'In leaving behind his experiments with automatic writing, inspired by his early psychiatric training with shell-shocked soldiers, Breton turned to the "outmoded" figure of the hysteric to define Surrealisms revolt against the Cartesian subject of bourgeois, liberal ideology'. But although Nadja's madness fuels the creative and revolutionary significance of Bretons project, her real-life incarceration haunts the sublime nature of his project. Discuss.
In perhaps his most prolific work, 'The Surrealism Manifesto', Breton seemingly 'condemns the novel beyond all appeal' (Lynes, C. 1966). However later readings of this manifesto, in light of other surrealist texts, suggests that Breton actually envisaged a new novel, a novel which rejected the 'worn out forms' taken from nineteenth century literature. It was with Nadja that this vision is realized. Yet even this 'project' seems to escape from under Bretons own barriers, being particularly concerned to give Nadja an atmosphere as 'dispassionate and clinically objective' (Polizzotti, M. 1999) much like a Freudian case study, even a relaxed reading of Nadja shows that Breton was unable to keep out the drama of his rendezvous with Nadja. Her madness does indeed fuel the creativity and revolutionary significance of this work, but arguably, Bretons symbolizing Nadja's madness and perhaps even coaxing it out of her for ideological gain, leads to a lingering sense of guilt left behind, in which the knowledge of her breakdown and institutionalization haunts this project.
The opening section of Nadja is used as a build up; it is an infused mixture of surrealist ideology combined with decisive moments of Breton's life. Breton is striving 'to discover the nature, if not the necessity' (p13) between the differences of himself to others, his reflections on the chance meetings he has, makes him all too predisposed to meet Nadja. In over reading the opening section, it can feel somewhat like a justification, as if he's justifying the atmosphere of 'near impossible coincidence' (Polizzotti, M. 1999) of meeting Nadja, but also as a justification, in the later part, of what happened to her. To him, during their first few encounters, she was 'the extreme limit of the surrealist aspiration' (p74), he introduced her, eagerly, to his surrealist circle, and their relationship has the intensity of a love affair, all of which beneath Nadja's supposed objectivity, signals that is it guided by Breton's subjective viewpoint. A subjective viewpoint which can feel like it neglects her madness, instead seeing her as a 'free genius', in fact, she becomes almost like his Muse, indispensable to him because he sees her as a key to his own subconscious. (QUOTE). M. Munson (2004) argues in her article that figures like Nadja make the expression of Breton's subjective experience possible. Munson argues, 'Breton hunts Nadja as much as he hunts the signal or sign which will indicate what direction to go in, what event to attend, what interpretation to give'. Breton's is an artist on a quest to "descend into what is truly the mind's lower depths, where it is no longer a question of the night's falling and rising again," (p40), and Nadja is the critical point in his quest. What is detrimental to her is that she almost seems to know this, she is quoted as saying 'André? Andréâ€¦ You will write a novel about me. I'm sure you will', and by the end of the year he was ready to start writing about this 'emblematic figure' (Politzziti, M. 1999). Though she soon became less enchanted by the idea when he showed her his notes, 'How could I read this report â€¦ glimpse this distorted portrait of myself without rebelling, or even crying'. By the end of 1926 financially and emotinally desperate, Nadja moved to a 'wretched' hotel near the Breton's apartment, for two months she tried desperately to win back favour, but in mid-Febuary she stepped out of Breton's life and her 'eccentricies' (page 136) 'darkened into serious abberation' (Politzziti, M. 1999).
After which Breton makes no secret of Nadja's insanity. 'I was told several months ago that Nadja was mad' and she was taken to the 'Vacluse sanitarium' (p.136). Yet as with the woman herself, Nadja's madness is here magnified into a higher enlightenment, Breton sees her as fleeing from the 'hateful prison' of logic' (p.143), even in her breakdown she remains that 'emblematic figure' for Breton. In Bretons account, Nadja becomes the victim of poverty, of an uncomprehending society, Nadja is comparable to Sade, Nietzsche, and Baudelaire, all of whom were 'shut up' (p.141) like Nadja. She is even the victim of Breton's own terribly decisive role in Nadja's life- although as he tells it, his main fault was to give Nadja a too great taste for 'emancipation'. Breton uses Nadja's breakdown to provide the criticism it seems he has wanted to apply to the field of psychiatry, a profession that Breton very nearly considered joining when he was a medical student. He embarks on seven page castigation, again defining the 'Surrealist revolt' against Cartesian bourgeois which consumes so many of works, against psychiatry and its scholars; bitterly quipping 'I suppose the most conscientious psychiatrist is not even concerned with cures' (p.141).
Yet for all his seeming compassion, which he certainly does have for Nadja, it helps ebbs away at the 'objectivity' of the project, he never visited Nadja at 'Vacluse', and quickly eliminated her form all conversation. Was it because of a 'general contempt for psychiatry', as he claimed? Or rather because he recognized only too well that he had helped precipitate Nadja into the breach of insanity by coaxing her incipient madness beyond the limit. Could he have been so blinded by his search for marvels that Nadja's behavior, as he later claimed, truly did not seem exorbitant to him? Or maybe Breton simply chose to ignore Nadja's symptoms in any but their poetic manifestation, and that his subsequent protests of surprise at the news of her breakdown, fury at the psychiatric profession, and refusal to visit her in the hospital all masked a deep guilt over her fate.
He late explained that the tone adopted for this narrative is copied from the one used in medical observationsâ€¦ which tend to preserve a trace of everything that examaination and interrogation might reveal, without seeking to give its expression the least stylistic polish. Still even a casual reading of this book shows that Breton was far from able to bleach out the drama of his relations with Nadja.
Nadja does haunt the novel- if we could call it a novel- Breton obsessive nature, coaxing her hysteria, to make a symbolic gesture to his movement, Haunting: soul in limbo. The extreme limit of surrealist aspiration, The strict reality of Nadja ends and fiction creeps in Making him the centre of her dissolving world. At times it is terrible to be so alone; I have no friends but you. Nadja appears like a spectral essence, she is not fiction, the reality conveyed is ultimately Bretons own. Haunting in the ghost sense.
Munson, Marcella. "Eclipsing Desire: Masculine Anxiety and the Surrealist Muse,"French
Forum29.2 (2004): 19-33. Print.