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.”