25 Points: Autoportrait

by Edouard Levé
Dalkey Archive Press, 2012
120 pages / $12.95 buy from Dalkey








1. I didn’t intend to write about this book until I finished it just now.

2. Today I read a speech given by Jeffrey Eugenides in which he quoted Christopher Hitchens recalling the advice of Nadine Gordimer, i.e. “A serious person should try to write posthumously.” I think Edouard Levé succeeded in writing posthumously before his death.

3. When I first read the line “I find tips humiliating for the giver and the receiver,” I initially understood “advice” rather than “gratuity.”

4. I read the musings on mortality and suicide in Autoportrait differently than the musings of characters written by other authors who later killed themselves. I’m not sure why.

5. I experienced disappointment (with myself?) whenever a line caused me to think of Twitter. (“I have thought simultaneously: ‘I really should learn the trombone’ and ‘there’s a dead ant.'”)

6. “I am writing this book on a computer, there will never be a manuscript.”

7. The thought “Oh, you too?” occurred to me around 30 times after reading different lines in the book. (“On a trip, I fold my dirty laundry so it will take up less space.” “I rest only against my will.” “At a public urinal the presence of a neighbor delays my micturition.” “I have a fantasy involving female art students.”)

8. In my opinion, the number of pairs of pants Levé owned seems excessive. (60!)

9. It would have taken me longer to pick up this book if it had been called Self-Portrait by Edward Lee. In some way I think this is similar to the author’s fondness for Levi’s 501 Jeans.

10. Probably more than 30 times I would read the first clause of a sentence and think “This is going to be good.” (“Here is how I tell the story of Jesus:…”)

11. Levé prefers Raymond Roussel, “who writes unrealistic things in everyday words,” to Joyce, “who writes about banal things in extraordinary language.”

12. The sentence “I try to write prose that will be changed neither by translation nor by the passage of time,” follows one describing Levé’s experiences with the Friday the Thirteenth movies.

13. “I am tempted to make exhaustive lists, and stop myself in the middle.”

14. Several of the longer sentences in Autoportrait contain a complete narrative arc, usually ending in death.

15. “My memory is structured like a disco ball.”

16. “Everything I write is true, but so what?” I wonder if this is true, while also realizing it doesn’t matter.

17. This would be a good book to read in French (for practice, etc): it’s relatively short, the language is straightforward, and there are no stopping points.

18. I felt bad laughing at: “My brother thought his turtle had run away, it dried up under the radiator.”

19. Levé recasts the mundane as aesthetic experience: the street in a foreign country, the act of packing, sleep.

20. “I am not for or against painting, that would be like being for or against the brush.”

21. The author’s fear of clowns is well established, as are his flat feet.

22. “My ideas are more my style than my words are.”

23. Levé relates great misreadings, such as “In a Chinese pharmacy I thought I read on one of the bottles ‘octopus wigs.'” I initially read this as “octopus wings.”

24. The text of Autoportrait might lend itself to misreadings.

25. “I do not write in order to give pleasure to those who read me, but I would not be displeased if that is what they felt.”

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  1. Jackson Nieuwland

      Fuck I need to buy and read this now. Before reading this review I was aware of this book. Now, after reading it, I know that I will love this book. Thank you

  2. deadgod


      Posthumous men–I, for example–are understood worse than timely ones, but heard better. More precisely: we are never understood–hence our authority.

      Twilight of the Idols, Maxims and Arrows 15

      This book belongs to the very few. Perhaps not one of them is even living yet. [… H]ow could I mistake myself for one of those for whom there are ears even now? Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some are born posthumously.

      The Antichrist, Preface

      I am one thing, my writings are another matter.–Before I discuss them, one by one, let me touch on the question of their being understood or not understood. I’ll do it as casually as decency permits; for the time for this question certainly hasn’t come yet. The time for me hasn’t come yet: some are born posthumously.

      Ecce Homo, Why I Write Such Good Books, 1

      6. One–most of us–uses one’s manual digits to write with a computer as much as with pen or pencil and paper.

      7. blushing-kidney syndrome (said to afflict ~3% of adult males)

      12. That is a lot of ambition, or a dollop of an ambition to be monstrous.

      14. This observation makes the book greatly desirable to me.

  3. Janice Lee

      Loved this book. Great review. Reading Suicide now.

  4. Brooks Sterritt

      Glad to hear it–sick, sick book. I didn’t even want to read it so soon but I was on a delayed flight in VA and was pleased to have to read the entire thing and then some. After posting I felt like I “left out” all the really funny parts. There is also a sad energy that builds and makes you like/dislike yourself and the author. But maybe that was just me.

  5. Brooks Sterritt

      Thanks for the Nietzsche (ap·ro·pos).

  6. Brooks Sterritt

      i will say that i’m not sure how ambitious #12 is. i think it is possibly just a stylistic choice. reading the prose, i think it isn’t changed much by translation. though “the passage of time” is a bit much to avoid…….

  7. Brooks Sterritt

      Thanks, Janice. Would like to hear your thoughts on the two. They look nice next to each other.

  8. Mark Thomas Stevenson

      definitely going to get this now, thanks Mr. Sterritt

  9. deadgod

      I mean that wanting to write something that would translate with no slippage or interference–none!–into another language, and wouldn’t change historically as its language does, is wanting to write something that’s not ‘linguistic’.

      I understand that, to you–and maybe to many–, Leve feels in English much as he does in French. Fair enough as a general feeling, but test it with just one specific: say, the definite article. A common, basic word, and French has both definite and indefinite articles (as Latin has neither) and the definite article doesn’t decline (as in German and ancient Greek). But, of course, ‘the’ in French is gendered. That, to me, is an untranslatable difference. le jour, la nuit – to gender ‘the day’ and ‘the night’ in English requires more signage than just the (formally identical) ‘the’ and the ‘day’ or ‘night’. And yet how would you translate “le jour et la nuit” except as ‘the day and the night’ (or, in some particular context, ‘day and night’)? You could try ‘the male day and the female night’, which is what might be the semantic pressure, with some art, in French, but, without any effort or intention – even despite resistance to intending such a thing – , in French, le jour and la nuit are ineluctably differentiated as to gender.

      And that’s just the word ‘the’!

      Maybe you understand Leve to mean something by saying 12. that I don’t get.

  10. Brooks Sterritt

      I see what you mean, and realize translation involves choices, you can never get 100% or even close, and that cultural shadings are sometimes impossible to translate.

      I know even parts of Leve are “lost” in translation, just by necessity, but I think less of him is lost (than say Joyce in translation), due to Leve’s straightforward language, syntax, lack of puns, etc.

  11. Mike Kleine

      I’ve had Levé’s ‘Suicide’ in my Amazon cart for ~2 months… I may buy it soon tho, now that he’s finally starting to catch on… Gotta beat the hype!!! Awesome impression(s) of ‘Autoportrait’.

  12. Brooks Sterritt

      Thanks Mike! I know what you mean–I was “saving” both of them for a while.

  13. Balf

      Somewhere in here, Levé says something like ‘…only circumlocution and paraphrasis.’ I can never find the page. Does anyone know?

  14. herocious

      I found this book in the Twin Oaks library and had to check it out. I liked it so much I read Suicide, which I didn’t like as much.

  15. Brooks Sterritt

      Is that the passage concerning the abortion?

  16. Autoportrait

      Follow @EdouardLeve