(Here is Michael Norris's follow-up to an earlier post, Marcel Proust: Beyond the Madeleines.)
Reading the beginning of the second volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time is like slipping into a comfortable armchair in front of a blazing fire on a cold, damp November afternoon. As the story begins, we meet the Marquis de Norpois, a diplomat and colleague of the protagonist’s father. Sitting in our cozy chair, we are warmed and amused by Proust's sketch of this worldly, self-important ambassador, who talks in cliched diplomatic language, but nonetheless convinces the protagonist's father that it would be good for the young M. to go to the theatre and see the actress Berma in a production of Racine's Phedre. He also assures M.'s father that a career in letters would not be bad a bad thing for M. to pursue, thus saving our hero from the diplomatic future that his father had in mind for him. Now, our minds wander far above the constraints of a mere armchair. Guided by Proust's words, they drift into his world of dukes, duchesses and barons -- and in this volume particularly -- its young girls. The original English title was Within a Budding Grove, but newer translations carry a more literal and meaningful name: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. The hero is now an adolescent, and he experiences his first taste of the obsessive love that will soon engulf him.
And it is adolescence and especially adolescent love that serves as the main focus for this second volume. First, Marcel falls in love with Gilberte Swann, the lovely daughter of Swann and Odette, who is now Madame Swann. Swann has changed. He now cultivates relations with the low-level functionaries and bourgeoisie that populate Mme. Swann's salon with the same avidity he once reserved for the Guermantes and the Prince of Wales. Young M. tries to get an invitation to the Swann’s home through the good graces of M. de Norpois, but Norpois refuses (through malice?) to do what would have "given him so little trouble, and me so much joy". Eventually our young protagonist is invited to Gilberte's home, and becomes an intimate of the Swanns. He loves Gilberte intensely, but the more he loves her, the less interest she seems to have in him. Suddenly, inexplicably, he terminates the relationship, and refuses to see Gilberte anymore, although he still pays visits to Mme. Swann. And he suffers terribly from the end of the relationship, from the end of love. This is a theme that will repeat itself throughout the work. At the end of a love affair, the protagonist, as Swann did before him, envelopes himself in remorse and despair, and only time and habit (Proust’s word) will free him from the grips of the love that has died.
Eventually, external events save M. from his morose brooding over Gilberte. The family decides that it would be good for his health if he were to make a trip to the seaside town of Balbec. The hero, who is very sensitive emotionally, is at first disoriented by the strangeness of his hotel room and by the new people he encounters, but he recovers, and soon begins a summer idyll on the beach, ensconced in the comforts of the Grand Hotel. He is accompanied by his grandmother, an old-fashioned and practical lady, who believes in the benefits of fresh air, and who constantly quotes from the 18th century book of correspondence, The Letters of Madame de Sevigne. . The letters reveal the love of Madame Sevigne for her daughter, and mirrors the same love that M.’s grandmother has for her daughter, his mother. They then encounter the Marquise de Villeparisis, an old friend of his grandmother's, who drives them about the Norman countryside in her carriage and provides the protagonist with his first relationship with an aristocrat, albeit a less brilliant and more eccentric member of the nobility than those he will meet later on.
He also becomes friends with another member of the aristocracy, Robert de Saint-Loup, a soldier and relative of the Guermantes. Robert, despite his upbringing, is a leftist who reads extensively, and admires M. for his intellect. He also has his own Proustian love problem in the person of Rachel, a struggling young actress and former prostitute. M. calls her Rachel quand du seigneur (Rachel when from the lord) because he saw her once in a brothel and she reminded him of the character of Rachel in an opera by Halevy. At the time, M. could have had her for twenty francs, while Saint-Loup is now expending many times that amount to keep her. Their relationship mirrors that of Swann and Odette: Saint-Loup is hopelessly in love despite their difference in social class, while Rachel is constantly unfaithful to him.
Additionally, while mingling with this aristocratic group, Marcel has his first encounter with the strangely-behaved Baron de Charlus, who at certain times and places is a paragon of charm and politeness and at others is insolent and incredibly rude. The Baron will take an increasingly larger role as the tale progresses. He is perhaps the most bizarre and interesting of all Proust’s aristocratic creations.
