Sarraute: Microcosms of the Self

imgres.jpgHannah Arendt in her review of Sarraute’s Tropisms for The New York Review of Books wrote:

Sarraute has cracked open the ‘smooth and hard’ surface of the traditional characters in order to discover the endless vibrations of moods and sentiments, the tremors of a never-ending series of earthquakes in the microcosm of the self.

Here is a good example of an entry from Tropisms of those “endless vibrations of moods and sentiments”:

On the outskirts of London, in a little cottage with percale curtains, its little back lawn sunny and all wet with rain.

The big, wisteria-framed window in the studio, opens on to this lawn.

A cat with its eyes closed, is seated quite erect on the warm stone.

A spinster lady with white hair, and pink cheeks that tend towards purple, is reading an English magazine in front of the door.

images-1.jpgShe sits there, very stiff, very dignified, quite sure of herself and of others, firmly settled in her little universe. She knows that in a few moments the bell will ring for tea.

Down below, the cook, Ada, is cleaning vegetables at a table covered with white oilcloth. Her face is motionless, she appears to be thinking of nothing. She knows that it will soon be time to toast the buns, and ring the bell for tea.


Now they were old, they were quite worn out, “like old furniture that has seen long usage, that has served its time and accomplished its task,” and sometimes (this was coyness on their part) they heaved a sort of short sigh, filled with resignation and relief, that was like something crackling.

On soft spring evenings, they went walking together, “now that youth was finished, now that the passions were spent,” they went walking quietly, “to take a breath of fresh air before going to bed,” sit down in a café, spent a few moments chatting.

They chose a well protected corner, taking many precautions (“not here, it’s in a draft, nor there, it’s just beside the lavatory”), they sat down—“Ah! these old bones, we’re getting old. Ah! Ah!”—and they let them be heard cracking.

The place had a cold, dingy glitter, the waiters ran about too fast in a rough, indifferent manner, the mirrors gave back harsh reflections of tired faces and blinking eyes.

But they asked for nothing more, this was it, they knew it well, you shouldn’t expect anything, you shouldn’t demand anything, that’s how it was, there was nothing more, this was it, “life.”

Nothing else, nothing more, here or there, now they knew it.

You should not rebel, dream, hope, make an effort,flee, you had only to choose carefully (the waiter was waiting) whether it was to be a grenadine or a coffee? with milk or black? while accepting unassumingly to live—here or there—and let time go by.


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