BHL

by Henry on February 10, 2010

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:”:http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2010/0210/1224264114285.html

bq. 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”:http://www.insidehighered.com/views/mclemee/mclemee276.

bq. 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”:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23153 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”:http://www.insidehighered.com/views/mclemee/mclemee73 and “The Nation”:http://www.thenation.com/doc/20081006/mclemee (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).

The Curtis-Nighy Tobin tax video

by Chris Bertram on February 10, 2010

How long before the video gets the waggy finger of Oliver Kamm I wonder?

Killer App

by John Holbo on February 10, 2010

Various folks – our own Henryhave been weighing the advantages and disadvantages of long and short literary forms. Here’s a different angle. What I would really like – truly – would be a simple app that let me time-lock myself out of the internet (and email) for a substantial block of time. Say, 3 hours. Or whatever. (Obviously I get to choose.) The internet is sort of like a stationary exercise bike that comes equipped, standard, with an ever-full bowl of potato chips on the handlebars. So is this bike good for losing weight and getting fit? Yes. And no. I’m sure you see what I am getting at.

The short-form/long-form distinction isn’t, then, the crux of the issue, because it doesn’t touch on the reason why people are anxious about suffering ADD. I think I agree with Henry about how we should have more short-form stuff, for pretty much the reasons he articulates. But what people are worried about, when they vaguely wish away short-form stuff, is a “nudge”-type issue, in the Sunstein and Thaler sense. It’s not that they seriously think all short stuff is bad stuff. or even that short stuff tends to be bad. Rather, all the stuff we are most tempted to overindulge in, against our own better judgment, is short. (If this were Victorian England, maybe we would be wringing our hands about how everyone is disappearing into enormous triple-decker novels for days and days and neglecting to keep up with current events. They aren’t remembering to send everyone else letters twice a day.)

Saying that all the stuff we are tempted to overindulge in is short is perfectly consistent with saying that, on average, short stuff is much better than long stuff. I think that’s it in a nutshell.

The main reason we are tempted to overindulge in short stuff is that it is there. So obtrusively ready-to-hand, like chips on the handlebars. So I maintain that Western Civilization can be saved, and people can return to reading long Kierkegaard books again – possibly even Melville’s Clarel – if only someone will come up with a simple app for time-locking our computers and mobile devices. Indeed, it would be such a basic and powerful productivity tool that it should come standard on all devices.