Stories

Nadja State of Mind

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André Breton, French Surrealist author and poet, in his 1928 novel Nadja begins,”Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I ‘haunt.'”

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Porte Saint-Denis, Paris, France

 

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Feed the Birds at Porte Saint-Denis, Paris, France

 

Nadja is a love story of an intense but fleeting connection with a stranger and a longer affair with a city. Breton wanders Paris, spitting truth and a “Surrealist Historiography” that privileges memory and subconscious meaning over sequential events, time, and history.

Perhaps my life is nothing but an image of this kind; perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try and learn what I simply should recognize, learning a mere fraction of what I have forgotten.

Nadja is my favorite book. Thoughts of a symbol stripped of symbol, chance, inter-related actions, and the urban environment that breeds these accompany me on every derivé through a city, including the one that took me on a pilgrimage to Breton’s Porte Saint-Denis near Les Grands Boulevards in Paris. The pigeon-perch gate marks the Romans’ entrance to the city and the cheap clothing stores line the magus vicus, those once grand Roman ways. This is the site of Breton’s rendezvous with Nadja.

I do not know why it should be precisely there that my feet take me, that I go almost always without anything decisive but this obscure data, namely that it will happen there. I hardly see, in this quick trajectory, what could constitute for me, even without my knowing it, a magnetic pole in either space or time. No: not even the very beautiful and very useless Porte Saint-Denis.

There is that tension of uncontrolled possibility that lingers in the air of every city. What will happen next, how can we be ready, how can we control, how can we make it happen? When we wander, we are seeking something, but the feeling of searching is often more real than what we discover. We look for verifiable truths, rather than the mystery that often finds us.

I am concerned, I say, with facts which may belong to the order of pure observations, but which on each occasion present all the appearances of a signal, without our being able to say precisely which signal, and of what; facts which when I am alone permit me to enjoy unlikely complexities, which convince me of my error in occasionally presuming I stand at the helm alone.