Exploring Textual Action

By Lars Sætre; Patrizia Lombardo et al. | Go to book overview

The Reader Address as Performativity
in Nathalie Sarraute’s
L’Usage de la parole

Jorunn S. Gjerden, UNIVERSITY OF BERGEN

L’Usage de la parole (The Use of Speech) by Nathalie Sarraute is a literary work in which language plays a crucial part, and indeed constitutes the main theme. The book, published in 1980, consists of ten short prose texts, which are small linguistic dramas addressing the question of characters being affected in various ways by the use of words. Each text is centred around a particular utterance, like “Ich sterbe” (the title of the first text, presumably Chekhov’s last words uttered in German on his deathbed), or the more prosaic “Ne me parlez pas de ça” (“Don’t talk to me about that”), which is put to work in the texts, so to speak; and the possible effects are observed and explored in given settings, in order to allow us as readers to witness and undergo the acts that the words accomplish. These effects are carried out through the rhythm of Sarraute’s characteristic, repetitive syntax, through the use of the present tense, and last but not least through the text’s explicit and direct reader address, which

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