DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Edouard Levé Autoportrait (2012) *

* (restored)

 

‘It is inevitable that we spend the majority of our time thinking about ourselves, but what kinds of thoughts do we think? Our tendency, I would argue, is for the repetitive and the haphazard; we reflect on those aspects of ourselves that come to mind most commonly—the foods we like to eat, what we think of the daily commute, how we would prefer to make love—and we reflect on those things that occasion forces us to—the trials and strong experiences that we cannot help but break apart within the crucible of our minds. This way of considering self is not limited to our real lives. In the realm of the imagination, that of great works of literature, the protagonists’ thoughts tend to stick to a few worn paths, leaving entire modes of experience that are never described. We know what Leopold Bloom thinks when on the toilet, but what of those many parts of life that he never visits in his one Dublin day? Of those things, which make up the great majority of Bloom’s life, Ulysses is silent.

Autoportrait by Edouard Levé is notable for attempting to say all the things about a person that are not usually said. The book is simply a series of declarative sentences that lasts for 117 pages. The sentences are all ostensibly about Levé himself; they lack any discernable order and they are contained within one book-length paragraph. They seem to include every genre of thing that could be said about a person, ranging from the factual (“I have never filed a complaint with the police.”) to the oddly pointless (“I do not foresee making love with an animal.”) to the philosophical (“I wonder whether the landscape is shaped by the road, or the road by the landscape.”) to the bizarre (“On the Internet I become telepathic.”) to the psychoanalytic (“Whether it’s because I was tired of looking at them, or for lack of space, I felt a great relief when I burned my paintings.”) to the comic and confessional: “On the street I checked my watch while I was holding a can of Coke in my left hand, I poured part of it down my pants, by chance nobody saw, I have told no one.” Throughout, Levé touches on more topics than we are conditioned to expect from a single book: childhood, politics, sex, art, death, depression, fears, hopes, reading, walking, nature, sartorial preferences, Spanish cafes, scruples about talking too much, rubber boots, the effect of a cane on one’s appearance, and the fear that one’s vocabulary is shrinking are just a small number of the topics included. In fact, the book’s exceptionally mercurial demeanor means that with nearly every sentence Autoportrait shifts to a new facet of life.

‘To structure a book without structure is, of course, to invite accusations of bad faith. But the totality of Levé’s oeuvre convinces that his use of chaos is not out of laziness or obstinacy but is rather an expression of some deeper logic. Levé was both a writer and a photographer, and all of his written and photographic books are made in the way that Autoportrait is made: without form, in rigorous adherence to conceits that Levé attempts to exhaust. Thus his previously translated work, Suicide, a book about a man’s suicide, is written in what he calls a “stochastic” order, “like picking marbles out of a bag.” Narrated by a friend of the suicide, the book seems to simply exhaust all that the narrator knows of his deceased chum. Autoportrait similarly exhausts all that Levé can say about himself, or, at least, all that he can say for the purposes of this self-portrait.

‘As with Suicide, the prose in Autoportrait is so clean and generally immaculate that when Levé does misplace a word, it jars. (As Jan Steyn did with Suicide, here translator Loren Stein has done Levé a true service; one wonders which homophone for Steyn/Stein will bring Levé’s third book into English.) The book gives the pleasure of aphorism, not so much for the content (though often that is the case as well) as for the rigid way the sentences snap together, leaving behind a sensation of inevitability. Stein is to be given great credit for economical phrasings that are pulled satisfyingly taut by the weight of their last word. Levé’s musings have an odd power to inspire self-examination; sentences like “I remember what people tell me better than what I said” are powerful invitations to consider one’s own practices. Throughout, the book conveys a pleasing air of levity and whimsicality, perhaps simply for the forthrightness of the prose, no matter whether it discusses trivial traits or life-and-death questions.

‘As good as the sentences are individually, how do they fit together? Pointillism is a word frequently associated with Levé’s prose (a characterization encouraged by the two covers of his English-language translations, both taken from Levé’s illustrations of himself). It’s not a bad word to use with his work. Each sentence feels like its own little dab of semantics, independent of the surrounding sentences though also related in some murky way that should be grasped if we could get far enough away from the text. This sense solid overall construction is abetted by the titles of Levé’s four prose works, which are each single, solid words that imply some object of study that they amount to: “self-portrait,” “suicide,” “works,” and “newspaper.” At very rare times the text even seems to indicate something about itself: “I am making an effort to specialize in me,” Levé tells us out of nowhere on page 81. At other times the text agglutinates quite magnificently, as in this stretch:

