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New Left Review 29, September-October 2004


Michael Löwy on Claude Cahun, Écrits. Breton’s stylish collaborator on the left wing of the Surrealist movement, and her guerrilla art in the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands.

MICHAEL LÖWY

SURREALISM’S NAMELESS SOLDIER

Artists are often outsiders and transgressors, but few of them embody as many boundary-defying qualities as Claude Cahun: lesbian Surrealist, dissident Marxist, non-Jewish Jew, photographer, poet, critic and resistance activist. Long overlooked in standard accounts of Surrealism—she rates only a footnote mention in Maurice Nadeau’s canonical Histoire du surréalisme (1945)—Cahun’s work has recently been rediscovered by exhibition organizers and art critics alike, as part of a wider reassessment of the movement over the last decade that has often brought attention to previously neglected figures. Now acknowledged as the only significant female photographer in the Surrealist group—Lee Miller and Dora Maar having only an ephemeral relation to it—Cahun is today best known for her disquieting self-portraits, in which her striking, stern features are crowned by shaved hair or hidden beneath a disguise, and her eerie montages of objects and body-parts. Her writings, however, have until now remained out of print or dispersed. François Leperlier, author of the first serious study of Cahun in 1992, has gathered a beautifully presented selection containing both her published work and much previously unavailable material from her autobiographical notebooks. Together, these provide the first overall view of her literary and political evolution, offering rare insights into the thinking of this enigmatic figure.

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Michael Lowy, ‘Surrealism's Nameless Soldier’, NLR 29: £3
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