February 13, 2006

So do I get that nickel?

I have no idea if Garrison Keillor was right about Bernard-Henri LÚvy's American Vertigo, but I sure enjoyed his review in the Times a few weeks ago. It was, you know, funny. And that's not a word I normally use in conjunction with Garrison Keillor.

Christopher Hitchens does not agree. But he may just have missed the joke. His angry rebuttal in Slate today is dressed up with a lot of outrage, but it consists of only three actual criticisms. Here's one:

"As always with French writers," says Keillor, "LÚvy is short on the facts, long on conclusions." I would give about, oh, five cents to know which ones Keillor has in mind. Perhaps he has been boning up on his Foucault or Balibar or Derrida, in which case he modestly makes no show of his own learning. He cannot mean Albert Camus or Olivier Todd or Michel Houllebecq.

No, he probably means to sound ignorant and bombastic for comic effect. The tip off comes exactly two sentences before the one Hitch quotes:

He admires Warren Beatty, though he sees Beatty at a public event "among these rich and beautiful who, as always in America . . . form a masquerade of the living dead, each one more facelifted and mummified than the next, fierce, a little mutant-looking, inhuman, ultimately disappointing." LÚvy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him.

And not just to him, it turns out.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


It looks like all three of them are wrong. BHL, who is a rubbish philosopher, attempts to transpose the French notion of tradition (they take it REALLY - FUCKING - SERIOUSLY) and transpose it onto the US, and it sounds stupid and pretentious (even though that probably wasn't the intention).
On the other hand, Keillor misses this point, knowing nothing about how French society contributes to its way of writing. So he sounds smug and vulgar in criticizing BHL's book.
So Hitchens is right when he says that Keillor comes across as a vulgar idiot versus the thoughtful aesthete, but then he transposes it onto a screed about terrorism, which is why Hitchens, too, can be a vulgar idiot.
No-one comes off well from the exchange.

The thing I don't get is Keillor's line that "there's nobody here whom you recognize." But based on his descriptions in the rest of the review, there's plenty of people there I recognize. Just because he doesn't recognize them doesn't mean they don't exist.

Seems pretty obvious to me that Keillor was tweaking LÚvy's "as always" by giving him an unflattering "as always" right back.

Considering the book was written about and for Americans -- and that LÚvy has been schilling it here for months -- I don't think Simon's point is terribly relevant. Keillor took it the book as it was intended to be taken, which is more than fair.

I would recommend Levy's recent article on what's wrong with the Left in America. Very insightful.

I also think that it often takes an outsider (in this case a Frenchman) to see America in a way that American's aren't able or willing to.

Levy's writing on the deplorable conditioins of US Prisons is spot on. And something that the American left has not sufficiently fought against.

The witless Hitchens piece has the oily thumbprints of friendship all over it. I know he openly admits he's on drinking terms with BHL, that's still no excuse for lit crit smarm. I thought Keillor's slyly naive take on BHL was glorious - and proved that Keillor knew exactly where our delicate French friend was coming from.

Christopher Hitchens bashing a critic for being bombastic and smarmy? My, my, my. I guess self-awareness isn't high on the Christopher Hitchens list of virtues.

Christopher Hitchens bashing a critic for being bombastic and smarmy? My, my, my. I guess self-awareness isn't high on the Christopher Hitchens list of virtues.

Post a comment

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2