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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

     

Manhood

by
Michel Leiris


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Manhood



Title: Manhood
Author: Michel Leiris
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 1939 (Eng. 1963)
Length: 164 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Manhood - US
Manhood - UK
Manhood - Canada
L'âge d'homme - Canada
Manhood - India
L'âge d'homme - France
Mannesalter - Deutschland
Età d'uomo - Italia
Edad de hombre - España
  • A Journey from Childhood into the Fierce Order of Virility
  • French title: L'âge d'homme
  • Translated by Richard Howard

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Our Assessment:

B : odd; disturbingly/admirably revealing

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 3/5/1964 Susan Sontag
Sunday Times . 10/3/1968 Cyril Connolly
The Times . 9/3/1968 Ruby Millar


  From the Reviews:
  • "(B)rilliant and repulsive" - Susan Sontag, The New York Review of Books

  • "There is nothing he is afraid to say in his muffled style which becomes somewhat clotted in translation. (...) Everything irrelevant to the depths is discarded. He belongs in the dingy world of Sartre's early stories" - Cyril Connolly, Sunday Times

  • "Manhood is short, the style is not sensational; it sometimes becomes almost turgid in the writer's anxiety to pursue an argument to its extremity. I do not feel that is necessarily the fault of the translation, but rather of the writer's single-minded focus." - Ruby Millar, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Manhood is a work of autobiographical self-analysis, Michel Leiris -- who begins this work at age thirty-four -- often almost clinically assessing himself and how he got to this point ("life's mid-point"), in particular by looking back to his childhood and youth.
       Many of the chapters into which he divides the book are titled after famous imagery and specific paintings, and Leiris uses these mythological stories -- Lucrece, Judith, The Raft of the Medusa -- as points of reference and comparison. Yet, as he admits (because he admits to practically everything in his effort to be as open as possible):

Even as I write, the plan I had devised escapes me, and one might say that the more I look into myself the more confused everything I see becomes, the themes I originally hoped to distinguish proving inconsequential and arbitrary, as if such classification was ultimately no more than an abstract guideline, or merely a simple procedure of aesthetic composition.
       Manhood is filled with incidents and appreciations of blood, violence, and injury -- all the more striking because of a lack of corresponding emotion. He admits:
I know that very early in my life, I had a predilection for for tears, as well as for a certain degree of histrionics. It would be almost impossible for me to say at what moments, even when I was very young, I was really natural, at what moments I was playing a part not, in truth, out of deliberate hypocrisy (for, quite often, I was my own dupe) but from an instinctive need to magnify myself in the eyes of others or in my own.
       His stylized neutral and detached tone now seem, in a way unnatural, too -- and, of course, are just a different sort of pose and presentation.
       Often his efforts not to be judgmental make for some very creepy reading, especially with regards to matters of sex and love. Fascinated by the bloody penetration of bullfighting -- be it the matador plunging his sword into the bull's body, or the bull gorging the matador -- physical injury is frequently a focus here.
       As to sex itself:
It would be impossible for me to perform the sexual act if I felt it to be anything but sterile and alien to the human instinct of reproduction.
       And:
I cannot conceive of love save in torment and tears; nothing moves me or attracts me so much as a woman weeping, unless it is a Judith with murderous eyes. Looking back to my earliest childhood, I find memories connected with stories of wounded women.
       In many ways Leiris' account and his many vivid, stark (and often bloody) memories are fascinating. He is a literary man ("My chief activity is literature", he explains, matter-of-factly and without assigning that any particular value), and he is also concerned with making his self-analysis a literary work, in both the telling and the structure. Manhood is a work of a specific time, place, and culture -- pre-war France, written by a man steeped in surrealism (with the book dedicated to similarly bare-to-the-bones author Georges Bataille) and the psychology of the day -- but despite its distinct (and frequently disturbing) alienness the book stands up quite well. It's certainly not comfortable reading, but it exerts a fascination of sorts: Leiris may not be a man one would have wanted to know too closely (certainly not intimately), but his struggles and his account of his journey to the manhood he has reached are certainly intriguing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 July 2013

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Links:

Manhood: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author and anthropologist Michel Leiris lived 1901 to 1990.

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© 2013 the complete review

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