I really want to like Bernard-Henri Levy. He’s French. He has a sense of humor. And, for a philosopher, he dresses well. But his Atlantic-sponsored Tocqueville-replicating journey through America has not exactly been revelatory. This month, he hits Los Angeles and has dumb and pretentious things to say about us (subscription required for access):
A city is like a text, Roland Barthes once wrote.
Just as there is a language of dreams, so there is a language of cities, more or less well articulated, more or less elegant or legible.
I wonder, then, if the prototype of a city with a poorly developed language, the prototype of unintelligible, illegible discourse, isn’t Los Angeles.
For after all, what must be true for a city to be legible?
First, it has to have a center. But Los Angeles has no center.
No kidding? Haven’t heard that one before. Kevin Starr is nice enough to show Levy around, but il n’est pas impressed:
For an illegible city is also a city without a history.
An unintelligible city is a city whose historicity is nothing more than an ageless remorse.
And a post-historical city is, I fear, a city about which one can predict with some certainty that it will die.
Ooh, Levy called us post-historical. Snap!