The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Alan presents … 21 Self-Portraits by Claude Cahun *

* (restored)


Claude Cahun, 1915


In a discomfiting series of self-portraits rediscovered in the 1980s – most of them apparently produced in the 1920s and 1930s with the assistance of Marcel Moore, the lesbian companion with whom she lived as a recluse on the island of Jersey between 1937 and 1954 – the wildly androgynous artist can be seen vamping it up in a boggling array of cross-sex get-ups.

In one photo the mercurial Cahun impersonates a bald semi-human creature with a conical skull; in another, a crew-cut blond Narcissus floating naked in a Jersey rock pool. Elsewhere she’s a Jazz Age aviator in cravat and huge round goggles; a hairless albino with two heads; a dapper Baron de Charlus-style boulevardier; a shiny and querulous-looking Buddha. Cahun never breaks role or smiles; the effect is at once fey, deadpan and disturbing.

At the time of their rediscovery the Cahun photographs – so droll yet so peculiar – seemed to have come out of nowhere and even now they retain a dateless, uncanny, hermetic quality. Many appear to have been taken inside La Rocquaise – the large and dilapidated Jersey house Cahun and Moore shared – or else on a nearby rock-strewn beach.

Why – or how – Cahun and her companion made these images remains mysterious.

Terry Castle, London Review of Books























p.s. Hey. ** h (now j), Hi. Well, my pleasure, of course. And thank you, and take good care. ** Misanthrope, I can definitely see you liking Purdy’s work. I should try that Zinc thing. I’ve meant to. I so rarely gets colds or flus or sick at all, so I forget, but … Really, my guess was right? Cool, strange, logical though. ** David Ehrenstein, Yep. I think ‘Eustace Chisholm …’ is my favorite of his novels. I didn’t know Albee had adapted Purdy. Theater in the old fashioned sense is a weakness of mine. Huh. ** Sypha, Hey. Oh, yeah, what I think I meant was I didn’t remember you talking about the actual novels as opposed to this or that sequence/detail in them. ** chris dankland, Hi, Chris. Cool, happy to hit one of your zeitgeists. Yes, Don Weise ran the publishing house Carroll & Graf that published ‘The Sluts’, and he’s who made that happen. Really nice guy. I didn’t realise he’s an agent now. If you remember, and if Jennifer wants to, please tell Don I say hi. I think I remember him telling me about his deliveries to Purdy. I did meet Purdy a few times, but my interactions were pretty limited. He seemed nice, interesting, intense. A lot of my writer friends back in the 80s knew him fairly well, and he had a rep through their reports and I think in general of being pretty prickly and bitter, but I didn’t find he had that vibe in my short encounters with him. Why Purdy isn’t more read and considered a more central writer has been a big question for, gosh, decades. Beats me. I lived in Holland for a few years, as I think you know, and he was considered a really major writer there. He was written and talked about a lot. I’m not sure how he’s regarded here in France. I should ask people. I would imagine he’s held in higher regard here than back home. It seems strange if the ongoing neglect is due to him having been a difficult guy. Surely there are some total assholes among the writers who are considered to be top dogs. Yeah, I don’t understand it. There is a prejudice against work that overly dark. But then … Cormac McCarthy. And maybe his gayness is some kind of strike against him in the US? But yes, being canonised by the lit. establishment is hardly an indicator of a writer’s greatness or lasting value/influence, that’s for sure. Is there no Purdy biography? That is very strange. I’m very surprised by that. Anyway, I’m so happy the post was inspiring and a soul mate for you. Have a lovely one, man. ** Steve Erickson, Ah, so it begins! There’s been COVID visual art showing up for weeks now. Great about the interview! I didn’t know that Trouser Press has returned. Wow. Are the same people/person in charge, and or is it more tangential and they’re just kind using the brand name? ** Nik, Hi. I hope people get in touch re: that project too. Super great opportunity. I know Dennis Lim is going to be somehow in charge of the NYFF, but I don’t know if he already is for this edition. Well, I will say diminishing the experimental film section by mushing it in with shorts is not a good sign at all. Really, they should give experimental film a wider berth with multiple sections given the current experimental film renaissance. But oh well. I’m not really worried about the coherency falling apart here. It’s more the doomy if guess-work-like threat of the now legendary Second Wave that’s daunting, what with some scientists saying it’s inevitable and others saying not necessarily at all. But, no, I was out all day yesterday looking at art, and the city is full of life and people, and other than a few packed cafes I passed, everyone is sticking to the rules. It’s gotten so you just distance/mask/wash without even thinking much about it. Fingers crossed. And extremely crossed for you guys over there. It just feels so apocalyptic over there from over here. Thanks for asking about the GIF work. Well, it’s in process, but, at the moment, it’s 10 sequences, each on its own small computer screen, individually framed, matted, hung on the wall in a row. So no hands-on viewer interaction. They would just cycle through their things forever. It’s not a narrative work, more associative, more like a poem, in a way, I guess. And more kind of abstract, although it involves almost nothing but figurative gifs. Not sure. Definitely a bit different. Like I think I said, I want to see what the potentially interested gallerist has to say about them. I hope you got the essay finished to your satisfaction, and, obviously, enjoy the beach! xo ** Right. Today I’ve restored a quite old, beautiful, simple but subterraneous post made for the blog by the writer and former blog regular Alan Horn. I hope you will eyeball it and enjoy. See you tomorrow.


