“Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all.”

One cannot call this a spoiler, though, that is the last line of this curious novel.

Nadja is the ‘beginning’ as is indicated of her chosen Russian name as she explains it. Perhaps she is Breton’s vision of the beginning of any love affair or the beginning of exploration of beauty or love or both. Nadja is the unattainable in reality who becomes attainable in dreams. She is not so much flesh as she is portal. Nadja could be anyone. Nadja could be Breton’s surrealist dream in female form – his mirror whose hand is his hand, a hand that practices surrealist art – automatic drawing while writing letters of dream pursuits.

Nadja’s reality, or lack there of, bothers me less than the ‘you’ at the end of “Nadja”. Breton addresses ‘you’ for several pages; these pages are filled with admiration that one would assume are directed toward a love, but that love is not Nadja. The you is not an enigma. In fact, Breton states:

“You are not an enigma for me.

I say you have turned me from enigmas forever.”

The rather lengthy paragraph that follows these lines is curious, almost denoting that this postscript was to explain why he wrote the rest though he no longer deemed it necessary.

This post could become as nonsensical as some shall view surrealism, so I shall conclude with why I found the ending so intriguing BEYOND the ‘you’….

In the last few pages, Breton mentions a sign he sees, THE DAWNS. This seemed rather odd as other signs were noted in the book, but not in bold. Couple that with the last paragraph ,which ends with the wonderful sentence that started this entry, and there is a bit of a curious puzzle. Why – the last paragraph is simply a bit of news taken from the paper (it reminded me of today’s conceptual art’s weather reports). That said, I don’t believe it was random.

You see, the news report was of a plane crash, “X December 26″  One line that caught my eye was: “The message said, in particular: “There is something which is not working”. I was curious about this bit of news…was it indeed real. Why would Breton close his novel with it? So, I Googled a couple of things and found a report of a plane crash on December 25. 1927 – Frances Wilson Grayson (female American pilot) and Brice Goldsborough (ironically, born in Iowa) were flying Grayson’s plane “The Dawn” to Newfoundland so that she could then attempt to cross the Atlantic.

I shall not go on for this probably too much information, but I am even more curious about this story published in 1928. Do you think that Breton included this as a surrealist game and composed Nadja – or was this news an attempt to explain the ghosts in which he opens the novel….

(as an aside: this book is composed in three sections – the opening, which reads rather autobiographical and setting place – the middle which is the story of Nadja – and the end, which is more like an epilogue, but rather philosophical not really about Nadja, but about Breton and a bigger question on beauty. )

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  1. It’s hard to talk of intention in a Surrealist novel if we take Breton at his word that automatic writing makes a humble recording instrument of the writer. I find it hard to believe there was nothing in mind to shape Nadja though. Maybe ‘writing letters of dream pursuits’ is right. The novel is a bit of a chase. Or a story about the inbuilt failure to desire.

    • Jeff ~ thanks for taking the time to read, especially since this was a bit of my own ‘stream’ writing -theorizing on the fly via unedited post. I did, however, do a bit of research regarding Nadja – read 1960s criticism via JSTOR – and it seems that Breton was guilty of editing his ‘auto’ writing, as well as finding less favor with the craft later. Not that this says much, just that the manifesto he created seemed to give him clearance to play within those rules.
      “inbuilt failure to desire’ – now, that is one to ponder … ~a

  2. I won’t try and answer your question. I’ve never really understood exactly what he means by the all convulsive or nothing of beauty. But it seems to me that if he really means it he has to embrace it in the face of death. I respect that. I also like this, on p 12:

    “perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try and learn what I should simply recognize, learning a mere fraction of what I have forgotten.”

    But he’s not chastened by this knowledge, and I don’t fully sympathize with where he goes with it. For my taste, he places too much importance on the impossible, the “convulsiveness” of beauty becomes romanticism, and he glorifies the individual pursuit. These are all things that make him an artist of his time, but for me he is receding into history.

    • ‘As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.’ ~Comte de Lautréamont
      Mark – I figured you had read Nadja – esp after I read a brief crit JSTOR on Nadja, and it mentioned CdL’s huge influence on Breton/ Surrealist movement in general. In fact, as Nadja continued to swirl around the concept of beauty, desire, death, dream – with a muse quality and the finale’s ‘you’, which spoke of enigma, perhaps Breton was ruminating on Comte de Lautréamont…
      Very much appreciate your last paragraph — must think more about that one, especially if I read more Breton. ~ a


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