Michel Leiris (1901, 1990) joined the surrealist group led by André Breton in 1921; he published a volume of poetry and a surrealist novel, Aurora. In 1922 he began a lifelong practice of keeping a diary. He married Louise Godon (“Zette”) in 1926. In 1929, afflicted with depression, a year of sexual impotence, masochist tendencies, alcohol abuse, and writer’s block, he entered psychoanalysis with Dr. Adrien Borel. His diary, dedicated to total lucidity and a ruthless account of everything mortifying in himself, now is also psychoanalysis. He joined the dissident surrealists gathered around Georges Bataille. He followed anthropology courses taught by Marcel Mauss. He came to know Marcel Griaule, a young pilot in the French Air Force who now devoted himself to anthropology and had obtained diplomas in two Abyssinian languages. In 1931 Griaule organized a twenty-one-month expedition traversing Africa from Dakar to...

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