Monday, 3 June 2013

Autoportrait by Éduard Levé (5/5)

First published: 2005
Original title:

Original language: French
Translation to English by: Lorin Stein
Page count: 117

The back says: In this brilliant and sobering self-portrait, Edouard Leve 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.

I say: I fell in love with Levé when I read Suicide last year, and I cannot believe that it’s taken me this long to read Autoportrait. But, as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait – and this wasn’t merely good,
it was pure perfection.

Just as it says in the synopsis, it’s a string of sentences about Levé’s life; his childhood, work, travels, friend and old lovers. Strangely enough, I didn’t read the synopsis before starting the memoir, so it was a bit of a shock to encounter sentences without an apparent logic behind them. But as I kept on reading I realized that the logic lies in its fragmentation. Chronology is all well and good, but memory rarely follows a timeline – at least not mine, and surely not Levé’s.
A lot of the sentences seem trivial, while others seem too significant to be reduced to a few words, and it’s this blend that makes for such a beautifully fluid memoir. I found myself lost nodding in agreement, blinking tears back and running my fingers across the page in a childish attempt to get closer to the text. When I had read the last sentences I wanted nothing more than to reach out and hug Levé, but since he is no longer alive, I’ll have to make due with re-reading his words.
“Fifteen years old will is always 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 117

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