Un philosophe engagé – dans la merde

One of life’s small treats is to see a philosopher being made to look slightly foolish. When the public pratfall involves a smooth, high-profile French philosopher, the pleasure is particularly acute.


Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosophe engagé who takes himself very seriously. Known in the French media simply as BHL, he can be relied on to add a knowing, gnomic gloss to the day’s news, whether it concerns the war in Afghanistan or the Roman Polanski case. His website declares that he is, “dedicated to the struggle for human dignity”, and compares him to Sartre, Camus and Malraux.


The struggle for human dignity has just become tougher for BHL. In a new book, he cited as an authoritative source the 20th-century thinker Jean-Baptiste Botul.


Unfortunately Botul was a well-known hoax, the invention of Frédéric Pages, a journalist. The school of Botulism, said to have been created by Botul, was part of the prank, as were his books, which included The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant and The Metaphysics of the Feeble.


Gamely, BHL has praised Pages for his work, arguing that truth is truth, whether it is meant as a parody or is entirely sincere. No doubt Botulists everywhere will agree.

Independent, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

  • Chris Rust

    It’s not a trivial issue that the researchers here don’t seem to have any notion of irony or context. If McCartney is saying old people are unloveable how come so many oldies belt that song out at their 64th birthday parties? It’s an affectionate song about love persisting despite the inevitable effects of getting older, what could be more positive?

    But there’s something quite sinister here, the conclusions of the article say:
    “It is imagined that the negative representations of age and ageing can be dispiriting and confidence and esteem lowering for older people and that more scrutiny of these texts by censorship boards should be exercised.”

    In other words it’s a manifesto for the thought police to start telling artists what to do, based on a particularly numb piece of research. Decidedly chilling.