Saint-Loup takes M. to marvelous dinners at a restaurant called Rivebelle, where they drink and eat, and where M. dreams of possessing the women he sees there. One evening at Rivebelle, they encounter the artist Elstir, who appeared in Swann's Way as the young painter known as Biche, a frequent visitor to the salon of the Verdurin's. He has now gained considerably in fame. Saint-Loup and M. write him a letter from their table, and he invites them to visit him at his studio.
The visit is postponed, however, because M. has again fallen in love. This time it is not one girl, but "a little band" of five or six attractive girls who go about together, and who M. tries to connect with, to no effect. He finally makes good on his visit to Elstir and finds, to his surprise, that Elstir knows the little band, and particularly their leader, Albertine Simonet. M., after an introduction from Elstir and several false starts finally gets to know the little band and becomes a member, walking with them happily on the cliffs above Balbec and picnicking by the sea. He is torn between Andree and Albertine as to which girl he loves the best, but as the novel moves forward, Albertine enters more and more into his life. This volume ends, however, on the discordant note of M. attempting to kiss Albertine while she is alone in a room at his hotel, and she rebuffs him.
Love is the thus the major theme of this volume, but another recurring Proustian theme is well illuminated here also. This is the idea that how we imagine something before we come to know it is often more beautiful or brilliant than its reality. Then when we experience the reality, we are disappointed. And sometimes, we reevaluate and come to a third conclusion. The classic example of this in the whole of In Search of Lost Time comes at the beginning of Young Girls in Flower. M. has wanted to see the actress Berma, and has dreamed of her performances for years. Her classic vehicle is the play Phedre by Racine, and the young protagonist has memorized every line from this play and imagined the brilliance of Berma's performance in each scene. Finally, through the urging of M. de Norpois, his parents allow him to attend the theatre and see Berma. But he is disappointed in her performance, which seems flat to him compared to what he had imagined. He comes home depressed. But in discussing the performance with Norpois, and reading a review in the papers, he realizes that the performance was truly brilliant, and that he has to consider art not only from the perspective of his imagination, but also that of the artist. Likewise, he pays a visit to the Church at Balbec, which he had again given a magnificent build-up in his mind, only to be disappointed with the real thing. But in talking about the Church later, with Elstir, he comes to realize the beauty in its carved figures that he had dismissed as rustic and rude. Through a tempering of his anticipation, and in discussions with artists such as Elstir, he begins to develop a nascent critical sense for art.
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ends with the end of the summer season. The weather is starting to become stormy and cold, and most of the other guest have left the Grand Hotel. The hero and his grandmother pack up their things and head back to Paris. Where more adventure awaits.
(Image of "Gilberte Swann Watching Marcel" from Resemblance: The Portraits by David Richardson.)
When I was young, I used to go to the public library and head straight for the "P" aisle in the fiction section. Then I would wander through the stacks until I came to Proust. I would gaze with awe at the seven volumes of the work that was called, at that time, Remembrance of Things Past. I would take a volume off the shelf, leaf through it, and put it back. The strange sounding titles, Swann's Way, Within a Budding Grove, The Guermantes Way, The Sweet Cheat Gone, seemed to me like the chronicle of some secret world; a world that I could experience if I just read the novel. However, I never checked out any of the books. The thought at the time of reading a novel that long seemed too daunting. I said to myself, someday I will read it. Someday.
We enter the grand, classical space that is the 92nd Street Y's Kaufmann Concert Hall. The orchestra seats are quickly filling. Two upholstered chairs occupy the stage. The facing chairs radiate a warm tangerine glow, an illusion sustained by strategic lighting and reinforced by the surrounding rich walnut paneling. A large screen behind the chairs continuously rotates listings for the upcoming PEN festival events. We are in the hands of professionals; already we know this will be a smoothly and intelligently-curated event.
Adam Gopnik, the interviewer for tonight's event, does not disappoint. He is well-informed on Nobel Laureate Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio's life and writings and the conversation flows without lapse as Gopnik gently questions the notoriously reclusive author whose English is accented but fluent. Gopnik begins on a light-hearted note, welcoming the writer whom, he says with a smile, comes to NYC from that well-known French outpost, Albuquerque. Le Clezio explains that he has been living in New Mexico for the past 10 years, having moved there after an extended residence in a central part of Mexico. Like many of his fellow Southwesterners, Le Clezio arrived in the United States by crossing the border.
