So if the author thinks writing is flawed, why read the book? One reason is for the interests in the formal experiment of its style. Levé has dropped the illusion of narrative to write a frenzy of sentences utterly transparent, crystal-rim-tap clear, yet sentences that do not seem to add up to anything other than lists—likes, dislikes, experiences, wishes, complaints, thoughts, et cetera. A type of graffiti: I am here, such-and-such date, expletive! Existence proven. But without the typical author manipulation afoot, the experience of reading Autoportrait is profound, the way gazing upon a sobbing nude man walking into church during Sunday service might be profound. Asking what does it mean cannot be helped. And the lack of connecting tissues creates its own tension—each sentences something wholly new. What bit of sexual exploit will he confess next, what tidbits of triviality will he express, who else bores him, what other banality will he mention—“My fingernails grow for no reason.” Yes, a genial, yet mordant, whimsy lurks in these sentences.
By taking the book’s title and Levé’s photography into consideration, there is another way to read this book. The come-and-go as you please nature of the text, which allows for any entry point, equalizes the information. There is a sense that it’s all happening at once, and that knowing when Levé hears the English word “god” he thinks of the French word for dildo (godemiché) is as important as his druthers to “paint chewing gum up close than Versailles from far away.” Reading it this way makes me wonder if his intention wasn’t a book that gave a complete picture—how could it really?—but that each sentence be a portrait unto itself, as a camera on “auto” would rapidly shoot pictures. Each sentence a glimpse of a Levé in fixed space and time, a portrait album in sentence form. Thus the visual appearance of a single paragraph book acts as a kind of compression device to create intriguing relationships. But the relationships are so many or so diffuse that Autoportrait becomes a book without a single solution, and in some ways there’s something to relish in its resistance to interpretation, a kind of aesthetic of incomprehensibly in which Levé escapes a tyranny of meaning or acknowledges the absences thereof. As in his photography, these sentences represent their author, but are not the real thing.
Jason DeYoung reviews Autoportrait by Eduoard Levé over at Numéro Cinq. [via Numéro Cinq]