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Chance Encounters: Flâneur and Détraquée in Breton’s Nadja

  • Victor Burgin
Chapter

Abstract

[N]ous sommes tous plus ou moins des psychotiques guéris (Octave Mannoni, ‘La Part du Jeu’)

About two-thirds of the way through his book Nadja, Breton describes meeting Nadja in a restaurant. The clumsy behaviour of a waiter prompts her to tell an anecdote about an exchange she had, earlier in the day, with a ticket collector in a Métro station. Clutching a new ten-franc piece in her hand, Nadja asks the man who punches her ticket: ‘Head or tails?’ To which the man replies ‘Tails’ and adds, indicating perhaps a vocation as a psychoanalyst: ‘You were wondering, Mademoiselle, if you would be seeing your friend just now.’ No one would suppose that Nadja is going down the Métro for nothing but, as the ticket-collector discerned, she is not necessarily aware of what she hopes to find there. There is more to our wanderings in the city than urban planners take into account.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1988), p. 94. The term ‘propre’, to which the translator alerts us here, means not only ‘own’ but ‘clean’, and ‘that which is proper’. The term ‘pollution’ which closely follows confirms that Certeau may be alluding to Julia Kristeva’s Pouvoirs de l’horreur: Essai sur l’abjection (trans. Powers of Horror, An Essay on Abjection; New York: Columbia University Press, 1982) and/or to the book which so substantially contributes to Kristeva’s argument, Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966). For a discussion of ‘abjection’ in relation to space and vision, see my ‘Geometry and Abjection’, AA files, 15 (Summer 1987); and in Andrew Benjamin and John Fletcher (eds), Abjection, Melancholia and Love: The Work of Julia Kristeva (London: Routledge, 1989).Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Jacques Lacan, ‘Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis’, in Ecrits: A Selection (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977), pp. 20–1.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Melanie Klein, ‘Notes on some schizoid mechanisms’, in Juliet Mitchell (ed.), The Selected Melanie Klein (New York: Free Press, 1955), p. 51.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    See Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, ‘Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality’, in Victor Burgin, James Donald and Cora Kaplan (eds), Formations of Fantasy (London: Methuen, 1986).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Sándor Ferenczi, ‘Stages in the Development of the Sense of Reality’ (1913), in First Contributions to Psycho-Analysis (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1980), pp. 227–8.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Sigmund Freud, ‘Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy’ (1909), SE, X, p. 9.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Paul Schilder, ‘Psycho-Analysis of Space’, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 16 (1935), p. 278.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    André Breton, Nadja (New York: Grove Press, 1960), p. 91.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Edith Jacobson, The Self and the Object World (New York: International Universities Press, 1964), p. 47.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis (London: Hogarth Press, 1973), p. 370.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    See Harold F. Searles, ‘The Sources of the Anxiety in Paranoid Schizophrenia’ (1961), in Collected Papers on Schizophrenia and Related Subjects (New York: IUP, 1965).Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    See Georges Didi-Huberman, Invention de L’Hystérie: Charcot et l’Iconographie Photographique de la Salpêtrière (Paris: Macula, 1982).Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    Jacques Lacan, ‘Le Problème du Style et la Conception Psychiatrique des Formes Paranoïaques de l’expérience’, Minotaure, 1 (1 June 1933), p. 69.Google Scholar
  14. 34.
    Louis Aragon, Le Paysan de Paris (Paris: Gallimard, 1978);Google Scholar
  15. quoted in Peter Collier, ‘Surrealist city narrative: Breton and Aragon’, in E. Timms and D. Kelley, Unreal City (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), p. 221.Google Scholar
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    Jean Laplanche, Nouveaux fondements pour la psychanalyse (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1987), p. 125 (trans. in New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989, p. 126: my translation differs).Google Scholar
  17. 41.
    Laclau and Mouffe have imported Lacan’s notion of points de capiton, ‘buttoning down’ the otherwise endless sliding of meaning in discourse, into a discussion of the social order. They remark that ‘a discourse incapable of generating any fixity of meaning is the discourse of the psychotic’; by implication, a society that would be totally ‘free’ would be a psychotic society. (See Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London: Verso, 1985), p. 113. Lacan similarly admits the necessity of the law as ‘anchorage’ in his article on the Papin sisters, where he remarks, ‘the adage “to understand is to forgive” is subordinate to the limits of each human community … beyond these limits, to understand (or to believe that one understands) is to condemn’: Jacques Lacan, ‘Motifs du Crime Paranoïaque (Le Crime des Soeurs Papin)’, Minotaure, 3 (15 December, 1933), p. 27.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1995

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  • Victor Burgin

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