Harpazo (or House of Coates)

HARPAZO (v.):  1) to seize, carry off my force.  2) to seize on, claim for onself eagerly.  3) to snatch out or away.

Nadja by Andre Breton was first published in France in 1928.  The novel is often considered a defining piece of Surrealism.

The novel describes the author’s restless and obsessive relationship with Nadja, his young lover, as well as his relationship with life in Paris.

The last time I read Nadja I was probably 18 or 19, but loved the book for the anxiety and malaise depicted.  More than a woman, Nadja is a metaphor, maybe a vision, and represents the life we desire rather than the life we live.  Nadja is like the white whale, always just out of reach.

Published between the World Wars, Nadja represents the longing and disaffection that characterize the art of the times.  The story is told in a first person narrative, interwoven with photographs of Paris.

The other day, straight from Little Brown Mushroom, I received a copy of House of Coates, the collaborative book made by Alec Soth and Brad Zellar.

Immediately, I am struck by the similarities I see between Nadja and House of Coates.

House of Coates tells the story of Lester B. Morrison.  The story is told with a mix of prose written by Brad Zellar, and photographs by Alec Soth (though attributed to Lester).  The photographs, presumedly, are all take around Soth’s hometown of Minneapolis, MN.  Like the character of Nadja, Lester is more a metaphor than a specific person.  If Nadja represents the unfulfilled longing and desire of war rattled Europe, Lester is the broken spirit of middle America.

A person can’t properly hide in this world unless they believe there’s someone out there looking for them.  There”s a good deal of ego invested in the act of hiding.  Or maybe these fugitives think there’s someone out there in the world who wants something from them that they’re not prepared to give.  The sad truth, of course, is that the world seldom wants much of anything from such people, and that is a truth that could do nothing but further hurt the feelings of men who had had their feelings hurt so many times and in so many ways that they could no longer feel anything but hurt.

Lester can’t really be forgotten, because he was never really noticed.  He is an exile in his own land (he never strays too far from where he was born).  He spends his time in a sort of no man’s land, that part of any city that grew with its development but was quickly forgotten, with nameless hotels and prostitutes, and is full of broken things and broken people.

Harpazo – inscribed on the spine – is an important idea and turning point in the story.  It’s a religious term, typically used to describe religious rapture or deliverance.

Towards the end of the story, Lester meets Majel, and begins to discover love and trust again.  She encourages to embrace religious salvation, and in the end, we are left to contemplate whether Lester discovers faith, or whether he commits the ultimately act of nihilism (though this also might be act of faith).


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