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the Complete Review
the complete review - dreams


Nights as Day,
Days as Night

Michel Leiris

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To purchase Nights as Day, Days as Night

Title: Nights as Day, Days as Night
Author: Michel Leiris
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1961 (Eng. 1987)
Length: 194 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Nights as Day, Days as Night - US
Nights as Day, Days as Night - UK
Nights as Day, Days as Night - Canada
Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour - Canada
Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour - France
Lichte Nächte und mancher dunkle Tag - Deutschland
Notti senza notte e alcuni giorni senza giorno - Italia
Noches sin noche y algunos días sin día - España
  • French tite: Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour
  • Translated by Richard Sieburth
  • With a foreword by Maurice Blanchot

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing collection; interesting piece of Leiris' larger life-capturing project

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 29/8/1981 .
The LA Times . 17/7/1988 L.R. Smith
The NY Times Book Rev. . 7/8/1988 A.E.Johnson
TLS . 4/8/1989 David Coward

  From the Reviews:
  • "Leiris hebt damit den Traum aus der einseitigen Betrachtungsweise der Psychoanalyse und behandelt ihn als Material einer vielfältigen Bearbeitung, als Zentrum einer umfassenden geistigen Tätigkeit. Er läßt so eine Traumgeographie des Ichs entstehen, ein lyrisches Traumgewebe, ein dichterisches Wechselspiel mit Bildern, Phantasmen und Wörtern: ein Buch voll dichter Poesie." - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Above all, Nights as Day, Days as Night stands as a companion piece to Leiris' great work, his memoirs (L'age d'Homme). The existence of both books establishes a stunning assertion, that the dream life of a person is as valid and telling as the more usual memoirs. In fact, Leiris seems to be suggesting that only when the unconscious mind and the conscious mind are seen together, and the network of connections between politics, sexuality, fear, the exotic and the mundane, is reconstructed in all of its mystery, can the person begin to be known." - Lawrence R. Smith, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(E)ach brief prose episode simultaneously displays his poetic lyricism and his scientific detachment. The incidents and images are largely uninterpreted, although some readers will find the pensive essay, here published as a foreword, in which Maurice Blanchot reflects on Mr. Leiris's text to be the gem of this volume. Many of the pieces themselves are pedestrian, and the author is uncomfortably faithful to the solemnity and self-dramatization that often color dream experience. But arresting images do emerge." - Amy Edith Johnson, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Other people's dreams are a bore, but these are prose poems of gossamer spun in such a way that they become part of the collective awareness." - David Coward, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Nights as Day, Days as Night is essentially a dream-diary, collecting, chronologically, generally very brief descriptions of some of author Michel Leiris' dreams (and a few 'real-life' experiences) from between 1923 (or before: the first dream is presented merely as a: 'Very Old Dream') and 1960. It is by no means exhaustive -- and, fortunately, at less than two hundred pages, far from exhausting. Dream-collections can quickly become tiresome, but this one remains surprisingly fresh pretty much throughout.
       Leiris' first entry -- that 'Very Old Dream' -- is the perfect introductory one:

In front of a crowd of gawking spectators -- of whom I am one -- a series of executions is being carried out, and this rivets my attention. Up until the moment when the executioner and his attendants direct themselves toward me because it is my turn now. Which comes as a complete and terrifying surprise.
       It is this surely universally familiar dream-quality -- the focused, voyeuristic interiority, and then the sudden turn on itself (or rather, on the dreamer) -- that is a significant part of what fascinates about dreams, the unexpected turns our mind makes, and the question of what is in and what is out of our control. Are we witness or are we actors ? And, as Leiris comes to realize in another dream -- staring into the abyss -- "I am actually gazing into myself".
       Leiris' real world often filters into his dreams, with figures -- often familiar ones -- frequently playing roles. In some cases, Leiris completely re-imagines himself: "I am the actor Jean Yonnel and I am declaiming a Racinian srt of tragedy", one dream begins.
       Among the most beautiful pieces, a dream perfectly mirroring (sur)reality reads:
I observe the following bit of dialogue between André Breton and Robert Desnos, or I read it as if it were a fragment of a play with stage directions:
       A.B. (to Robert Desnos). The seismoteric tradition ...
       R.D. (turns into a stack of plates).
       Like bizarre thought-experiments of the subconscious, the dreams can be repeatedly revealing -- and also pack a nice narrative punch:
Sidled up to a woman named Nadia -- to whom I am drawn by very tender feelings -- I am at the edge of the sea, a shore on the order of Palm Beach, a Hollywood beach. Playfully, just to scare me and to ascertain how hard I would take her death, Nadia, an excellent swimmer, pretends she is drowning. In fact, she does drown, and her lifeless body is brought to me. I begin to weep until the wordplay "Nadia, drowned naiad" [Nadia, naïade noyée] -- which comes to me just as I am waking -- appears to be both an explanation and a consolation.
       Some of the revealed mind-workings are wonderful -- "I am going on a trip, so I have to move all the books in my library from one room to another" -- and even the seemingly simplest suggest a great deal even without much actually happening:
I walk along a beach and risk being engulfed by the waves. I am wearing a top hat crowned by flames that seems to be a Pentecostal fire. And I have long hair.
       Leiris occasionally searches for meaning, or connections, often upon waking, but generally is cautious, allowing the dreams to stand on their own. He suggests, about one attempt:
But perhaps this kind of analysis offers the means, as it were, to solidify the dream by providing it a certain logic and by erasing the gap between life and dream through the discovery of their common roots
       For the most part, however, Nights as Day, Days as Night doesn't dig too deep into the connections: this is the dream-volume, a supplementary one of sorts to his life-project, specifically the autobiographical volumes of 'The Rules of the Game', suggesting yet another way of seeing, and integrating experience into this larger picture-of-the-person.
       Leiris even offers the perfect image -- complete with ambiguity, of whether he sees himself in it or not:
On a tomb (mine ?) someone has affixed a sign providing an epitaph that condensed the life of the deceased into a few lines. The sign is entitled "ARGUMENT."
       While particularly of interest as piece of Leiris' larger life-project, Nights as Day, Days as Night stands quite fine on its own, a lively, enjoyable, and often sharp collection with a surprising range.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 March 2017

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Nights as Day, Days as Night: Reviews: Other books by Michel Leiris under review: 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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© 2017 the complete review

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