knig's Reviews > Nadja

Nadja by André Breton
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Dec 20, 11

bookshelves: natch
Read from December 06 to 20, 2011

Breton’s ‘Nadja’ reads like a blog. Of course in 1928 blogs didn’t exist, so this rather thin tome which unfolds like a collage of mixed media must have erupted on the scene as avant garde vogue. Of surrealism, naturalmente.

Andre Breton, writing as Andre Breton, spends the first half of the novel meandering through the streets of Paris, posting photos of his favourite haunts, and namedropping par excellence. Of course, if this is read like a blog, then there no harm in the fact that his famous cronies are named, listed and blown up in width="40" height="100". There is also a soupcon of random musings on theatre, art and literature. Engaging, but nothing that will set the world on fire.
Then onto the scene charges Nadja. Here, great speculation arises in the literary world: is she a real person, is she a manifestation of Breton’s persona, perhaps she is not so much a person as a ‘state of mind’.

Can you say ‘Emperors new clothes’? The ruminations above are necessary to justify the mundane story of a married middle aged man embarking in an adulterous affair with a vulnerable younger woman who happens to be enthralled by his intellect and success as an author.
Now, as we are talking the French here, of course there are going to be some lavisious twists: after all is this not the language that gave us ‘menage a trois’? At one point Breton discloses that he has spent a whole afternoon talking to his wife about Nadja and further on, just before Nadja is committed to an insane asylum, she phones Breton’s wife and tells her that she is her only friend in the world. Civilized, eh?

Now, a great portion of Breton’s and Nadja’s encounters are spent talking, painting and walking about (with illustrations to back it all up). When I say talking, however, one mustn’t understand this to be a conversation of equals whereby two towering intellects are rationalised through a rhetoric of spiritual transcendence: oh no. Nadja’s most common contributions are ‘overdetailed accounts of scenes of her past life’ . As these details mount up, Breton appears to become more and more disenchanted with his ‘muse’, as if thought the brushstroke of quotidian events conveys a sense of ordinariness upon Nadja which he cannot tolerate.

What, then, is Nadja’s staying power? Breton states ‘ As for her, I know in every sense of the word, she takes me for a god, She thinks of me as the Sun.’ Nadja also happens to read his Manifesto and other writings in awe. Surrealism or not, at the end of the day its Breton basking in his own glory as reflected in the eyes of his naive young lover, who probably doesn’t know any better than to idolise without understanding (hence the motif of mysterious, inexplicable artistic creation). Case closed.

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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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knig The problem is that Nadja is dated. Perhaps thats a symbol of success: it was so popular every other writer wanted a piece. Have a great Xmas yourself. (did u manage to get Heston Blumenthal's hidden orange xmas pudding? I did, but I don't know whether to eat it now or sell it on ebay: its going for over £200 as we speak, 'cause waitrose ran out)

Nate D For some reason I've been giving Breton the pass along with the other big male surrealist progenitors, despite general surrealism addiction, and this backs up my biases a bit. Give me Leonora Carrington or Ithell Colquhoun any day.

Hebdomeros had some wonderful imagery, but the scenes keep drifting away, disconnected, into philosophic fog, was my impression.

Nate D She wrote one novel, The Goose of Hermogenes, which is a kind of gothic alchemical fairy tale. It's good!

knig Michael, Nate, neither of you rated Hebdomeros but something about the back cover blurb sparked my imagination and I've just spent a small fortune ordering this book. (Too bad it wasn't 1p. I should have gone for The Goose, but what can I say: I'm contrarian)

Nate D Not that I was so sold on this book, or Breton, but to be fair, when they met Breton was 30 and Nadja was 24. It's not quite the stereotypic vampirism-of-middle-age scenario you decry it as. (though Breton's interest may nonetheless have its vampiric aspect).

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