Aurora and Cardinal Point
By Michel Leiris. Translation and introduction by Anna Warby.
This volume collects two classics of Surrealist fiction, both long out of print, by the writer and ethnographer Michel Leiris (1901–1990). Close to Georges Bataille, Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and Francis Bacon, and a director of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, Leiris was a pivotal figure in postwar France. He wrote important works in the fields of ethnology and anthropology, as well as a sequence of autobiographical works regarded as classics of modern French literature (most famously Manhood ). "There is scarcely a literary opus today that can compare in authenticity and stature to that of Michel Leiris," Maurice Nadeau wrote of him. In Aurora, Leiris pursues his eponymous heroine through a visionary landscape shot through with catastrophe. His lucid yet baroque language, with its rich descriptions and ever more extravagant metaphors, is only just able to keep pace. Looking back on this novel, Leiris described its tone: "despite the ‘black’ or ‘frenetic’ style of its blustering prose, what I like about this work is the appetite it expresses for an unattainable purity, the faith it places in the untamed imagination, the horror it manifests with regard to any kind of fixity." Cardinal Point is Leiris’ first prose work. Written in 1925, soon after he had joined the Surrealist movement, it employs "automatic writing" to excavate the hidden meanings of ordinary words, a procedure that was to underpin his most vital future works.