Language and Tropisms
The Verbal Representation of Subjectivity in the Work of Nathalie Sarraute
Nathalie Sarraute’s main concern in her fictional texts
seems to be the rendering of a fragmented subjectivity, of disembodied states
of consciousness: not real subjects, not “flesh and blood” characters,
but rather anonymous interlocutors, usually an amorphous mass, referred to
simply as “ils.” By this suspension of identification, she not
only goes beyond the traditional notion of character, but also replaces it
with the presentation of what she calls “tropisms.” These are
particular subterranean movements, interpenetrating, unnamable and which produce
the indefinite states of consciousness just mentioned. Subjectivity, in Sarraute’s
texts, is emphasized as a matter that lacks shape and consistency, and which
cannot easily be contained within limits. The difficulty and the challenge
of the writer’s attempt come from the fact that there is a gap between
the fluidity or indefiniteness of experience and the petrifying power of language.
The extreme mobility and fragility of the tropism cannot be properly expressed
by the nominal component of language, and the author has to resort more to
the syntactical dimension, to find her literary strategies especially among
a particular arrangement of words and sentence rhythms.
The aim of this paper is to show and to question Sarraute’s techniques for the verbal representation of subjectivity. By choosing specific excerpts from her texts, we will emphasize the way in which words can/cannot express the particular tropismal reality, and we will concentrate as well on the specific strategies used by the author in order to counterpoise the incapacity of language to represent such subjective, pre-verbal, instinctive reactions.