Death and art

This is an odd little book. The painter/photographer/writer Édouard Levé has written a text titled "Autoportrait" in the original French version. ("Självporträtt" in Swedish, I can´t find an English version for sale at amazon, at least.) It´s not a story, but a series of statements, facts that you wouldn´t really share with anyone, that would rarely come up in conversation. If they are true or not is hard to say, but I suppose one should assume that they are. I can´t really quote, but if I had written a similar text myself, it would have read something like this:

I wash my hair once a week. When I was thirteen, I saw The Empire Strikes Back twice, then thought obsessively about it for a period of twenty-five years, after which I never thought about it again. I prefer the way my feet look in striped socks. I love Maryland Cookies. I sleep for six hours every night. I read for at least two hours every day. I walk for excercise. I never have a bad hair day. I never wear bracelets. The thought of meeting people I admire make me feel uncomfortable. I eat mackerel directly from the tin at least twice a week. I don´t use toothpaste. The thought of selling things make me feel embarrassed. 

Imagine going on like that for 101 pages! What strikes me about it is something to do with story. Rather, there is a lack of story here and Levé states a few times that he is no story-teller, that his mind is like one of those disco balls, like a mosaic of mirrors. At the same time, there is a story there, after all. But it´s a hidden story, and I feel compelled to look at Levés entire work and life for clues.

Levé started out as an abstract painter. After a few years he turned to photography, with a special interest in the iconography of porn and celebrity. In 2002 he wrote his first book, where he lists over 500 project ideas that he never realized. His last book came in 2007, titled "Suicide". Only days after it was finished he killed himself. He writes about his earlier suicide attempts in "Autoportrait" and his friend´s suicide. Was suicide part of the plan, part of his artistic vision?

I think the human ability to tell stories has evolved as a kind of anti-dote to intelligence. Intelligence leads to self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is unbearable without meaning. And meaning is created through story-telling. Levé says in his "Autoportrait" that he can do without everything except photography and literature. Is he looking for, or trying to create, a story for himself?

Levé, being dead already, will always be a mystery. He has left no other clues to his death than his art. Or is his death a clue to his art? Kristoffer Leandoer, the translator, writes in his afterword that this is a frightening book. I´m not sure I would put it like that. There is something not entirely healthy about it, perhaps, but I don´t find death in itself frightening, even under these circumstances. I just wonder if it´s worth killing oneself for the sake of art, if that´s what he did. But perhaps that was the story of his life, the story that gave it meaning? I´m not sure if that´s a comforting thought, or not.

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