Michel Leiris set sail for Africa a disillusioned Surrealist, in search of new skin. He fled his metropolitan worries, bringing with him a vanguard primitivism that clouded his perception of Africa, its peoples and cultures. Unable to shake his dreams of Breton and longing for well-dressed women, he turned to self-examination and writing. As archivist and secretary of the Dakar-Djibouti Mission, his journal L'Afrique fantôme offers a window on to the developing field of ethnography, its methods and institutions, as well as the ethics of object collecting. Plundering villages for items to display in Parisian museums became a pseudo-erotic enterprise for the frustrated Leiris, who delighted in the thrill of his knife-wielding power. What he finds in the African bush, to his dismay, is the persistence of his Frenchness rather than himself as primitive Other. Leiris's participation in this historical fieldwork expedition was, however, just the beginning of a life-long engagement with Africa and a process of incorporating elements from the colonies into French cultural practices and institutions.
- Dakar-Djibouti Mission
- L'Afrique fantôme
- Michel Leiris
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development