Contributions from Francois Leperlier, Agnes Lhermitte and Jennifer Mundy
Memories? Choice morsels. My soul is fragmentary.
Claude Cahun (1894-1954), born Lucy Schwob, was a poet, performer, resistance fighter, prisoner, Surrealist, "constructor and explorer of objects," photographer, and "queer freak" who invented her life by flaunting the interchangability of roles and playing with the ambivalence of identity. Whether feigning vulnerability on the arm of her lover and stepsister Suzanne Malherbe aka Marcel Moore ("the other me"), making theatrical public appearances in disguise (sailor, gymnast, gypsy), or making herself up (vampire, Buddha, mannequin, angel) for self-portraits and installations, she rendered opposites inoperative and exposed the thinness of gender and power constructs by reducing them to mere surface costumes.
In May 1930 Editions Carrefour of Paris published 500 copies of a book called Aveux non avenus, in which Cahun explored these same dialectics in book form. It is the nearest thing to a memoir Cahun wrote, but in fact the book is an anti-memoir, a critique of autobiography, where she uses subversive photomontages and statements to present herself as a force of genius possessed of the need to resist identification and to maintain within herself "the mania of the exception." Disavowals is the first appearance of that work, widely considered to be her most important text, in English.
Reproductions of the original photomontages introduce the various sections, which in turn explore Cahun's distinctive ideas and obsessions—self-interrogation, narcissism, metamorphosis, love, gender-switching, humor, fear. An extensive introduction by Tate curator Jennifer Mundy sets the text in the context of Cahun's life and art. Also included is a translation of the original preface by Cahun's friend Pierre Mac Orlan, a comment by her biographer, Francois Leperlier, a note on the translation by Susan de Muth, and a postscript by Agnes Lhermitte.
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admirable Adrienne Monnier adventure allusions already angel arms Aurige Aveux non avenus beautiful become believe better body breast child Claude Cahun colour confession damn dead death demon desire Disavowals dream eternal everything evil eyes false fear feel flesh flowers Francois Leperlier French gender give Greek Greek mythology hand happiness heart Henri Michaux human Ibid innocent kiss least leave literary live look lover Lucy Schwob Marcel Schwob means memory mirror mouth mythology Narcissus never night Octave Mirbeau oneself Oscar Wilde ourselves Paris passions photographs photomontages Pierre Mac Orlan play pleasure poet pride Rachilde recognise reference Rene Crevel Robert Desnos Schwob sense sentence serpent shadow skin sleep someone soul suffer surrealist Suzanne Malherbe symbolist things thought touch translation truth turn vanity verb wish woman Word play words writing