Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Claude Cahun: Some Sources - Part 1 /2

For a brief background on Claude Cahun, see my blog posting:
Here are some more sources about her, with brief snippets from each source to whet the reader's appetite.
Claude Cahun's Iconic Heads: from 'The Sadistic Judith' to Human Frontier
An article by Katherine Conley
"Under this mask,/another mask. I will never be/finished removing/all these faces." (Claude Cahun)
This essay uses a photographic self-portrait by Claude Cahun as a focus for examining the ambivalences of photography and gender identity within surrealism.
Cahun has recently become famous for her fascinating and prolific self-portraits, which have earned her international recognition as an important twentieth-century artist. Her photographs are stunningly visible to us at the beginning of the twenty-first century because of the ways in which they anticipate contemporary investigations of sexuality
Reading Claude Cahun: Essay by Lauren Elkin
In The Quarterly Conversation
"I want to stitch, sting, kill, with only the most pointed extremity. The rest of the body, whatever comes after, what a waste of time! To travel only at the prow of myself." (Claude Cahun)
When the Nazis invaded the island in July 1940, the sisters (for that is how they were known there) sprang into action, and began to apply Surrealist techniques to a covert resistance operation designed to confuse and demoralize the Germans into renouncing war and leaving the army. The two would slide anti-Nazi tracts into the French-Catholic newspapers for sale at the kiosk, stick them under the windshield wipers of Nazi vehicles, and leave cigarette cartons full of tracts in alleyways. Over time, the Nazis grew convinced that there was a full-scale resistance group in operation on the island, and when they finally apprehended Cahun and Malherbe, they were embarrassed to find the whole operation had been carried out by two middle-aged ladies. They were imprisoned and sentenced to death, but were released at the end of the war in 1945.
Hidden Herstories: Claude Cahun
"Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me." (Claude Cahun)
During the Occupation of Paris, Cahun was involved in Georges Bataille's Contre-Attaque resistance group until she and her partner fled to Jersey in 1938, which unfortunately was the only British territory that the Nazis captured. While in Jersey her and her partner Suzanne Malherbe produced fake letters and tracts advertising unrest among the occupying forces, which had the Nazis fearing mutiny.

Inverted Odysseys, edited by Shelley Rice
"Perhaps Cahun's most poignant costume was a disguise of wig and disheveled clothes that she donned when sheand her companion, Suzanne Malherbe, distributed anti-Nazi propaganda duringthe four years of the Channel Islands' occupation by the Germans" (Shelley Rice)
This has some fantastic examples of her photographs. It also includes the full text of Norman MacAfee's translation of her writing "Heroines" - the reader can, for the first time, read this work. It is a retelling and re-imagining of tales told by classical and biblical figures.
The "Heroines" manuscript is a very well known unknown work. Though it was never published in full during Cahun's lifetime, excerpts appeared in Mercure de France and Le Journal Littéraire in 1925, early in her literary career. In 1992, this fictional series of monologues was mentioned, indeed described, by François Leperlier in his book Claude Cahun: L'écart et la métamorphose.
Interested in its potential relevance for the exhibition/book Inverted Odysseys, I went looking for it when I visited the Jersey Museums Service archive, which houses Cahun's personal papers. Ultimately, after much ado, I found the manuscript, missing only a few pages, buried at the bottom of a box -and it is here translated and published in its entirety for the first time. The arrangement of text on pages and decorative devices at the end of certain chapters-created using a typewriter-follows as closely as possible Cahun's original manuscript..
This work, published as part of a program of aid for publication, received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in the United States.
Delilah, Woman among Women
The Sadistic Judith
The Tease: Penelope the Irresolute
Helen the Rebel
Sappho the Misunderstood
The Virgin Mary
Cinderella, Humble, Haughty Child
Marguerite, Incestuous Sister
Salome the Skeptic
Beauty (Or the Taste for the Beast)
The Essential Wife or the Unknown Princess
Sophie the Symbolist
Salmacis the Suffragette
The One Who Is Not A Hero
The Equivocal "I": Claude Cahun as Lesbian Subject
By Abigail Solomon-Godeau
The special interest Cahun holds for feminist critics and scholars derives from many features of her life and her work, not least from the fact of her being, as Leperlier notes, "l'une des très rares femmes qui participa activement à ce mouvement dans les années les plus critiques et les plus complexes" (one of the
rare women who actively participated in this [surrealist] movement in its most critical and complex years).

