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