Monday, February 12, 2007

The Sharpness in the Forehead, the Whiteness of Waiting: Why Don’t We Have Political Writing Like This in the United States?

… Probably for good reason, yet we’ve read nothing as entertaining in recent weeks---not even a Houston Chronicle editorial on immigration policy---as Bernard-Henri Lévy’s “Dinner With Ségolène” (as in Ségolène Royal, the comely 53-year-old Socialist candidate for the presidency of France) that appeared on the opinion page of last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.

Lévy is the noted cigarette smoker and onetime nouveaux philosophe who about 30 years ago wrote a decent (and short) book that we were required to read titled Barbarism With a Human Face (Communism=really bad stuff) and more recently authored the highly unreadable American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, excerpted parts of which we found as predictable as, say, David Foster Wallace on the Iowa State Fair. (Check out Garrison Keillor’s skewering of Lévy’s book last year in the New York Times---it’s too damn funny.)

You can read Lévy’s WSJ piece here, but we know you’re busy so we’ll cut right to the choicest bits:
The maître d' steps in to take our order: salad, filets of sole, a dry white wine. She continues, "Isn't it amusing? When someone else misspeaks, we call it a lapsus, a slip, but when it's me it's a giant misstep, a mistake. Maybe it's a double standard."

[Snip, as they say.]

And we launch into a strange, somewhat surrealistic dialogue of the deaf in which I explain that for the antitotalitarian left which is now steering itself away from her, the Rights of Man is not just a phrase but a concept, one that is filled with memories of suffering, of Resistance, manifestly not to be played with--and she, argumentative, inflexible, a sharpness suddenly visible in her face, her forehead, asserting that it's exactly the opposite, that when one says "Rights of Man" she cannot overlook the literal sense of the words, the rights of the Male as opposed to the Female, the rights of her father versus the rights of her mother--and that is why she prefers to say "human rights."


And Lionel Jospin? I ask--of another Socialist eminence, who was her party's candidate last time around, in 2002. The sommelier pours more wine. I observe she eats and drinks with real gusto, like Mitterrand did before he became ill; and that she has a little of Chirac's hearty appetite--is this a sign?


A man at a neighboring table comes over to tell her he admires her. She stands, oddly moved, blushing a deeper pink than her suit, happy, her long, pretty neck rippling with pleasure.


She tells me she is probably no longer going to wear the famous white suits that have been her trademark, and which have been written about so much--the white of waiting, of the blank page awaiting the inscription of France's grievances as well as hopes for the future.

[More snippin’]

I tell her again why the role of the intellectual is not to join in, rather it is to ask the tough questions, to lay out the issues, to--at the end, as late as possible--finally articulate his opinion. And she listens to me with a humility which belies her image, that of a strict, distant schoolteacher.

It is after midnight.

The restaurant is empty.

A last question about her choice of books: a book about women by Dominique Méda (she is surprised I don't know her), and Victor Hugo's Contemplations, which she has had with her for some time.

I take my leave, still somewhat puzzled, but with the feeling that people may have been unfair to this woman--myself included, and that she does not really resemble the slightly gauche statue into which she has sculpted herself.
Try as we might, we just can’t translate this into American (William Kristol in a custom-tailored white shirt open to the chest interviewing Hillary Clinton? No, but …. Billy Crystal, we could see that.)

The French. You gotta love ’em---especially their obtuseness.

Closer to home, we'd recommend the latest of the “Sunday Conversation" articles the Houston Chronicle runs on its City/State section, this one a dialogue of sorts between Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Edmund Gordon, director of the Center for African and African-American studies at UT (although each apparently was interviewed separately and not together over dry white wine), on Confederate flags and statuary. The interviews revealed some surprising areas of agreement between Patterson and Gordon.

Regular readers---those who were sent home by the principal for wearing their “I Got Loaded at Slampo’s Place” T-shirts in class---know that we are a fan of Patterson, the only state or local candidate to receive our highly prized endorsement in the preceding election. Patterson apparently was chosen as counterpoint to Gordon because he recently accepted money from a group of Confederate descendents and because he had declared there was nothing unseemly about Ted Nugent wearing a Rebel flag T-shit at Rick Perry’s inaugural ball.

Here’s how Patterson answered the Chronicle’s question about the second matter:
The more I read about that, the more I think it was a mistake. I'm generally not unprepared for questions. That was one I was unprepared for. ... It was appropriate for him to do that because that's what he does. It was not appropriate for him to do it at an inaugural.
As we’ve said before, Jerry Patterson is probably too honest and thoughtful to win a higher statewide office.

Well, it’s after midnight (in France) and the restaurant is empty, so as our Confederate ancestors used to say, "Au revoir, mofo."

1 comment:

Phlip said...

Hahahaha . . . thank you for bringing this dude Levy to my attention. Yep I think Billy Crystal is spot-on . . . you . look . mahvelous, dahling!