Their electrifying, unsettling effects are largely a consequence of Cahun's particular staging of herself-that, and the Medusa-like ferocity of her face and gaze.
More photos at:
War on the Margins
Claude Cahun and her partner/lover/stepsister Marcel Moore were heroes of the Surrealist movement and also of the Resistance on the island of Jersey during WWII. They spread German-language BBC transcripts and pro-mutiny propaganda to German troops occupying the island and hid escaped slave workers. They ended up on death row in military prison, but were spared the death sentence and lived to see the liberation of Jersey. The Wikipedia page offers an excellent bibliography. They also figure prominently in my novel, War on the Margins which contains English translations of Cahun's prison letters and notes. As Gavin James Bower said in a recent Guardian article, her whole life was a work of art.
(also available on Kindle)
Afterthoughts: War on the Margins by Libby Cone
Review By Robert Burdock
I won't dwell on the synopsis of War on the Margins or its background too much (because more information on this can be found in my forethoughts), except to say that the novel centres on the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during Word War Two, and the effects that the Occupation had on the resident Islanders. War on the Margins is a largely fictional work, however its author having originally used the research material gathered for this novel for a history thesis, grounds much of this story in fact as well as fiction.
From the outset I've got to say that War on the Margins is a real eye-opener. I was fully aware of the fact that the Channel Islands were occupied during WW2 before reading this novel, but I had no idea to what extent the Islands and its residents suffered under Nazi control. This novel really does bring home just how widespread starvation and persecution were on the Channel Islands during the period, and it ain't pretty!
This is truly an accomplished work by Libby Cone, not least for its historical value, and it is one that should be read by anyone who has the slightest interest in the Nazi Occupation of the Channel Islands. Cone should be celebrated for what she has achieved in War on the Margins, for aside from illustrating the suffering that the Channel Islanders endured, she's spotlighted the degree to which Nazi persecution of the Jews extended; a persecution in this case, that offers a chilling glimpse into the fate that would no doubt have awaited Jews in mainland Britain should the Nazis have succeeded with their belligerent expansion.
Behind the Pen: Libby Cone, author of War on the Margins
Review by Robert Burdock
This week sees the exciting release of War on the Margins by Libby Cone. Well written and engaging, War on the Margins is an important novel, because it not only sheds light on the level of suffering that was inflicted upon the Channel Islanders during the Nazi Occupation of WW2, it also provides an archive for a number of important historical documents from the period.
My gripe centred around the fact that the historical documents and communiques were presented verbatim in the main body of the story. I felt that their length to some extent interrupted the flow of the story, and at times everything just seemed to mingle in. Duckworth have fixed this 'problem' simply and elegantly - they've used a different typeface for the official documents. Problem solved, and although the documents are still presented in the body of the narrative as before (which makes sense because they are an inherent part of the story), they don't seem to interrupt to the same extent as they used to.
Rob: Aside from the artist's diaries, there are a lot of original wartime documents reproduced in War on the Margins. Did many of these come directly from the Jersey Heritage Fund or did you source them elsewhere?
Libby: The documents came from the archive. The BBC and German Overseas Radio broadcasts I described were from various sources who collect the broadcasts on CD's. I also used three diaries written by people stuck on Jersey during the Occupation, Nan Le Ruez, Leslie Sinel, and Dr. John Lewis. I tried to cross-check everything that wasn't a primary source. I could have written about more people, but I couldn't corroborate their stories. Fortunately, I didn't have to write the thesis with footnotes, but I could have.
Sans Nom: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore
By Louise Downie
Claude Cahun was an enigma. Her work invites but defies explanation, but perhaps some of the biggest clues are in her writings. For example she wrote: "Masculine? Feminine? But it depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me", and "I will never finish removing all these masks."
Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore had a long association with Jersey, having spent many childhood holidays in the Island. They usually stayed at  St Brelade's Bay Hotel and became friends with the owners, the Colley family. In 1937 the sisters purchased La Rocquaise, a house just opposite the hotel, and moved there permanently in 1938. The garden, the house and the area around the bay were favourite settings for Cahun's work. While living in Jersey they were generally known by their real names and gained a reputation for strange behaviour, such as taking their cat for a walk on a lead and wearing trousers.
They remained here throughout the occupation, carrying out subversive resistance activities for which they were arrested and imprisoned.
Claude's already weak health suffered during the war and the few self portraits she did after the Liberation were dominated by the theme of death. In this series of five photographs, she sets herself against the backdrop of St Brelade's churchyard, where she is buried. Some images include a skull, and some mask out her face.
In the third of the series, she appears to mock death, with the cigarette dangling from her mouth. But death is literally written all over her in a double exposure print, with words from gravestones overlaying her figure. She wears military clothes, perhaps laying blame for her death on her captors.
Claude Cahun died in 1954. Her death certificate cites coronary and pulmonary embolism, although it is known that she also had digestive problems. Suzanne moved to a smaller house, Carola in Beaumont, where she committed suicide in 1972.

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