Autoportrait by Edouard Levé

Autoportrait by Edouard Levé

French Literature

Original title – Autoportrait

Translator Lorin Stein

Source – personnel copy

Generous of lyric, Jehovah’s Witness
Stands in Cologne Marktplatz
Drums come in
When the drums come in fast
Drums to shock, into brass evil

What have you got in that paper bag?
Is it a dose of Vitamin C?
Ain’t got no time for Western medicine
I am Damo Suzuki

The fuck-up like red acid rain
Give it to me Daki every day
Who is Mr. Karlheinz Stockhausen?
Introduce me
I’m Damo Suzuki

Soundtracks, Soundtracks
Melched together, the lights
The lights above you

I choose The fall as the lyrics from Mark E smith have the same choppy style as Leve and this song one my favourites is an Homage to Damo Suzuki the Can member .

I read Leve other book Suicide a couple of years ago , so last week when I was in Nottingham , I was looking for some books to read in the large waterstones that is there , I found this and two other books from Dalkey archive .Leve started as a painter then became a photographer (he mainly photographed cities Florence , Oxford , New york amoung them . He then moved from art to writing in a book that described 500 made up work of art (This is one I really want to read by him ) He then wrote this and then later Suicide which after he finished this book he killed himself .

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 .

I’ve read some of these writers it shows what he read although he said elsewhere he reread a lot and he  had read four biographies .I feel that was good thing as this is a unique take on a life .

Now this is a book the writer himself called literary cubism .The book as the title suggests is a portrait , one can assume it is Leve himself if not a mix of himself and people he knows .What we get is a stream of short sentences that tells a mans life but in small unconnected parts . So this is a life that is just told in facts and those facts come small , large , past ,present likes and dislikes. BUt also to the facts come some sayings , feelings and quirky ideas all in short shots  . Now the first page mentions Georges Perec’s book and yes this is from the same oeuvre of fiction as it is made up of unconnected parts in a way no narrative just a journey .Gilbert and George see there lives as an art work dress eat listen live the same life . Well this is part of what Leve is doing to me this is closer to art than literature .What we get is as he says a cubist view of a man all angles and bold lines .

I prefer a ruin to a monument
A short quote but this is the other side to the facts is what made Leve tick .

As I say I view this as art in words .An expansion of ideas that first surfaced in Conceptual art as a movement , with artist like Rauschenberg , whom used a telegram as a self  portrait in the early 1960 , this was first of many examples of telegrams being used . Something in this book remind me of the sparse nature of  this writing ,when people had to send telegrams , like the tweets of the days every word matter so facts  became important and the dressing of what we said didn’t matter . This is like a set of telegrams that have been cut to just those sentences then pulled out and stuck together , like William Burroughs used to do when he wrote and later David Bowie .Another way he could write this book is like in the film Finding forrester the main character a writer says one way he starts to write is to just type and get the rhythm of typing and let your mind wander , I get the rhythm of keys being tapped I have that when I am typing my blog posts .I also choose a quote about the writers he like as a guide to what influenced him .

What is your favourite book that maybe is more art than Literature ?


Suicide by Édouard Levé

SUICIDE-edouard-Leve (1)

Suicide by Édouard Levé

French Fiction

Translator – Jan Steyn

Source – personnel copy on Kindle

Édouard Levé is a writer I wanted to read for a while ,one of his earlier books appeared on the BTBA the american equivalent of the IFFP  .He was a self taught artist ,who after visiting India became a photograph ,he published  a good number of books of his photographs and laterly he wrote four books in the last four years of his life ,this being his last book for ten days after handing in the manuscript for this book  Édouard Levé himself committed suicide ,this makes this book one that leaves you as the reader questioning was it ,is it a final note on himself ?

You used to read dictionaries like other people read novels .Each entry is a character ,you’d say ,who might be encountered on some other page. Plots many of them would form during any random reading.The story changes according to the order in which the entries are read.

from the first section and alsomaybe how you could read this book .

Well that said this book has an unusual style ,I felt the first of the two sections was like an epilogue ,we see a friend looking back twenty year after a close friend committed suicide ,these remembrance ,afterthought ,what happened next are short to the point .We see a man’s life told in what happened after he died ,his friend tries to piece together the point that he decide to do the deed and the points that lead to the dead and also the outcome of the dead .What is the lasting effect of one death to suicide on those around him ?As I say the book in a way seems about-face because the second section is composed of poems ,lines written by the man himself in the time leading up to his suicide .But for me this work as I had one fixed idea on the first section the second person point of view ,with the strong use of you every passage has “you” at the end of it ,almost accusing as in why did you ? But also enquiring you as opposed to me why did you ?.

Traps seduce me

Liars fool me

Informers horrify me


The baroque sickens me

The Gothic chills me

Novels enlighten me


Red irritates me

Black moves me

White calms me

The second section is very much the man’s point of view on life as you see .


This book showed what can be great when someone from a different artistic field moves into writing .There is a strong sense of the abstract ,as much as we feel we know this man ,we don’t ,we know he is married ,but don’t know where he came from what he is like other than the scare facts we are given .Also Édouard Levé keen eye for detail ,from his other artistic field is evident ,keenly observed little gems ,such as a gesture ,an eye for the here and now of what happened .I also felt the book could be seen as two case the first the case why he shouldn’t have committed the suicide even thou he did ,his friend saying your life was this that and the other ,what you did ok some of it wrong ,but on the other hand  some of it was good .The other half the second section is the case for why he did it from his own words, I was this ,I was that .Almost like the Damon Hirst piece lets eat outdoors today ,where we see a fly born on rotting meat and then fly into second half of the piece to ultimately die in an electric fly killer .This concept of two halves rings true in this book .An earlier book of his yet to be translated has caught my eye a book describe 500 books not written but he would like to write almost a crossover into conceptual art .This is what I feel this is as much as a work of fiction it is a work of art to complex to paint or photographs one man’s life the reason why and the suicide but able to be caught in words .Of course I imagine for years to come the main discussion will be on his own suicide and the timing of the book it is hard to avoid this as it is so timely ,but if he hadn’t would it been viewed as more of a conceptual art piece as a book one odes wonder .

Have you read Édouard Levé?

June 2021


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