NLS- Messager : Lacan Quotidien in English

From LQ 95 – 21.11.11. – translated by Anna Pigkou, Yannis Dimitrakos, Stella Noutsou

A rendez vous with history

Agnes Aflalo

The War without loving it  by Bernard-Henri Lévy

You can know

         Who hasn’t wondered, what one would have done, had one been living, at the critical moment of the advent of fascism in Europe, and then in WWII? Look the other way or decide to face events without turning away? Take shelter behind ignorance or accept knowing to draw the correct conclusions? Bernard-Henri Lévy decided to respond to this question that occasionally haunts us, with an uninterrupted commitment, which can be interpreted as follows: “You can know, if you so desire”. Once it has been decided that democracy is a cause to be defended, philosophy is elevated to the dignity of a responsible politics: that of giving to the real its place without giving fatalities the final word. This is what made the Libyan Event possible. For the first time, truly, the right to interfere is not a utopia any longer, but a concrete realisation. It began in Benghazi.


Benghazi or desire in action

         If Bernard-Henri Lévy can say about his involvement in Libya that it is the most important Event or major engagement in his political and intellectual life, it is because for the first time he sees a victory in progress. In fact, his actions resulted in the prevention of the announced massacre of the Libyan people, first in Benghazi and then beyond.

         Like every choice that counts, Bernard-Henri Lévy’s last commitment is a forced choice: “the old order of things did not permit choice… Gaddafi and his faction were enslaving the people of Libya without any alternative between dictatorship and jihadism.”

         Watching the scene of the man-hunt in Libya, on the 21st February 2011 something clicked. In the airport of Cairo, having already spent some days in the heart of the Egyptian revolution, he suddenly sees, on a TV screen, scenes from Libya with air fighters opening fire at the defenceless crowd. We are talking about 600 to 2000 victims. The mass killing does not leave him in peace. This is the reason of his first act: to decide to find out what is happening in Libya.

         The images of the massacre lead to the emergence of the memory of his first involvement, that of different airplanes. Thirty years ago, Bernard-Henri Lévy responded to the call of Malraux asking him to fight for the Bengalis and deter the first attempt at genocide after Auschwitz. We also know that a friend of his father’s had brought him in touch with Malraux through a companion of his in the España Squadron.

         After the moment of seeing, the return of a memory divides him and marks the moment to conclude. One morning, waking up, a phrase imposes itself on him “We weren’t waiting for Bernard-Henri Lévy to invent the Testament of God”. The name of the one who had uttered it, returns, still concealed by the veils of inhibition that cause doubt. Afterwards, the truth is imposed; the one who had uttered it, was a young Bedouin sitting under a tent, Gaddafi, leader of the Libyan Revolution. Therefore, the sentence is corrected: “We weren’t waiting for Bernard-Henri Lévy to invent monotheism.” The discontent caused owes too much to rage to directly provoke humour. Bernard-Henri Lévy takes action and decides to leave for Libya. After the moment of a death without understanding, is the moment of a war without loving it. The period of understanding commences afterwards, when Bernard-Henri Lévy decides to extract knowledge from that which affects him, himself and some others, a decisive desire, but not without the ethics of responsibility.

God is unconscious and Lacan a pessimist

         What did he manage to apprehend at that moment if not that which divides him and makes him doubt? Always, the unfathomable decision of being led him to don the garb of the responsible citizen, son of the 20th century. Malicious criticism changes nothing in this regard. Elegance is not the brand of a garment, but that of the courage of the act. The return of the same sober garment not only opposes the more frivolous woman’s man. It also shelters the splendour of a position and the burden of a torment. It’s because he makes himself known as the messenger of the angel of History, that the garment makes his presence radiate. But, the coat he dons is what safeguards the return of the same, and the constraint of always being on the move, everywhere but in the desert. The desert is the place of exception, because only there does the “demon of acting” stop. Only there can he experience the satisfaction of inebriation. Just as the tragic hero advances towards his death, so would the desert guarantee him, as it would to those who succumb to it, the mummification that frees the body from the decay of the corpse, another version of the corpse in reverse.

         The vertigo that takes over those who make war without loving it only achieves the first death. With the exaltation of the dessert the second death would be achieved. Isn’t it the desert that marks the tragic destiny of the admired men, who fascinate him, such as his beloved grandfather, or the committed philosopher André Zirnheld, of whom his father spoke to him very early on? And how could one free oneself from this destiny: “We only know being ourselves by being the shadow of our Fathers.” For Bernard-Henri Lévy, the solution is found in enacting a scenario that becomes his destiny.

