"Not only one of the frankest of autobiographies, but also a brilliantly written book, Leiris' "Manhood" mingles memories, philosophic reflections, sexual revelation, meditations on bullfighting, and the life-long progress of self-discovery."--"Washington Post Book World "
"Leiris writes to appall, and thereby to receive from his readers the gift of a strong emotion--the emotion needed to defend himself against the indignation and disgust he expects to arouse in his readers."--Susan Sontag, "New York Review of Books "
"I have just reached the age of 34, life's midpoint. " So commences Frenchman Michel Leiris' odd-ball autobiography, an elegant example of existential true-confessions, written ahead of the game in the late thirties, translated here for the first time. The come-on subtitle, "a journey from childhood into the fierce order of virility", sums up both the author's style and intent. And as a craftsman he's superb, what with passages of shimmering sensuality and a self-scrutiny often stunningly observed. Still the book's raison d'etre, its sincerity, is slightly over-serious and sometimes suspect; to paraphrase Gide: sincerity, too, can be full of self-delusions. Anyway, the author's representative of that current cultural complex, sex-in-the-head; as he admits "nothing seems more like a whorehouse to me than a museum". Self-styled "virtually impotent" and "humiliatingly ugly"- both statements meaningful more neurotically than physiologically- Leiris surveys his early education and experiences, embracing a metaphysics of childhood, an aesthetic of the male/female psyche, and multi-level literary allusions. For him, two legendary figures form a subjective allegory: one symbolizing man's sadism (virtuous Luorece)??, the other man's masochism (sword-wielding Judith). He even envisions himself as a sort of Holofernes. Thus the syndrome is one of self-disgust and self- defensiveness, existing in a dream world eroticism, neither exalted nor tragic. Leiris does not offer any solutions, nor does he employ clinical claptrap. He merely suffers, remembers, presents, and in a way exercises. For intellectuals, a piercing and provocative bit of personalia. (Kirkus Reviews)