Memoir as the Fragments of Memory

Michel Leiris, Scratches, Yale University Press (2017) (image courtesy Yale University Press)

Running early for an art opening in Paris, the French writer Michel Leiris stops at a café for a beer before hitting the show. When he arrives at the nearby gallery he barely lingers among the artworks and never discusses them in the enigmatic personal essay that recounts the evening. That’s the tale in a nutshell. The uninitiated reader might wonder — what did I just miss? 

As Leiris explains in Scratches — the first installment in the autobiographical quartet The Rules of the Game (1944–76) — narration, or storytelling, is just a pretext. Ignoring plot, Leiris writes to construct a “bridge between the author’s intimate emotion and the reader’s consciousness,” a connection that requires uncompromising attention to the “too particular and personal” — what he calls “concretions that have been deposited [in him]” over time.

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