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Nathalie Sarraute: A Theatre of Tropisms Bettina Knapp Nathalie Sarraute's theatre' is unique. It defies classification. It is neither theatre of the absurd, nor cruelty, hysteria, panic, guerilla nor is it political. It is a theatre of her own invention; a personal construct that may be labeled a theatreof tropisms. Sarraute's five plays - The Silence (1964), The Lie (1966), Isma (1970), The Golden Fruits (1974), and It's Beautiful (1975) - derive their life and substance from an aesthetic and literary technique based on tropisms, which she used successfully in her novels. These tropisms, or inner meanderings, she describes in the following manner: They are undefinable movements which glide very rapidly to the limits of consciousness; they are at the root of our gestures, our words, of the feelings we manifest, which we believe we feel and which we can define. They seemed to me and still seem to me to constitute the secret source of our existence. When these movements are in the process of formation, they remain unexpressed - not one word emerges - not even in the words of an interior monologue; they develop within us and vanish with extreme rapidity, without our ever really perceiving them clearly; they produce within us frequently very intense, but brief, sensations; these can be communicated to the reader only through images, thereby giving them an equivalent and enabling them to feel analogous situations. These movements had to be decomposed and allowed to extend into the reader's conscious mind in the manner of a film in slow motion. Time was no longer experienced in terms of the workaday world, but rather in a distorted and aggrandized present.2 15 Tropisms are experienced in image form. They come into being "with the birth of consciousness before its transformation into rational thought."3 Sartre has called her visions "protoplasmic" because they are delineated with utmost accuracy and finesse, with Cartesian precision and geometric method.4 The clarity of her observation, with its emphasis on microscopic details, creates a series of eidetic images, each imposed and superimposed upon the other, as in a series of layers. These stratifications are never static; on the contrary, they are "amoeba-like" and are in a state of perpetual flux and reflux, altering in form and content, substance and point. 5 Sarraute's tropisms are unlike Joycean interior monologues, which "flow through one's conscious mind." They are pre-conscious incisions, pre-interior monologues clothed in a vocabulary as sensual as Proust's and as incisive as Beckett's. Unlike conventional theatre, Sarraute's plays have no real plots. They center around a controlled or contrived situation: a conversation or a series of conversations, silences, the manner in which certain words are pronounced and thus given the power to alienate or attract people, the success or failure of a novel, the problems arising with the creation of a work of art. The tropisms or visualizations that emerge from these conversations and sub-conversations frequently unmask the participants and reveal inside relationships in the process of interacting one with the other or clashing during the short periods of a gettogether . The tropism is the mechanism Sarraute uses to set her play in motion. The detail, which creates the suspense and brings forth the climax, is buried within these closely knit images and clothed in a sparse but rambling dialogue. The viewer must catch the detail and absorb it if he seeks to follow her into her labyrinthian realm. Moreover, there are no flesh-and-blood characters in Sarraute's plays; rather, they are faceless beings without identity; so many presences, not in the old sense of the word, with form and substance, but transparenciesbased on an ever altering world of images. These presences are actualized feelings, concretized sensations, with the solidity and variegated transparencies of a jellyfish. Her creatures are like clusters or groups of vocal emanations, voices with heteroclite tonalities including infinite nuances in their timber and intonations. In The Lie they have first names. In The Silence only one character is known, Jean-Pierre; the others are Woman 1, 2, 3, and 4 and Man Iand 2. In Isma He and She emerge; the others are Man...


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pp. 15-27
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