Language and Tropisms
The Verbal Representation of Subjectivity in the Work of Nathalie Sarraute
Lidia Tutuc
Princeton University

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.