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Friday, 21 January 2011


Last night, having succeeded in finishing my dissertation plan, I felt too tired to work but too guilty not to (this is how Cambridge trains you to be!). The situation was resolved as I curled up in bed with a book that had only arrived in the post that day, Breton's surrealist text, Nadja. I stayed up and finished it. Breton's novel is the story of an encounter with a woman, who calls herself Nadja, and their subsequent rendevous in bars and walks across Paris.

Nadja is an illustrated novel; containing photographs of locations along the walks, the facades of bars they go to, objects found at flea markets, important surrealist works which Breton and Nadja discuss including Chirico's paintings and the drawings which Nadja herself makes for Breton. These drawings are the most exciting part, and these are the images I have included in this post. Nadja imagines herself as a mermaid with her back to the viewer, she draws strange symbols like a tribal mask which can't be explained and Breton describes them with his affection for her. Why can't all novels be illustrated? It turns it into this beautiful thing, this book object.

In terms of my dissertation, Breton's pursuit of the woman in the street is something the women I am reading are reacting against. I should condemn his fanciful affair with a woman whom we are later told ends up in an institution. Breton without sympathy or nostalgia wavers all responsibility for pushing her over the brink. But in a way its surrealism has captivated me, I think its romantic.

'Beauty is like a train that ceaselessly roars out of the Gare de Lyon and which I know will never leave, which has not left. It consists of jolts and shocks, many of which do not have much importance, but which we know are destined to produce one Shock, which does. [...] Beauty, neither static nor dynamic. The human heart, beautiful as a seismograph. [...] Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or not be at all'


  1. That's worth staying up, I believe...

  2. Another recommendation I will read! I enjoyed Kafka so much, even though I would not have chosen it from the library shelves myself. But, it is good to read books outside your interest (historial fiction) now and then. I did enjoy it, I think it will be the kind of novel I will think about for some time to come, and eventually go back and reread. The whole idea of being able to communicate with cats has me fascinated! Thank you again for such informative posts my friend.

  3. It appears your version of *Nadja* treats the illustrations better than mine did.

    Have you come across Max Ernst's "graphic novels" yet? Given your concerns about the intersections between words, signs, and visual representation, they would seem to be right up your alley. I looked at them years ago, but I need to get copies for myself.

  4. I haven't but that definitely sounds interesting, i'll take a look when I have a little more time. Thanks for the suggestion!