Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

From France, Philosophers in A Quandary

PARIS - Any Parisian handy with a screwdriver will tell you that BHV is the name of a department store specializing in do-it-yourself supplies. But if you have intellectual pretensions, don't ever confuse it with BHL, the abbreviation for a much more serious French phenomenon.

That is what everyone with an ounce of esprit calls Bernand-Henri Levy, the philosopher, author and darling of the French intellectual scene. He even looks like a thinker, with his swept-back black hair and his 19th century open-necked shirts.

He invited me and 1, 999 of his other best friends to a theater in Montmartre the other day for the premiere of his first ever play. The Last Judgement. Since the whole world simply had to be there for the opening, the box office was mobbed and the play started 45 minutes late. That was partly the fault of the paparazzi, who clogged the aisles snapping pictures of writers, television stars, other philosophers and various aides to President Mitterrand, who had somehow managed to tear themselves away from affairs of state.

The play turned out to be dull and far too long. In a sort of Pirandello pastiche, BHL told the history of the 20th century through characters including Lenin's secretary, the station master at Auschwitz and the French professor who was the ideological godfather of Pol Pot. The only good guy was Chen, the Chinese student who was pictured standing up to the tanks in Beijing's Tiananmen square in 1989.

Predictably, the director/god who was orchestrating this human comedy turned out not to exist at all. Le Monde called it "a superficial and clumsy pantomime".

The best part was a Spoof on philosophers themselves, in which two of the characters impersonated Raymond Aron and Jean Paul Sartre disagreeing on everything but their ability to seduce women. As if to reinforce that point, Arielle Dombasle, BHL's current girlfriend, was cast as the lead female, which she played clad in the skimpiest of bimbo dresses. She has since gone on to give dozens of interviews about her love for BHL to such intellectual journals as Paris Match.

These, clearly, are not the best of times to be a thinker. Great ideas don't excite people much any more. Given what happened to Marxism, that's probably a good thing. But nihilism and despair don't sell, so people who still call themselves philosophers are in a quandary. They can join the general handwringing about the West's inability to prevent civil war in Yugoslavia. They can retreat into internal emigration. Or, like BHL, they can go into show business. Given the publicity he has managed to generate with his latest work, maybe he isn't so stupid after all.