Thursday, February 02, 2006

I Love...

Garrison Keillor's NYTimes review this week of Bernard-Henri Levy's (BHL's) new book about his travels in the U.S., "American Vertigo. I haven't read the book, but I've read a lot about it, and being an honorary Frenchwoman, complete with French passport, I feel that I have quite a bit of insight into the French. And armed with that insight, as I read Keillor's review, I couldn't help but say to myself, "right on, he's got it just right...".

So here are a few choice tidbits from the review:

"It is the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics and Faux Culture beloved of European journalists for the past 50 years..."

"... There's nobody here whom you recognize...It dawns on you that this is a book about the French.. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title."

" At the stock car race, Lévy senses that the spectators "both dread and hope for an accident." We learn that Los Angeles has no center and is one of the most polluted cities in the country. "Headed for Virginia, and for Norfolk, which is, if I'm not mistaken, one of the oldest towns in a state that was one of the original 13 in the union," Lévy writes. Yes, indeed. He likes Savannah and gets delirious about Seattle, especially the Space Needle, which represents for him "everything that America has always made me dream of: poetry and modernity, precariousness and technical challenge, lightness of form meshed with a Babel syndrome, city lights, the haunting quality of darkness, tall trees of steel." O.K., fine. The Eiffel Tower is quite the deal, too."

" Lévy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him. Rain falls on the crowd gathered for the dedication of the Clinton library in Little Rock, and to Lévy, it signifies the demise of the Democratic Party. "

"As always with French writers, Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions. He has a brief encounter with a young man outside of Montgomery, Ala. ("I listen to him tell me, as if he were justifying himself, about his attachment to this region"), and suddenly sees that the young man has "all the reflexes of Southern culture" and the "studied nonchalance . . . so characteristic of the region." With his X-ray vision, Lévy is able to reach tall conclusions with a single bound."

" And good Lord, the childlike love of paradox - America is magnificent but mad, greedy and modest, drunk with materialism and religiosity, puritan and outrageous, facing toward the future and yet obsessed with its memories. Americans' party loyalty is "very strong and very pliable, extremely tenacious and in the end somewhat empty." Existential and yet devoid of all content and direction. The partner-swapping club is both "libertine" and "conventional," "depraved" and "proper." And so the reader is fascinated and exhausted by Lévy's tedious and original thinking"

" America is changing, he concludes, but America will endure. "I still don't think there's reason to despair of this country. No matter how many derangements, dysfunctions, driftings there may be . . . no matter how fragmented the political and social space may be; despite this nihilist hypertrophy of petty antiquarian memory; despite this hyperobesity - increasingly less metaphorical - of the great social bodies that form the invisible edifice of the country; despite the utter misery of the ghettos . . . I can't manage to convince myself of the collapse, heralded in Europe, of the American model."

"Thanks, pal. I don't imagine France collapsing anytime soon either. Thanks for coming. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. For your next book, tell us about those riots in France, the cars burning in the suburbs of Paris. What was that all about? Were fat people involved? "

I couldn't have said it better myself. Obviously.


At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Jae said...

"I Love.... your blog!"
Hava, I just dropped by to see what I've been missing lately -- quite a lot! and i'm quite concerned about the mango situation; I have one bag left in my freezer... hopefully, the shortage will end by this Sunday.


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