Autoportrait was one of the most surprising and enjoyable books I read last year. It reads like not just an exercise in personal and identitary memory, but one in the forgetting of inhibition, self-censorship, and the interrupting mediation of the writing act and the text itself. This makes it often seem more similar to a spoken record, in the perpetuation of rapid-fire mnemonic decisiveness and forgetting of the private-public divide.
It also encouraged some productive writing experiments of my own in Levé’s style, I must admit (and I know for a fact I am not alone in this modeling). Engaging this style seemed a kind of next level of Frank O’Hara’s I-do-this-I-do-that aesthetic that can be so exciting to read and write in.
But it is the reading mode that strikes a fortuitous memory/forgetting balance, pushing and pulling on one’s own mnemonic and identitary reflection (i.e., reading while wondering, “now, what I would write in this mode? do I agree with him here, and here and there?”), and on the potential of forgetting that same self-absorbed perspective as Levé’s own personal declarations take conscious root, however momentarily.
The apparent simplicity of Levé’s approach belied so many melancholy juxtapositions, sometimes joyful and other times devastating first-person aphorisms, and intriguingly fresh autobiographical angles, it will stick with me for a long time. Some favorite passages on forgetting:
My memory is structured like a disco ball.
I do not forget to forget.
Jack Kerouac makes me want to live more than Charles Baudelaire…When I make lists of names, I dread the ones I forget.