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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Michel Leiris Nights as Day, Days as Night (1961)

 

‘Both timeless and located in the years and places of the dreaming, this forty-year-long collection of tiny, bizarre moments and longer weird narratives displays what happens at night inside the unfettered imagination of the highly cultivated, emotional, and sensuous man that was Michel Leiris. They are strange, almost unclassifiable literary creations—part involuntary, part consciously arranged—which take as their material not only himself and his friends but also the figures and works of other writers and artists, and blend the realistic and the fantastical with an occasional leavening of pure comedy. Rendered in natural, living English by Richard Sieburth and infused with his vigilant intelligence, this is an extremely welcome re-publication, as both important literary document and contemporary pleasure.’ — Lydia Davis

‘For Michel Leiris, the relation of personal and impersonal is of utmost importance. As part of the milieu in and around the Surrealist movement (of which he was briefly a member), Leiris wrote widely for a number of their publications and became a sub-editor on Bataille’s journal Documents. Though marked by the Surrealists’ influence, the original character of much of Leiris’s work comes from his continual questioning of “the self,” specifically the relationship between writing and autobiography. After an ethnographic expedition to Africa, Leiris published an account of the journey, L’Afrique Fantôme or “Phantom Africa,” which blended autobiography and anthropological observation. This tension runs throughout all his major work, most obviously in The Age of Man, his “coming-of-age” autobiography, and the monumental four-volume The Rules of the Game, an autobiography oriented not chronologically, through episodic exposition, but lexically, through the associations his life has had with specific words.

‘In Nights as Day, Days as Night, translated by Richard Sieburth, Michel Leiris presents the reader with a series of dream records, along with a few scenes from his waking life, set down between 1923 and 1960. Some of the dreams last for only a few sentences; others extend over several pages, and each of them is almost entirely self-contained. Many sparkle with wit and an amusing flippancy while others sink into horror and are truly unsettling. There are sexual fantasies, physical transformations, compressed temporalities, and sunken spaces. All are narrated through the veil of wakefulness. Their elements bubble up to the surface of consciousness and then disappear.

‘But Nights as Day, Days as Night is not merely a dream journal. Leiris, as Sieburth reminds us from the outset, “preferred to classify these hundred and so Nights . . . among his poetry” rather than part of his great autobiographical project, and it is as poems that they might be most fruitfully read, prose-poems whose subject is the act of dreaming itself. The Rules of the Game is framed as the “negation of a novel,” and the dreams of Nights as Day, Days as Night intensify this negation. Sieburth’s translation of the book’s title underscores this point: his version speaks of dialectical reversal, of a consciousness in the act of sublation. However, a literal translation of Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour would be “Nights without Night and Several Days without Day” which presents an altogether more unsettling proposition: an absence doubled by subtracting night from night and day from day. Not a reversal but a suspension between being and non-being, an affirmation of absence. The “second life” suggested by Nerval’s epigram to the book is not merely a world turned on its head but one continually reformed in the act of sleep. In Leiris’s ontology, dream does not form by accretion, a spiral accumulation, but through the repetitious instant of an impossible affirmation and erasure. Each dream is a new beginning: a para-autobiography beyond the rules of the game. The dream brushes reality against the grain.

‘In the dream of December 17-18, 1924, Leiris sees a painting in the studio of Giorgio de Chirico depicting an empty room indistinguishable from the room in which the dream takes place. Leiris then recalls an earlier dream wherein he saw a Cubist still life and was seized by a sudden feeling that “my entire person was about to become part of the painting, as if my very being had been projected into it by my gaze.” These two dreams are a perfect embodiment of Leiris’s belief that sleep is a space of universal creativity, a place where the difference between exterior and interior is no longer fully operational. Leiris’s dreams suggest that this spatial instability is reiterated through the self-reflexive structure of the dreams, often through pictorialization. In another of his dreams, an imagined painting by Bataille shows a divided space broken by a horizon: “above the sky, below the sea.” A frond of bloodied seaweed moves in the frame; its avatar is a vertical hand with its index finger pointed skyward. The work of art in both dreams functions to expose the mechanics of the dream, its logic, within the dream itself.