‘I will never know how many books I have read. Raymond Roussel, Charles Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Antonio Tabucchi, André Breton, Oliver Cadiot, Jorge Luis Borges, Andy Warhol, Gertrude Stein, Ghérasim Luca, Georges Perec, Jacques Roubaud, Joe Brainard, Roberto Juarroz, Guy Debord, Fernando Pessoa, Jack Kerouac, La Rouchefoucauld, Baltasar Gracian, Roland Barthes, Walt Whitman, Nathalie Quintane, the Bible, and Bret Easton Ellis all matter to me. I have read less of the Bible than of Marcel Proust. I prefer Nathalie Quintane to Baltasar. Guy Debord matters more to me than Roland Barthes. Roberto Juarroz makes me laugh more than Andy Warhol. Jack Keuroac makes me want to live more than Charles Baudelaire. La Rochefoucauld depresses me less than Bret Easton Ellis. Olivier Cadiot cheers me up more than André Breton. Joe Brainard is less affirmative than Walt Whitman. Raymond Roussel surprises me more than Baltasar Gracian, but Baltasar Gracian makes me more intelligent. Gertrude Stein writes texts more nonsensical than those of Jorge Luis Borges. I read Bret Easton Ellis more easily on the train than Raymond Roussel. I know Jacques Roubaud less well than Georges Perec. Ghérasim Luca is the most full of despair. I don’t see the connection between Alain Robbe-Grillet and Antonio Tabucchi. When I make lists of names, I dread the ones I forget.

‘I like how these sentences glow with the heat of thought, as though Levé wrote them all down in a fit. They stand out as a little tangle of thought, a sudden desire to pin down something that remains at arm’s length. Although this list tells us surprisingly little that we can grab on to as fact, what it most connotes is a sensation that Levé has both barely begun to exhaust a subject and said all that he wants to say about it. It is a sensation felt throughout Autoportrait. Levé’s portrait ultimately points us not to him as a person so much as the limits of what a portrait can express, and why we have generally chosen paint ourselves into certain cherished forms.

‘By breaking out of these forms and remaining silent on his choice to do so, Levé forces us to take on the role of ethnologist. This is where Autoportrait most strongly resembles graphic art. All points of entry to the text are equally valid; the text feels that it is happening all at the same time, instead of passing through time as the book is read from front to back. It doesn’t recruit a reader’s intellect in the sense of most challenging literature—which requires readers to fill out subtleties of plot, social interaction, and occasionally grammar—it asks the reader to say what is beneath the slick surface of each sentence.

‘Such a form will likely make many readers uncomfortable, as it entirely ignores those requirements asked of long works of prose. Its apparent simplicity also invites the accusation that anyone could make a similar book. To these remarks I have only one good response: the book proved far more engrossing than most books I have read this year, and it has given rise to far more thought and discussion. As a writer and an artist Levé constantly upended expectations with the simplest of gestures, as he has done here. Autoportrait is another small gem from a writer of great talent and originality.’ — Scott Esposito, The Millions

 

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Further

Edouard Leve @ Dalkey Archive Press
Edouard Leve @ Editions POL
‘Happiness, Sadness, Death’
‘How Works Works’
Edouard Leve @ goodreads
‘533 Ideas: The conceptual, playful, maddening books of Édouard Levé’
‘On reading Edouard Levé’s Suicide’
‘Reconstitutions D’un Journal: Sur Edouard Leve’
‘The Death of Sophistication: A Review of Edouard Levé’s Autoportrait’
’25 Points: Autoportrait’
‘Suicide’ reviewed @ Bookworm
‘The Intentional Fallacy and Edouard Leve’s Suicide’
‘I can’t help wondering how Édouard Levé spent his last days.’
Buy ‘Autoportrait’

 

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Extras


Edouard Levé reads from “Oeuvres”


Hervé Loevenbruck at EDOUARD LEVE exhibit


Edouard Levé au MAC


PERFORMANCE ” OEUVRES ” D’APRES EDOUARD LEVE

 

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Photography

‘Before Suicide, Levé was better known as a conceptual photographer than a writer. His photographs were often composed scenes that were not as transparent as their titles would suggest, as in his collection Pornography in which models, fully clothed, contort into sexual positions, or his collection Rugby, a series of photographs of men in business attire playing the titular sport. In both, the photos represent an action but are not the real thing. As Jan Steyn points out in the Afterward to Suicide: “We cannot see such images and naively believe in the objective realism to which photography all too easily lays claim: we no longer take such photos to show the truth.”’ — Jason DeYoung

 

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Interview with Jan Steyn
translator of Levé’s Suicide

 

Scott Esposito: Could you give us some sense of Edouard Levé the writer and artist? Obviously the fact of him committing suicide 10 days after handing in this manuscript makes a great lede, but it shouldn’t overshadow his photographic/literary endeavors. As I understand them, there’s a remarkable unity there, and they’re all very interesting.

Jan Steyn: I was one of the few readers of Suicide who didn’t know about the author’s own decision to end his life before reading the book. Suicide is quite shocking even without this back story, not least because it is written in the second person, addressed to “you,” the friend who committed suicide.

Levé left us a small, distinguished, body of work: Oeuvres (2002), Journal (2004), Autoportrait (2005), Suicide (2008), and his photographs. I think you are right to point to the “unity” of these works. Levé did not start off as a writer and photographer. He attended a prestigious business school and then tried his hand at painting first. But I think all his subsequent work shares an aesthetic with, and are (sometimes quite explicitly) announced by, Oeuvres. That book consists of a numbered list of 533 projects, some of which Levé went on to undertake. It is as if he sat down and decided, “This is the kind of work I want to do,” and then made a meta-work out of this list and, in a recursive gesture, added the meta-work to the list.

