The fourth and final volume of Michel Leiris’s renowned autobiography, now available in English for the first time, translated by Richard Sieburth
Ex-surrealist and maverick anthropologist Michel Leiris (1901–1990) crafted his multivolume autobiography over the course of thirty-five years, profoundly influencing generations of French writers, from Sartre and Beauvoir to Modiano and Ernaux. In this fourth and final volume, Richard Sieburth completes the project of bringing Leiris’s monumental experiment in self-portraiture into English.
With wit and playfulness, Leiris assembled a scrapbook of fragments—journal extracts, travel notes, transcriptions of dreams, poems—to document the vagaries of a life committed to the difficult marriage of poetry and revolutionary politics, which he witnessed firsthand in Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, and on the Paris streets in May ’68.
Frail Riffs is a jazz improvisation on the twilight of a life, at once a painstaking self-examination and a chronicle of a century. As Leiris wrote, it is “neither a private diary nor a formal work, neither an autobiographical narrative nor a work of the imagination, neither prose nor poetry, but all this at the same time. . . . A perpetual work in progress.”
Michel Leiris (1901–1990) was a French writer, pioneer of modern confessional literature, noted anthropologist, poet, and art critic. Richard Sieburth is professor emeritus of French and comparative literature at New York University.
“This is a brilliant translation of the final chapter in Leiris’s astonishing autobiography. Page after page of this work of unique self-documentation contains observations and revelations, especially about Leiris’s reactions to the violence and chaos of World War II. I couldn’t put it down.”—Marjorie Perloff, author of Infrathin: An Experiment in Micropoetics
“‘Divination, alibi, purification rite’: In the fourth and final volume of his incantatory self-exploration, The Rules of the Game, Michel Leiris shuffles the tarot cards of his life in the light of his approaching death. Tracking the surges, feints, and elaborations of this Surrealist quest romance, Sieburth has created a monument of English prose.”—Rosanna Warren, author of Max Jacob: A Life in Art and Letters
“The indispensable legacy of a man who believed that a poet has to pay with his own unhappiness for the blessings of his gift.”—Alberto Manguel, director, Center for Research into the History of Reading
“Frail Riffs is a radical experiment in self-knowledge. Michel Leiris subverts virtually all the expectations built into the autobiographical genre in his performative making and unmaking of a self. The work’s lucid awareness of historical contingency, captured in Richard Sieburth’s nimble translation, speaks to our present uncertainty about where we are going, separately and together.”—James Clifford, author of The Predicament of Culture
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