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The translation of the title original Aveux non Avenus was the cause of much controversy at the Tate. This translation — of a work that was always considered untranslateable — took me the best part of three years. Where the aim of literature is to set itself free it virtually eludes all criticism, particularly that of professional critics.
This book is virtually entirely dedicated to the word adventure. Perhaps one should consider exactly how the author would define this word.
I think that the adventure here is, by its very nature, interior, but it is presented to us in a series of cinematic glimpses which insist on the cerebral, rather than plastic, nature of the enterprise. This almost cruel poem is infused with a very peculiar light, emanating from emotional ingredients of perfectly human origin. It is love that gives the street its deep melancholy; the extraordinary mutability of love imbues the art of photography with infinite mystery. The great emotional valets of our age are the camera and the gramophone.
Both have appropriated for themselves a little of the celestial fire so many men have sought with an often infantile sensuality. The emotional life that Claude Cahun brings into her domain — the adventure — can be contained in a dozen records known only to herself. The gramophone is a instrument of poetic control. A poetic mirror. It cannot be put into just any hands.
I sometimes see aspects of Isabelle Eberhart in Claude Cahun; I know that this impression is not totally correct but this literary resemblance is a cerebral creation, born of the association of the gramophone and the camera.
If the talking machine did not recreate the world more or less daily, it would have no greater function than to replace an ensemble of instruments. Its poetic import would be no greater than that of a bandstand between five and seven. We know that this is not the case. The sum total of poem-essays and essay-poems contained in this publication — which is not a slim volume — is the equivalent of the more or less regulation pages of an adventure novel conceived to conform to public taste.
Ideas trace elegant parabolas to end in a tragic unfolding, exploding without a sound. I believe that each idea this author launches forms a trajectory parallel to that of her own life. To comment too precisely on this book would be almost indiscreet. The characters that evolve in this funeral procession are not exactly phantoms.
More exactly, these are apparitions whose weight, nonetheless, can be calculated, who cannot evade the touch of a hand.
Claude Cahun is a wandering writer. She progresses irresistibly through the night, a night full of lights to which she gives the names of men, the names of plants, the names of shell fish.
This night broods over a strange congress of sometimes tender, sometimes furious forms and ideas. A philosophical orchestra plays discreetly. At dawn, all of this disappears. And on the unadorned shoreline, a shoreline more naked than an operating table, all that will remain is a female corpse polished like a marble statue and near it, as if escaped from a breast for which it has no further use, a firm and mobile heart, obviously living, with all its complicated machinery clear to see.
Pierre Mac Orlan [Note to editor: In all the following text words in italics signify original language in the text most usually English, German and Latin. The lens tracks the eyes, the mouth, the wrinkles skin deep … the expression on the face is fierce, sometimes tragic. And then calm — a knowing calm, worked on, flashy. The hand-held mirror reappears, and the rouge and eye shadow. A beat. Full stop. New paragraph. Guess, recover. Vertigo is implied, ascension or the fall.
To please them, would you have to follow the unknown, step by step, illuminating it up to the ankle? Whereas… No. No point in making myself comfortable. The abstraction, the dream, are as limited for me as the concrete and the real. What to do? Show a part of it only, in a narrow mirror, as if it were the whole?
Mix up a halo with spatters? Refusing to bump into walls, bump into windows instead? In the black of night. Until I see everything clearly, I want to hunt myself down, struggle with myself.
Who, feeling armed against her own self, be that with the vainest of words, would not do her very best if only to hit the void bang in the middle. But it trains the eye. The rest of the body, what comes after, what a waste of time! Only ever travel in the prow of myself. S At just seven years old, without realizing it, I was already looking for sentimental adventure, driven — as I am now — by impotence, and with all the strategic impudence that characterises me still.
Time change He: So what! Me: So what! Ill-advised intentions have been revised there, become dormant; others have materialized in their place. This evening I got myself about a litre of the stuff. I got into bed; the lights are low and my little debauchery within easy reach. The slovenliness of my race3. Who would I want to fool into believing it? You know all about it: I explain everything to you, exaggerate.
Your absence is an illusion. In vain do I refuse to give you a name, my familiar witness. I can only read about others between your lines… — Icarus? O memory still-born. I envied him, admired his energy to such an extent that I forgot he does not actually use it for anything superhuman. However chastely, however humbly this was done they wanted nothing to do with either. My only excuse — your forgiveness — lies in this unexpected outcome O desires without repentance!
Will you ever end, O scornful fatalism of the sage despite himself? A heat unique in the annals of astronomy. What am I saying? What was I saying? Memories in madness. O unrepentant regrets — and how you whine! In the absence of other lips, gnaw your own to pulp… Eyes over there — depths — dream-filled looks, never fixed; here, mouths — abysses — and so well adapted: wardens in a lunatic asylum.
All falling strictly forbidden. Ledunois, Pyrrhus6, sometimes even Arcadius? Sensual complicity only…Complicity? Am not I among all people — no: like all people, to put it correctly!
Could I fill it in? My face hardens, visibly hardens. Masks my weakness. How easy it is from afar. I was Prince for a while and cannot think about it without pretensions of nobility. And Bob again. How obvious his royalty was to me! That love, so intellectual! To the point of debauchery, to the point of absurdity. Only the others saved me from harm. But entering hell held out no hope for me.. O you, you whom I love — you who tolerate my love when all is said and done — one and only God, I would never even have dared say I miss you…and this infernal red ring next to my flickering lamp, — O whisky!
Intellectual passions. Yes, I assure you. Same strength. I want my revenge. I want him…O Fortune, O sorrow! What is to be done? And what about me?
The translation of the title original Aveux non Avenus was the cause of much controversy at the Tate. This translation — of a work that was always considered untranslateable — took me the best part of three years. Where the aim of literature is to set itself free it virtually eludes all criticism, particularly that of professional critics. This book is virtually entirely dedicated to the word adventure. Perhaps one should consider exactly how the author would define this word. I think that the adventure here is, by its very nature, interior, but it is presented to us in a series of cinematic glimpses which insist on the cerebral, rather than plastic, nature of the enterprise.
Disavowals (Aveux non Avenus) by Claude Cahun
A writer, photographer and activist associated with left-wing Surrealists in France in the s, Claude Cahun was the pseudonym of Lucy Schwob. In collaboration with her step-sister and lifelong partner Suzanne Malherbe, who adopted the name Marcel Moore, Cahun made written works, sculptures and collages that often explore gender identity. This is the original artwork made by Cahun and Moore for the frontispiece. Cahun appears in enigmatic guises, playing out different personas using masks and mirrors, and featuring androgynous shaven or close-cropped hair—as can be seen in the multiple views of her in the lower left-hand side of this collage. The image also includes symbols made up by the women to represent themselves—the eye for Moore, the artist, and the mouth for Cahun, the writer and actor.
Aveux non avenus (Littérature)
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