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Towards a Unisex Erotics: Claude Cahun and Geometric Modernism

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

Abstract

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

Keywords

Gender Performance Modern Woman Singular Plural Domestic Realm Guggenheim Museum 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Claude Cahun, Heroines, trans. Norman MacAfee, in Shelley Rice (ed.), Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), p. 90.Google Scholar
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    Tirza True Latimer, ‘Looking Like a Lesbian: Portraiture and Sexual Identity in 1920s Paris’, in Whitney Chadwick and Tirza True Latimer (eds), The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003), pp. 127–43, this quotation p. 129.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jacques Derrida, ‘Des Tours de Babel’, trans. Joseph F. Graham, in Acts of Religion, ed. Gil Anidjar (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 102–34, this quotation p. 119.Google Scholar
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    Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, trans. James Grieve (New York: Viking Penguin, 2002); cited by Peter Brooks in his review essay ‘The Shape of Time’, New York Times, 25 January 2004.Google Scholar
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    Jacques Lacan, Encore: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, XX, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), p. 136.Google Scholar
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    Anne Anlin Cheng, Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 8.Google Scholar
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    L. Bruder in Formes et vie (1951), cited in Mark Wigley, White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995), p. 272.Google Scholar
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    See Mary Louise Roberts, Civilization without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France, 1917–1927 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). Roberts takes Victor Margueritte’s novel La Garçonne (The Bachelor Girl, 1922) as a point of departure for analysing the post-war fashion for bobbed hair and drop-waist dresses that came to distinguish ‘modern woman’ and made her a model citizen of a ‘civilization without sexes’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Cited by Peter Wollen, Addressing the Century: 100 Years of Art and Fashion (London: Hayward Gallery, 1998), p. 83.Google Scholar
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    Sylvia Lavin, Kissing Architecture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), p. 26.Google Scholar

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© Emily Apter 2012

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  • Emily Apter

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