‘The poetic form is one continually held in relation to absence. Leiris’s older contemporary Paul Valéry defined the poem as “a profound hesitation between sound and sense.” The possibility of enjambment is the mechanism which drives this hesitation: the potential for meaning to be delayed or interrupted by being pushed down to the line beneath. The final line of the poem, which cannot be enjambed, therefore puts the poem’s existence as a poem into crisis. The poem no longer holds the possibility of continuation, but must fall into silence. In contrast, the prose-poem sits at the horizon of this poetics. Its mode of hesitation is lumpen, swallowed in one gulp. Its enjambment runs from end to end or not at all. This tension exerted by the prose-poem as a form of expression parallels the relation between the experience of dreaming and the written dream. For the dreamer the dream is a pause, a hesitation which ends with the restoration of their waking life. The end of the dream returns us not to silence but to speech. But given a written form the dream becomes disconnected from the life of the dreamer: its end is truly an end. It is a disjunction of meaning that leaves the dream complete, and diverts the moment of poetic crisis. In doing so, Leiris’s dreams elide the catastrophe at the poem’s end, instead their ending implies an uncomfortable softness, a glottal stop that sets each dream loose. The cumulative effect of reading the successive dreams in Nights as Day, Days as Night, with Leiris as the dreamer who unites them, can never more than partially reconnect this severed thread; and the interspersed recollections from his own life can only perform minimal reparative work. This insistent forward progress, in contrast to the tension of constant enjambment, makes the book deeply compelling. The dreams are poems whose forms have coagulated, partially glued by the prosodic structure more commonly found in autobiography. Leiris’s writing is not concerned with searching for essence or to “explain the flower by the fertilizer.” The texture of lightness he employs disrupts any temptation for psychoanalytic interpretation and, unmoored from the banks of autobiography and conventional poetic form, the dreams drift on an interstitial surface.

‘Leiris does not deny the ontological status of his dreams. His descriptions allow their thinness and weakness to be exposed: a vulnerability which is reflected back onto the act of writing. This indeterminacy accentuates an affinity between the two practices. Blanchot remarks, in his powerful foreword to the book, that upon waking the dreamer is left with a peculiar sense of distance, “a distance between self and self,” and the realization that the one who is present in the dream is apart from their waking “I.” This fissure of non-identity makes it possible to speak of the “kinship of dreaming and writing.” Like a text a dream is both fragmentary and complete, a whole from which pieces are always missing.

‘Poetic and narrative crisis are made manifest by death’s presence within the dream poems; death is often framed as the space just beyond, or just beneath, the surface of the dream. In his dream of March 19-20, 1943 Leiris writes: “I was in a sense being precipitated downward by my dream, plunged into a sleep from which I would never escape, and which would be my death.” More unsettling still is the following dream which ends with a description of a chamber resembling an athanor containing a “grotto whose blackness opens the secret abysses of nature right by my side, leaving me separated from the antechamber of death by little more than a vague doorway of dusty leaves.” Death is exiled from autobiography but not from dreams. A Nervalian “second life” may have many deaths. However, as with the act of writing, the risk of death is illusory; ultimately it can only exist outside the two processes. In a space without perspective the winged bull of Nineveh is “no more substantial than an inflatable toy.”

‘The athanor appears too in The Rules of the Game when Leiris speaks of language and synesthesia: in such a context, the alphabet “belongs to the domain of sight” even as the vowels and consonants are made flesh by a tongue’s alchemical action on air to transmit speech to ears. The act of transmutation harks back to the idea of writing and dreaming as liminal practices, transcriptions between night and day, eye and hand, inside and outside. This liminality gives them a blurred texture in which space and time are ungrounded. The time of sleep is both collapsed and stretched. Complex dream narratives each unfold inside an elongated instant. The dream’s dissonant duration echoes that of autobiography. Writing accentuates this motion of compression and extension while, at the same time, reducing it to nothing by fixing it in suspension. In the written dreams, absence and distance fuse together and then, in a split second, evaporate.’ — Daniel Fraser

 

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Further

Michel Leiris @ Wikipedia
Music @ Literature: NIGHTS AS DAY, DAYS AS NIGHT
Portraits de Michel Leiris
Obituary: Michael Leiris @ NY Times
Éléments d’analyse : l’autobiographie de Michel Leiris
Michel Leiris, signataire du “Manifeste des 121”
146JUILLET-AOÛT 2015JUILLET-AOÛT 2015MICHEL LEIRIS : « ET MOI, QUI SUIS-JE ? »
Book: ‘The Ribbon at Olympia’s Throat’, by Michel Leiris
Buy ‘Nights as Day, Days as Night’

 

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Portraits


André Masson, Portrait de Michel Leiris, 1939

 


Picasso, Portraits de Michel Leiris

 


Brassaï, Michel Leiris, octobre 1962

 


Giacometti, Michel Leiris, 1961

 


Francis Bacon Portrait de Michel Leiris, 1976

 


Francis Bacon Portrait de Michel Leiris, 1978

 

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Extras


Expo – Michel Leiris à l’honneur au centre Pompidou-Metz – 2015/08/31


Michel Leiris interview


Michel Leiris : Miroir de l’Afrique


Voix d’auteurs – Michel Leiris (1901 – 1990)

 

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Interview

 

Sally Price: Perhaps I should start out by saying just a few words about the original idea behind this conversation. Adam Kuper,who first proposed it, was particularly interested in your reflections on the intellectual environment of French anthropology over the past 50 years or so. I’m hoping that we can talk about anthropology not so much in a narrow sense as in terms of its ties with the literary world, the artistic world, and the political world.

Michel Leiris: Ties which were rather tenuous, in fact. There wasn’t much. It’s true that I had some connections, but you mustn’t imagine that that was true for everyone.

SP: How should we proceed? Shall we set ourselves an agenda, or would you prefer to wander around freely among different subjects?

