À la recherche d'une nouvelle personnalité: L'Afrique fantôme de Michel Leiris

Translated title of the contribution: In search of new skin: Michel Leiris's L'Afrique fantôme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


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.

Translated title of the contributionIn search of new skin: Michel Leiris's L'Afrique fantôme
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)479-498
Number of pages20
JournalCahiers d'Etudes Africaines
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Avant-garde
  • Colonialism
  • Dakar-Djibouti Mission
  • Ethnography
  • L'Afrique fantôme
  • Michel Leiris
  • Museums
  • Primitivism
  • Surrealism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Development


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