None of his books, not even Suicide, delivers a straight-up narrative with a beginning, middle and end. They are frequently compared to pointillist paintings, but perhaps it would be more useful to compare them to his own photographic series: a sequence of similar but discrete elements that add up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Autoportrait consists of a long list of facts about the author recounted in no apparent order; the narrator of Suicide remembers his friend ‘at random’; the works in Oeuvres could be described in any sequence; the stories in Journal are only arranged by which section of the newspaper they would appear in. Each fact, memory, work or newspaper article is self-contained, but each also helps build a picture of the author, the dead friend, the artist or the newspaper (and hence the current state of the world).

SE: How did you discover Suicide?

JS: I first read Suicide in 2009. I had just finished my translation of Alix’s Journal and was casting about for my next project. The good folks at Dalkey suggested I take a look at some of the French books they were considering. Suicide was one of these. I read it in one sitting. I immediately knew this book merited translation and wanted to be the one to do it.

SE: Levé himself describes the structure of Suicide in the pages of the book; in your translation, he says that it is composed of “stochastic details, like picking marbles out of a bag.” While I see a lot of truth to that statement, I thought it was somewhat belied by the suicide itself, which has an uncanny power to impose a narrative on a life, and which I thought was imposing a kind of order on the book. Your thoughts?

JS: I would sooner say the suicide imposes a meaning than a narrative on life. Far from imposing an order on the book, it is the element that allows the book to be episodic while still having an undeniable coherence.

The narrator uses the marble metaphor to describe the way that he remembers his dead friend: not in a coherent narrative with a beginning, middle and end, but in fragments that come to him in no discernible order. This metaphor could certainly be extended to the composition of the book, Suicide, but only if we also extend what it would mean to “remember” someone. For much of what is recounted in Suicide, the narrator isn’t himself present as a witness and is inventing as much as he is remembering. Perhaps memory always entails an element of invention, but at times he recounts in detail entire episodes that he could only have had the scantest evidence for.

That said, there are two things about the ordering of Suicide that are obviously not “stochastic.” It begins with the scene of the suicide itself, and it ends with a poem, not by the narrator, but by the dead friend. Only after introducing the suicide itself can the narrator flit between the years before and the years after his friend’s death knowing that each episode is tied to this first one. And only at the very end, outside the stream of the narrator’s memory and invention, do we get the (in my opinion rather anticlimactic) poem that gives us the voice of the friend.

SE: I’ve read Levé described as a follower of Oulipo, and certainly the influence comes out in Suicide. Do you know what (if any) was his relationship to the group?

JS: I am regrettably ignorant of Levé’s biography outside of what is publicly available. The Oulipoian influence on him is clear from the work itself though. He starts of Autoportrait with a reference to Perec, who of course also wrote a novel in the second person. Each of Levé’s works, both literary and photographic, exercises the formal limitations Oulipo is known for. But I’m afraid I don’t know if he attended meetings or had friends in the Oulipo.

SE: Can you tell us anything about Levé’s death? I’ve read that he had contemplated suicide for at least a year before writing Suicide, and that he had even constructed a mock-up of himself being hanged (his eventual mode of suicide) in order to photograph it. [Note: in addition to being an author, Levé was an equally successful and innovative photographer.]

JS: I’ve read the same things you have, and I don’t know any more. In a way, I’m not sure that I want to know more either. I completely understand why the reception of the book has been determined by the author’s suicide, which does cast quite a different light on it. But my fear is that it distracts from the book. I agonized over whether I should even mention Levé’s suicide in my foreword. Eventually I decided to mention it, but to go with an afterword: a gesture that was completely wasted since the blurb on the back (not by me) asserts that the book must be read as a kind of suicide note.

SE: I’d like to get a sense of the translation challenges involved in this book. This will be hard to describe to someone who hasn’t read the book, but the feeling of precision to Levé’s language is intense–I’ve read that he was a perfectionist, but that doesn’t begin to describe the sheer sense of precision that comes across in your translation. As I read, I felt that this sensation reaches a high point in the poetry at the end of the book, where the lines can be as short as 3 or 4 words yet communicate much subtlety and meaning through their arrangement and word choice.What was your experience translating it?

JS: You are right that Levé’s language is usually clinically precise. But there are exceptions, passages that have a slightly out-of-control romantic feel. I am thinking of the passage where the narrator recalls “you” riding on horseback through a thunderstorm. My guiding principle throughout was to avoid the temptation to “improve” Levé’s prose or to try to make it more consistent. A translator is not an editor.

The poem was especially tricky, partly because, as the old saw goes, poetry is that which is untranslatable, but also because of the form of this particular poem. In my translation, nearly every line ends with the word “me,” which is not the case in the French. What I hoped to retain was the incantatory rhythm of repe
tition and near-repetition. That and the precision of meaning.

SE: One final question: Obviously the facts surrounding this book are going to color the way people look at it, but as I read it for myself I was struck by how easy it was to let go of all that. It didn’t feel like a suicide note, or an expression of depression, or anything like that so much as an enigma. I would say that it wasn’t a book about suicide so much as an art object with suicide as its theme. What is your impression of what this book is “about,” or, rather, what kind of a reading of this book would you give?

