Michel Leiris was born in 1901. He grew up in comfortable Parisian bourgeois surroundings. The earnest student of chemistry was soon seduced by the exciting world of cafes and cabarets, and particularly by the heady stimulus of Dadaism and Surrealism. Introduced to surrealist circles by his lifelong friend Andre Masson, Leiris by the late 1920's had become one of the earliest defectors from the movement. Subsequently, he co-founded, with George Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Pierre Klossowski and Roger Caillois the College de Sociologie. His continuing ethnographic fascination with the cultures of Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America, as well as his extensive fieldwork in Sudan and Ethiopia, have produced such literary fruits as his unique travel account L'Afrique Fantome (1933). He is also the author of a four volume autobiography, La Regle du Jeu, of which the first volume was published in English as Manhood. Leiris lived in Paris with his wife, owner of the Galerie Louise Leiris, a major art institution in the post-war period. Leiris has written extensively on major modern artists - among them Miro, Giacometti, Duchamp, Lam, and Bacon.
Writing about Giacometti Leiris said:
I love Giacometti's sculpture because everything he makes is like the petrification of one of these crises, the intensity of a chance event swiftly caught and immediately frozen, the stone stele telling its tale. And there's nothing deathlike about this sculpture; on the contrary, like the real fetishes we idolize (real fetishes, meaning those that resemble us and are objectivized forms of our desire) everything here is prodigiously alive—graciously living and strongly shaded with humor, nicely expressing that affective ambivalence, that tender sphinx we nourish, more or less secretly, at our core.
The only full-length study in English of Leiris's work that I know of is Sean Hand's Michel Leiris: Writing the Self.