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.

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images-3.jpgNathalie Sarraute describes tropisms as the “interior movements that precede and prepare our words and actions, at the limits of our consciousness.” They happen in an instant, and apprehending them in the rush of human interactions demands painstaking attention. Tropisms are the key to all of Sarraute’s work.

Since Sarraute is also a central writer in the nouveau roman, it is interesting to compare her “tropisms” to Robbe-Grillet’s Snapshots. In both works it is commonly asserted that they show the sources of the theory and technique of these writers (although one critic referred to R-G’s work as “aesthetic squiggles”).

The comparison is apt but I will suggest that Robbe-Grillet is more a noun while Sarraute is more a verb.

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