What do we own? What is the same? Sappho Catullus Moravia Kruger Lawler Levine

Yesterday I discussed the question of ‘Who Speaks for Sappho?’ and Louise Lawler’s work that extends the ‘mansplaining’ ‘of Sappho’s poetry into a general critique of patriarchy. Today let’s take one example of the very literal ‘mansplaining’ of ancient Roman poets – Catullus 51 as a remake of Sappho 31 (here are the translations of Guy Lee and Anne Carson)

As Catullus’s Latin repeats Sappho’s Greek phrasing – sometimes word for word – the Roman male poet also occupies the subject position of the Greek female poet’s speaker.  With Catullus 51 and Sappho 31, we may ask, ‘What do we own?’ and ‘What is the same?’.

This work by Lawler, Barbara Kruger and Sherrie Levine was first created for Flue magazine in December 1980, reproducing a short story (‘The Wardrobe’) by the Italian author Alberto Moravia, which, like all of Moravia’s stories in the collection Bought and Sold, is narrated by a female character.

Lawler also reproduced this essay as part of her role as photo-editor for the anthology Art after Modernism, fitting to illustrate Borges’ ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’.

To enjoy the nuances of sameness and difference in the work of Sappho Catullus Moravia Kruger Lawler and Levine, here are some photographs I took from Flue, Bought and Sold and Art after Modernism.


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