cover image Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take On Each Other and the World

Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take On Each Other and the World

Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq, trans. from the French by Miriam Frendo and Frank Wyne, Random, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-8129-8078-3

Two of France's most polarizing writers give free rein to their intellectual preoccupations, caprices—and egos—as they spar, in a fiery exchange of letters, over Judaism, morality, political commitment, postcommunist Russia, and their own celebrity. Philosopher Lévy (Barbarism with a Human Face) and novelist Houellebecq (The Elementary Particles) draw on an array of sources for their discussions, such as Celine, Comte, Spinoza, and Hugo, but repeatedly throughout the book it is the correspondents themselves who emerge as the preferred subject matter. Both discuss at length their apparent vilification at the hands of the media and this self-absorption threatens to capsize more interesting discussions about writing and the relationship between art and life. (Still their mutual ribbing delights; Houellebecq to Lévy: "A philosopher without an original idea but with excellent contacts, you are, in addition, the creator behind the most preposterous film in the history of cinema.") Nonetheless, there is an undeniable pleasure in being privy to this conversation between these two outsize personalities. (Jan.)