JS: I like the idea that Suicide is an “enigma,” and I certainly prefer that to anything as reductive as the idea that Suicide is a straightforward suicide note. And, like you, I prefer thinking of it as a work, to thinking of it as an explanation. It is a question, not an answer.

Yet Levé’s work, especially Autoportrait, actively thematizes the relation between the artwork and the life (and death) of the author. So it is not surprising that people look to the details of Levé’s life, and death, for an explanation. This need to find an explanation is not something external to the work but rather produced by the work itself. I think of it more as a case of art spilling out into life than of life contaminating the purity of the artwork. In as far as Suicide is a good enigma, it should leave its readers puzzled, the way the wife, mother, father and friends of the ‘you’ character are left puzzled.

If Suicide is an enigma, it is not because it is in any way murky or obscure in its treatment of its topic. Quite the contrary. It gets its force as an enigma from the clarity of its prose and its unblinking narrator.

But you are asking me to interpret the book, or to give you a reading, which I suppose I could do, but not as a translator. My role as translator is the opposite one. I do not pair down or exclude possible meanings. I try to keep all the possible “solutions,” even those which would ultimately prove false solutions, alive within the English text. I am the guardian of the enigma. The sphinx, not the hero.

 

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Book

Edouard Levé Autoportrait
Dalkey Archive Press

‘In this brilliant and sobering self-portrait, Edouard Levé hides nothing from his readers, setting out his entire life, more or less at random, in a string of declarative sentences. Autoportrait is a physical, psychological, sexual, political, and philosophical triumph. Beyond “sincerity,” Leve works toward an objectivity so radical it could pass for crudeness, triviality, even banality: the author has stripped himself bare. With the force of a set of maxims or morals, Leve’s prose seems at first to be an autobiography without sentiment, as though written by a machine–until, through the accumulation of detail, and the author’s dry, quizzical tone, we find ourselves disarmed, enthralled, and enraptured by nothing less than the perfect fiction… made entirely of facts.’ — DAP

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Excerpt
from The Paris Review

When I was young, I thought Life: A User’s Manual would teach me how to live and Suicide: A User’s Manual how to die. I don’t really listen to what people tell me. I forget things I don’t like. I look down dead-end streets. The end of a trip leaves me with a sad aftertaste the same as the end of a novel. I am not afraid of what comes at the end of life. I am slow to realize when someone mistreats me, it is always so surprising: evil is somehow unreal. When I sit with bare legs on vinyl, my skin doesn’t slide, it squeaks. I archive. I joke about death. I do not love myself. I do not hate myself. My rap sheet is clean. To take pictures at random goes against my nature, but since I like doing things that go against my nature, I have had to make up alibis to take pictures at random, for example, to spend three months in the United States traveling only to cities that share a name with a city in another country: Berlin, Florence, Oxford, Canton, Jericho, Stockholm, Rio, Delhi, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Mexico, Syracuse, Lima, Versailles, Calcutta, Bagdad.

