One of the very hidden inspirations for my book title, En abîme, came from a couple of sentences I found in L’Afrique Fantôme by Michel Leiris – a book that’s been haunting me since the nineties, when I saw it mentioned in James Clifford’s The Predicament of Culture as a book where Leiris ‘begins to keep field notes on himself, or more precisely on an uncertain existence’. I return to Leiris’ book in spite of my poor knowledge of French, that only allows me to glimpse these pages and not always entirely grasp them. They speak to me in fragments across an opaque screen of understanding, lit up by sudden flashes of clarity. Sybilline, you might say. And so it is no coincidence that a photo of the Sybil’s cave in Cumae, near Naples, appears on my book cover.
For further understanding I have to (I like to) trust Clifford. In particular his remarks on Leiris’ writing resonate with what I tried to achieve in my book: ‘…a systematically clumsy and complicated staging of the text for which the various elaborate explanations, supplementary notes, hidden prefaces, and prières d’inserer are props’.
On 10, 11 and 12 November 1931 Leiris visits the village of Yougo: ‘La Rome lunaire’, lunar Rome, he calls it. He writes:
‘Un paysage… de fin du monde. De pierre en pierre, de lieu sacré en lieu sacré, de cave en cave.’
‘Ici, tout n’est qu’abîme, plein ciel, ou souterrain.’
There is Pierre in En abîme, and sacred places, and subterranean caves.