Leiris and the “Living Document”
Unlike many other French ethnographers, Michel Leiris published his “literary” work, L’Afrique fantôme, before his more scientifically oriented ethnographic texts. Yet, in this sprawling and introspective diary, Leiris constantly asserts that ethnographic research must end in failure. This chapter examines the broad stakes of L’Afrique fantôme and suggests that book’s interest lies less in the failure of the voyage it recounts than in the continuous sense of starting over and the ever deeper sense of movement that emerges in its pages. Leiris’s sense of disillusionment and his experience of the impossibility of continuing his journey as he had originally imagined it are formalized in a metaphor of theatricality that this chapter examines at length by considering how it is ultimately tied to Leiris’s utopian desire for a living document that is both rhetorical and anthropological.
Keywords: Michel Leiris, L’Afrique fantôme, Theatricality, Living document