What can one say about such a sophistic (in the modern sense) novel? In this solipsistic work by Breton, we are treated to a name-dropping treatise onWhat can one say about such a sophistic (in the modern sense) novel? In this solipsistic work by Breton, we are treated to a name-dropping treatise on surrealism in the first third, followed by a disturbing (semi-autobiographical) account of his brief love affair with a muse, the eponymous Nadja, in the balance of the book.
Granted that all of us who are engaged in the creative interpretation of reality have had our Nadjas and have benefited therefrom (what would Dante be without Beatrice or Petrarch without Laura?), but Breton seems to see Nadja as merely a tool to enhance his apprehension of the surrealistic nature of life. He does, it is true, inveigh against the institutionalization of those who, like Nadja, have an alternative but nonviolent perception of reality, but he made no effort to rescue the real Nadja ( Léona Camile Ghislaine Delacourt ) from her confinement in a mental institution that lasted fourteen years until her death.
Nadja's drawings, reproduced in the novel among the photographs used by Breton to enhance and ground his surrealistic romp, are extraordinary. What would C. G. Jung have had to say about these? And yet the novel itself is without merit. The prose is clunky (I don't think the translator is to blame), and the structure is absent (there is an inevitable linearity to prose [unlike painting] that requires a certain artistry). It is all very well to philosophically give oneself over to the dream quality of reality and the unleashing of the unconscious provided by automatism, but writing a novel that readers will enjoy requires discipline, logic, and an openness to the gifts provided by a muse. Being human requires that one should care for muses with the same level of love, empathy, and respect that one bestows on any significant other.
In the novel, the author quotes the Latin motto to the third of Berkeley's Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous [Gua de Malves edition]: "Urget aquas vis sursum eadem, flectit que deorum." How very true this is I think Breton may not have realized....more
Despite the resemblance to The Name of the Rose, the prose is not that of Umberto Eco. Nevertheless, it is an intelligent literary mystery, only marreDespite the resemblance to The Name of the Rose, the prose is not that of Umberto Eco. Nevertheless, it is an intelligent literary mystery, only marred in part by some dialogue more suited to romance novels than to true literature. I well remember my first introduction to Lorenzo Valla's exposure of "The Donation of Constantine" as an insidious forgery intended to enhance the authority of the Bishop of Rome. This is the text on which the mystery turns. Add a German Augustinian monk with a love of Wycliffe on the cusp of the Reformation, the advent of the printing press, and La Serenissima and you have a formula for success. For those who love Venice, this will be a fun read. The dénouement occurs in San Marco, in view of the Quadriga, looted from Byzantium. I remember spending hours in contemplation of those four marvelous golden horses and could easily visualize the ending of the book. If you loved The Name of the Rose, you'll like this one. ...more
In the spring of 1991, my wife of 21 years died of cancer, leaving me with the gift of two wonderful children, aged 5 and 7. She was my high school swIn the spring of 1991, my wife of 21 years died of cancer, leaving me with the gift of two wonderful children, aged 5 and 7. She was my high school sweetheart and the best friend I had ever had. I was devastated and lost, and at the same time responsible for two precious lives. I slept little and in the early morning hours I found Lewis Thomas. His wonderful essays put my life in perspective and helped me to cope with what I perceived as an irreparable loss. I am forever indebted to this wonderful essayist for saving my life and for showing me the continuity and wonder of all life. He was a brilliant thinker and a wonderful prose stylist. I read every essay he ever wrote, but this was my introduction to the thinking and writing of one of the most humane minds I have ever known. ...more