Ian Buruma reviews “Dueling Writers Take On Each Other and the World”

Posted by Kendall Harmon

One way to read this book, a dialogue between two famous French authors, is as a comic novel, a brilliant satire on the vanity of writers. Michel Houellebecq, who won last year’s Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary award, for his latest novel, “La Carte et le Territoire,” is well known for his provocative black humor. Bernard-Henri Lévy (also known as BHL), though less noted for his wit, likes to play up to his reputation as a comic figure, popping up here, there and everywhere in his fine white shirts, opened halfway down his chest, holding forth on everything from Jean-Paul Sartre to jihad in Pakistan, and generally acting out the role, in a somewhat theatrical fashion, of the great Parisian Intellectual....

The two writers exchange views on many topics, like the matter of being Jewish — often, but not really here, a rich source of comedy. BHL is Jewish, and voices his “unconditional support for Israel.” Houellebecq, who is not, declares that he was always “on the side of the Jews.” It is indeed “a real joy, to see Israel fighting these days.” So no disagreements there.

On religion, BHL explains his “Judeo-Christian” hypothesis of “a soul made in the image of God.” To which Houellebecq replies that since BHL obviously believes in God, he, Houellebecq, “will probably look at you a little strangely” the next time they meet. To which BHL counters that he does not really believe in God at all, but there is a “level,” somewhere, “that goes beyond (or is perhaps more basic than) the question of whether or not we’re living in the ‘truth.’”

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooksPhilosophyReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEuropeFrance

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