Sunday, April 23, 2006
I have to write a paper and do a brief presentation on Michel Leiris this semester, so I picked up Manhood to refresh my memory (I'd read it in Frencha few years back). Michel Leiris takes autobiography to new and uncomfortable levels. Every hateful, shameful, wretched thought, each deviant and despicable act worth repression--nothing escapes his written confession. There are three immense volumes which follow, and which I've yet to read. Some day!
Leiris was briefly a Surrealist poet, and was also something of an archeologist/anthropologist. A firm grounding in Freud and a childhood steeped in classical literature give him ample symbolic tools with which to deconstruct his miserable early life. We get his dreams, his catastrophic attempts to lose his virginity, his detailed fetishistic feelings about Judith and Lucretia, and his symbolic imaginings about childhood injuries. Nothing is off-limits, from Leiris' first childhood woody, to jacking off and ejaculating on the stone altar at a Greek temple of Zeus as an adult, all the while imagining this act a sacrifical offering (this passage reminded me of Yukio Mishima whacking off for the first time before a painting of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian in Confessions of a Mask--my own adolescent explorations were far less adventuresome!).
Particularly interesting is the Afterword, wherein Leiris attempts to explain how a work of autobiography must be risky to the author in some respect in order to carry any true artistic merit. He uses the example of a bullfighter--if there were no chance for an impaling, matadors would be hard-pressed to find work because no audience would show up. Without the threat of a horn there is no risk, and with no risk, there's no art, and no benefit to the spectators. Leiris writes a horny text indeed.