Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Nathalie Sarraute


"As always, once his mind has been alerted it calls on, marshals, selects, assembles all its most skillful faculties, the best-trained, the most capable of catching what is being thrown to him... an idea...he gets hold of one end of it... But then what happens? It escapes him, as if it has been pulled back... by a kind of boomerang effect it returns to its point of departure... there it is again, back in its element, coming to life, becoming a living being, it twists and turns like a snake, writhers, coils itself up, contorts itself, chops itself up like a worm, becomes convulsed and dislocated like a man in the throes of St. Vitus's dance, shimmies coquettishly, licentiously, cajoles itself, caresses itself, puts on airs.. it's impossible to get hold of it, it plays hide-and-seek, conceals itself in labyrinths, disappears in meanders...

And then it returns, stretches itself out once again, offers itself, suggests itself, tries to impose itself... An idea arrayed in all the requisite forms, presenting itself according to the proprieties... The words that adorn it, apart from a few attractive inversions, a few caesuras, are arranged in the order imposed by reason, they duly fulfill their function... nouns, adjectives, pronouns and verbs agree with docility, prepositions and conjunctions correctly introduce and link...

But when you open this construction that looks so solid, when you enter it, you realize that it is only a facade, like those of the famous villages Potemkin ordered to be erected when Catherine the Great was passing through... behind which there is nothing but uninhabited ruins, wastelands, wild grasses...

But while the words are succeeding one another without interruption, the impression returns that there must be an idea in them like a ferret, it's running up and down from one phrase, from one word to another... you think you see it, this is where it must be, in this word that keeps cropping up more frequently than the others... you make an effort, you catch it, you hold it, you examine it... But of course, its meaning isn't, couldn't be the meaning you first saw in it. It has another, here it is, that's it, it's this meaning... al you have to do is inject it into the word and then it will fill out again, be reanimated and put back into the circuit, it'll be able to rejoin the others, to unite with them, they'll reinforce one another, and through them the chain of reasoning, the idea, will finally... but on contact with the others, as if their meanings were incompatible and mutually destructive, it becomes hollow, flattened... and the others around it collapse in the same way, devoid of all meaning.

New words never stop arriving, and immediately wilt... The person in whom they deposit themselves has the impression that his mind has become a barren land from which asphyxiating emanations are exuding, a field strewn with lifeless words...

And we who are listening near him, we, like him, desolate, sterile lands, we exuding mortal vapours... we, covered all over in empty words, we, like him, plunged into darkness without really understanding what is happening to us... could it be a detached retina?... we, losing our balance with each phrase, as we do on those fun-fair stairways whose moving steps split and divide... we still obstinately retain, we're all made that way, a glimmer of hope...

But what if the person to whom these words are sent were suddenly to.. it only needs a few words... But will behave the courage to say them?... We feel like nudging him... he must do it, he must dare... we would do it in his place... We would do it?... Really? we must be sincere... would we dare, have we ever done so?  Have we, in the same conditions, dared to interrupt unhesitatingly?

Have you said, 'I don't understand'?...

Come on, admit your circumstances were different, you were an examiner interrupting the confused gibbering of a candidate. You were with a comrade, feeling a little tired or lazy, you could be carefree because of your mutual understanding and perfect equality... what could happen to you?

But here, you are well aware of the risks. Should he suddenly say--I'm already trembling and cringing--should he say to the person talking to him, should he say in the dignified, confident tones appropriate: 'I don't understand'...don't tell me that you don't know what might happen... that you have never wondered what restrains all those numerous people whose minds are all the time being transformed into devastated fields covered in corpses, the people who surrender en masse, abandon all their arms, renounce all their rights... the people who with such docility allow themselves to be reduced to slavery.. the people who seek the protection of a master.. What is it they are so afraid of, then, that prevents them trying to defend their dignity, their independence, by saying: 'I don't understand'?

it would seem that the person sitting on that bench is not, as they say, 'of the stuff martyrs are made of', and I am not amongst those who would cast the first stone at him. Like the inhabitants of conquered cities who drape their balconies with insignia and flags as a sign of their surrender, his face, his eyes, display a look of comprehension, support... It is to be feared that this bench int he darkness of this garden may yet be another of those obscure places of torture, of abject betrayal...

But all of a sudden, but is it possible? in a perfectly steady voice, he does, he pronounces these words: 'I don't understand.'

Has has taken it upon himself to run the risk. A tremendous risk, and not only for him. Should the other now abruptly stop speaking and fix him with a gaze fraught with commiseration, with surprise, which will repulse him gently, drive him back into the dark regions, or should he envelop himself in silence until he has recovered his possessions, his dazzling words, locked them away, made them inaccessible forever, in a safe whose number he will not divulge, then the person who has shown himself unworthy of receiving such treasures, and I, and all of us, as unworthy as he, will be condemned, like him, pitiable lost minds, to wander nostalgically around, for ever destitute, for ever indigent.

Or else... something that terrifies sensitive souls just as much... 'I don't understand', tossed off with invincible assurance, will brutally reduce the other to silence, he'll lose the power of speech... Perhaps we shall him pathetically trying to regain it, stammering and stuttering... But no, he will remain deprived of speech... it has been withdrawn from him... 'I don't understand' has wrested it from his grasp. He had led it astray, captured it, sequestered it... just look what he has done to it: its poor, naked body, bloated by malnutrition... You have seen the use he allowed himself to make of it, how he subjugated it to his perverse needs, reduced it to a mere instrument which he manipulates in order to pervert, cheat, terrorize, subdue, oppress...

But what happens now might well incline us to think that all this was a decidedly no more than a dream, were we to lose sight of the fact that the most unlikely things dreams show us are noting in comparison with what we are sometimes offered by 'reality'.

At these words, 'I don't understand', the crook, the pervert, the torturer, the oppressor, with gratitude and joy streaming from his eyes, turns round to the person who has offered them, he places his hands on his shoulders, he presses them, he takes his hand, he shakes it. However hard I try to accumulate absurdities, incoherence... pick out desultory words and string them together at random... however much I shamelessly borrow from our most barefaced charlatans, go to the extreme limits there's nothing to be done, no one turns a hair, everyone accepts, acquiesces... But you...

In a single second the malaise, the resentment at having been so sorely tired, at having unwittingly been made us of for an experiment, have disappeared, overshadowed.

The threat has been averted. Everything is at peace. In order. The enemy has been metamorphosed into an ally. This place of sequestration, of torture, has become a pocket of resistance. In the middle of the oceans of obscurantism, of charlatanism, of terrorism, of conformism, of cowardice that surround it, it is a place where the word is secure."

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