ML: I think the simplest thing is to wander around a bit all over. I even believe that that’s the only way to arrive anywhere. In any case, we have Jean here who might be willing to start out by making either a grand declaration or else perhaps a short but incisive statement.

Jean Jamin: Not at all. I have no grand declaration to make. But we could begin by using the CA interview with Edmund Leach as a model; in that case what would be involved is a kind of intellectual autobiography in spoken form. In your case, Michel, it strikes me that although you have written and talked quite a bit about yourself, you have said relatively little about the intellectual itinerary that led you into anthropology.

ML: In terms of my own experience, I can say quite frankly that it was surrealism, which I was involved with during the first four years and which represented for me the rebellion against the so-called rationalism of Western society and therefore an intellectual curiosity about peoples who represented more or less what Levy-Bruhl called at the time the mentalite primitive. It’s quite simple.

JJ: But did you talk much about anthropology, as such, in the company of surrealists?

ML: Hardly. No, we talked rather about the Orient in the Rimbaldian sense: Orient with a capital 0, meaning all that is not part of the Occident. Artaud, and the rest of us after him, vomited up the Pope and developed a kind of cult of the Dalai Lama. It was a bit convoluted.

JJ: In the end, you were replacing one cult-that son-with another.

ML: Exactly, but we didn’t realize that at the time. We stood firmly against the West. And this was evident in a fairly blatant way in the surrealist statements and mani- festos. What was going on was a rebellion against Western civilization, plain and simple.

JJ: But the Western civilization that you were rejecting- didn’t you reduce it, sometimes rather crudely, to a few key elements, or perhaps even just to capitalism?

ML: Yes. But then-not right away. That happened only later, and that’s the reason that most of us moved in the direction of communism. At the beginning it wasn’t conceptualized in terms of capitalist society. Within these developments, given that we’re adopting an anthropological perspective for present purposes, there is one thing that is perhaps worthy of mention: it’s that our first political manifestation was the Saint-Pol Roux banquet, which was, in effect, a protest against the war in Morocco. The cry was “Vive Abd el-Krim!”

JJ: And “Down with France!”

ML: Yes, naturally. But all that had nothing to do with anthropology or with an interest in what is now called the Third World. At any rate, our first political statement was the adoption of an anticolonialist stance.

SP: Can you describe how the ideology you’ve been talking about evolved over time, in terms of your own position?

ML: I never really rejected surrealism as such. Like several others, I rejected the tutelage of Breton, but that’s not the same thing. Since then, a lot of water has passed under the bridge, and the issues have been examined more dispassionately. Breton had enormous strong points-that goes without saying-but he also had a fault: he was a difficult person, and rather authoritarian. There were quite a few of us who rebelled against him. And then, at that time it was primarily Bataille, who had never been a surrealist, who accused Breton of being an idealist in spite of his claims of materialism. All of this is so terribly complicated that I think I should simply refer you to the history of surrealism written by Nadeau. But in the end, what matters and what is, I think, really important is that our first political position was an anticolonialist position, opposed to the Guerre du Rif. Basically, we were concerned about the situation of colonized peoples well before we were concerned about the situation of the proletariat. It seems quite likely-this is the aesthetic dimension-that exoticism played a role. We were much more inclined to be soli- dary with “exotic” oppressed people than with op- pressed people living here.

JJ: How did you first get involved in surrealism?

ML: I was very close to Masson; at the time he was more or less my mentor [maitre a penser], and he had become a surrealist. In terms of how I got to know Masson-I had met someone named Roland Tual who also became a surrealist but who never wrote anything; I first met him through Max Jacob in Saint-Benoit sur Loire, when Max Jacob had retired to the Benedictines. I became close with Tual immediately, and he told me I should absolutely get to know his friend Andre Masson, whom he considered a marvelous painter. I met him in i92i, and we hit it off from the very first. But it was Max Jacob who was my mentor in terms of poetry. I used to send him poems and he would correct them for me. Well, not exactly. He generally told me that they were very bad. He wasn’t wrong. That’s how I did my apprenticeship. Masson’s influence was through his painting and as a person. He was a very cultured man who had a tremendous store of knowledge. I used to go to his studio in the afternoon while he was working. We talked. We talked about things we were reading. Some- times I would do some work. It was really an atelier in the full sense of the term. Miro was already there; he was Masson’s immediate neighbor. Masson is the one who got me involved with surrealism. He had an exhibition at the Galerie Simon, which was run by Kahnweiler. Breton went to the exhibit and was very taken with a painting by Masson called Les quatre 6lements, so he wanted to meet him. Later it was Masson who introduced me to Breton. I also knew Limbour, who had already become a surrealist, though not a very orthodox one and not very disciplined. Through him I got to know Desnos. I might have already men- tioned to you, because it’s interesting in terms of la petite histoire litteraire: I was talking a walk one afternoon with Limbour- we must have had lunch together- and by pure chance we ran into Desnos, bit convoluted.

read the entirety

 

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Book

Michel Leiris Nights as Day, Days as Night
Spurl Editions

‘Translated from French by Richard Sieburth, with a foreword by Maurice Blanchot. Hailed as an “important literary document and contemporary pleasure” by Lydia Davis, Nights as Day, Days as Night is a chronicle of Michel Leiris’s dreams. But it is also an exceptional autobiography, a distorted vision of twentieth-century France, a surrealist collage, a collection of prose poems. Leiris, author of the seminal autobiography Manhood, here disrupts the line between being asleep and awake, between being and non-being. He captures the profound strangeness of the dreamer’s identity: that anonymous creature who stirs awake at night to experience a warped version of waking life.