I would rather be bored alone than with someone else. I roam empty places and eat in deserted restaurants. I do not say “A is better than B” but “I prefer A to B.” I never stop comparing. When I am returning from a trip, the best part is not going through the airport or getting home, but the taxi ride in between: you’re still traveling, but not really. I sing badly, so I don’t sing. I had an idea for a Dream Museum. I do not believe the wisdom of the sages will be lost. I once tried to make a book-museum of vernacular writing, it reproduced handwritten messages from unknown people, classed by type: flyers about lost animals, justifications left on windshields for parking cops to avoid paying the meter, desperate pleas for witnesses, announcements of a change in management, office messages, home messages, messages to oneself. I cannot sleep beside someone who moves around, snores, breathes heavily, or steals the covers. I can sleep with my arms around someone who doesn’t move. I have attempted suicide once, I’ve been tempted four times to attempt it. The distant sound of a lawn mower in summer brings back happy childhood memories. I am bad at throwing. I have read less of the Bible than of Marcel Proust. Roberto Juarroz makes me laugh more than Andy Warhol. Jack Kerouac makes me want to live more than Charles Baudelaire. La Rochefoucauld depresses me less than Bret Easton Ellis. Joe Brainard is less affirmative than Walt Whitman. I know Jacques Roubaud less well than Georges Perec. Gherasim Luca is the most full of despair. I don’t see the connection between Alain Robbe-Grillet and Antonio Tabucchi. When I make lists of names, I dread the ones I forget. From certain angles, tanned and wearing a black shirt, I can find myself handsome. I find myself ugly more often than handsome. I like my voice after a night out or when I have a cold. I am unacquainted with hunger. I was never in the army. I have never pulled a knife on anyone. I have never used a machine gun. I have fired a revolver. I have fired a rifle. I have shot an arrow. I have netted butterflies. I have observed rabbits. I have eaten pheasants. I recognize the scent of a tiger. I have touched the dry head of a tortoise and an elephant’s hard skin. I have caught sight of a herd of wild boar in a forest in Normandy. I ride. I do not explain. I do not excuse. I do not classify. I go fast. I am drawn to the brevity of English, shorter than French. I do not name the people I talk about to someone who doesn’t know them, I use, despite the trouble of it, abstract descriptions like “that friend whose parachute got tangled up with another parachute the time he jumped.” I prefer going to bed to getting up, but I prefer living to dying. I look more closely at old photographs than contemporary ones, they are smaller, and their details are more precise. I have noticed that, on the keypads of Parisian front doors, the 1 wears out the fastest. I’m not ashamed of my family, but I do not invite them to my openings. I have often been in love. I love myself less than I have been loved. I am surprised when someone loves me. I do not consider myself handsome just because a woman thinks so. My intelligence is uneven. My amorous states resemble one another, and those of other people, more than my works resemble one another, or those of other people. I have never shared a bank account. A friend once remarked that I seem glad when guests show up at my house but also when they leave. I do not know how to interrupt an interlocutor who bores me. I have good digestion. I love summer rain. I have trouble understanding why people give stupid presents. Presents make me feel awkward, whether I am the giver or the receiver, unless they are the right ones, which is rare. Although I am self-employed, I observe the weekend. I have never kissed a lover in front of my parents. I do not have a weekend place because I do not like to open and then shut a whole lot of shutters over the course of two days. I have not hugged a male friend tight. I have not seen the dead body of a friend. I have seen the dead bodies of my grandmother and my uncle. I have not kissed a boy. I used to have sex with women my own age, but as I got older they got younger. I do not buy used shoes. I have made love on the roof of the thirtieth floor of a building in Hong Kong. I have made love in the daytime in a public garden in Hong Kong. I have made love in the toilet of the Paris–Lyon TGV. I have made love in front of some friends at the end of a very drunken dinner. I have made love in a staircase on the avenue Georges-Mandel. I have made love to a girl at a party at six in the morning, five minutes after asking, without any preamble, if she wanted to. I have made love standing up, sitting down, lying down, on my knees, stretched out on one side or the other. I have made love to one person at a time, to two, to three, to more. I have smoked hashish and opium, I have done poppers, I have snorted cocaine. I find fresh air more intoxicating than drugs. I smoked my first joint at age fourteen in Segovia, a friend and I had bought some “chocolate” from a guard in the military police, I couldn’t stop laughing and I ate the leaves of an olive tree. I smoked several joints in the bosom of my grammar school, the Collège Stanislas, at the age of fifteen. The girl whom I loved the most left me. At ten I cut my finger in a flour mill. At six I broke my nose getting hit by a car. At fifteen I skinned my hip and -elbow falling off a moped, I had decided to defy the street, riding with no hands, looking backward. I broke my thumb skiing, after flying ten meters and landing on my head, I got up and saw, as in a cartoon, circles of birthday candles turning in the air and then I fainted. I have not made love to the wife of a friend. I do not love the sound of a family on the train. I am uneasy in rooms with small windows. Sometimes I realize that what I’m in the middle of saying is boring, so I just stop talking. Art that unfolds over time gives me less pleasure than art that stops it. Even if it is an odd sort of present, I thank my father and mother for having given me life.

I believe the people who make the world are the ones who do not believe in reality, for example, for centuries, the Christians. There are times in my life when I overuse the phrase “it all sounds pretty complicated.” I wonder how the obese make love. Not wanting to change things does not mean I am conservative, I like for things to change, just not having to do it. I connect easily with women, it takes longer with men. My best male friends have something feminine about them. I ride a motorcycle but I don’t have the “biker spirit.” I am an egoist despite myself, I cannot even conceive of being altruistic. Until the age of twelve I thought I was gifted with the power to shape the future, but this power was a crushing burden, it manifested itself in the form of threats, I had to take just so many steps before I got to the end of the sidewalk or else my parents would die in a car accident, I had to close the door thinking of some favorable outcome, for example passing a test, or else I’d fail, I had to turn off the light not thinking about my mother getting raped, or that would happen, one day I couldn’t stand having to close the door a hundred times before I could think of something good, or to spend fifteen minutes turning off the light the right way, I decided enough was enough, the world could fall apart, I didn’t want to spend my life saving other people, that night I went to bed sure the next day would bring the apocalypse, nothing happened, I was relieved but a little bit disappointed to discover I had no power.