This first exchange firmly establishes the conversation’s overall themes of colonization, creolization, brilliantly-lit landscapes, and border-crossing. Le Clezio elaborates on his continent-hopping saying, "I’m a Breton, from Brittany." He says that Bretons are poor like the Irish and so, like the Irish, they leave to travel the world. He is also a citizen of Mauritius, another place so small that residents make their way in the world by departing. Like many contemporary multicultural writers, Le Clezio alleges fidelity not to a specific nation but to the country of his imagination. And like Yasmina Khadra, interestingly, also an author who writes in French (who was at PEN World Voices two years ago), Le Clezio sees language as the only true place of belonging. Emphasizing his linguistic attachments, Le Clezio references the definitions of the words he eagerly sought out in the Encyclopedia Britannica of his youth: "For a long time, I thought writing would be an enumeration of words, of things ... Each word contained a world."
Watching Gopnik and Le Clezio interact on stage, I feel a bit of transnational vertigo of my own. In person, Le Clezio has the sharply carved features and stoic manner of an Easterner's stereotype of an inhabitant of the American West; more Sam Shepard, perhaps, than true cowboy, but a man of the "en plein air" -- outdoors -- nevertheless. In Le Clezio's enthusiastic embrace of J. D. Salinger, his kinship with non-Old World writers, his love of sun-etched landscapes, and his grounded earthiness, even his thick shoes and white socks, one imagines him perfectly at ease on a ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico (a reported origin of the Marlboro man) as on this New York City stage. The Philadelphia-born and Canadian-raised Gopnik, on the other hand, in his closely fitted dark suit, his precise questioning, and careful graciousness resembles nothing more than the European cosmopolite. Gopnik conducts the interview from the Paris salon; Le Clezio opens a window to the Great Outdoors.
In keeping with the image he presents, Le Clezio rejects the Parisian "nouveau roman" designation that his first novel The Interrogation attracted. He tells us that he identifies with the rebellious writers of the Jewish novel of the time and with freedom-seeking writers from the colonies such as Frantz Fanon and Aime Cesaire. Le Clezio's affinity is for an era of suspicion, not style. He never lived in Paris and was distrustful of a literature that wanted to deliver a strong message to the world. [At this point, Gopnik rather hilariously points out to the audience that the mints of which Le Clezio is partaking have a picture of members of the previous Administration and are labeled "indict-mints."] Trying to make sense for the American audience of Le Clezio’s apparent apolitical politicization, Gopnik asks the author if his is a humanism without a human being at the center? "I wish I could do that but I am a human being and everything I do comes from that," Le Clezio somewhat mystifyingly replies.
Additional clarity ensues when Le Clezio cites a memory from his youth of witnessing Africans walking in a chain gang on the road, slaves on their way to build a swimming pool for the District Office in Nigeria. "This is what I’m made of, these images, my family also, because I am from Mauritius ... I am from a slave holding colony ... I belong to the same culture as Faulkner. I have the same feelings of guilt, of compassion, of wanting these things to change."
Gopnik again addresses the apparent paradox: Le Clezio’s novels, Gopnik suggests, bear witness but not a message. The statement hangs, unanswered, though tacitly affirmed. What Gopnik suggests, a suggestion that Le Clezio appears to accept, makes sense. Narratively, however, complications abound. To bear witness is to come to grasp, if not to have already made decisions, on where one stands. Most of the writers that Le Clezio cites from Faulkner to Chamoiseau use language as a way to more fully embody the characters they are portraying, characters that are distinguished by their distinctive patois, their distinctive place, and the distinctive form of their story, yes, but finally characters that the writers struggled to make come alive for us as fully embodied beings, characters that act, characters that we readers must emotionally engage with if we are also to bear witness to humanity’s monstrousness -- and its promise.
Commentators often speak of an evolution in Le Clezio's writing, possibly most dramatically in the seventies and early eighties. Gopnik does not ask about this directly, but there is a rather rapid shift in the conversation to reading as a way of reaching -- and perhaps inhabiting -- the other. "Love," Le Clezio says, "is the only real dimension of the world." Just as quickly, we shift back to a discussion of the importance of landscape and language in his work.
