Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Breton's Nadja

‘Who am I?’ the narrator of Breton’s Nadja asks. This first line of the book may set the tone, or assist in the journey toward myriad interpretations, of just what Breton is doing in the book and who or what Nadja actually is. I don’t think it’s important necessarily to know whether or not she is a real person with whom the narrator had some sort of relationship, but what is more important is her effect, what she symbolizes or what place she fills in the book. How is he telling what he is trying to tell through the use of this female character love interest? But another question to ask is does he even have an intention about what he wants to tell or how he wants to get a particular message across? Surrealism almost necessitates a writer having a lack of intention, of letting the work discover itself on the page. As in a dream where the dreamer wanders through various states of recognition and understanding, so might Nadja be read, as the writer and reader simultaneously experience the narrative as a product of the writer’s mind and dream-like state. I think this is certainly a way to think about it. Though I’ve not read much surrealist literature lately. But I feel also like this narrative is quite lucid and thoughtful to simply be in the form of a wandering dream. And although there may be no particular conclusion, my personal interpretation includes references to the narrator’s hints that he is seeking something, seeking himself, seeking to understand himself even. ‘Who am I?’ indeed, and how better do we see ourselves than through our relationships with others; or can we not see ourselves reflected in them, or from them maybe? In the first section of the book the narrator is mostly alone with his thoughts wondering, at least in part, on the manifestation of his own existence, the extent of which cannot be fully known, for one cannot have a ‘completed image’ of one’s own mind as it morphs and manifests with time (12). This is my reading. Certainly the prose is abstract and dense and wandering away from specific pronouncement as it moves through this first section before the reader ever first hears of Nadja at all. He tells the story of the two gates like a ‘mirror of…strength and weakness’ which after reading through the whole book and then going back I read as his way of telling us that he and Nadja are part of the same; that she is his female side, his balancing side, his artistic and free side, his other side that compliments him but that also is subject to lunacy (she leaves for the sanatorium and is not heard from again in the end). Through the character of Nadja the narrator is able to more fully experience and express his own existence. On p17 he writes ‘Need I add how differently I regard Huysmans from all those empiricists of the novel who claim to give us characters separate from themselves, to define them physically, morally—in their fashion!—in the service of some cause we should prefer to disregard!’ I don’t know exactly what he is talking about here but maybe there is something to more realistically portraying characters that are true to ourselves. Maybe if we actually, better understand the characters we create we will better understand the true manifestations of our own existence. We might at least become more comfortable with the process of discovery and manifestation and the constant mingling and changing of these. That after all must be the point.

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