January 28, 2006

Hello Hello, I'm in a Book Called Vertigo

Garrison Keillor reviews the latest Tocquevillian odyssey, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy's "American Vertigo" in today's NYT. (Amusing choice, editorial board.) A much more intelligent review comes from Franklin Foer and Alan Wolfe in Slate (surprise).

Neither review really makes me want to read Levy's little journal, but Garrison Keillor is outright offended by it, perhaps because it threatens the idea of America he tries to present in his Prairie Home Companion bullshit. It's a review etched in acid, and, frankly, I never knew Garrison was such an asshole. The man uses the word "negatory." Who has he been hanging out with—David Spade?

Maybe I'm taking Keillor too seriously, but this series of sentences is either entirely unself-conscious or entirely arch, or both—"Lévy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him... As always with French writers, Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions." (emphasis added)

Keillor complains about two things—Levy's attraction to the rather strange elements of America—"Beverly Hills; Dealey Plaza in Dallas; Bourbon Street in New Orleans; Graceland; a gun show in Fort Worth; a "partner-swapping club" in San Francisco with a drag queen with mammoth silicone breasts; the Iowa State Fair ("a festival of American kitsch"); Sun City ("gilded apartheid for the old");a stock car race"—and Levy's love of paradox and rhetorical questions.

But where would Keillor visit, if he were a French philosopher intent on describing America to itself? I mean seriously, is America that different from its oddest parts?

Oops. That was a rhetorical question.


  1. Anonymous12:56 PM

    To listen to Keillor on NPR, you'd think he's entirely incapable of anger. But his review has momentarily persuaded me not to read Levy's book.

    Foer and Wolfe seem to be unimpressed as well, but they don't get quite as worked up about it.

    I'm reading Tocqueville right now, so Levy's project intrigued me when I first heard about it. It looks like Levy's book is long on description and rhetorical musings, but short on any actual, useful insight.

  2. Levy's book is long on description and rhetorical musings, but short on any actual, useful insight.

    Sort of like Prairie Home Companion.

  3. 9 times out of 10, Keillor is one awesome dude. But admittedly, he sounds better than he looks.

    Iowa State Fair might have weird things, but the crowds are probably midwest-reflective. Where would you have a visitor check out?

  4. Nathan, I'd probably visit the kinds of places Levy visited. Keillor didn't mention it, but I'd visit NY of course as well, though Levy's probably already familiar with it. And Florida—the retiree areas and Miami. And the Mexico border. And West Virginia. Memphis.

  5. Andrew, Negatory is a real, legitimate word.

  6. haha. I never said it wasn't. I just don't expect Garrison Keillor to use it.

  7. Garrison Keillor is a douchebag.