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NADJA AND BRETON - Mais que me proposait·elle? ROGER CARDINAL To behave irrationally, amorally, and therefore purely, was one of the ideals of early surrealism. No one was so adapted to living an authentic surrealist life as the madman, saluted on many occasions by the surrealists as the guardian of man's integrity. Associating this heroic figure with that of woman, equally prized as a source of revelation, Andre Breton and Louis Aragon jOined in 1928 to do homage to the female patients of Charcot who had been victims of hysteria, now seen as a glorious and magical state of vision. Already in 1920, Breton had anticipated the doctrine of amour fau when he wrote 'On peut aimer plus qu'aucune autre une femme insensee:' It is therefore not surprising that Breton should have been immediately attracted when he first met a mentally disturbed girl calling herself Nadja on the Place Lafayette on the 4th October 1926. At once concerning himself with the girl to the apparent exclusion of all other preoccupations, Breton embarked On a relationship of a more than casual Significance. What was it about Nadja that attracted Breton? He tells us that he was intrigued at first by her exaggerated eye·shadow, which is obviously in· tended to stress that she is different from other people. Breton SOOn gets to know in what way she is OriginaL Nadja lives thoughtlessly, even amorally, delighting in an irresponsible way of life devoted to caprice and a certain frivolity (legerete), which Breton begins to think might be nothing less than an unmistakable sign of true liberty.. In the past she had relied on the avuncular concern of an American, an old man she calls 'Grand ami,' as protection against the harsher realities of life. Now she has nobody, and wanders off alone after her interviews with Breton like a wraith completely without ties, 'libre de tout lien terrestre' (103). Breton notes that her feet scarcely seem to touch the ground, and is at first exasperated by this elusiveness, this desinvolture. However, he soon realizes that with a creature so devoted to Possibility, who calls herself 'l'~me errante' and has taken the name 'Nadja' because it is the beginning (but just the beginning) of the Russian word for 'hope', it is useless to complain: uncertainty must be a condition of their relationship. Indeed, Volume XLI, Number 3, Spring 1972 186 ROGER CARDINAL Nadia states flatly 'on ne m'atteint pas' (l09) in answer to an enquiry as to her whereabouts. Breton later asserts that he realized all this right from the beginning: Tai pris, du premier au demier iour, Nadia pour un genie libre.... qu'il ne saurait etre question de se soumettre.' (28) Indeed, rather than being the one to submit to influences, it appears that Nadia usually made other people come under her spell. In a quite remarkable way, she becomes the focus of attention wherever she goes. On two occasions she has a drunkard wander around her; men stop to talk to her, or blow her kisses from a distance. Children and negroes seem especially prone to her mysterious attraction. One evening in a restaurant, Breton observes the effect she has on the waiter, who is completely upset: he counts as many as eleven broken plates! (13) This is partly what Breton has in mind when he speaks of her strange power over realiry: '...La realite, cette realite que ie sais maintenant couchee aux pieds de Nadia, comme un chien fourbe.' (26) Breton sees in Nadia a source of revelation, 'Ia creature touiours inspiree et inspirante' (131), a fairy around whom there is always an aura of magic. She is a perfect catalyst for his surrealist sensibility, and therefore the type of woman he likes most. He compares her to Melusine, who symbolizes the Romantic ideal of woman as intermediary between man and the secret forces of life, about which he was to write at length in Arcane 17. Nadia delights in this role, portraying herself as Melusine in her drawings, or as a mermaid, another favourite symbol of Breton's. This scarcely human creature is able to make oracular pronouncements which greatly impress the surrealist: Nadia...


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