In a sandwich, I don’t see what I am eating, I imagine it. Even very tired, I can watch TV for several hours. As a child I dreamed of being not a fireman, but a veterinarian, the idea was not my own, I was imitating my cousin. I played house with a cousin, but there were variants, it could be doctor (formal inspection of genitals), or thug and bourgeoise (mini–rape scene), when we played thug and bourgeoise my cousin would walk past the swing set where I’d be sitting, outside our family’s house, I would call out to her in a menacing tone of voice, she wouldn’t answer but would act afraid, she would start to run away, I would catch her and drag her into the little pool house, I would bolt the door, I’d pull the curtains, she would try vaguely to get away, I would undress her and similute the sexual act while she cried out in either horror or pleasure, I could never tell which it was supposed to be, I forget how it used to end. I would be very moved if a friend told me he loved me, even if he told me more out of love than friendship. I find certain ethnicities more beautiful than others. When I ask for directions, I am afraid I won’t be able to remember what people tell me. I am always shocked when people give me directions and they actually get me where I’m going: words become road. I like slow motion because it brings cinema close to photography. I get along well with old people. A woman’s breasts may hold my attention to the point that I can’t hear what she’s saying. I enjoy the simple decor of Protestant temples. I do not write memoirs. I do not write novels. I do not write short stories. I do not write plays. I do not write poems. I do not write mysteries. I do not write science fiction. I write fragments. I do not tell stories from things I’ve read or movies I’ve seen, I describe impressions, I make judgments. The modern man I sing. In one of my recurring nightmares, gravity is so heavy that the chubby pseudo-humans who wander the empty surface of the earth move in slow motion through an endless moonlit night. I have utterly lost touch with friends who were dear to me, without knowing why, I believe they don’t know why themselves. I learned to draw by copying pornographic photographs. I have a foggy sense of history, and of stories in general, chronology bores me. I do not suffer from the absence of those I love. I prefer desire to pleasure. My death will change nothing. I would like to write in a language not my own. I penetrate a woman faster than I pull out. If I kiss for a long time, it hurts the muscle under my tongue. I am afraid of ending up a bum. I am afraid of having my computer and negatives stolen. I cannot tell what, in me, is innate. I do not have a head for business. I have stepped on a rake and had the handle hit me in the face. I have gone to four psychiatrists, one psychologist, one psychotherapist, and five psychoanalysts. I look for the simple things I no longer see. I do not go to confession. Legs slightly open excite me more than legs wide open. I have trouble forbidding. I am not mature. When I look at a strawberry, I think of a tongue, when I lick one, of a kiss. I can see how drops of water could be torture. A burn on my tongue has a taste. My memories, good or bad, are sad the way dead things are sad. A friend can let me down but not an enemy. I ask the price before I buy. I go nowhere with my eyes closed. When I was a child I had bad taste in music. Playing sports bores me after an hour. Laughing unarouses me. Often, I wish it were tomorrow. My memory is structured like a disco ball. I wonder if there are still parents around to threaten their children with a whipping. The voice, the lyrics, and the face of Daniel Darc made French rock listenable to me. The best conversations I ever had date from adolescence, with a friend at whose place we drank cocktails that we made by mixing up his mother’s liquor at random, we would talk until sunrise in the salon of that big house where Mallarmé had once been a guest, in the course of those nights, I delivered speeches on love, politics, God, and death of which I retain not one word, even though I came up with some of them doubled over in laughter, years later, this friend told his wife that he had left something in the house just as they were leaving to play tennis, he went down to the basement and put a bullet in his head with the gun he had left there beforehand. I have memories of comets with powdery tails. I read the dictionary. I went into a glass labyrinth called the Palace of Mirrors. I wonder where the dreams go that I don’t remember. I do not know what to do with my hands when they have nothing to do. Even though it’s not for me, I turn around when someone whistles in the street. Dangerous animals do not scare me. I have seen lightning. I wish they had sleds for grown-ups. I have read more volumes one than volumes two. The date on my birth certificate is wrong. I am not sure I have any influence. I talk to my things when they’re sad. I do not know why I write. I prefer a ruin to a monument. I am calm during reunions. I have nothing against the alarm clock. Fifteen years old is the middle of my life, regardless of when I die. I believe there is an afterlife, but not an afterdeath. I do not ask “do you love me.” Only once can I say “I’m dying” without telling a lie. The best day of my life may already be behind me.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Cake is a balm with possible stomach ache side effects. Worth it. Somehow we will get this comments disaster thing righted, as God is my witness. Yes, re: the gorgeous looking compendium. Everyone, Very soon the blog will be celebrating the birth of the 600+ page (!) compendium book of the late, mighty zine Yuck n Yuck, among whose editors was our very own _Black_Acrylic. But if you can’t wait until the party, you can go ahead and order your copy right this minute following a quick leap over to the official YnY site. ** David Ehrenstein, Ah, but what is deliciousness?! (I agree, except for the cakes.) Everyone, Mr. E’s FaBlog currently takes on the Supreme Court’s decision on the baker vs. gays case right here. ** Steve Erickson, Yeah, legal Ecstasy was basically what they used to call ‘trucker’s speed’ cradled in a bunch of useless herbs. Your description of the Tierra Whack EP has me curious enough to drive in, thanks. I look forward to checking out The Metrograph for myself finally very soon. That was fast on the interview, cool. Everyone, Hark! Mr. Erickson has interviewed Richard Peña, film scholar and legendary former head programmer at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and the result has to be a fascinating thing, so go get fascinated here. A lot of Lynch in that poll. Yeah, his stuff seems to be really hopping with people at the moment. Are the voters in actual Sight and Sound poll so history-fixed that post-60s filmmakers might only get one or two entries? That’s depressing. