The Invention of Politics in the European Avant-Garde (1906-1940)

By Sascha Bru; Gunther Martens | Go to book overview

Surrealism and the Political. The Case of Nadja

Raymond Spiteri

It is, as it were, from the fortuitous juxtaposition of the two terms that a
particular light has sprung, the light of the image, to which we are infinitely
sensitive. The value of the image depends upon the beauty of the spark
obtained; it is, consequently, a function of the difference of potential
between the two conductors. (André Breton 1924a: 37)

This essay discusses the implications of the convergence of Surrealism and communism on a reading of André Breton's Nadja (1928). It locates the book in the context of Surrealism's political position to explore how the construction of Nadja manifests Surrealism's ongoing engagement with what Claude Lefort has called "the political". In this context Nadja is not simply an account of Breton's encounter with a young woman on the streets of Paris – although this is the principal thread of the narrative – but also an attempt to work through the political impasse that confronted Breton in the course of 1927.

Breton met Nadja in October 1926 and began to write his account of their relationship in August 1927 (Bonnet 1988: 1502-04). These dates bracket a series of meetings of the Surrealists that eventually led to Breton joining the Parti communiste français (PCF) in January 1927. According to Breton's Second manifeste du Surréalisme (1929: 142-43) and Entretiens (1952: 127), the party hierarchy subjected his revolutionary credentials to close examination. As a result of this incommodious welcome and continuing suspicion from his fellow comrades, Breton's tenure as a militant was short-lived, and he soon withdrew from active participation in the PCF.

-183-

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