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Nadja by Andre Breton
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Nadja (original 1928; edition 1999)

by Andre Breton, Richard Howard (Translator)

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1,24856,350 (3.47)24
Member:PaulCranswick
Title:Nadja
Authors:Andre Breton
Other authors:Richard Howard (Translator)
Info:Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library, Classic Fiction (pre 1945)
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Tags:1000 AUTHORS

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Nadja by André Breton (1928)

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Showing 5 of 5
I will write at length on the relation between images and text on a separate website (writingwithimages.com).

For this review I only want to note an amazing obtuseness in this book. I suppose it could make sense to call this a psychoanalytic masterpiece, because of the time and place it was written, as part of the Surrealist project, and as evidence of Breton's reading of Freud. But psychologically, it is a horror show. In the book Breton is married; he starts seeing Nadja, and it never occurs to him -- as a narrator, for for sake of writing, or fiction -- to say anything about how he feels about his wife, or vice versa. At one point he writes:

"I go out at three with my wife and a friend; in the taxi we continue discussing Nadja, as we have been doing during lunch." (p. 91)

This is the first we've been told the narrator has mentioned Nadja to his wife, and Breton doesn't seem to be aware that readers might expect him to put some inflection on this revelation -- either that it was normal in their marriage, or that they had been arguing. A moment later he spots her:

"I run, completely at random, in one of the three directions she may have taken."

Again, no mention of what his wife thinks of this behavior. And at the bottom of the same page:

"This is the second consecutive day I have met her: it is apparent that she is at my mercy."

With no notation about how we're meant to understand that.

When Nadja is committed to an asylum, Breton writes several pages exonerating himself for any responsibility (p. 136), hoping that Nadja doesn't think there's a difference between life outside and inside the asylum, and excoriating the psychiatric community; he then uses that as an excuse for never visiting her!

"My general contempt for psychiatry, its rituals and its works, is reason enough for my not yet having dared investigate what has become of Nadja." (p. 141)

It doesn't seem to occur to him this might seem pusillanimous, or that his intellectual and abstract critique of psychiatry may appear either entirely heartless, or -- worse, from his point of view -- as a construction that can help release him from his love for her. (After all, if madness and sanity interpenetrate, as he insists, why not continue to love Nadja?)

As an exposition of Breton's Surrealism, as an experiment with images, as an instance of psychoanalysis, dream analysis, and mysticism in 1928, it's wonderful. As a novel, anti-novel, or any sort of reflective narrative, it's appalling -- or at the very least, impenetrably obtuse. ( )
  JimElkins | Dec 1, 2013 |
I did my Honours thesis on Surrealism and, in an effort to be different, chose to do Surrealist literature rather than art. Since Surrealist literature consists mainly of two nearly incomprehensible novels by Breton and Andre Aragon, and a lot of equally incomprehensible poems. My verdict on this novel is, simply, the Surrealists were brilliant artists and horrible writers. Stick to to their art, its a truly stunning experience, and pretend they were actually illiterate and never wrote anything. ( )
  drmaf | Sep 23, 2013 |
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). ( )
  ivonapoyntz | Jan 4, 2012 |
It is necessary to rebel against a life of pretense to understand what makes you a unique and valid person. Andre Breton writes that he “haunts” other people because they only know his shadows, the artificial roles he plays as a social man. He seeks to surprise his banal interactions with people by opening himself to experiences that reveal his unconscious mind. Influenced by Freud, Breton rejects psychoanalysis because it seeks to interpret unconscious mental content and therefore neutralize the spontaneous emotional content.

In “Nadja,” a surrealist novel published in Paris in 1928, the narrator walks the Parisian streets at random seeking unexpected cues to positive unconscious processes, not focusing on negative aspects as do psychoanalysts. These processes are idiosyncratic and the only events that distinguish and validate the person. They are repressed and must be sought actively.

The narrator by chance meets an eccentric woman who seems to be connected more than most people to the unconscious, artistic mind. He takes advantage of Nadja, observing and encouraging her mental exploration in order to understand his own mind. The narrator takes advantage of the reader in the same way, exposing hidden mental structures. Breton thanks the reader directly for allowing him to write the insightful novel, since I could not be done without the reader’s complicity.

“Nadja,” Russian for the very fleeting beginning of hope, is considered the seminal novel of the relatively brief surrealist literature period in the first half of the 20th Century. Black and white photographs illustrate the cues Breton describes that open the unconscious minds of Nadja and the reader. Reading Breton’s novel is a very interesting experience. ( )
2 vote GarySeverance | Feb 8, 2008 |
Surrealism is such as exciting idea, but its execution, much like my nightly dreams, tends to disappoint. Breton, in particular, has an annoying tendency to proselytize, using the wildest imagery that money can buy in order to inform you, without any doubt whatsoever, what life is all about. Nadja is better than most card-carrying surrealist works, as it is, at heart, a love story, and a true one to boot, that continually threatens to escape Breton’s domineering grip. He presents Nadja as an almost supernatural muse, but in fact she was a real women, flesh and blood, who may have invoked flesh and blood feelings that not even the Czar of Surrealism himself could translate neatly into art. ( )
  aaronbaron | Jul 17, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
André Bretonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bohrer, Karl HeinzAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fleckhaus, WillyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwibs, BerndTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802150268, Paperback)

Nadja, originally published in France in 1928, is the first and perhaps best Surrealist romance ever written, a book which defined that movement's attitude toward everyday life.The principal narrative is an account of the author's relationship with a girl in the city of Paris, the story of an obsessional presence haunting his life. The first-person narrative is supplemented by forty-four photographs which form an integral part of the work--pictures of various 'surreal' people, places, and objects which the author visits or is haunted by in Nadja's presence and which inspire him to meditate on their reality or lack of it.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:47 -0400)

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