"I am not a man of action," Le Clezio concludes. Many writers would profess the same, but their novels might convey something quite different. Suddenly the two chairs on the stage appear a bit lonely and the air in this Upper East Side salon a bit stifling. These abstract questions of form, place, image and language, questions that influenced Le Clezio's early novels, are the questions that many of us grew up with. And the Nobel Laureate has brilliantly carved out a novel form, set of images, and language as a response to them. But one wonders if this attentive audience isn’t already looking forward to the next generation's rebellion, a rebellion that will not draw such a bright line between word and act, a rebellion that will not shy away from affirmation, at least an affirmation of truth as they can make sense of it.
It’s a line that Le Clezio himself seems to have increasingly erased over the course of his prolific career. "I’m a writer. I now work in closed places. I write at a plain table in Albuquerque." the author says. There he imagines what it feels like as a bomb 3-4 times the weight of the bombs that fell near his grandmother’s house, fall near the houses of civilians today. As more of his later works are translated, hopefully we will be able to more easily grasp the true fullness of this brilliant writer’s trajectory.
1. Author J. G. Ballard has died.
2. Pankaj Mishra is angry about the "Tandoori-Chickenisation of the literary palate in the west", or the "vastly increased preference for 'ethnic' literature among the primary consumers of literary fiction: the book-buying public of western Europe and North America." As an enthusiast for sites like Words Without Borders and festivals like PEN World Voices, I suppose I should feel chastened, but I don't. I seek out international literature because it's my own literature. Who is Pankaj Mishra to tell me that I might not have more in common with, say, Alain Mabanckou or Indra Sinha or Wen Zhu than I do with the guy who lives next door? He may as well tell me to stop eating Indian food (because I don't really understand it). A clever article, but in the end it's a familiar complaint and a cheap shot.
3, Don Gillmor investigates the history of Harlequin romances.
4. Jill Lepore on Edgar Allan Poe, whose work had "this virtuosic, showy, lilting, and slightly wilting quality, like a peony just past bloom".
5. A Japanese author invokes Poe with a pseudonym: Edogawa Rampo.
6. About Last Night locates a true record of a popular Louis Armstrong myth.
6. Updike on Africa.
7. William Patrick Wend on N. Katherine Hayles' Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary.
8. Emma Bovary, c'est online.
9. Alleged Internet-hater Andrew Keen is just a big softie. His latest article suggests that "blogs are dead" but then quickly devolves into a rundown of some exciting new WordPress real-time/social features. Even in this new mini-era of Twitter, the only thing blogs are dying of is popularity.
10. TechCrunch says web innovators should band together and stop the hype cycle. I agree, but we have a better chance of solving global warming.
11. LitKicks poet Mickey Z. will be participating in "Earth: A Wake up Call for Obama Nation" in Washington DC on April 25.
1. The e-book scene (also known as the d-book scene, if you read Booksquare) is buzzing again with news of Amazon's new iPhone Kindle application, which allows readers to enjoy the considerable benefits of the Kindle store without buying a bulky and expensive dedicated device.
Does this mean I'm going to brag yet again that I was among the first to attempt to point Amazon in this exact direction, even though everybody thought I was crazy at the time? Yes, it certainly does. It also means that I can stop beefing with Amazon.com, a company I used to like until Jeff Bezos started trying to be Steve Jobs. Some will still beef with Amazon/Kindle over DRM, but there's no doubt Amazon is moving in the right direction by allowing Kindle books to run on non-Amazon devices.
Meanwhile, the dumb, dumb articles about how e-books are ruining everything just keep coming (this one via Frank, who shares my derision). What is wrong with these people? At least one minor miracle takes place within Sven Birkerts piece: he doesn't tell us he loves the way books smell.
2. Like Mark Sarvas, I used to mill around the Librarie de France bookstore in Rockefeller Center (though unlike Mark Sarvas, I don't read French). This small store was a nice worldly touch for midtown Manhattan and I'm very sorry to hear that it will be closing this
3. Was Ludwig Wittgenstein really the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century? I think he was, assuming that William James belongs to the 19th Century, and many others think so too.
4. Via Largehearted Boy, a long list of fictional computers.
5. How Jeff Kinney and his Wimpy Kid made it big.
6. Roxana Robinson, inspired by a mockingbird's call.
7. Literature as an alternative to traditional incarceration.
8. NPR on Carlo Collodi's original Pinocchio. And let's also pay good attention to Kanye's personal spin on Collodi's tale.