‘Whatever the setting (from circus shows to brothels, from the streets of Paris to Hollywood silent films), Leiris concentrates on estranging the familiar, on unsettling the commonplace. Beautifully translated by Richard Sieburth, these dream records often read like an outsider’s view of Leiris’s life and epoch. This outsider is the dreamer, Leiris’s nocturnal double, whose incisors grow as large as a street, who describes the terror he feels at being executed by the Nazis, and who can say in all seriousness, “I am dead.” It is an alternate life, with its own logic, its own paradoxes, and its own horrors, which becomes alienating and intimate at once. With hints of Kafka, Pirandello, and Nerval, Nights as Day, Days as Night is one of Leiris’s finest works of self-portraiture.’ — Spurl Editions

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Excerpts

DECEMBER 16–17, 1924

One night, drunk, on the Boulevard de Sébastopol, I pass an old wretch of a man and call out to him. He answers: “Leave me alone . . . I am the master of the heights of cinema.” Then he continues on his way to Belleville.

 

THE SAME NIGHT

So distinctly do I see the relationship between the rectilinear movement of a body and a picket fence perpendicular to the direction of this movement that I let out an ear-splitting scream.

 

THE SAME NIGHT

I imagine the rotation of the earth through space, not in some abstract or schematic fashion, the axis of the poles and the equator made tangible, but rather as it really is. The rumpled face of the earth.

 

DECEMBER 17–18, 1924

In his studio Giorgio de Chirico shows me an album containing reproductions of his paintings. Each of these reproductions is accompanied by a handwritten note indicating the theme of the work, providing either a succinct description of the painting in question or a statement of what the artist intended when undertaking it. Read in sequence, these texts turn out to be a series of brief poems.

Upon waking, only a fragment of one of these texts will stick in my mind: “ . . . épeurés et apeurés” [frighted and affrighted] – which is not a mere phonetic nicety; rather, the nuance implied by the difference of the initial vowels puts into play a number of distant meanings.

One of the paintings is entitled Jupiter’s Finger Passing through the Partition. The canvas depicts an empty room, dark, with receding walls. From the right wall there emerges an enormous finger, an index finger (probably) or else a middle or ring finger. No clear distinction between this room that is painted more or less as a trompe-l’oeil and the room that I’m actually in.

In another dream (which I had years ago but am unable to date even approximately because I didn’t note it down anywhere), I was looking at a cubist still life hanging in a museum or some other exhibition. Suddenly it seemed to me that my entire person was about to become part of the painting, as if my very being had been projected into it by my gaze, and I was seized with fright: if the world is really that way, a world without perspective, how go about inhabiting it?

 

UNDATED

I observe the following bit of dialogue between André Breton and Robert Desnos, or I read it as if it were a fragment of a play with stage directions:

A.B. (to Robert Desnos). The seismoteric tradition . . .

R.D. (turns into a stack of plates).

 

UNDATED

My friend André Masson and I are soaring through the air like gymnasiarchs. A voice calls up to us: “World-class acrobats, when are the two of you finally going to come down to earth?” At these words, we execute a flip over the horizon and drop into a concave hemisphere.

 

JANUARY 20–21, 1925

(HALF-ASLEEP)

I see the word “bât” [packsaddle] written in capital letters while apparently hearing the strains of a violin. Then there follows, without my reading the letters this time: “convolutions . . . prismatic gloom . . . ”

 

JANUARY 21–22, 1925

I set out on an excursion boat from a small river port where pirate and corsair ships of the 17th and 18th centuries are moored. Every type of vessel is represented; there is even a steamboat similar to the tugs one sees on the Seine. The flagship is huge and is made up of two hulls linked together by a single deck, an arrangement that allows smaller boats to sail through the flagship widthwise and to pass under the deck as though it were a fixed arch. The sails are capable of only one movement: they can be lowered or raised like drawbridges or like wings, according to that simple up-and-down movement to which the flight of birds used to be so schematically reduced in sketches made by designers of flying machines.

The excursion boat takes me to the ruins of the abbey of Jumièges. After a long walk through the halls and stairways, I come across my brother lying in bed. I ask him what he’s doing there. He replies that he is the director of the “Abbey Clinic,” then (the dream now extending into a half-awake revery) he explains to me the ritual of the “Tactile Exam” that is observed in the region at various prescribed dates: a number of girls, naked, their faces masked, are gathered into one of the monastery’s crypts; a young man, chosen by lot, leaves a nearby village at midnight and makes his way into the crypt blindfolded; his task is to feel up the girls until he has recognized one of them by purely tactile means, and if this girl also manages to recognize him in turn, he makes love to her. There is a similar game called “Aural Exam,” in which the method of identification involves the voice.