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Glad you dug the weird feast. When you visit Paris, and if you can handle vegan lasagne, I know a place here that serves a masterpiece. Thanks, yes, I’ll report as soon as ARTE has weighed in. My payment has not arrived, but it was sent on Friday, apparently, and I am in the deepest shit until it does, so it had better get to me sometime today, or … well, it just has to. Grrrrr. I really like the novel just after ‘Fight Club’ aka ‘Survivor’. I don’t know, he’s hugely popular so I might just be being a prose/style nazi, which I can be a bit. ‘Climax’ is lots of fun and wild. I think you’ll really like it when it gets over to you. Your weekend sounds pretty nice, yes. Mine was lowkey-ish. Some work. Starting to get ready for the NYC trip and all that it entails. Nothing too exciting. When you’re as broke as I am right now, that does hamper what you can do. Zac and I have a big meeting to do what I hope will be the last big edit/revision of our new film script tomorrow, and I’m mostly looking forward to that. You have a great week too! The next I get to interact with you on Friday, it will be all the way from NYC! ** Jamie, Hey. Rest assured you were the only one to make that joke. Yes, I do think I had those jello cityscapes on here before at some point in some other thematic post. Oh, I remember: they were included in the ‘legendary’ Jello Day, naturally. The cash did not magically appear yet, but it absolutely had better by tonight because the hellhounds are already circling me. In NYC, apart from the rehearsing and performances and doing the blog, I’ll see old friends, a lot of art, … Zac will be there for a week. We have a big meeting while there about an extremely exciting upcoming ‘PGL’ related event that I can’t discuss right now. Uh, and lots of spontaneous stuff. That is big and seemingly really great news! You like Brussels, right? And you know it a little? And congrats to Hannah! And, mister, you will have little excuse not to relatively pop/train down to Paris for a visit, you realise that, don’t you? Oh, it’s not definite, so consider my congrats to be the highest hopes. Monday was about stressing re: my money situation, emailing, visiting pals Michael, Bene, and their increasingly sentient child Milo, talking about this ‘PGL’-related book we’re going to do, and … mostly money stressing. Today, lots of trip preparations and otherwise we’ll see. What did yours toss up? I hope yours de-aged you to 2 years old and simultaneously transformed your apartment into a bouncy castle. Prismatic love, Dennis. ** Paul Curran, Hi, Paul! Cool, I figured we would be at least somewhat likeminded on the fiction constructing front. That makes sense about your J-novel, and I heartily approve of your strategy, no surprise. Really excited for that, however long it takes. Really hope to get to Japan by year’s end. Zac and I trying to angle that into whatever film stuff we’ll need to do. Dying to. ** JM, Hi. Yeah, it’s killer, right? That textual adult baby. Ouch, man. Body rebellion, fuck, I hear you. Bodies should just function properly. That’s not so much to ask. I have not been paid as of right now. Rather I apparently was paid on the payer’s end, but I have not seen a penny yet. Otherwise, all busy and good here. ** Misanthrope, Great, glad you do, as do I. Actually, in the original production of ‘Them’ back in 1985, we did get a lot of shit about the animal. In the revival tour several years ago, no one seemed bothered. But I think we might get shit with these shows given the pervasive trend right now of people acting like anything that’s disturbing in art is a physical assault on their person that must be loudly called out and censored if possible. But we will see. When I first lived in NYC in the early 80s, Hell’s Kitchen was still known as basically where you went to score drugs and hire prostitutes and hit men and such things. I think the Bowery has been cleaned up much longer? ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Ha. Yum, yuck, yum. You saw the jello SF. I think I’m jealous. It must’ve smelled like something. Yes, about ‘AB’. How’s stuff? ** Nik, Hi, man. Yeah, ARTE seems open. But we’ll see because we’re not Bruno Dumont or Olivier Assayas, so I don’t know if we’ll get cut as much slack. Well, we really thought of it as being three 50 minute episodes rather than a split up film, and I guess we just accessed our ideas of how that works, how the narrative and other developments work when a thing is in three staggered parts, based on thoughts of shows we’ve watched in our lives and liked. And I guess we tried not to make the cinema of it predominate and to keep the story and characters at the forefront with the cinema aspect as more, I don’t know, architectural or ambient or something. Like, if ARTE says no ultimately, it’s not a project that could easily be turned into a film, or not into a film we would be interested in making. It’s very TV, I think. The PGL book meeting went well. We want to make a book that’s not a script/stills thing, but a distinct book that’s based on the film yet is a separate if codependent experience. Great, great about the progress with your stories! Fantastic! You have trusted friends who can give you supportive yet helpfully objective feedback on them? That’s always good. Cool, Nik, very happy to hear that! ** Right. I decided to restore today’s post about what I think is one of the best novels of recent times. Check it. See you tomorrow.

