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Autoportrait Paperback – March 15, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

A work of genius . . . gracefully translated by Lorin Stein. —Wayne Koestenbaum

Review

[A] small gem from a writer of great talent and originality.

(Scott Esposito The Quarterly Conversation)

Autoportrait is a delight the first time around and only gets better upon rereading or being read alongside Levé's other works.

(Words Without Borders)

An unflinching self-portrait.

(Jason DeYoung Numéro Cinq)

Simultaneously brilliant and banal.... This is an autobiography to be read slowly, piece by piece, savoring the sensory details and fragmented stories, all the while pondering what parts of our own lives we would use to tell our own self-portrait.

(Publishers Weekly)

Levé's text is a fluid, absorbing -- and often beautiful -- read. A fascinating piece of work.

(The Complete Review)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 1 edition (March 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564787079
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564787071
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.4 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Ettner on March 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
Currently there is no "Click to LOOK INSIDE" option for Édouard Levé's AUTOPORTRAIT here on Amazon, as there is for his final book, Suicide (French Literature Series). That's unfortunate. While it's easy enough to describe AUTOPORTRAIT's singular construction -- one long paragraph containing a string of over 3000 declarative sentences about the author himself -- it is difficult to predict the effect the book will have on any individual reader.

You might find it a profound statement of the unknowability of another human being. You might find it a source of amusement, as it sometimes reads like a parody of a personal ad (with such declarations as "I consent to feeling moved by sunsets" and "I like rain in the summer") while at other times it mimics the bon mots of a deadpan standup comic ("After I get a haircut, my hair's too short"). But it's very possible you'll find only frustration in pages that are self-indulgent to the Nth degree. Some will say Levé's a bore.

So this may be helpful: The online edition of the Spring 2011 issue (No. 196) of The Paris Review contains a substantial excerpt from the text. The piece is entitled, "When I look at a strawberry, I think of a tongue." In it the book's translator, Lorin Stein, has assembled about ten percent of AUTOPORTRAIT's sentences and laid them out in an easier to experience paragraphed format. He begins his excerpt with the first sentence that appears in the book, and ends with the book's final sentence, but otherwise rearranges bits internally. Not that this matters, as there's no arc and no direction in AUTOPORTRAIT. Treating its sentences to a game of 52-card-pickup is not mistreatment; it works just fine. To find the material online, Google the words, Paris Review Autoportrait.
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I almost gave this book four stars until I saw the heap of adjectives that has been dumped on it in praise. It's one of those books, like Joe Brainard's "I Remember" that will have you thinking, "I could have done this. If only I'd thought of it first." But of course, you didn't think of it first. (Of course that hasn't kept several people from writing their own versions of Brainard's book.) Anyway, for page after page the writer tells you what he likes and dislikes, what he has done, what he thinks of doing, what he owns, etc. etc. Once in a while there are two or three sentences which "dwell" on the same subject, but mostly it's just statements on different subjects, one after the other. In a way it's an ego trip, as is often suicide in a way, another of the writer's accomplishments. It's interesting enough to keep me reading, and I enjoy agreeing or disagreeing or learning about some things in this man's life. But it's no masterpiece.
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Format: Paperback
In the noble and under-utilized lineage of Sei Shonagon and Joe Brainard, here is Levé’s Autoportrait. Each sentence is a fresh start, “I” is the touchstone, but the point is not so much to trumpet the self as to endlessly give it away. Like Joe Brainard’s “I Remember”, Autoportrait is an act of generosity, an intimate act. Here is the self, its memories, habits and preferences, endlessly raveling and unraveling, appearing suddenly and disappearing to make way for whatever is next.

Autoportrait is 117 pages of unbroken text. It may be daunting to not see a paragraph break, a place to take a breath, but this book is utterly and helplessly readable -- the only trouble is when you try to stop.

On page 9 Levé writes, “In India, I traveled in a train compartment with a Swiss man whom I didn’t know, we were crossing the plains of Kerala, I told him more about myself in several hours than I had told my best friends in several years, I knew I would never see him again, he was an ear without repercussions.” Reading Autoportrait is just like that -- I felt I was that man on the train, intimate from the start, hearing Leve’s memories, preferences, anguishes and tics in a rush. (He mentioned never having had gay sex so frequently I wanted to tell him, “Come here, sweetheart, let’s tic that box already.”)

When I reached the end I wished there was more, so immediately I read it again. After reading it twice -- because Leve writes he would be glad to live his life a second time but not a third -- I wished that this could become an established and recognized form: “the autoportrait” in honor of Leve. It seems to me that the autoportrait is in some ways superior to the memoir, because it is closer to life than the story of it.
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I read Leve's Suicide before this and bought it after learning of its existence. Written in first person, it is a fantastic look into Leve's mind and above all, his lyricism. It is haunting. It is beautiful. It is his photograph.
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