 

UNDATED

(HALF-ASLEEP)

The working drawing of a shape I would roughly describe by comparing it to the profile of a Pharaonic pschent, reduced to the crown of Upper Egypt alone, truncated at the top and without any framing in the front. It is the “hennin of the void.” No line defines the base of this headdress (so that the design remains open to that side), whereas the tip – or the crown – is indicated by stippled lines forming an obviously convex lens, which I can only identify (in my revery) as a glass object that is called a “lens” in optics and that can just as easily be concave as convex. The words “stem or finger” and “finger or stem” run like captions along the length of the two curved lines whose double bulge outlines the profile of the pschent. All of this against a “black background of night,” expressly designated as such.

 

MARCH 14–15, 1925

Sidled up to a woman named Nadia – to whom I am drawn by very tender feelings – I am at the edge of the sea, a shore on the order of Palm Beach, a Hollywood beach. Playfully, just to scare me and to ascertain how hard I would take her death, Nadia, an excellent swimmer, pretends she is drowning. In fact, she does drown, and her lifeless body is brought to me. I begin to weep until the wordplay “Nadia, drowned naiad” [Nadia, naïade noyée] – which comes to me just as I am waking – appears to be both an explanation and a consolation.

 

UNDATED

Several of us are wandering all over the face of the continent by car, bus, and train. Crimes are taking place in isolated stations; the hotels we stay in are occasionally attacked by bandits and the thing to do is to pack a pistol. I am a juror in a hick town and witness an execution (no doubt that of a chambermaid).

In a street of one of the working-class suburbs of Paris, one of my surrealist friends – Marcel Noll – who is traveling with me, shows me the thirty-meter mattress he always carries with him on his travels. Two couples can sleep on it end to end but they run the risk of losing themselves in the long tunnel of sheets. When he’s on the road the mattress serves as a suitcase; Noll rolls his baggage into it and secures the roll with a strap.

Rimbaud (or Limbour?) is also along in the guise of a sickly child who physically resembles those kids they call “jail bait.” He goes through several cycles of death and resurrection, like all the other characters in the dream.

In one of the towns we visit, on a large public square featuring a plaster statue (a gentleman in a frock coat who reminds me of the ghost of Gérard de Nerval who supposedly appeared in my bedroom one night), there is a prison whose pediment is engraved with the following words: “City Court House” [Palais du Greffe], an inscription I prefer to read “City Graft House” [Palais des Greffes], seeing as how it would thereby gain in significance. Small groups of women, fairly pretty but clearly riffraff by their shabby style of dress, are heading toward the monument. I hear them talking to each other. They are hurrying back to the penal colony where they are doing time; if they are late, they will be flogged or receive some other cruel form of punishment. This was their day off; they went to visit their mistresses and whiled away their time caressing them. For these women are lesbians; men want nothing to do with them, given their wretched clothing and shameful condition.

Accompanied by Z . . . (who is my current fiancée in waking life), I enter the penal colony. The first thing we see is a sort of cloister the length of which is lined with numerous children under the watchful eyes of aristocratic-looking women, no doubt of Anglo-Saxon origin, who are the wives of the jailers or rather of the “colonists,” as they are called. The children are dressed in British fashion and carry leather school satchels under their arms. These are the sons of the convicts; they are waiting for school to start.

Beyond the cloister lies the entrance to the Museum. It is a place that reminds one simultaneously of the Grévin Museum, the Carnavalet Museum, the amusement park at the Exposition of Decorative Arts, the Aeronautics Show I visited as a child, and the Garden of Tortures imagined by Octave Mirbeau. We are aware that this museum is some sort of Museum of Horrors and we make our way into it, dreading its enchantments.

At first things are not so frightening. The place is fairly dark and we see some devices that more or less resemble those dynamometers one finds at county fairs or at establishments devoted to these kinds of games, except that these were almost exclusively composed of moving multicolored electric lightbulbs: figures of demons. Further on, we come across huge stands that are almost completely dark. In the shadows one can vaguely make out some enormous airplanes built in the shape of birds’ heads. These birds’ heads have open beaks: the cockpit is located at the very bottom of the throat, a strange nocturnal space lit up by no more than two or three lights that gleam like precious carbuncles. The dome of the skull, about as tall as a six-story building, is a cupola made of canvas which functions as a parachute (here they call it a “hot-air balloon”).

We are still not that terrified (true, some of the exhibits that we had been told were fairly frightening are out of order), but a bit further on the spectacle becomes truly horrific. There are, as in the Grévin Museum, wax figures that seem to be alive, but also living figures that seem to be made out of wax. These are the convicts. They are being submitted to atrocious tortures. Everywhere I see racks, torture boots, gibbets, corpses splayed on wheels, pillories, stairways littered with dismembered limbs, and every conceivable type of torture device or other contraption reminiscent of Piranesi’s Prisons. In the first hall, torturers wearing white smocks are engaged in human vivisection.

