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American Ghosts

Bernard-Henri Lévy remembers watching Trump’s inauguration with Philip Roth

by
Bernard-Henri Lévy
May 23, 2018
Library of Congress
Library of Congress

L’œuvre de Roth dit, au fond, son amour fou, total, de l’Amérique. Mais elle dit aussi combien cette Amérique est fragile, vulnérable à ses propres fantômes, en situation de vertige perpétuel. C’est cette ambivalence, cet amour anxieux, exigeant et parfois désespéré qui le distingue des autres tenants de la pastorale américaine – les Mailer, les Malamud, les Bellow. Et c’est elle qui donnait à Roth cette place si singulière dans le paysage de la littérature américaine et mondiale. Je me souviens de la journée que j’avais passée avec lui, le jour de l’investiture de Donald Trump. Nous avions regardé la cérémonie, en direct, sur CNN. Je l’observais à la dérobée. J’écoutais ses commentaires. Ce qui me frappait c’était le mélange, en lui, du dégoût, de la malice et de la satisfaction d’avoir, en romancier, prévu et décrit par avance tout cela. —Bernard-Henri Lévy

Roth’s work speaks, at heart, of his crazy, complete love for America. But it also says how fragile this America is, vulnerable to its own ghosts, in constant freefall. It’s that ambivalence, that anxious love, demanding and sometimes desperate, that distinguished him from the other writers of the American pastoral—Mailer, Malamud, Bellow. And its that love that gave Roth such a singular place in the landscape of American and world literature. I remember the day I spent with him, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. We watched the ceremony, live on CNN. I observed him surreptitiously. I listened to his commentary. What struck me was his mix of disgust, malice, and satisfaction, as a novelist, at having predicted and described it all in advance. —Bernard-Henri Lévy

***

Philip Roth died last night at age 85.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, activist, filmmaker, and author of more than 30 books including The Genius of Judaism, American Vertigo, Barbarism with a Human Face, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, and The Empire and the Five Kings. His new book, The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope, was published on October 25, 2021 by Yale University Press.

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