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Tropisms (1939)

by Nathalie Sarraute

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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272685,164 (3.68)5
Hailed as a masterpiece by Jean Genet, Marguerite Duras, and Jean-Paul Sartre,Tropisms is considered one of the defining texts of the nouveau roman movement. Nathalie Sarraute has defined her work as the "movements that are hidden under the commonplace, harmless instances of our everyday lives." Like figures in a grainy photograph, Sarraute's characters are blurred and shadowy, while her narrative never develops beyond a stressed moment. Instead, Sarraute brilliantly finds and elaborates subtle details--when a relationship changes, when we fall slightly deeper into love, or when something innocent tilts to the smallest degree toward suspicion.… (more)
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» See also 5 mentions

English (4)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (6)
Showing 4 of 4
Very, very well done vignettes, with some totally gratuitous, almost nonsensical theory to back them up--these are meant to be more or less objective correlatives of subjective experiences, which is fine, but they're far more interesting than that: lots of grumpy social observations and touching moments of vulnerability. There is a little bit too much romantic individualism (oh, if only we could all fly free of social norms, then we would be truly ourselves!), but there's also good criticism of that kind of thing. The last six were written later than the first 18, and are substantially better. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
An impulse purchase at Curious Books (the book design was tiny and striking), it was still in my purse when I showed up ridiculously early for an appointment (the roads weren't nearly as bad as I'd planned for.) The appointment stretched on forever and had plenty of waiting time, so I'd finished most of this book before I left.

I started out a little concerned that a French experimental novel might not be the best choice for distracted waiting room reading, but really there was only one chapter that warred with the cheery holiday music in the background -- making me reread paragraphs over and over again -- but otherwise the brief directness of these tropisms was perfect for that sort of reading -- dipping into a series of hard little gems. There was one chapter that was strangely unclear that made me wonder about the translation, but otherwise these brief glimpses are amazingly relatable for their brevity.

Doubly fitting choice for a New Directions Pearl title. ( )
1 vote greeniezona | Apr 2, 2018 |

Following my reading of The Passion According to G.H., I was pleased to find in the Foreword to this book that with her Tropisms, Nathalie Sarraute aims to capture the 'movements' lurking under the instants of our lives. For what had appealed most to me during my reading of Lispector's short, rambling volume was her discussion of the inexpressive, of the nothingness that comprises our instants of living. As Lispector writes 'the moment of living too has no words,' so too does Sarraute write that 'no words express [these movements],' movements which she thinks just might 'constitute the secret source of our existence.' But wait, I thought, if no words can express these movements, how will she write about them. Well, as it so happens, she actually tries to show 'a series of moments, in which, like some precise dramatic actions shown in slow motion, these movements […] come into play.' (The movements are the Tropisms, in case that wasn't clear.) If you are wondering what the actual definition of tropism is, which may or may not be relevant here, The American Heritage Dictionary says this:

The responsive growth of movement of an organism toward or away from an external stimulus.

It is a term I am most familiar with in a scientific context, as in phototropism, which is what plants exhibit in their growth toward a source of light.

Sarraute says that this book contains all the raw material on which her novels are based. This was actually her first book, though the English translation came out years later and is a corrected re-edition including six bonus Tropisms, as well as the Foreword, which nicely sets all of this in context. I have not read Sarraute's novels, so this did not mean much to me. (I do also have her book Childhood checked out from the library, though, so maybe that will help me.)

The collection veers from slice-of-life realism to demented little parables and back. Everything is short, one to three pages. We are dropped in, we see over and around people, sometimes inside them, and then we are booted back out. I liked some of them quite a bit, while others passed through me like so much nothingness, like the inexpressible instants of our lives, just like Tropisms, in fact...wait a minute.

This is translated from the French, of course. I am starting to feel the mists of paranoia rising up around my reading of so much translated literature. What am I missing, is it the keys, am I missing the keys, Nathalie...

The highest degree of comprehension, real intelligence, was that, to undertake nothing, keep as still as possible, do nothing.

Oh yes, yes, now that does sound familiar. ( )
1 vote S.D. | Apr 5, 2014 |
French Classic
  Budzul | May 31, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nathalie Sarrauteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jolas, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Hailed as a masterpiece by Jean Genet, Marguerite Duras, and Jean-Paul Sartre,Tropisms is considered one of the defining texts of the nouveau roman movement. Nathalie Sarraute has defined her work as the "movements that are hidden under the commonplace, harmless instances of our everyday lives." Like figures in a grainy photograph, Sarraute's characters are blurred and shadowy, while her narrative never develops beyond a stressed moment. Instead, Sarraute brilliantly finds and elaborates subtle details--when a relationship changes, when we fall slightly deeper into love, or when something innocent tilts to the smallest degree toward suspicion.

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