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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical



Edouard Levé

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

To purchase Autoportrait

Title: Autoportrait
Author: Edouard Levé
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 117 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Autoportrait - US
Autoportrait - UK
Autoportrait - Canada
Autoportrait - Canada (French)
Autoportrait - India
Autoportrait - France
Autoportrait - Deutschland
Autorretrato - España
  • French title: Autoportrait
  • Translated by Lorin Stein

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Our Assessment:

A- : fascinating variation on the self-portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2012 Wayne Koestenbaum
NZZ am Sonntag . 23/2/2014 Martin Zingg

  From the Reviews:
  • "I have many motives for writing this review, but my two principal impetuses are to praise Autoportrait, which I’ll go ahead and call a work of genius, and to make a general plea for parataxis as a still-useful aesthetic strategy (.....) Autoportrait , gracefully translated by Lorin Stein (...), functions within a soft-core Oulipian economy of procedural moves servicing confessional ends (.....) Neither maudlin nor panting, Levé’s structurally autoerotic Autoportrait suggests the logic of cold self-consumption, self-cancellation—or any procedure (including auto-fellatio, or auto-asphyxiation, or auto-analysis) of gorging on one’s own spectacularity." - Wayne Koestenbaum, Bookforum

  • "Die Errinerungssplitter, daring liegt das Grossartige dieses Textes, werden nie triumphierend oder gar lamentierend vorgezeigt. Im Gegenteil, sie werden ziemlich kühl hingehalten, ohne Wertung oder Gewichtung, in einem registrierenden Tonfall, der 111 Seiten lang kaum variiert wird." - Martin Zingg, NZZ am Sonntag

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:

       Autoportrait is more self-portrait than memoir, a litany of self-centered observations, claims, and memories presented in no particular order that feels both random and comprehensive.
       On the first page already he announces: "I archive", but it's only fairly late in the book that Levé explains -- in a rare succession of sentences that are connected -- what is behind his method:

I do not write memoirs. I do not write novels. I do not write short stories. I do not write plays. I do not write poems. I do not write mysteries. I do not write science fiction. I write fragments. I do not tell stories from things I've read or movies I've seen, I describe impressions, I make judgments.
       Autoportrait is an archive of such fragments, a single paragraph of short sentence after short sentence offering impressions and judgments, tallies and memories. Yes, the presentation is practically pointillist -- and, yes, that cover really suggests what you're getting (except perhaps that the text is more than just black and white) -- with few of the sentences even going on at any length, and fewer observations or memories presented in more than a single sentence. "Art that unfolds over time gives me less pleasure than art that stops it" he writes -- and Autoportrait, an art-work made up of moments, forsakes any semblance of chronology ("chronology bores me", Levé admits).
       There is a mechanical feel to much of this, Levé's tone generally neutral -- unemotional, non-judgmental -- as he lists his facts or gives his opinions. A summary impression may be of an 'autoportrait' on autopilot -- yet it is nothing of the sort. The mono-tone of the monologue is carefully shaded, the mix of observations a constantly changing one (the list quoted above is not representative).
       Only very rarely does Levé go beyond mere recording of fact or opinion; his probing remains on the surface, and he avoids prodding for insight. Rarely does he try to explain in greater depth, or follow-up any initial observation; when he does, it is almost jarring:
I sometimes feel like an impostor without knowing why, as if a shadow falls over me and I can't make it go away.
       There are the occasional odd notes -- observations rather out of left field, such as: "I have never attended a nudist funeral" or: "I would be curious to see a Shakespeare play performed by figure skaters" -- but most are more mundane, or at least more obvious bits of self-reflection.
       Levé reveals -- or at least enumerates -- many personal details, about his life and loves and art. One characteristic that reveals itself is a sense of impermanence: Levé is not a settled man, in family or career. He is not tied to routine or necessity; in part, clearly, he is still 'looking for himself' -- and Autoportrait is an exercise in trying to define and position himself. A portrait of the man does emerge, yet it is also not a final or full one: Levé remains, in many ways, indeterminate. (His suicide two year after publication of this book also suggests the failure of the exercise.)
       There is great craft to Autoportrait, too: it's not easy to pull off presenting a narrative in this form, but Levé's text is a fluid, absorbing -- and often beautiful -- read. A fascinating piece of work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 February 2012

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Autoportrait: Reviews: Other books by Edouard Levé under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Édouard Levé was born in 1965 and committed suicide in 2007.

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© 2012-2015 the complete review

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