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Rick Poynor on André Breton’s Nadja:

Faucheux called Breton and asked him whether he still possessed any letters from Nadja. It was an inspired line of inquiry because Breton had kept many of her messages (these can be seen online at Breton’s archive and French Wikipedia has extensive quotations). In his monograph, Faucheux recalls: “He entrusted me with a paper cutting by Nadja, one of her last letters, the one in which she wrote about the Hotel Terminus: ‘I cannot come tonight.’ I photographed these documents to look convincing. Readers could not be insensitive to the authenticity of the document. The signal was there.” On the front cover, the designer showed one of Nadja’s hand-drawn paper cuttings described by Breton in the text and shown in the book.

The drawing is one of 44 images — photographs, pieces of print, art works, and drawings by Nadja — that punctuate Breton’s fragmentary reflections. The book is sometimes incorrectly described as a novel, though the pictures of streets, squares, hotels and restaurant exteriors are meant to authenticate the locations where these mysterious and, for Breton, marvelous encounters took place. That doesn’t mean his autobiographical account can be regarded as an unvarnished record of events. There are photographs by Man Ray and Henri Manuel of people he mentions, including the Surrealists Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret and Robert Desnos, the actress Blanche Derval, and Breton himself, but notoriously, there is no photograph of Nadja, who comes to seem more like a phantasm of Breton’s overwrought poetic imagination, a muse, than a living person; at no point do we learn her real name. Breton did add a montage of Nadja’s eyes to the 1964 Livre de poche edition; he also changed another photo, added four more new pictures, and deleted details suggesting that he and Nadja spent a night together in a hotel.

First posted: Sunday, August 26th, 2012.

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