Cottagecore Spider Jerusalem

Cottagecore Spider Jerusalem

20-09-2022

01:33

I had to email the Jersey Heritage Archives to get permission to reproduce some images and while I was tootling around in there I found a bunch of PDFs listed of unpublished Claude Cahun poems, so I requested them and I've been translating them and they're UNBELIEVABLE

This one was handwritten, and as far as I can tell, has never been translated into English before. It's in two parts - the first written in Paris 1931, and the second right after they got out of nazi jail where they were imprisoned for 6 months on charges of "spiritual warfare".

The thing that just kicks my ass about this is that very last line, "six months in jail!" With the exclamation point. This exclamation point breaks my heart.

In case you didn't know, Uncle Claude was a genderqueer surrealist antifascist Jew. If you want to read a spectacular dissertation on their antifascist work, check out Plastic/Explosive by Ryan Helterbrand

OK while you're all here do you want to know the story of how Uncle Claude got themself thrown in jail for spiritual warfare against the nazis because it is a VERY good story

OK gather round gays and theys it's time for antifascist story hour

[forgive some asynchronicity and perhaps some febrile nonsense in this thread; booster side effects are taking me on a roller coaster]

So if you've heard the name Claude Cahun before and you live in the US it's probably in connection with some early surrealist self-portrait photography that explored themes of gender and Jewish identity. These two are the most well-known I think

But! Claude did a lot of political work in the 20s & 30s within the surrealist and avant-garde movements to try to organize it to battle fascism on the field of ideas. There's lots on this in the Helterbrand dissertation.

But the part of the story we're looking at starts in the early 40s. Claude and their lover and collaborator Suzanne Malherbe (AKA Marcel Moore) had moved to the isle of Jersey in search of fewer nazis, but found instead more nazis.

In the summer of 1940, Jersey was taken over by the German army. The inhabitants were given the chance to evacuate to England, but Claude and Marcel stayed. During this time, Claude wrote: "Freedom or death! For my adversaries as for me."

There were about 40,000 people living on the island and about 20,000 occupying troops. With numbers like that, a direct assault was impractical. Claude and Marcel wrote of depression, rage, helplessness, and eventually, what Claude called "lucidity."

Years earlier, in their manifesto of revolutionary poetry, Claude had written: β€œPoets act in their own way on the sensibility of people. Their attacks are more devious; but their most oblique blows are sometimes fatal.”

So the two of them developed a campaign of SURREALIST ANTIFASCIST PROPAGANDA to secretly disseminate among the occupying force. They wrote letters as if from a disillusioned conscript called "the Nameless Soldier," put up surrealist graffiti, flyered, distributed tracts.

THESE TWO MIDDLE AGED JEWISH BUTCHES were writing antifascist tracts and news of nazi defeats on cigarette paper in their attic at midnight, rolling them up real little, and then hanging out in nazi bars so they could slip them into the soldiers' coat pockets and satchels.

In these notes, Claude appealed to the soldiers' humanity, their longing to go home, the capacity for transformation that adherence to fascist structures forecloses. They invited the reader to imagine, what if things were otherwise? What if *I* were otherwise?

Helterbrand writes: Cahun called on β€œthe German soldiers to overthrow the Nazi and militarist regime by sowing dissension from within, inciting them to mutiny, provoking them into practicing their own forms of revolutionary defeatism in a war from which they would not benefit."

Cahun's propaganda strategy involved knocking little cracks into nazi indoctrination by inviting individual soldiers into imagining new possibilities, new ways of feeling and imagining, forcing them to choose between retreating into repression or breaking out of their training.

And like, it's impossible to know causality for sure. We know the occupying army believed that there was widespread conspiracy, not just a couple of elderly queers with a typewriter. By 1944 the nazis were paranoid, surveilling their own soldiers, doing random interrogations.

Everywhere the Nameless Soldier's graffiti went up, the officers knocked it down. Gatherings of soldiers were restricted to keep the propaganda from spreading. They were SCARED.

And then, in July '44, the guy they'd been buying the cigarette paper for their tracts from got suspicious and ratted on them and a bunch of officers showed up at their house.

I need you to picture these two Jewish butches in their fifties standing off to the side and chain-smoking while the nazis tear their house apart looking for the printing setup, saying "If you told us what you were looking for, we could probably get this done faster."

In the back of the police van on the way to prison, the two of them took the poison tablets they always carried with them, but the van arrived at the prison and they were rushed into medical care and revived.

They ended up imprisoned mostly with young men who had been arrested for sabotaging the war effort -- in many cases as a result of Claude and Marcel's propaganda. They adopted the two old ladies, brought them extra food, sang them songs, and carried messages between their cells.

Some of those letters survive. Most of them end with some version of "β€œBe brave, my love, through it all. Be brave, above it all."

They were put on trial six months later and charged with "spiritual warfare" over the Nameless Soldier and their other campaigns. They were sentenced to seven years in the camps AND death, at which point...

Our beloved ancestor of incorrigible shithead spirit burst out laughing in the courtroom and shouted to the judge, "Which are you going to do first?"

They were offered the opportunity to sign a confession and have their sentences commuted, the opportunity to appeal. They refused both, and simply waited while the local government struggled to manage the optics of executing harmless old ladies...and then the war ended.

They were released on May 8th 1945, went home, and lived another ten years together. Not much of their writings survive, and less still has been translated into English, but.......... I think there are some things we need to learn from Uncle Claude in this year of our Lorde 2022.

Hope any of that was comprehensible, I DEFINITELY have a fever πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

If you made it all the way here, here's the other poem I just finished translating, called Lullaby for One Condemned To Death



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