MANHOOD by Michel Leiris


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I have just reached the age of 34, life's midpoint. "" So commences Frenchman Michel Leiris' odd-ball autobiography, an elegant example of existential true-confessions, written ahead of the game in the late thirties, translated here for the first time. The come-on subtitle, ""a journey from childhood into the fierce order of virility"", sums up both the author's style and intent. And as a craftsman he's superb, what with passages of shimmering sensuality and a self-scrutiny often stunningly observed. Still the book's raison d'etre, its sincerity, is slightly over-serious and sometimes suspect; to paraphrase Gide: sincerity, too, can be full of self-delusions. Anyway, the author's representative of that current cultural complex, sex-in-the-head; as he admits ""nothing seems more like a whorehouse to me than a museum"". Self-styled ""virtually impotent"" and ""humiliatingly ugly""- both statements meaningful more neurotically than physiologically- Leiris surveys his early education and experiences, embracing a metaphysics of childhood, an aesthetic of the male/female psyche, and multi-level literary allusions. For him, two legendary figures form a subjective allegory: one symbolizing man's sadism (virtuous Luorece), the other man's masochism (sword-wielding Judith). He even envisions himself as a sort of Holofernes. Thus the syndrome is one of self-disgust and self- defensiveness, existing in a dream world eroticism, neither exalted nor tragic. Leiris does not offer any solutions, nor does he employ clinical claptrap. He merely suffers, remembers, presents, and in a way exercises. For intellectuals, a piercing and provocative bit of personalia.

Pub Date: Aug. 26th, 1963
Publisher: Crossman Publishers (125 E. 19th St., NYC 3)