9 Comments

  1. I can well imagine Fabrice Lucchini starring in a Leve biopic. Paul Vecchiali could direct.

    Mishima

  2. Have you heard about Palahniuk’s recent statements that he’s almost poor now because his former agent ripped him off to the tune of $3.4 million?

    U.S. Girls did a bizarre but compelling remix of Priests’ “Suck” that’s equally inspired by DJ Screw and free jazz. Priests recently released an EP of three remixes of the song, but the others essentially make it sound like Pylon, the Au Pairs or the more aggressive end of the early B 52s, which is fine but still post-punk revivalism.

    As for the Sight & Sound poll, in 2002, The Godfather I & II was the most recent film to make the top 10, but it benefited from the fact that votes for either film counted towards both, as the editors decided to view it as a whole. The magazined editors decided to change that rule for the 2012 poll, and thus 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was the most recent film to make that top 10. If you look at individual lists or even the poll’s top 50, it’s not that painfully canonical – the reputations of JEANNE DIELMAN and CLOSE UP seem to be soaring, but not enough to get them into the top 10. The problem with compiling a poll like them from hundreds of critics is that it’s a machine to produce conformity and groupthink, where, for example, my votes for DAISIES and WELFARE as two of the 10 best films ever made might help them place in the top 100 but aren’t going to let them compete with Hitchcock, Kubrick and Welles. I feel like the film canon needs shaking up, but that a lot of young critics and cinephiles are totally aware that major female and non-Western filmmakers exist and that a problem now is that many people are really ignorant about films made before the 1970s (I can tell this from the many generalizations I’ve read about Westerns) while baby boomer cinephiles often watch nothing but classical Hollywood films.

  3. Love Edouard Levé’s work. I’m not that familiar with his photography, but what I see here, I love that as well. Lun*na and I are coming to Paris this early September. My dad is going to have a gallery show, and more likely I will do a talk or a Q&A session at the gallery. And while I’m there, I also want to find a French publisher for my upcoming book/memoir. If you have any suggestions!!!!!???? But back to Levé, an amazing writer/photographer. I love the sex with the clothes on.

  4. Hi Dennis! I thought I’d chime in with appreciation for Levé. I’ve read all four of his books and he quickly shot to the top of my favorite authors. I can’t think of a writer who more thoroughly reinvented to memoir, and Levé reinvented it in a different way for each of his books. His photography is terrific too.

    I also wanted to give you a slightly delayed congratulations on the new GIF book. The one in the form of a dark ride seems like the standout piece (possibly because it’s the one that’s easiest to “get” on a really basic level), but the whole collection is full of surprises and delights. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Ahoy there, Dennis!
    I think the last time you posted this I went online shopping for Leve’s books, got torn between Autoportrait and Suicide, couldn’t decide and left them both in my virtual basket. Have you read Suicide? I fancy it although the post makes Autoportrait sound pretty exquisite. Hmmm. Go wild and buy both?
    How did I forget the legendary Jello day? Maybe worth a restoration?
    How was Tuesday? Mine involved two meetings and some work. Meetings make me feel weird, and I said this afterwards to two different sets of people and they all looked at me like I was crazy, but it’s true. I still feel weird. Oh, and I started writing a play. I’ve been puzzling over what one does with a play once it’s written, but it’s fair flowing!
    An upcoming PGL related event? Secret? Colour me excited and intrigued.
    Hannah’s folks are in Brussels and I’ve played some gigs there, so I’ve been there a few times, but not for any real length of time. I’ve always got a good feeling from it. As to whether I can envisage living in it, I don’t know, but as I said, nothing’s for definite yet. But yeah to that fast TGV to Paris! We can have pain au choc for brekky then scamper off to Parc Asterix.
    Hope trip prep and everything else is going well.
    May Wednesday crack an egg upon your noggin, but you’re pleasantly surprised when it tuns out to be a magic egg full of
    love,
    Jamie

  6. For Pride Month, I made a playlist of music I like by LGBTQ artists running almost 3 hours on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/21u57q33ihyk63ypgu4mswzgy/playlist/2yIClQE6P0RlGpxhsKM2cM?si=LAcdbPt2TSOhb_dO3kGPJw. I couldn’t be encyclopedic, or this would run 6 hours, and you can probably guess which historically important and/or currently popular queer singers I dislike from the omissions (although omitting someone’s music doesn’t necessarily mean I dislike them, I like every song I included.) As for the qualifications, some people might quibble about the ambiguity of Bowie and Tyler’s actual sexuality , but at least the lyrics to “Garden Shed” and “Queen Bitch” are relevant.

  7. I’ve been working on the YNY Compendium/Interregnum Day and am keen to get that to you before your traveling starts. Is it doable? Reckon I can send it Friday if that’s any use?

  8. Dennis, excellent day to re-post! I love that intense precision of process. The focus on arrangement rather than composition, not that the precision’s any less precise elsewhere. I was trying something recently, digging through my old blog. I pulled out some lines I liked and arranged them into a new piece, a kind of dialogue/interview. Soonish, it will be up at Chris Dankland and Jennifer Greisus’s great new lit mag XRAY, which has also featured brilliant stuff by dls like Alisrar McCartney and Mieze
    Zuber. I certainly hope you and Zac make it over to Japan!! We’re taking the kiddo now to Cambodia for a couple of weeks in summer, but will be around the rest of the year. You’ll have to say hi to the kiddo this time too. He’s a bit bigger than when you saw him in Jardin de Luxembourg. God, 10 years ago. Right, I’m at Shinjuku. Gotta get off this train.

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