Towards a Unisex Erotics: Claude Cahun and Geometric Modernism

  • Emily Apter
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Modern European Literature book series (PMEL)


An iconic photograph by the French surrealist artist Claude Cahun (née Lucy Schwob, 1894–1954) prompts reflections on the status of what might be called the ‘geometric turn’ in feminist modernism. The 1928 self-portrait (see Fig. 7.1), staged with the help of Cahun’s lover and stepsister Suzanne Moore (née Suzanne Malherbe), has become increasingly familiar in galleries and art publications since the mid-1990s, adorning, for example, the cover of the catalogue for a 1997 show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York entitled Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography. Most striking is the subject’s stance in front of the mirror — reflected, yet looking away — as if in direct defiance of the codes of female narcissism that mandate frontal self-contemplation. ‘Hermaphrodite can visit the house of Narcissus — and introduce himself there on my behalf,’ Cahun wrote in her book Heroines (1925).1


Gender Performance Modern Woman Singular Plural Domestic Realm Guggenheim Museum 
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© Emily Apter 2012

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  • Emily Apter

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