Thursday, February 25, 2016

'TROPISMS' - Nathalie Sarraute

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"I started to write in 1932, when I composed my first Tropism. At that time, I had no preconceived ideas on the subject of literature, and this one, as were those that followed it, was written under the impact of an emotion, of a very vivid impression. What I tried to do was to show certain inner "movements" by which I had long been attracted; in fact, I might even say that, ever since I was a child, these movements, which are hidden under the commonplace, harmless appearances of every instant of our lives, had struck and held my attention. In this domain, my first impressions go back very far.

These movements, of which we are hardly cognizant, slip through us on the frontiers of consciousness in the form of undefinable, extremely rapid sensations. They hide behind our gestures, beneath the words we speak, the feelings we manifest, are aware of experiencing, and able to define. They seemed, and still seem to me to constitute the secret source of our existence, in what might be called its nascent state.

And since while we are performing them, no words express them, not even those of the interior monologue--for they develop and pass through us very rapidly in the form of frequently very sharp, brief sensations, without our perceiving clearly what they are--it was not possible to communicate them to the reader otherwise than by means of equivalent  images that would make him experience analogous sensations. It was also necessary to make them break up and spread out in the consciousness of the reader the way a slow-motion film does. Time was no longer the time of real life, but of a hugely amplified present.

These movements seemed to me to be veritable dramatic actions, hiding beneath most conversations, the most everyday gestures, and constantly emerging up to the surface of the appearances that both conceal and reveal them.

The dramatic situations constituted by these invisible actions interested me as such. Nothing could distract my attention from them and nothing should distract that of the reader; neither the personality of the characters nor the plot, by means of which, ordinarily, the characters evolve. The barely visible, anonymous character was to serve as a mere prop for these movements, which are inherent in everybody and can take place in anybody, at any moment.

Thus my first book is made up of a series of movements in which, like some precise dramatic action shown in slow motion, these movements, which I called Tropisms, come into play. I gave them this name because of their spontaneous, irresistible, instinctive nature, similar to that of the movements made by certain living organisms under the influence of outside stimuli, such as light or heat.

This analogy, however, is limited to the instinctive irresistible nature of the movements, which are produced in us by the presence of others, or by objects from the outside world. It obviously never occurred to me to compare human beings with insects or plants, as I have sometimes been reproached with doing.

Tropisms are still the living substance of all my books, the only difference being that the time of the dramatic action they constitute is longer, and there is added complexity in the constant play that takes place between them and the appearances and commonplaces with which they emerge into the open: our conversations, the personality we seem to have, the person we seem to be in one another's eyes, the stereotyped things we believe we feel, as also those we discover in others, and the superficial dramatic action constituted by plot, which is nothing but a conventional code that we apply to life."

I'll type out the better, actual Tropisms tomorrow but now the melatonin is hitting me. 

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