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The Auditory Imagination in the Theatre of Marguerite Duras and Nathalie Sarraute

The Auditory Imagination in the Theatre of Marguerite Duras and Nathalie Sarraute

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sean O'Connor. Originally submitted for Contemporary French Theatre at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Mary Noonan in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sean O'Connor. Originally submitted for Contemporary French Theatre at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Mary Noonan in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
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The Auditory Imagination in the Theatre of Marguerite Duras and Nathalie Sarraute
„The theatre of Marguerite Duras appeals primaril
y to the auditory imagination; her theatricalproject was centred on an attempt to create the right conditions for an apprehension of whatlies beyond/before the written text, a retrieval of the aural origins of the text. Thus, theexperience of watching one of her later plays is one of involvement in the processes of listening, remembering and composing on the basis of heard fragments.
‟ Discuss the theatre
work of Duras and / or Sarraute in light of this statement.
H1.-
 Non, je sens qu‟il y a quelque chose
 
(…)
 H2.-
 Non…vraiment rien…
 
(…) rien don
t il soit permis de parler.
(…)Mais justement, ce n‟est rien… Et c‟est
à cause de ce rien
…”
 What is not said or unsayable is often more enduring than that which is said. MargueriteDuras and Nathalie Sarraute, in their writings, became increasingly preoccupied with theproblems of language and the inadequacy of the spoken word to convey the true impressionone has of a person, an action, a dialogue as it emerges from the filtration process that isinterpretation. The processes of the ar
tist‟s mind take
centre stage. In the modernistmovement, the traditional expectations of theatre or a novel cannot be fulfilled as thematic,character and stylistic concerns are no longer the sole motivation for creation or expression.David Bradby identifies the
nouveau romancier
as supplying only a stream of discourse,
 
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leaving questions about the motives and ideas, even the identity of the speakers unanswered.
1
 In applying the above statement to the plays
Savannah Bay
2
(
SB
) and
Pour un oui ou pour unnon
3
(
POPN 
), this essay will attempt to examine the relevance of such concepts to theplaywrights and identify specific examples which justify the claim that the auditoryimagination is at the heart of the principal appeal of their theatre.The Auditory ImaginationIn
The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism
4
 ,
T.S. Eliot, in a discussion of Matthew
Arnold, writes a passage of critical theory noting Arnold‟s lack of sensitivity to „the musicalqualities of verse.‟ For Eliot, the auditory imagination
;
“i
s the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thoughtand feeling, invigorating every word;
sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning tothe origin and bringing something back,
seeking the beginning and the end.
5
 The idea of a return to the origin, to the pre-verbal state of being, one defined by our lack of ability to communicate with language is, according to Duras and Sarraute, one which lives onin us as part of our being.
The addition of the word „primitive‟ is interesting
 
in Eliot‟s
analysis above. It is a feeling, more than a particular emotion, as labelling it so wouldautomatically and intrinsically link it to the entire history associated with that emotion. It issubmitted that an incline, a pre-disposition or a physiological magnetism might describe thesub-conscious intuition which is integral to the concept of the auditory imagination. The
1
David Bradby,
Modern French Drama 1940
– 
1980,
Cambridge University Press, 1991.
2
Duras, Marguerite, 1914-1996. Paris: Minuit, 1983.
3
Sarraute, Nathalie, Paris: Gallimard, 1982.
4
Eliot, T. S. (Thomas Stearns), 1888-1965, London Faber and Faber 1964
5
 
The Cambridge Introduction to T.S. Eliot,
by John Xiros Cooper, Cambridge University Press, 2006. (EmphasisAdded: This is the crucial element which
eatures in Duras’s and Sarraute’s writing for theatre.)
 
 
3
sensibility goes below articulate language, to a pre-logical, as well as a pre-linguistic state,reaching to the innate rhythms and reflexes of our human environment. At the limits of language and all rational, conscious thought, Duras and Sarraute explore the subtext, thatwhich is often more powerful than the spoken word. Whether it is called aura, the underbellyof conversation, body language, it is an emotional and non-verbal investment incommunication. That which can only be discerned with intuitive trust is created by theseplaywrights in their assembling of heard fragments, conscious in an attempt to express theinexpressible. This activity occurs at three levels. The authors are themselves using theirauditory imagination to steer the play along a certain course. It is indisputable that someelements of the play must be born out of the personal experiences of the playwrights. Eventhe most abstract of artistic forms contain some personal creative input.This is not to say that all original art is inherently autobiographical, rather that it hasembedded in it a slice of its a
uthor‟s
primitive identity. The characters they have invented,with fluid identities, all attempt to grapple with the heard fragments and make sense of theirrelationship and its status. We in turn are engaged in the kaleidoscope where cognitivereasoning collides with the indefinable impulses of what Sarraute extensively refers to as the
„sous
-
conversation,‟
that control our reactions and determine our potential interpretativespectrum.The auditory field is not a static field.
6
External and involuntary factors will all affect theauditory field and thus impact on what is available to the auditory imagination. Many artistsuse sound to trigger memory or to appeal to the auditory imagination.
7
The sounds we allrecognise from our pre-verbal state, like the post-birth comfort of curling up in the foetal
6
 
Listening and Voice Phenomenologies of Sound,
Second Edition, Don Ihde, State University of New York Press,Albany, 2007 at p.83.
7
Boltanski, Christian, Exposition au Grand Palais, Paris 2010. Monumenta / Personnes. Included an interactive
installation of ‘battements de coeur.’
 

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