Words under pressure can appear sinister, they begin to diffuse a secretion of unreasonable excitement throughout the story (the hysterical and contextually correct "joy" in Ullman's "attentive joy"), and now it is not Ullman I'm thinking of, it is Nathalie Sarraute at the start of "fools say" (1976), interrogating the phrase, "She is sweet;" now I remember her in Between Life and Death (1968) as she wrings out the word "héros." That true core of the bundt cake in Ullman is the momentary solidness of an interrogative chamber atmosphere (boundaried by the overt happiness of these people, arriving with joy and then accepting their flowers at the end), which is, also, the atmosphere of Sarraute's fiction, a fiction that is haunted by a "they," a collection of sportspeople or hunters who are searching for a score, a nasty wound, a little nourishing hit --
There's no use in shutting yourself up in your room to read, simply, or to work at anything as innocent as a doctor's thesis, they won't be taken in. Without showing it they possess – certain of them – an extraordinarily sharp instinct. Signs that, like ostriches, he believes to be invisible are perfectly clear to them.
(tr. Maria Jolas)
– but the hit is always brief and the movement of the books as a whole is the slipping action of a fluid that streams out from under them as they try to put their hands on it; the author's subtlety is a long report on the subject of their trapping or sniffing actions – her characters are sensitive to an invisible pressure that can be or could be forced or persuaded, or detected – "All he needed was for them to let him see that they sensed, as he did, this presence, that it is there for them too … something that exists very strongly, which it is not possible to disregard, which resembles nothing else … if they will just acknowledge that." (Ellipses hers.) Nothing is uttered unconsciously (this is in Ullman as well, and in Walser), and if the character is somehow unconscious of it then the author is not and nor is the reader, ever – so that a conversation in Sarraute's books (which are almost entirely conversation with nearly no description) is like water probing downhill and finding the most sure route but always via people, slippery people, never that solidness in things, never a bundt cake. This is a train of thought that Mudpuddle has put me onto by mentioning "the poetry of chinese taoist hermits" –
Drinking Alone with the Moon
From a pot of wine among the flowers
I drank alone. There was no one with me --
Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
Alas, the moon was unable to drink
And my shadow tagged me vacantly;
But still for a while I had these friends
To cheer me through the end of spring....
I sang. The moon encouraged me.
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.
As long as I knew, we were boon companions.
And then I was drunk, and we lost one another.
...Shall goodwill ever be secure?
– wrote Li Po/Li Bai (701 – 762), who was sensitive to the pressure exerted by non-human objects as well as human ones, but in Sarraute the presence is always human and hostile, without a reason for that hostility; without a landscape setting where it might be taking place.