Phantom Africa by Michel Leiris

Brent Edwards, in conversation with Denis Hollier, Brian Larkin, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, and Emmanuelle Saada

Brent Edwards discusses his new English translation of Michel Leiris’s Phantom Africa with invited colleagues. One of the towering classics of 20th century French literature, Phantom Africa is a singular and ultimately unclassifiable work: a book composed of French Surrealist writer Michel Leiris’s compulsive and constantly mutating daily travel journal—by turns melodramatic, self-deprecating, ecstatic, and morose—as well as an exhaustively detailed account of the first French state-sponsored anthropological expedition in sub-Saharan Africa, the Mission Dakar-Djibouti, led by anthropologist Marcel Griaule. Hired to serve as the “secretary-archivist,” Leiris kept a diary where he noted not only a given day’s activities but also his impressions, states of mind, anxieties, dreams, and even his erotic fantasies, and decided to publish it on his return to Paris. The book, never before available in English translation, bears witness to the full range of social and political forces reshaping the African continent in the period between the World Wars.