9. I do not have high hopes for a movie based on Beverly Cleary's Ramona The Pest, one of the books I loved most as a kid. What do you want to bet they'll screw up the big Halloween parade scene and leave out the Q's with the cat tails?
10. Jamelah gets framed.
11. Another Bret Easton Ellis movie is heading our way.
Diane Kurys has directed a film biography of rebellious French writer Francoise Sagan, titled simply Sagan. Perhaps inspired by the success of La Vie En Rose, a recent biopic of Edith Piaf, the new film stars Sylvie Testud (who played Piaf’s friend in La Vie en Rose), and follows the story of Francoise Sagan from the publication of her first book to her final days in Normandy.
Francoise Quoirez –- she took the nom de plume Sagan after the Princesse de Sagan, a character in Marcel Proust's A La Recherche du Temps Perdu –- grew up in a moneyed family, first in Lyon, and then in Paris. An indifferent student, she was nonetheless fascinated by literature. Her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, was published when she was barely nineteen years old. Bonjour Tristesse caused an immediate scandal in France, but despite the outrage of the bourgeoisie it climbed to the top of the bestseller lists. Sagan became a fixture on the French literary scene, known for her reckless lifestyle: drinking, drugs, fast sports cars, and gambling, and for her advocacy of sexual freedom in contrast to the traditional mores of France.
This bookish comedy has been a recent literary sensation in France, and I imagine it will continue to find satisfied readers around the world. It's about Renee, an elderly concierge in an expensive Paris apartment who lives in a dowdy servant's nest, answering to insufferable rich people and carefully maintaining her secret: she is a brilliant self-taught intellectual, smarter than any of the educated people who surround her.
This fact comes out delightfully in an early sequence when she lets a clever remark about Karl Marx slip to an obnoxious young gentleman, then quickly takes it back because, she realizes, she must maintain her peasant aura in order to keep her job. It's a nifty concept for a book, though I began to enjoy the story less when different characters from the apartment building took turns in the spotlight. Another main character is the angst ridden teenager Paloma, who despises her rich parents and has vague ideas of committing an act of terrorism to shake up her chic neighborhood. I like Paloma the intellectual brat, but not as much as I like Renee the intellectual servant. Renee is a great character (I can imagine any number of great actresses in the role) whose slovenly philosophical glory reminds me a bit of the rat "Firmin" in the book Firmin by Sam Savage.
(Interestingly, I understand Firmin has also recently become a sensation in Europe. This was also a Lit-Blog Co-op selection. I don't know what this current explosion of interest in meta-literary tragicomedy means, but it must be a good sign.)
Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball
This sad story about a suicidal misfit is related entirely via a fictional archive of unsent letters, notes and clippings gathered by poor Jonathan Bender before he kills himself. The material is organized chronologically from 1966 to 1999, and through the fragmented (and suspect) narrative we discover that this character's father was brutal and incapable of love, and that his mother was weak and scatter-brained. We watch him grow into a semi-cool teenager who learns how to love women and find work (improbably, as a TV weatherman) but the letters prove the character to be frequently out of touch with reality, and hiding it all too well. His good fortune slips away by his early thirties, and the book ends abruptly when he ends his life.
I'm not sure if I'm satisfied by this story. At times Michael Kimball's approach seems to veer towards McSweeney-esque deadpan humor, and one of the back cover blurbs describes this book's ability to make you "laugh so hard". But there isn't much laughter here, and I am not sure whether or not I am supposed to think that the main character suffers from schizophrenia, or if he is supposed to have been destroyed by his father, or if he is simply meant to be a self-pitying asshole whose problems are his own fault. All three things seem only half true, because the character does not make as vivid an impression as I would like in a novel like this. I admire the experiment Michael Kimball attempts here, though.
Strange Harbors edited by John Biguenet and Sidney Wade
This is a beautiful, artistically packaged volume of selected international short prose pieces and poems, published with original language text and English translation facing each other on every page. Edith Grossman is a featured translator in this issue, and notable contributions by Emmanuel Moses, Ewa Lipska, Ricardas Gavelis and Murathan Mungan. It's a treat to look at the original languages in their distinctive typefaces while experiencing each work: Romanian, Lithuanian, Catalan, Vietnamese, Hebrew, Bengali, French, Turkish, Spanish, Arabic, Polish, Latvian, Tagalog. This anthology veers towards enigmatic short works, making the book easy to browse and enjoy.
