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Hallier was the son of World War I French General André Hallier. Jean-Edern was born in 1936 and lost an eye during the siege of Budapest, where his father was on diplomatic posting. While the Hallier family has ancient Breton roots on his father's side, Jean-Edern later (L'évangile du fou) claimed his mothers' Alsatian and Jewish heritage.
Hallier, returning to France after World War II, first studied at the Pierre-qui-vire convent and then at a Paris lycée and at Oxford. He travelled extensively, even getting shipwrecked in the Persian gulf, and in 1960 founded the literary review Tel Quel with Philippe Sollers. Three years later he published his first novel, "Les Aventures d'une jeune fille" (A young lady's adventures). He then worked as a publisher with Plon and finished his second novel, "Le Grand écrivain" (The Great Author), in 1967.
Deeply stirred by the 1968 student riots in Paris, he disclosed his then leftist views in the partly autobiographical La Cause des peuples (1972), plunged into politics full-time and started the first, leftist version of his paper, L'Idiot international, partly funded at first by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
He traveled to Chile after Pinochet's 1973 coup, with funds gathered by Régis Debray which were to be handed out to the Chilean resistance. However, he returned to Paris without the money and without having handed it to the resistance, claiming he had bought 400.000 hectares in the Amazon Basin to provide shelter for the future Chilean exiles. He progressively broke up with the left-wing after this event. He also broke with the nouveau roman in 1974 with Chagrins d'amour.
He was suspected of simulating his own kidnapping in 1982, and being behind a bombing in Régis Debray's building (which caused no casualties), a suspicion recently confirmed by Régis Debray and Gilles Ménage, who worked for President François Mitterrand in the Elysée cell involved in the wiretap scandal. He also committed, it was alleged, less serious "attacks", such as setting fire to Françoise Mallet-Joris's doormat. Mallet-Joris was one of the Goncourt jury, and the fire was meant as a protest against the way literary prizes were awarded.
Close for a time to François Mitterrand, who successfully ran for President in 1981 for the Socialist Party (PS), he later opposed him, threatening to reveal the existence of his illegitimate daughter Mazarine Pingeot. From the moment he threatened to publish a pamphlet on Mitterrand in 1985, he was closely watched by the special cell in the Elysée Palace in an attempt to block the revelation of Mazarine's existence. Hallier's telephone conversations were continually eavesdropped on by the Elysée palace from 1985 onward. He and any potential publisher were hounded by tax inspectors dispatched to instill the fear of "God" (Mitterrand's nickname) into them, his apartment was burned down, etc. To this day it is very difficult to obtain one of Hallier's books anywhere but in a few independent libraries.
In 1991, L'Idiot international was one of the French newspapers which opposed participation to the Gulf War, and Jean-Edern Hallier went to Iraq to cover the hostilities. He had earlier published Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988), and personally delivered a copy of the book to the Iranian embassy in Paris  He was attacked in defamation for articles published in L'Idiot international by Jack Lang and others. He never defended himself during the trials, and never went in Appeal Court. He had to auction off his flat in order to pay damages to Bernard Tapie who had successfully charged him with defamation.
He died, supposedly of a heart attack, in Deauville in 1997, leaving a son.
His writing style was clear, elegant, fluid, precise and classical - even erudite; his panache and talent, combined with a gift for imaginative thunderbolts and a penchant for a good fight, made him into the bête noire (the black sheep) of the literary establishment. His vengeful attacks (he was said to have been refused a government appointment after the Socialist electoral victory of 1981) were all the more devastating as they came from an acclaimed writer with an unerring flair for talent. He was the first to spot Michel Houellebecq) whom he recruited to contribute to his popular and opinionated newspaper L'Idiot International.
Works by Jean-Edern Hallier
- Les Aventures d'une jeune fille, Seuil, 1963:
- Le Grand écrivain, Seuil, 1967;
- La Cause des peuples, Seuil, 1972;
- Chagrin d'amour, Editions Libres-Hallier, 1974;
- Le Premier qui dort réveille l'autre, Le Sagittaire, 1977;
- Chaque matin qui se lève est une leçon de courage, Editions Libres-Hallier, 1978;
- Lettre ouverte au colin froid (a pamphlet against then-president Giscard d'Estaing), Albin Michel, 1978;
- Un barbare en Asie du Sud-Est, Editions Néo, 1980;
- Fin de siècle, Albin Michel, 1980;
Works about Jean-Edern Hallier
- Carré d'Art : Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, Lord Byron, Salvador Dalí, Jean-Edern Hallier, Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Anagramme Editions, 2008. ISBN 2-35035-189-6