Nights as Day, Days as Night by Michel Leiris

Cover of Nights as Day, Days as Night by Michel Leiris
Cover of Nights as Day, Days as Night by Michel Leiris

Nights as Day, Days as Night by Michel Leiris

17.50

Trade paperback, 196 pages, translated from French by Richard Sieburth, with a foreword by Maurice Blanchot. Free domestic shipping.

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Translated from the French by Richard Sieburth, with a foreword by Maurice Blanchot. 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.

Michel Leiris (1901–1990) was an author, ethnographer, art critic, and former surrealist who pioneered a unique form of autobiographical writing. Praised by Susan Sontag, Maurice Blanchot, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, he made powerful contributions to modern French literature. His autobiographical works include Manhood, The Rules of the Game, and Nights as Day, Days as Night.
        
Richard Sieburth is a professor of French and Comparative Literature at New York University. He has translated works by Henri Michaux and Louise Labé, and he received a PEN/Book of the Month Translation Prize for his translation of Gérard de Nerval’s Selected Writings.

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”