We leave the Museum and board a steamship in order to visit the rest of the penal colony. An instrument that resembles a water level is set up on the center of the deck, next to the compass. A long vertical tube connects it to the sea and it measures, far more effectively than a waterline would, just how the ship should normally stay afloat. If the level drops, this indicates the ship is taking on water or that a major storm is approaching.

We are in the midst of a crowd of men, women, children, and animals. The ship is already well out to sea when a dreadful panic sets in: the water level has gone crazy, which means we are about to sink. All the passengers leap overboard and despite their efforts to stay afloat, they all drown. My fiancée and I, however, have kept our wits about us and remain aboard the ship which, despite a serious leak and heavy seas, manages to return to shore, depositing us safe and sound on terra firma.

We are congratulated for our courage and are shown a humorous engraving by an unknown artist in the museum catalogue that depicts either this very accident or else a similar accident that had occurred some time before on a ship belonging to the same company. I see passengers trying to swim for safety, bits of wreckage, and, floating upside down among the waves, tripods that look like kangaroos. But I learn these are, in fact, horses that had plunged headlong into the sea and drowned. Only their tails and stiffened hindlegs emerge from the water, which is why I mistook them for tripods.

 

APRIL, 1926

(Half-Asleep)

A meat tree, each of whose roots bears a beefsteak. One night a year, Jesus Christ appears among these roots to proclaim the Republic. Whereupon the roots turn into an inverted Christmas tree, laden with lights and hams, with Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Apostles in a halo at its center.

 

 

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p.s. Hey. ** kier, Hi, kier! I saw the hospital drawings yesterday. They’re intense and amazing! Everyone, Go have a long look at kier’s aka amazing artist Kier Cooke Sandvik’s ‘hospital research drawings’ from last year over on his blog. They’re here and incredible. Different parks seem to be taking somewhat different approaches. The standard is lowered attendance, pre-reservations only, markings to distance people in lines and separations on the rides. Some parks require masks, some don’t. Phantasialand is Zac’s and my favorite amusement park in the world. (Tied for me with Efteling). It’s incredible. Unbelievable coasters, beautifully themed. A must. Futuroscope is a mystery. It only has one coaster, mostly indoor rides themed around ‘future’. I’ll let you know. Ideally we can just delay our Schneider road trip until you’re here. I can’t see any reason why we couldn’t. Pastel seems like it would be tough to work with. But, you know, good for that reason. I’m good. Zac and I are doing a Skype with Puce Mary today to catch up about the new film project, and we’ve been asked to do a conversation as the intro to Derek McCormack’s new novel, so we’ll record some of that today. And stuff like that. How was your new drawing and etc.? My brain returns fire at yours on the kisses and hugs front. ** Ferdinand, Hi. Thanks for the KRS feedback. I’m sure Thomas saw it, and I dug it too. Curious to hear what you think of Dumont’s stuff. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. I’ll look up ‘Olga’s House of Shame’. Any movie with the name Olga in it has to be good. ** _Black_Acrylic, I had never seen that footage of Huggy Bear on The Word. It’s great! Everyone, courtesy of _Black_Acrylic, go watch Huge Bear do a wild performance of ‘Her Jazz’ back in the day on The Word. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. What you say about ‘AESS’ rings true. ‘Magnolia’, yeah, right. I honestly have blanked out on that film. But I do remember it seeming very, in your words, pro-forma with an art-fart gloom aesthetic overlay. And I seriously can’t stand that kind of film, i.e. ‘The Lighthouse’ as a recent example. I haven’t seen the more recent Greenaway, and I keep meaning to. I kind of wandered away after that one film, shit, I can’t remember its title, the tattoo one. I’m glad you’re at least working/transitioning on the new novel. That part’s as important as any other. As I told kier, Zac and I are supposed to have a conversation that will be used as the introduction to Derek McCormack’s new novel — which, by the way, is just insanely great and his most genius yet — so we’re doing that and will need to heavily edit/refine that. I’m working on a GIF sequence that, if it works, will be for showing in a gallery, a series of individual but linked GIFS works, each displayed on its own small screen. I think it’s working, but I’m not sure yet. And I have to ‘fix’ the English translation of the Robert Walzer play ‘The Pond’ that is the text of Gisele’s next theater piece because it’s dreadful. So, those things mostly at the moment. Have a good day, did you? ** Bill, Huggy Bear was cool. I have a bunch of their vinyl back in LA too. I wonder where they are now? Ah, youtube, I’ll try that. I don’t know her films, or I mean I haven’t seen any. I liked her script for ‘Broken Flowers’. I’ll find ‘Sleepwalk.’ Thanks, pal. ** Steve Erickson, Yeah, KRS’s time seems to have passed. I guess it’s better to know that and beg off than to belabor. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. It’s truly a gift to be a US expat now. I thank my lucky stars every minute. I don’t believe I know Lauren Lee McCarthy’s stuff, but now I can, thanks to you. Gracias. You picked up some weighty, big name books there. I like Schnitzler. Benn is considered super great, so he must be. I wasn’t very interested in what I read of his. Dorothy Parker is fun. Never read William James. Donne is killer, of course. Well, that should keep you very busy in a chair. Bon day. ** Right. Today I spotlight one of the finest (in my opinion) books by the great Michel Leiris. Give it your … all, may I ask? See you tomorrow.