1. Art Spiegelman's new comic autobiography Breakdowns is out and looks great. I don't have room for the fairly gigantic book in my apartment, so I'll have to read it at Barnes and Noble. You'll find me in the Graphic Novels aisle.
2. Dan Green went and called Fyodor Dostoevsky "a terrible writer" over at his Reading Experience blog, prompting James Wood and many others to respond. Good stuff all around, though it gets a bit unhinged as these discussions often do. Based on my scoresheet, James Wood (in defense of Dostoevsky's greatness) wins the argument by a wide margin. Admittedly not a hard argument to win.
3. Why Are Literary Readings So Excruciatingly Bad? Personally, I don't think they have to be. My recipe for a good reading: add some poetry, some music and a lot of spontaneity and everybody will have a good time.
4. First Dan Green calls Dostoevsky a "terrible writer" and now A. N. Wilson is dismissing Jean-Paul Sartre as a quaint relic? Frank Wilson takes a few punches too ("Good riddance") but I'm going to stand up for old Wall-Eyes. I do agree with both Wilson brothers (not really brothers, I don't think) that Sartre can be a horribly boring writer, and that his novel Nausea is pretentious. However, his play No Exit (source of the line "Hell is other people") stands the test of time and remains widely read. The diagrammatic comedy about Hell with cheap French furniture has also influenced many of our best playwrights, including Harold Pinter, David Mamet, Tom Stoppard and Peter Shaffer. Sartre's brisk and mercifully short autobiography The Words also remains a popular read.
It's also not true, as A. N. Wilson suggests, that Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophy is not taken seriously. His Marxism was extreme and does not weather well today, but his psychology, his observations on relational ethics, phenomenology, consciousness and race and gender remain highly respected among almost all serious readers of philosophy. He retains his standing among the top Existentialist thinkers, alongside Kierkegaard and Nietzsche on many readers' lists.
5. We'll miss Paul Newman (and my favorite Paul Newman movie has got to be The Sting). I remember John Cassady telling me that Paul Newman was always his choice to play his father Neal in any On The Road movie.
6. Every once in a while, Gawker does something really good. Here's 20 Movies About the First Great Depression To Watch During the Sequel. This would actually make an amazing film festival and I wish Gawker would sponsor it. Points for including Ironweed.
7. And while we're hanging around Gawker ... does the combination of this and this suggest a modest downsizing at the NY Times Book Review?
8. Maud Newton in Oxford with a dictionary.
9. Tomorrow evening will bring the newest installment of our October exercise in literary/political analysis, the Big Thinking series. Our special guest will be either David Hume or Count Leo Tolstoy -- we're not yet sure which one, and we hope they don't stand us up like John McCain did to David Letterman.
10. Phish is reuniting! The last time I saw them was in 2002, and they did seem creatively exhausted at the time. Hopefully the time apart has given these four highly inventive musicians new angles to explore.
Hmm ... Obama as President, Phish back on tour and, get this, Axl's really going to release the new album. Maybe 2009 won't be so bad.
So let’s say you wanted to read something by the 2008 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. You might go to Amazon, where you’d find that, aside from four books published by noncommercial presses -- including only two of his novels, Wandering Star, published by Curbstone Press in 2004, and Onitsha, published by Bison Books in 1997, along with The Round, and Other Cold, Hard Facts, a collection of stories published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2003 -- there’s almost nothing available in the US.
Well, let's not forget Words Without Borders!
Slavoj Zizek, a furry and fiery "rockstar philosopher" from Slovenia who calls himself a Communist and rages at the hypocrisy of wealthy American liberals, appeared in a raucous debate at the New York Public Library last night. Zizek's opposite partner was French activist and intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, who typically argues for idealistic solutions and pragmatic steps towards a more peaceful world.
Bernard-Henri Levy can usually command a stage by himself (he made a strong impression on me earlier this year in a presentation about Darfur with Mia Farrow). But Slavoj Zizek was the bigger draw for last night's crowd, and Zizek's loud, passionate arguments frequently threw Levy into the role of straight man. Bounding with energy, sputtering, shouting and pointing fingers in a way that is not often seen at polite literary panel discussions, Zizek kept the conversation so riveting and fast-moving that moderator Paul Holdengraber could not bear to break in to attend to questions from the crowd.