Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Claude Cahun: Some Sources – Part 2/2

For a brief background on Claude Cahun, see

My first selection of sources is at:

Here are is another select of sources about her, with selected snippets from each source.

A soldier without a name

The work of the surrealists was condemned as decadent by the Nazis, so the women's previous work wouldn't have endeared them to the occupying forces, any more than their sexuality and Jewish backgrounds. But rather than keep a low profile, they embarked on a personal resistance campaign against the Nazis.

Although possession of a camera was punishable by death, they took clandestine photographs of the occupation in action, and also spread anti-war propaganda among the German soldiers. (Their acts of resistance are detailed in Barbara Hammer's film about Cahun, Lover Other, which shows some of the forbidden photographs of Nazi soldiery on parade on the beach outside Cahun's house, or on the streets of the once-British island.)  

Indirect Action: Politics and the Subversion of Identity in Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore's Resistance to the Occupation of Jersey by Lizzie Thynne

This article explores how Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore translated the strategies of their artistic practice and pre-war involvement with the Surrealists and revolutionary politics into an ingenious counter-propaganda campaign against the German Occupation.

An examination of Cahun's post-war letters and the extant leaflets the women distributed in Jersey reveal how they appropriated and inverted Nazi discourse to promote defeatism through carnivalesque montage, black humour and the ludic voice of their adopted persona, the 'Soldier without a Name.'

The intention of the counter propaganda she produced with Moore is not to represent all 'the enemy' as vicious aggressors, reinforcing simple binaries between 'us' and 'them'; rather it is to encourage the Germans themselves to doubt the validity of the war, specifically appealing to the rank and file to reject their leaders and disobey orders.

This was followed by acts such as putting fake coins which read 'Down with war' in the amusement park and in the Catholic church, and hanging a banner in St. Brelade's church next to their house which read 'Jesus died for us but we must die for Hitler.'  The German army used St. Brelade's cemetery to bury their dead and, at night, the women stuck cardboard crosses on the graves painted with the ironic statement: 'For them the war is over.'

Cahun and Moore's most sustained and systematic activity was the writing and distribution of leaflets signed 'The Soldier without a Name' ('Der Soldat ohne Namen'), written mainly in German.

Other leaflets were written in Czech, Greek, Spanish, Italian and Russian to give the impression the typewriter was being passed from hand to hand and that there was an international conspiracy. They were distributed by various means, according to their desired addressees: placed in empty cigarette boxes, which were inevitably picked up bycivilians and German soldiers who were short of tobacco; posted into the letterboxes of officers; and pinned to barbed wire fences. Cahun came up with the idea of creating the persona of 'The Soldier without a Name' and overcame Moore's initial reservations about using the alias

'The Soldier without a Name' recalls, but differs significantly from, 'The Unknown Soldier,' the emblematic figure who represented the countless dead of the First World War who had sacrificed themselves for their countries. Instead, 'The Soldier without a Name' is irreverent, refusing to lay down his life in the name of a dubious patriotism, debunking the rhetoric that justifies the war and exposing it as futile and exploitative.

Underpinning their campaign was a profound belief that Nazism was an aberration, no matter how powerful, that the German soldiers had the capacity to question the versions of reality they were being fed by their masters, and that they, like other human beings throughout the world, were capable of 'une libération morale complète.'

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