Reading Nathalie Sarraute: Dialogue and Distance

By Emer O'Beirne | Go to book overview

1
IRONY, DIALOGUE, AND THE NOVEL

Nathalie Sarraute's long literary career, spanning the last two- thirds of the twentieth century and recently crowned with the publication of her collected works in the prestigious Pléiade series, is justly valued for the innovations it has brought to the novel as an aesthetic form. Her most original contribution to the evolution of fiction in the twentieth century is without doubt in the area of characterization.1 Building on the transformations wrought on the form and scope of the novel by literary forebears like Dostoevsky, Proust, Joyce, and Woolf--transformations which enabled it to do justice to a modern conception of identity vastly more complex than nineteenth-century realist aesthetics allowed--Sarraute's fiction addresses aspects of human behaviour which lie beneath rational thought or articulate language, and which she famously calls tropisms. These she defines in L'Ère du soupçon as 'des mouvements indéfinissables, qui glissent très rapidement aux limites de notre conscience; ils sont à l'origine de nos gestes, de nos paroles, des sentiments que nous manifestons'; universal and innate, they are 'la source secrète de notre existence' (ES 8).

The universe of tropisms which Sarraute explores and articulates with remarkable dedication throughout her writing career is animated above all by one human instinct, what--quoting Katherine Mansfield--she calls the 'terrible desire to establish contact' (ES 37).2 This urge is as fundamental as it is impossible to satisfy, '[un] besoin continuel et presque maniaque [. . .] d'une impossible

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1
In the Notice to Tu ne t'aimes pas in the (Euvres complètes (OC 1958-70), Valerie Minogue describes the half-century which separates that book's publication from the appearance of Tropismes in 1939 as 'cinquante annécs [. . .] d'un travail méticuleux autant qu'immense sur le langage et la forme, travail qui a permis à Nathalie Sarrautede se libérer--et de nous libérer--d'un réalisme de convention où régnaient des personnages dans un univers en trompe l'œil' (p. 1958). (Unless otherwise indicated, italics in quotations belong to the text cited.)
2
The comment 'There is something profound and terrible in this eternal desire to establish contact', made about her friend Ida Baker, figures in a journal entry by Katherine Mansfield for Sept. 1920 entitled "'Woman and Woman'" (see Katherine Mansfield's Journal, ed. J. Middleton Murry ( London, 1927), 155; see also the note to "'L'Ère du soupçon'", OC 1568 n. 2).

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Reading Nathalie Sarraute: Dialogue and Distance
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements v
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations viii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- Irony, Dialogue, and the Novel 10
  • 2- The Writing Self: Irony And Authority 49
  • 3- The Self and Language: Authenticity and Convention 93
  • 4- Reading and Otherness 137
  • 5- Reading in Theory and Practice 181
  • Conclusion Ici-From Language to Silence And Back 221
  • Bibliography 236
  • Index 255
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