The philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy has been a fixture on French television screens for decades. His commentary has been mocked, criticized, supported and lauded. Whether in writing, performing or speaking, he has no intention of slowing down.
B.H.L., as the French call him, published a new book, The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World, in February and now appears in a one-man play Looking for Europe. The play, an update of a show Lévy originally performed in Sarajevo more than a decade ago, will be performed in 22 cities across Europe.
Both the book and play assess the United States’ retreat as a global leader and examine the crumbling trans-Atlantic alliance between the United States and Europe. The tour ends in May, when the European Parliament elections begin.
Is there any city you are particularly looking forward to visiting?
All of them, but there is one that is particularly important to me: Gdansk, Poland. I chose it because of the mayor, who was assassinated there. Pawel Adamowicz is the one who invited me. I chose Gdansk because of him. I knew him well. His assassination is a heartbreaking tragedy and the performance there, for me, will be more than a performance. It will be a night of mourning and celebration of him.
When you travel, do you read, write, sleep or watch movies?
I do not live very differently when I travel and when I don’t, which means I do my duty. My duty is to read, to write and to fight.
Do you prefer to travel on planes or trains?
I like trains because I like the idea of feeling the distance. Planes abolish distance. It destroys the physical sense of covering the distance. The train, like the car, helps you to have the physical feeling of the materiality of the space. That is the most honest and exhilarating way to travel.
When you do take planes, do you use Wi-Fi?
One of the few advantages of planes was that, at last, you were cut from this universal communication. Now, with Wi-Fi, even the space of freedom from social networks is taken from you. This is a disaster.
Do you travel with books?
I travel with a lot of books. Too many. I so often broke my back with my bags full of books.
Wouldn’t putting them on an e-reader of some sort make it easier?
I have a Kindle but I am old school. I like the physical contact with the paper. I like the smell of the paper. I like to be able to devour the book, to take notes in the margin.
What kind of luggage are all those books travelling in – a backpack, a duffel, a rolling suitcase or something else?
Never a rolling suitcase. I have a feeling that the day someone will see me with rolling luggage it must mean that a bad period is starting for me. Anyone who would see me in the next weeks, months, years, decades, with a rolling suitcase should know that things are not going well for me. It’s self indulging. I have two big black leather bags of French design. Louis Vuitton. I can put my books in there and a few shirts in them. I am always dressed the same way – you know my white shirts – so it’s easy for me. And I travel with the current manuscript.
Carry-on or checked luggage?
I never check my luggage. I always have two or three bags on me. At least two. I have them with me because I’ve not the patience to wait for them because my books are too precious.
Where are your favourite places to travel to?
The places I discover. The biggest excitement for me is to discover a new place, a new country, a new rhythm in the air. The most exciting travel is always the travel of tomorrow.
What’s the most exciting trip you’ve been on in the last year?
I went to Brazil after the election of Bolsonaro, who is, to me, a fascist. I was happy to be there with the brave citizens of Brazil, who were democratically protesting and lamenting against the election of the stupid, brutal man. New York Times