Jacques Martinez, says: 'He's handsome, he's talented, he's rich, he has a beautiful wife - of course they hate him. As to BHL's thinking - the finer nuances of which can often be obscured behind the lover-and-fighter sound and fury - it's essentially iconoclastic, a product perhaps of a background rich in outsider status.
We had been talking for weeks. Philosopher, publisher, novelist, journalist, filmmaker, defender of causes, libertine, and provocateur, he is somewhere between gadfly and tribal sage, Superman and prophet; we have no equivalent in the United States. In one week last April, he completed a government mission to Afghanistan, delivered to President Jacques Chirac a page report that came out days later as a short book his 28th , spent the weekend at his palace in Morocco with his wife and friends, and went on to Jerusalem to meet with Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Shimon Peres. The French will say gently, politely, as when pointing to spinach on your teeth, that B. That can mean that he was born in Algeria, or that he is a Jew. Being a Jew today, however, means that his secretary at Grasset, the publishing house where he has been headquartered since his 20s, is opening anonymous hate mail consisting of used toilet paper. Stones are not holy.
They also call him a philosophe , which, even today, is no ordinary thing. In France, a glossy color magazine called Philosophie appears on news-stands—which France has in abundance. When BHL first appeared on the scene, more old-fashioned philosophes envied or looked down upon him for his big, broad, flexible approach to public affairs, not to mention his very public private life. Live in castles as big as theirs. In The Genius of Judaism , a work sometimes insightful, often charming, and frequently ludicrous, he states that it was in fact a fresh encounter with Judaism in these years that led him to question the Maoist politics of his peers. It was, he says, the faith of his fathers—a religion that he admits he barely knew—that taught him to question the faith in history of his contemporaries. Well, here it comes, that ethic, announcing itself, filling itself in, revealing itself like heat-sensitive ink, except that in this case it is the heat of the concept, drawn from Levinas, of a subject obligated to the Other, shaped by others, one whose subjectivity takes on and retains its form only through contact with the face of the other man.