Leiris (BrisÃ‰es, 1990), best known to American readers through the remarkable autobiographical meditation Manhood (1963), was one of the great midcentury French phenomenologists of the self, a relentless crusher of experience down to crystals ever more fine. This work, the first in a volume of four, was published in 1948 in Paris, and now appears for the first time in English. Somewhat more chronological than the looser Manhood, this is Leiris as a word-sculptor of himself, shaping artificially what life refuses to give shape to. But the chisel is always slipping: the book is made up of ever-more minute cracks and chips--eye-crossingly tiny investigations of what toys certain songs reminded him of, what textures certain colors brought to mind (the whole synesthesia apparatus that Rimbaud would will to French literature when he first associated vowels with colors). Most of the time it's awfully tedious, though. Later sections of the book go into schoolday memories and the meaning of Sunday and Leiris's first leanings to anthropology, but the early parts are so set on agonizingly describing the personal associations raised by the sounds and misperceived meanings of French words that an English reader indulges the conceit with less and less patience. Leiris, here, exports less than well.