Nights as Day, Days as Night

Michel Leiris

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Nights as Day, Days as Night by Michel Leiris, translated from the French by Richard Sieburth / 196-page paperback / ISBN 9781943679041 / Spurl Editions

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Hailed as an "important literary document and contemporary pleasure" by Lydia Davis, NIGHTS AS DAY, DAYS AS NIGHT is a chronicle of Michel Leiris's dreams. But it is also an exceptional autobiography, a distorted vision of twentieth-century France, a surrealist collage, a collection of prose poems. Leiris, author of the seminal autobiography Manhood, here disrupts the line between being asleep and awake, between being and non-being. He captures the profound strangeness of the dreamer's identity: that anonymous creature who stirs awake at night to experience a warped version of waking life.

Whatever the setting (from circus shows to brothels, from the streets of Paris to Hollywood silent films), Leiris concentrates on estranging the familiar, on unsettling the commonplace. Beautifully translated by Richard Sieburth, these dream records often read like an outsider's view of Leiris's life and epoch. This outsider is the dreamer, Leiris's nocturnal double, whose incisors grow as large as a street, who describes the terror he feels at being executed by the Nazis, and who can say in all seriousness, "I am dead." It is an alternate life, with its own logic, its own paradoxes, and its own horrors, which becomes alienating and intimate at once. With hints of Kafka, Pirandello, and Nerval, NIGHTS AS DAY, DAYS AS NIGHT is one of Leiris's finest works of self-portraiture.

"Both timeless and located in the years and places of the dreaming, this forty-year-long collection of tiny, bizarre moments and longer weird narratives displays what happens at night inside the unfettered imagination of the highly cultivated, emotional, and sensuous man that was Michel Leiris. They are strange, almost unclassifiable literary creations—part involuntary, part consciously arranged—which take as their material not only himself and his friends but also the figures and works of other writers and artists, and blend the realistic and the fantastical with an occasional leavening of pure comedy. Rendered in natural, living English by Richard Sieburth and infused with his vigilant intelligence, this is an extremely welcome re-publication, as both important literary document and contemporary pleasure."—Lydia Davis, author of Can't and Won't

"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. Somewhere we begin to see the total life of a person come into view, like the metamorphic vision of a paradisal dream city that recurs throughout this book. It is the surrealist New Jerusalem, where the rational and irrational come together to produce the 'supreme point,' the place of final knowing."—Lawrence R. Smith, Los Angeles Times

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