Most of our readers who are philosophers will likely be aware of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s ongoing contretemps. As the Irish Times summarizes the affair:
In his latest title, Lévy launches a scathing attack on the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, calling him “raving mad” and a “fake”. In framing his case, Lévy – BHL to the Parisian cognoscenti – drew on the writings of the little-known 20th century thinker Jean-Baptiste Botul – author of The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant , and a man Lévy has cited in lectures. The problem? Botul never existed. He was invented by a journalist from the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné 10 years ago as an elaborate joke. And since the hoax was revealed, BHL has become a laughing stock.
Scott McLemee, recently accused in these here comments sections of disgusting anti-French-playboy-philosopher-bias for his previous writings on BHL, has the lowdown on this sublime and funky work of scholarship here.
A friend who has read La vie sexuelle tells me that the author’s tongue is very conspicuously in his cheek. That BHL cited it as a serious work of scholarship would strongly suggest that he has an employee or two toiling in the erudition mines for him. If so, it is an interesting question whether the person who actually read Botul misunderstood the nature of the book—or passed along the citation as an act of sabotage. Either way, it seems like a fireable offense. (Of course, nothing like that ever happens in the academic world.)
I wondered the same thing myself when I first read about this. When we see BHL’s name on a book, are we to understand it as a brand, rather like Damien Hirst’s signature on ‘his’ spot paintings? Perhaps we can expect an authentication committee with all the accompanying controversy to begin its work after his eventual demise? Or did he indeed write all or most of it himself? There’s much entertaining speculation to be had. Readers should also betake themselves to Scott’s earlier pieces for Inside Higher Ed and The Nation (the Nation piece is a small masterpiece of the ‘the victim pinned and struggling on the wall’ genre; the IHE article has some very astute judgments from Arthur Goldhammer).