‘I’m a hypocrite and a total fraud’ – the confessions of a French Surrealist poet

Michel Leiris (1901-90) was one of those intellectual adventurers who are the astonishment of French literature in the 20th century. Their achilles’ heel is that most were communists, in a few cases Nazis; and nothing kills the life of the mind more thoroughly than preaching. Their saving grace is that many were eccentric characters, and their autobiographical work can often be their most luminous legacy. Among Leiris’s subjects are his dogs, his ideal hotel, his hatred of Wagner, his Anglophile snobbery and his tailor Because they were anti-form, the ideal prose vehicles became ‘aphorism’ or ‘fleuve’. The most brilliant of the French aphorists, Emile Cioran (though he was Romanian), exclaimed

Ignore the activists – Humboldt’s Enlightenment project deserves celebrating

‘What a loss is the excellent Humboldt. You and Berlin will both miss him greatly,’ Prince Albert wrote to his much-beloved daughter Vicky, Crown Princess of Prussia, on news of the death of the author, explorer and celebrity Alexander von Humboldt in 1859. ‘People of this kind do not grow upon every bush [‘an den Blumen’] and they are the grace and glory of a country and a century.’ After some delays and bad luck, the grace and glory of the Humboldt name flourishes once again with the opening of the Humboldt Forum. Annoyingly digital to begin with, the launch last month of the Forum signalled the culmination of Berlin’s