  1. Conrad

    Hello Dennis ! Thank you for this beautiful post. + thank you for your blog 1st thank you : Jean Rhys. Good Morning Midnight is so so good. With a friend we wondered whether Nathalie Sarraute ever read her. Maybe not such a interesting question, but there’s certainly an air de famille. + Jean Rhys is so funny. 2nd thank you : Patric Chiha’s Si c’était de l’amour : saw it at the premiere at the Pompidou, and a second time this week. The film is great. IMHO : It’s not really about the bodies, it’s about the talking. And as Chiha said : in the german word Lustig, which means funny, there’s the word Lust which means desire. Info for you : next week at the excellent Cinéma La Clef there will be a screening of Jarman’s Glitterbug :
    (And yes : Klara Lewis’ Ingrid is good. The live rendition of it is even better : Ingrid (Live at Fylkingen))

  2. h (now j)

    Stunning post; thank you, Alan & Dennis!
    What a hypnotizing style. I’ve been revisiting Rosalind Krauss’s books on surrealist visual arts lately for some reason and some of these seem aligning with Krauss’ ideas…yet more delicately. Beautiful.

    Dennis, I won’t be away from here (no! that would be against my pleasure law) but I’ll have to be quick… I just have some deadlines to not miss (related to projects I think I mentioned here before) and online teaching paid workshops to attend. I won’t get paid much for any of these, but it’s fun. More soon!

    • Bill

      Hope the teaching workshops go well, h (now j). What do you teach, I’m curious?


      • h (now j)

        Just writing in Eng Dept! Literary and/or academic… We see movies a lot too bc they are also parts of English Dept’s curricula. Teaching multimodal writing too but I haven’t required complicated technologies yet bc I’ve just got into this job one year ago. I hope to teach upper level classes soon, too! But one can’t be too ambitious at the moment, alas. Thanks for asking. I recall you are super experienced in teaching art? 🙂

  3. David Ehrenstein

    Claude Cahun is truly Mind-Blowing . Makes Cindy Sherman look unimaginative.

    Here’s a piece I’ve written for Benjamin DeMott’s website “First of The Month” “Keeping Up Appearances” It’s about Agent Orange and Erving Goffman.

  4. Bill

    Great to see Alan’s lovely post again! Hope he’s ok in the current madness. I love Cahun’s work, was lucky to catch her big show in Paris almost 10 years ago now, whew.

    I might have read the odd Purdy story here and there. Definitely up for more; let me try to find a smaller commitment than the complete volume.

    Dennis, do you know Yoshiharu Tsuge’s manga? I really enjoyed the newly translated collection “The Swamp”. The art is very nice but not surprising; the stories are really interesting.


  5. _Black_Acrylic

    @ Alan, thank you for this essential show. Some shots here that I’d never seen before, so I really appreciated it.

    I got some mixed news today in that my landlord says due to unforeseen circumstances they are taking the property back. So I have until January to vacate, and that’s only thanks to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. It does at least give me a bit of time to sort something new out.

    The good news is that my Play Therapy show for Tak Tent Radio has gone down really well and they’ve offered me a regular slot, yay! The debut will be broadcast on Friday 17th June so I do have something to look forward to.

  6. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Wow, an oldie but goodie. I haven’t spoken to Alan in a long time. Well, if it’s the Alan I think it is.

    You know, I find that most things make sense of themselves when you look at them with a logical mind. Or they don’t make sense of themselves if they’re really fucked up and you look at them with a logical mind; then, they reveal themselves as fucked up.

    Sypha teases me and asks me if I’m a rep for Zicam. I swear by the stuff. Take it as described at the onset of symptoms, and you’ll be over a cold in almost half the time, with about a third of the symptoms. Zinc is very well known for blocking the replication and spread of viruses in the body. It just…makes sense why this is an effective therapeutic. 😀

    I’m off tomorrow for July 4. Just gonna relax and take it easier than I normally do on the weekends.

  7. h (now j)

    Quick News: Mike Kelley Foundation and EAI host “At Home with Mike Kelley” starting next week at EAI’s website. Info here:

  8. Steve Erickson

    Ira Robbins, the original editor of Trouser Press magazine and the review guides, is still behind the site. (He founded the magazine when he was in 20, in 1974.) They’ve put up the entire contents of the magazine and the books at, and he’s been adding new material slowly. I’ve E-mailed the director of the Other Music documentary, and now it’s just on him to get back to me about the feasibility of an interview.

    Speaking of TOTALLY FUCKED UP, the talk here led me to watch it tonight. That was much better than THE LIVING END or THE DOOM GENERATION – sort of a specifically queer and urban take on the youth nihilism of OVER THE EDGE or THE RIVER’S EDGE.

    I got a press release today for a “pandemic horror film,” about an actress forced to abandon L.A. and return to her hometown in an apocalyptic landscape. Obviously, people have written and made films about pandemics before, but I knew we would very quickly see art inspired by COVID. Is the visual art any good?

    The experimental film programming at NYFF tended to be overwhelming. It was impossible to see it all unless you devoted the whole weekend to it – while the rest of the festival was going on around it – and they often featured too many long, uneven shorts programs. Have you heard anything specific about the changes being made to it this year?

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