Book//mark - Tropismes | Nathalie Sarraute, 1939

Tropisms, Nathalie Sarraute, 1939

''Underneath this heat there was a great void, silence, everything seemed in suspense: the only thing to be heard, aggressive, strident, was the creaking of a chair being dragged across the tiles, the slamming of a door. In this heat, in this silence, it was a sudden coldness, a rending.
     And she remained motionless on the edge of her bed, occupying the least possible space, tense, as though waiting for something to burst, to crash down upon her in the threatening silence.''

''When the weather began to be fine, on holidays they would go walking in the suburban woods.

The scrubby underbrush was dotted with crossroads onto which straight paths converged symmetrically. The grass was sparse and trampled upon, but on the branches new leaves were beginning to appear; they had succeeded in communicating none of their luster to the surroundings, and looked like children with slightly sourish smiles like one sees wrinkling their faces to the sun in hospital wards.''

"it seemed certain that, for as long as possible, she would have to wait, remain motionless like that, do nothing, not move, that the highest degree of comprehension, real intelligence, was that, to undertake nothing, keep as still as possible, do nothing."


"He was smooth and flat, two level surfaces -- his cheeks which he presented first to one then to the other, and upon which, with their pursed lips, they pressed a kiss.

They took him and they crunched him, turned him over and over, stamped on him, rolled, wallowed on him. They made him go round and round, there, and there, and there, they showed him disquieting painted scenery with blind doors and windows, towards which he walked credulously, and against which he bumped and hurt himself.

They had always known how to possess him entirely, without leaving him a fresh spot, without a moment’s respite, how to devour him to the last crumb. They surveyed him, cut him up into dreadful building lots, into squares, traversed him in every direction; sometimes they let him run, turned him loose, but they brought him back as soon as he went too far, they took possession of him again. He had developed a taste for this devouring in childhood-- he tendered himself, relished their bittersweet odor, offered himself.

The world in which they had enclosed him, in which they surrounded him on every side, was without issue. Everywhere their frightful clarity, their blinding light that leveled everything, did away with all shadows and asperities.

They were aware of his liking for their attacks, his weakness, so they had no scruples.

They had emptied him entirely and restuffed him and they showed him everywhere other dolls, other puppets. He could not escape them. He could only turn politely towards them the two smooth surfaces of his cheeks, one after the other, for them to kiss."


She had understood the secret. She had scented the hiding-place of what should be the real treasure for everybody. She knew the ‘scale of values.’

No conversations about the shape of hats and Rémond fabrics for her.  She had profound contempt for square-toed shoes.

Like a wood-louse she had crawled insidiously towards them and maliciously found out about ‘the real thing’, like a cat that licks its chops and closes its eyes before a jug of cream it has discovered.

Now she knew it. She was going to stay there. They would never dislodge her from there again. She listened, she absorbed, greedy, voluptuous, rapacious. Nothing of what belonged to them was going to escape her: picture galleries, all the new books… She knew all that. She had begun with ‘Les Annales’, now she was veering towards Gide, soon she would be going to take notes, an eager, avid gleam in her eye,  at meetings of the ‘Union for Truth’.

She ranged over all that, sniffed everywhere, picked up everything with her square-nailed fingers; as soon as anyone spoke vaguely of that anywhere, her eyes lighted up, she stretched out her neck, agog.

For them this was unutterably repellent. Hide it from her – quick – before she scents it, carries it away, preserve it from her degrading contact… But she foiled them, because she knew everything. The Chartres Cathedral could not be hidden from her. She knew all about it. She had read what Péguy had thought of it.

In the most secret recesses, among the treasures that were the best hidden, she rummaged about with her avid fingers. Everything ‘intellectual’. She had to have it. For her. For her, because she knew now the real value of things. She had to have what was intellectual.

There were a great many like her, hungry, pitiless parasites, leeches, firmly settled on the articles that appeared, slugs stuck everywhere, spreading their mucus on corners of Rimbaud, sucking on Mallarmé, lending one another Ulysses or the Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge, which they slimed with their low understanding.

‘It’s so beautiful,’ she said, opening her eyes in which, with a pure, inspired expression, she kindled a ‘divine spark’.

Tropismes, Nathalie Sarraute, 1939

Tropism : the responsive growth of movement of an organism toward or away from an external stimulus.

My first book is made up of a series of moments, 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.

This first book contains in nuce all the raw material that I have continued to develop in my later works.

Nathalie Sarraute, Paris, 1962


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