11 Comments

  1. A lovely post. Sadly I said “goodbye” to my old Eridanos press copy of this English translation right before my move to Brooklyn a few years ago. The book had been too much read and messily underlined by me and, I recall, I no longer wanted to see that “damage” on this dream prose work. Though, hopefully, my (and our) covid-19 related displaced nights and days won’t repeat for about 40 years, I feel this must be an appropriate text for me to revisit in this isolation. I don’t buy a new book for now, so I’m going to read the excerpt you shared here today. And more. Thank you very much. (Does this new copy include Maurice Blanchot’s foreword/essay, too?)

    It sounds like you and Zac are having quite open and sociable lives there in Paris, so I’m glad for it. NYC is…, as you probably know, … but I’m grateful to have kind and sane friends who keep in touch with me despite the disorientation and distress we’ve been experiencing here. And they are quite creative and thoughtful about things, so that, too, keeps me in normalish spirits. I’d like to visit your blog more often in this summer as mental exercise and I think I will, but I’m also trying to stay quiet with my own work, as well. First in June, I have a few writing pieces I really want to wrap up before they vanish into my unfinished imagination. I hope you’re having a nice day. More soon.

  2. Hey Dennis.

    Just ordered this book – you had me at “foreword by Blanchot”. The excerpts are fantastic!

    Cool to see the Kill Rock Stars day revived yesterday. It’s interesting how the label has evolved since then. Of their recent releases, I’ve particularly loved the last Taiwan Housing Project album which was sharp and aggressive and clattering round my headphones a lot when it came out. Sorry for not posting yesterday but I can’t seem to see comments until the day afterwards for some reason. Oh – the printer has reopened which means my novel edges towards freedom! They said Philip should have copies by the end of the month. I’ll keep you posted.

    Kier – always good to be in your proximity! Those drawings are awesome! Nothing but love to you.

    Ferdinand – yeah I loved that Bratmobile podcast. KRS so a weekly one too that gives bands tips on how to sustain a career in music etc. And yeah Julie Ruin – anything Kathleen Hanna touches is gold to me.

    David Ehrenstein – thank you David. I always think that Genet cover would make a great t shirt.

    Black Acrylic – hey Ben! Huggy Bear are one of my all time favourites. I have a bootleg sweater that I wear constantly. The band members have all ended up doing interesting solo stuff actually.

    Jeff Jackson – the past and present thanks are both lovely. I’m sending you a present thanks now that I’m hoping you’ll catch when I’m the future when it becomes present to you. Glad you dug the day, Jeff. Respect as always.

    Bill – thanks, Bill! My Huggy Bear 7inches are prize possessions.

    Steve Erickson – a minister? Seriously? I had no idea – I’m going to go googling now!

    Corey Heiferman – you’re very welcome! Glad it hit the spot!

  3. Leiris is a phenomenally great and original writer and — along with Bataille — is one fo te reasons Dennis is so well-regarded n France.The other is Genet. Have you read “Prisoner of Love” Thomas? It was in bookstores nanoseconds after his death.

    I love stroeie about Genet’s enjoyment of Chereau’s production of “The Screens” when one night on account of a motorcycle accident Laurent Malet went on to hold up his injured twin brother Pierre in the key role of the Lieutenant.

    In the immortal word ofMickey Cottrell “Leave it to Chereau to fall for the Rough Trade Twin”

  4. These extracts are really great! They bring to my mind Jim Shaw’s dream drawings which is always a good thing. Being someone whose dreams are always of the non-vivid variety, I can’t help but feel envious.

  5. Hey Dennis – This book looks amazing. I’m adding it to the very short list. Have you read any of the three volumes of his memoir ‘The Rules of the Game,’ which Lydia Davis translated? Those look tempting, though they’re somewhat expensive hardcovers.

    Watched an interesting doc about poet Bob Kaufman. Are you a fan of his work? I liked some of the poem excerpts, but others felt too… beatnik for my tastes. Though maybe they were focusing on that period of his work. I know he was published by New Directions, which always bodes well.

    That Greenaway film I mentioned was an early one from 1987. I dropped him circa “Pillow Book” as well though I’ve heard some of the really recent ones are returns to form or maybe exploring new and worthwhile terrain.

    Excited for the new Derek McCormack – I thought his last one was the best of his always impressive work and glad to hear the new one tops it. Including the interview in the book sounds like a fun idea, too.

