As a writer, Nathalie Sarraute set herself the task of capturing the volatility of the tremors of threat and longing that circulate on the underside of words and social identities. In her theatre, the conditions of the auditory, characterised by motility and a quality of omnipresent simultaneity provided a paradigm for the space she was attempting to create – space where a multiplicity of voices, detached from the shackles of character, would be free to reverberate with echoes of the body on the site of its splitting from language. Her dramatic writing mines the disruptive force of the desires and longings underpinning language and capitalizes on the occasion of the voice to stage the drama of an incessant merging and separation of body and word. The challenge to those staging the plays is to maintain a knife-edge balance between all that is apparently fixed and stable on the stage – notably the visual image – and that which is mobile and indeterminate, principally the excesses of body, sound and silence. Actors are called upon to communicate the escalation of tension and wildness that is at the heart of these apparently anodyne ‘drames bourgeois’. Ultimately, it is the tension arising from the communication of wildness straining at the edges of compactness of form and precision of word and rhythm that generates power on Sarraute’s stage. Minute aggravations, such as the slight mispronunciation of a vocable, trigger a frenzy of violent verbal activity. Typically, utterance causes a disturbance so deep that characters are in fear for their lives, and it was Sarraute’s intention that this unease would be felt by actors and spectators alike. What is at stake is the Self’s response to the voice that hails, the effort to make the transition, through voice, to language as the place of the Other.
This article considers Sarraute’s plays in the light of Artaud’s Le Théâtre et son double and Kristeva’s La Révolution du langage poétique.