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  • L’Intertextualité dans l’écriture de Nathalie Sarraute par Rainier Rocchi
  • Emelyn Lih
L’Intertextualité dans l’écriture de Nathalie Sarraute. Par Rainier Rocchi. (Perspectives comparatistes, 54; Modernités et avant-gardes, 7.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018. 968 pp.

Rainier Rocchi approaches his subject in two ways. First, he examines a series of pivotal books in Nathalie Sarraute’s œuvre, demonstrating the role intertextual models, foils, and reminiscences play in the development of Sarraute’s distinctive style and her work’s evolving literary stakes and ambitions. Especially notable is Rocchi’s interpretation of Portrait d’un inconnu, which brings out a complex intertextual and inter-semiotic network centred on Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu and various later readings of Balzac’s story as symbol of modernism, from Cézanne’s to Rilke’s. This section alone marks a significant (and indeed book-length) contribution to Sarraute scholarship. Subsequent analyses in the first part reach fascinating conclusions about the multiple resonances of the titles Le Planétarium and ‘disent les imbéciles’, in particular. The second part takes a global view of Sarraute’s œuvre, beginning with an examination of the central Sarrautian concept of the tropisme. Throughout, Rocchi rightly emphasizes the double nature of tropisms, which are both a set of infra-psychological phenomena and an attempt to harness textual tropes to give those phenomena form. Sarraute’s chosen form is typically a running metaphorical commentary on elements of novelistic dialogue; Rocchi shows how she capitalizes on a heritage of sophisticated dialogue, from Marivaux to Proust, in order to formulate a literary critique of the modern paradigm of suspicion (for instance, Freudian and structuralist approaches). Rocchi then examines the discontinuous structure of Sarraute’s novels, [End Page 478] including a compelling development on how Enfance’s rewritings of classic episodes of childhood narratives offer an antidote to the book’s apparent Romantic re-affirmation of vocation and self-expression. Rocchi displays exemplary rigour in establishing plausible intertextual relationships between Sarraute’s work and the texts (in many languages) with which it enters into explicit or covert conversation. He engages with critical literature that deals not only directly with Sarraute’s novels but with the dozens of authors she alludes to, parodies, rejects, and embraces. These resources are mobilized in support of an interpretation of the evolution (or ‘involution’, p. 811) of Sarraute’s work, from the polemical modernism of Portrait d’un inconnu to the deconstruction of creation and reception in Les Fruits d’Or and Entre la vie et la mort, and then into the transition beginning with L’Usage de la parole towards the ‘narcissisme mélancolique’ (p. 33) of her final works. Unfortunately, little space is devoted to laying out the reasoning behind the study’s own methodological choices, which are cursorily defended at the end of the first part. The book is a revised dissertation; although this leads to some repetition (occasionally whole paragraphs), reminders of the conclusions reached in each section are helpful for orienting the reader. The volume is both significant in its global interpretation of Sarraute’s body of work and valuable for its analysis of the many intertextual relationships Rocchi identifies; its usefulness is greatly increased by the well-organized bibliography and index of authors, artists, and works. Essential for scholars interested in Sarraute, the nouveau roman, or competing notions of modernity in twentieth-century literature, Rocchi’s book should also find readers among those seeking examples of the interpretative potential of intertextual analysis.

Emelyn Lih
New York University


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pp. 478-479
Launched on MUSE
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