La Belle et la Bête
Of Pigs, Bad Literature, and DSK: Marcela Iacub’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’
Bernard-Henri Lévy on why a salacious new book by Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s former mistress is too cruel.
On the occasion of the publication in France of Marcela Iacub’s account of her 2012 affair with the former head of the International Monetary Fund, who was, before his arrest for assault in New York in May 2011, a presumed candidate for the French presidency.
I don’t like it when a person is compared to a pig.
You can say what you will, claim that it’s not an insult but a tribute, maintain, as does the author of this book, that the best part of a man is the untamed pig that slumbers inside him, but words are words, they are alive, they have a history, and this particular word has been abused too often by too many bastards (exhibit A: the New York Post headline, “The Pig,” which was seen around the world) to allow it to be reused so glibly.
I don’t like to see a man being hit when he’s down.
I don’t like it when you take hold of someone who is already destroyed, ridiculed, scorned by a growing number of his contemporaries all around the globe, someone who is powerless, defenseless, and then set out to finish him off.
Defenseless. That’s an important word. Everyone knew (especially those responsible for this machination) that a man treated thus, one who has sunk as low as he can go, a man pushed into a gutter that, in this case, is not even of his own making, would have no way to fight back and would be made out to seem not only a pig but a rat, which the author also asserts him to be. If he remains silent in the face of the verbal assault, that silence will be taken as consent, thus proving his monstrosity. If he protests, if he struggles, what is the reaction? If he shouts or even murmurs, despite the “lack of culture” the author imputes to him, that you don’t walk into a life as if into a bar, if he suggests that not even the worst criminal in the world deserves to be treated like this, what then? Ha! The monster’s armor is cracking. So maybe he was a little bit human after all. And the book will sell even better! While the noose tightens a little more around the pig’s neck. Meanwhile, the mob is happy because it has nothing to lose. It wins whatever happens. I don’t like that, either.
I don’t like the precedent that is set when a man, however public a personality he may be, is stripped of his last shred of privacy, robbed of what little he retains of intimacy, and then thrown to the dogs in the interest of commercial success—and that everyone seems to find this normal: we had been expecting Dodo la Saumure, the bordello owner whose book on the prostitution ring that has become known as the Carlton Affair had been announced, but now we see that Marcela Iacub has beat him in the race to the bookshelves. Shameful.
I don’t like this voyeurism we’re being invited to participate in, this collective lynching, this “experimental” rape in which major newspapers and magazines have been, and probably will continue to be, complicit. I don’t like it that I felt compelled to write this article.
I don’t like hearing thoroughly cynical, wholly disingenuous observations of the following sort: “Who says the pig in the book is actually DSK. Did you ever see his name? Didn’t we take care to erase it? Aren’t we clever?”
In other words, I don’t like it that petty calculation has been added to grand villainy, or that, even though the pig of Iacub’s account is described very clearly as a political figure whose path to the French presidency was blocked only by an incident at the Sofitel and a subsequent arrest at the New York airport, we all—including the judges who will hear the pig’s legal protest—are being taken for idiots who will swallow the disclaimer about any resemblance to any actual person living or dead and so on. Sure.
I don’t like the donkey kick delivered to the “immensely rich” and “ambitious” woman who, for having schemed to become the wife of a president, is supposedly the truly guilty party, the one responsible for everything—an idiotic portrayal and, for anyone who knows or has observed the woman in question, an obscene accusation.
I don’t like the fact that when “pig” and its variants cease to work, the author moves on to “horse” and “lapdog”: the “good horse” who bore the dream of a ruthless woman wielding a whip; the poodle led around on a leash, muzzled.
I don’t like romans à clef in which leaden clichés are arrayed alongside the all-too-obvious keys. In addition to the hackneyed image of the master of the universe mastered by his wife, there are the pages and pages of pop psychology about a man who did not want to be king, who yearned to escape a destiny set for him by another, a destiny that proved too much for him, a man who supposedly sold his soul “for money, grand houses, cars, servants, expensive shoes.”
I don’t like love stories in which the man “collapses” when he ejaculates, in which he then “appears dead,” and in which his partner, never having known “how wonderful it is to be a sow,” slips on “the sperm on the floor.”
I don’t like bad literature, and, though I won’t go so far as to say that good literature gives the writer a free pass, I am fairly sure that spouting clichés, conjuring up the “fantastic” and the “holy” to make up for a pitiful lack of imagination, and ending—as if to be sure that the entire spectrum of kitsch has been covered—with a scene of macabre cannibalism makes things decidedly worse.
I don’t like being a contemporary of all this gushing—and I don’t like it that literature, which I cherish, is being asked to put up the damage deposit for it.
Translated by Steven B. Kennedy