    Have you dipped into the new Sparks? I’ve really been enjoying it. Supposedly the new doc on them and maybe even the Carax film will be appearing before too long? Do you know anything about those?

  6. The Leiris book is a masterpiece. And it was recently re-published, so that’s great.

  7. Hi!!

    Why did you pick Amsterdam back when you moved there? I just talked to Anita and she said her division at the company she’s working for right now moves to Bangkok sometime during the fall and she doesn’t want to move there and pretty much hates her job anyway so now it’s a newborn possibility that she’ll come to Amsterdam too which would be so amazing! I’m not counting on this too heavily just yet but it definitely sounds like a dream scenario.
    Such amazing news about the Manifesta screenings and presentation! Congratulations!!
    I just finished a session which I think went pretty well and before that I finished reading The Sluts. I suddenly felt like reading it again yesterday so that’s exactly what I did and it gave me the same exact feeling it did the first time: that my mind is not completely alone in this world.
    How was your day?
    Love that *wishes* to have a Roulé au matcha in his mouth (it looks so delicious!) but instead tastes only his tears over Gurochan’s passing, D.

  8. hey dennis!

    this is one of my favorite books. found it in a half price when i was 14 and it fucked my world. wish I still had that copy, got lost or stolen.

    wanted to let you know my story got published today if wanted to check it out https://www.hobartpulp.com/web_features/holocners

    the workshop starts June 23. it should be the kick in the ass i need right now.

    playing metro exodus on my xbox, this video convinced me to get it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8geGHbWIMXA but disco’s on the laptop. it seems like your kind of thing.

    kavan was great, and i’ll get started on ‘ice’ as soon as i find a copy, but i started gombrowicz’s ‘cosmos’ and it’s becoming an all-timer for me. my brain feels fried and fucked with in the most pleasing way. it reminds me of ‘under the silver lake’ without the stoner vibe. how they doing theaters over there? only certain amount of people? what’s even getting released? i don’t think they’re doing anything like that here for a little bit. shame. i wanted to see the new ferrara on the big screen but might have a mini movie party. also the new spike lee. i feel pretty out of the loop, cinema wise.
    i got to check out the james benning. is there a link for it somewhere? i always have trouble finding his stuff.

    i’ll probably finish ‘cosmos’ tonight. after that, hmmm…maybe some Cioran? sounds fun. lovely day to you sir!

  9. chris dankland

    June 5, 2020 at 2:05 am

    hi dennis !! how ya doing?

    i’m sorry for being out of touch for so long, it’s been a hectic year for me. i got a job teaching 5th grade in a public school here in phoenix, and that pretty much took over my life. but !! school ended last week so i have some extra time now to hang out and say hello to my internet friends, who i haven’t been good about staying in touch with. i apologize about that — i’m hoping that next year i’ll have more time and energy.

    congratulations on Like Cattle Towards Glow !! i watched it several times, and this summer i’m gonna watch it some more. the dialogue in that movie is incredible. i want to study it more. i wonder what the screenplay looks like? and if it interests u to put it out as a stand alone book someday? maybe alongside yr other scripts?

    shouts out to zac as well, the film was beautifully shot. that scene where the guy is hanging in the window is amazing. i think about that river scene a lot too. very memorable.

    thank u for introducing me to Michel Leiris, this book looks interesting. i googled him and found this quote by him, which i love…this quote is on the last wall in the Picasso exhibit at the Tate. it says: “everything we love is about to die, and that is why everything we love must be summed up with all the high emotion of farewell, in something so beautiful we shall never forget it.” i liked the quote so much that i put it on my bedroom wall.

    have u ever kept a dream journal? i think i tried a few times and it only lasted a few days. although now that i think about it, about 10 years ago i did try to train myself how to lucid dream for like a month or something, and journaling was part of that. i wonder if that notebook is anywhere, hmm. i was making progress and having very weird and vivid dreams, but i stopped b/c it felt like i wasn’t really getting a full night’s rest at night. it made me feel weird.

    but i loved reading Leiris’ idea about how sleep is “a place where the difference between exterior and interior is no longer fully operational” — i’ll have to meditate on that a bit, that’s an interesting idea.

    well, mostly i wanted to say hi — and i wanted to apologize for being so distant lately, i feel guilty about that and i want to say hi more often. hope ur having a good day 🙂

  10. The cops asked me to show ID with my address on it (which I don’t have) to walk down the block where I live this morning, so that was fun.

    Here’s my review of Abel Ferrara’s TOMMASO: https://www.gaycitynews.com/tommaso-never-too-late-to-reinve/

    I am also working on a review of the new Run the Jewels album. It’s pretty stunning. The lyrics capture this moment perfectly, although obviously they were written before it. New Armand Hammer album out tomorrow!

    Many record labels are donating all or some of their profits from Bandcamp tomorrow to organizations fighting for Black civil rights, change to the police in America and bail money for imprisoned protesters. There’s a list here: https://daily.bandcamp.com/features/artists-and-labels-offering-donations-special-merch-and-more-on-friday-june-5

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