         To question this knot surrounding God, BHL takes the hand of Levinas. Yet, the dreams and other “mysterious moments of memory” imposed themselves on him with the idea that God is unconscious. The truth of this real, as it was formulated by Lacan, imposes itself on him all the while making him doubt. Indeed, how can we contemplate democracy without posing questions to the divine master and his prescriptions on libido? Combining God with democracy, hence, passes through the question posed regarding monotheisms. Then, the methodical doubt makes him think of two solutions, a pessimist and an optimist one. The pessimist, the Lacanian in him, knows indeed that a revolution always returns to its point of departure. The incurable of hope, however, wants to believe in the desire of democracy in every human being because it has the strength to put history back in motion. If we accept the idea that desire is also Lacanian, then we grasp the use an intellectual can make of doubt: the alibi of a paralysing cowardice that preaches to the other especially since it binds sterile knowledge that chases out the real. For BHL, in contrast, this is the springboard that propels him to a destiny of a fighter who has nothing of the old. Doesn’t the bet on desire make him a Lacanian intellectual?

The meeting of the man of letters with the man of power

         To overcome tyranny necessitates an additional note on Voluntary Servitude. BHL contributes to this by unmasking what he so aptly names “ridiculing the tyrant”. Once acknowledged that it is the grotesquely comical that defeats him, we pass through the semblant and the tyrant appears as what he is: a human being as pathetic as father Ubu.

         The series of engagements constructs a scenario in which BHL delineates different moments. First he tries to meet the one that the circumstance of the rebellion transformed into “the most important person on earth”. Subsequently, and while he is on alert, he is startled and he errs. Something characteristic allows him to detect the leader: the gaze of solitude of someone who fights against tyranny with bare hands. He then needs to be recognised by him as the messenger he lacks and to bet that he will invent the right words. This time again, it is the repetition of the “Warsaw Ghetto” that the West will not drop a second time. Through his offer, he manages to obtain the request of Mustafa Abdeljalil to make France recognise the National Council of Transition established on that same day. In order to achieve the prevention of the already announced massacre, he must also be acknowledged by another master, but this time someone who holds power.

         He thus decides to call the president of the Republic. The migraines that take hold of him at that moment signal the tension that takes over his body without however eroticising the time that drags on and delays the moment of the act. The two men possibly are acquainted but they are not from the same political side. Nevertheless, BHL still bets on the desire of the well-said in order to be heard. And those words: “blood will stain the French flag”, that surprise even himself, make the just cause reverberate.

         We have to do the writer justice, knowing how to restore with precision the prudent boldness of the man of power who makes himself the addressee of the message. A man who also decides immediately that democracy is a cause to be defended and that he is not a president who will allow the death of the Libyan people. Whichever kind of criticism we might have of this president, we should acknowledge the courage of that decision taken and assumed up to the ultimate consequence. A political man worthy of his name doesn’t recoil from taking decisions and taking responsibility for them.

Returning to the father: a woman beyond the war

         The Libyan Event is an exception in the series of the preceding engagements. The story that began in a small vegetable-delivery truck, goes on with a half-broken telephone and concludes with the story of the flag. Every page is a chance for the power of a decisive desire and of what he can accomplish when he doesn’t succumb to the monstrous capture by the dark God. In contrast to his sister, it is not about conversion for BHL. He has rather taken the decision to spend a whole life in the service of democracy, so that it will win the war, everywhere, including the Middle-East.

The last trip to Libya gives us the opportunity to extract a piece of new knowledge. He now knows that he is following in the footsteps of a heroic father. Is it not that he also had the power to not want to please anyone, that he escaped from the horror of ordinary servility, purveyor of extraordinary massacres? But the strength of BHL lies in that he can demonstrate by action that this mass death produced both by science and capitalism is not unavoidable, that it does not occur when power takes hold of political function.

The first lesson of War without loving it is that it is possible to coin a responsible politics, on condition we give desire its place. The creation of democracy must therefore also take into consideration the eroticisation of logical time of a people. The second lesson we can retain from the Event, is the choice of destiny of the man of desire. BHL also agrees that beyond the first engagement in the second war, his father made another: to marry the woman he desired if he returned. Isn’t this, what made him return alive because that is right there the war without loving it? From a woman to war and back again, the cycle of desire closes. In the meantime, democracy prevails. The fact that an intellectual decides to become a friend of the real is exceptional. That is, without a doubt, what brings BHL close to Lacan. This book tells a story of responsibility. It thus deserves to be raised as an example and be transmitted to the greatest number.


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