Nathalie Sarraute and the Feminist Reader: Identities in Process
Situated at an intersection of feminist critical practice in the United States and feminist cultural theory in France, Nathalie Sarraute and the Feminist Reader is an investigation of the way in which this French New Novelist's first eight works, in their increasing dramatization of the issue of reading, problematize certain feminist literary analyses, especially in relation to "l'ecriture feminine." After an exploration of the difficulty Sarraute's writing poses for the critical enterprise through a lengthy reading of Sarrautien criticism in the U.S. and France, Sarah Barbour shows how Sarraute's works eventually prohibit any fixed reading and open up instead a space in which we as readers are moved toward a more personal understanding of our use of narrative and of socio-sexual constructs in the continual, day-to-day constitution and reconstitution of subjectivity.
Nathalie Sarraute conceives of the evolution of the novel as a movement through history and thus situates her work within a tradition of psychological realism at the same time that she proposes radical innovations of the tradition. Her novels do not discard or revise past works but rather internalize them in an effort to expand the notion of what is possible for psychological realism. This study takes as its model Sarraute's example of simultaneity, which invites an understanding of time both as a diachronic movement through "phases,": from the psychological realism of Dostoyevski to that of Kafka to her own, and as a synchronic encounter that elicits simultaneous relationships to different "phases." Within the movement of feminist literary criticism scholars have often discerned what are also referred to as "phases;" that is, criticism in the United States has moved from its initial concern with images of women in fiction by male writers to a desire to establish a feminine tradition of women's writing.
Nathalie Sarraute and the Feminist Reader is not an attempt to claim that Sarraute's work represents "ecriture feminine." Reading Sarraute's novels in their "evolution," Sarah Barbour has found that they forced her own reading and understanding of this term to "evolve." She therefore proposes that the novels open up a space that is beyond the frozen shells of gender, which continue to bind women and men personally and critically. The power of Sarraute's work lies in the solitary experience of our encounter with her presentation and perception of reality. In this encounter we are forced to experience the fluid nature of subjectivity; that is, to internalize and explore differences within personal and sexual identity that, by extension, affect the identity of larger political movements.
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