Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Autoportrait" by Edouard Levé (Translated from the French to English by Lorin Stein)

ISBN 9781564787071 Dalkey Archive  

Without a thought in my head, I went to Stories Bookstore and Cafe in Echo Park, and decided to purchase a copy of Edouard Levé's "Autoportrait."   I have heard of this book through Dennis Cooper's blog, and reading about "Autoportrait" made me curious to go get the book itself.  After purchasing it, I went directly to the Echo Park Library, or Edendale Libray as it is officially known, to start reading the book.   I didn't leave the library till I finished the entire book. 

Once you start it, the writing of this short work of literature (not sure if it's officially fiction or memoir) is hard to stop reading.  Rarely have I ever read a book where I was compelled to read the whole thing in one sitting.  I'm glad that I did, because I think if one stops reading "Autoportrait," you would lose the rhythm of the language and sentences.   Basically "Autoportrait" is a collection of facts regarding the writer's life and thoughts.   There are sentences like "I get excited by the idea of reading the biography of an author I love, then when I actually do it I lose steam."   Which is perfectly factual in a sense, but I'm not sure if he really means all biographies he feels that way, or just some.  Perhaps the one's that are 'only' about his favorite writers.   The book is actually full of sentences that can be either meaningful and quite textural, or just the facts sir, in the style of Jack Webb's narration in the TV show "Dragnet."

For me as a reader, the textures and pacing of the language he uses is quite hypnotic.   As I mentioned it was hard for me to put down this book, not because I wanted to know what will happen in the end, but just where he is going with this style of writing and format.    The book is very similar to the writings of George Perec and Joe Brainard - two writers he mentions in passing in "Autoportrait."     Joe Brainard's "I Remember" is very subjective, because it is how he remembers a certain time in his life, yet Levé is working in the same format, but the results are different.   Perec likes to play literary games, and I think Levé was a fan of both writers (just what I read out of this book - by his style alone) that in many ways, reads like a tribute to Brainard and Perec.    "Autoportrait" doesn't have a lot of psychology, in fact, it is almost reading the surface of someone.  Yet, one picks up little clues here and there.  Towards the end of the book, he mentions a friend who before going out to play tennis he went back to the house to shoot himself.   Which describes a person who thought out his suicide, but then I started to think why did he make arrangements to play tennis with his wife.  There is a coldness in the text that is disconcerting.   I did know that Levé committed suicide, so perhaps he was thinking about the nature of taking one's life.  On the other hand, Levé seems to have a full-life before his end.  He traveled well, and it seems he loved and had relationships, so the mystery of why one would do something like that, is still a mystery in this book as well.  

When I read "I Remember" I get a full portrait of its author Joe Brainard.   I don't feel that way after reading "Autoportrait."   It is not a work of full exposure of a human being, but maybe just the facts of how one lives in their lives.    Brainard is like Proust, and Levé is a minimalist by design.   It is obvious he's a man who likes structures, or has a belief in the world of the system.   Yet, that specific structure doesn't tell much.  But then again, what is there to tell?  "Autoportrait" is a remarkable piece of literature, but it is also I think a good book about the art or the artlessness of 'good writing.   Those who write, should be for sure, read this book. 

Edouard Levé
 - Tosh Berman
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