There is a certain power in lists: they impose order on to the quantifiable and the unrelated. They are calming, containing. But what happens when you turn this inwards and try to list your life—your experiences, your thoughts, your impressions? And what happens when you show this list to an unknown reader? This is what Édouard Levé sets out to do in his brilliant Autoportrait.
When I first started reading Autoportrait, it felt like I was reading a Dada phone book:
“I don’t really listen to what people are saying. I am surprised when someone gives me a nickname and we hardly know each other. I spoke to Salvador Dalí when I was two. Competition does not drive me…”
However, as one progresses through these direct and unsparing first-person sentences, and as Levé’s thoughts slowly bleed into each other, a strange and disjointed rhythm takes hold—like the hiss of an amplifier or an engine running in neutral. One could say it is equal parts Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, Nijinsky’s diary, and Mitch Hedberg. Or one could just say it is unique. I will leave it to you to find out.
Autoportait, by Édouard Levé, translated from the French by Lorin Stein, Dalchey Archive