Tropisms by Nathalie Sarraute, translated by Maria Jolas

I think the 24 brief texts—or perhaps I should call them impulses?—that make up Sarraute’s book Tropisms are short enough and brilliant enough to include them all in this anthology as a single piece of work. It was the first of her 14 books, and tropisms became a key element in all her subsequent works. She believed there was no boundary between poetry and prose, and little distinction between fiction and the lived experience, which, I think, makes reading these tiny texts feel like memories of future dreams, or perhaps déjà-vus of things we did in previous lives.

In her own words:

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.

First published 1939. Also available in from New Directions, 2015.

‘Tropisms I’ by Nathalie Sarraute, translated by Maria Jolas

These little fragments are ur-short stories, really, for how they name and give slimy, botanical form to all that’s unspoken and not-quite-speakable, those “movements that are hidden under the commonplace, seemingly harmless instances of our everyday lives.”

First published in Tropismes in 1939, by Robert Denoël. First published in English in 1963. New Directions edition produced in 2017