NAUSEA – JEAN-PAUL SARTRE

Introduction by James Wood.

1. In a lecture delivered in 1945, Jean-Paul Sartre described existentialism as ‘that attempt to draw all the consequences from a position of a consistent atheism.’ (p.vii)

2. It thus belongs alongside Camus’s novel The Stranger, and his philosophical essay, The Myth of Sisyphus; books which likewise commit themselves to the prosecution of difficult consequences, and which, like Nausea, are only partially convincing in the responses or solutions they propose to the realization that, after God, life is without meaning. (p.vii)

3. That is to say, in such books, the writer-narrator talks about writing, and exhorts himself to write a great, solving work: only slowly do we realize that we are reading that very work. The self-exhortation is the literary achievement, if we can only see it. Sartre ends Nausea by making the narrator, Antoine Roquentin, pledge to write something that would be ‘beautiful and hard as steel and make people ashamed of their existence … A book. A novel.’ (p.vii)

4. The reader senses that Sartre wants to alert us to Roquentin’s fictionality, to let us know, in the style of Beckett and the nouveau roman, that Roquentin is a thoroughly unstable invention who has no real past outside the words of his creator. This is not just a literary game. As Beckett does, Sartre uses the fictionality of his fiction to ask us to reflect on the fictionality – or at least, the arbitrariness – of reality itself. (p.viii)

5. Roquentin, like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, is a sufferer and a militant. He is at war with the town in which he lives, at war with the regulars at his café, at war with Anny and the Autodidact, and at war with himself, or with pieces of himself. (p.ix)

6. He is ‘free’ only in the sense that he is really unfree; he is ‘alive’ only in the sense that he is really dead. (p.xiii)

7. The citizens of Bouville, whom Roquentin watches going about their everyday business, are still veiled in ignorance of their arbitrariness. They are as unfree as Roquentin, yet they hide the terrible imprisonment of their existences by unthinkingly getting up, going out to work, relaxing on Sundays, and so on. They wrongly imagine that they have chosen this form of life, when of course it has chosen them. (p.xiii)

8. Camus asked us to fight that imprisonment, if necessarily wearily and repetitively; Sartre hoped that we could simply explode the prison. (p.xx)

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1. I mustn’t put strangeness where there’s nothing. (p.9)

2. A lot of people are waiting for the last tram. They must make a sad little group around the gas lamp just under my window. (p.11)

3. Well, when I heard him coming upstairs, it gave me quite a thrill, it was so reassuring: what is there to fear from such a regular world? I think I am cured. (p.11)

4. Something has happened to me: I can’t doubt that any more. It came as an illness does, not like an ordinary certainty, not like anything obvious. It installed itself cunningly, little by little; I felt a little strange, a little awkward, and that was all. Once it was established, it didn’t move any more, it lay low and I was able to persuade myself that there was nothing wrong with me, that it was a false alarm. And now it has started blossoming. (p.13)

5. I saw an unknown face which was barely a face. And then there was his hand, like a fat maggot in my hand. (p.14)

6. The statue struck me as stupid and unattractive and I felt that I was terribly bored. I couldn’t understand why I was in Indo-China. What was I doing there? Why was I talking to those people? Why was I dressed so oddly? My passion was dead. For years it had submerged me and swept me along; now I felt empty. (p.15)

7. If I am not mistaken, and if all the signs which are piling up are indications of a fresh upheaval in my life, well then, I am frightened. It isn’t that my life is rich or weighty or precious, but I’m afraid of what is going to be born and take hold of me and carry me off – I wonder where? Shall I have to go away again, leaving everything behind – my research, my book? Shall I awake in a few months, a few years, exhausted, disappointed, in the midst of fresh ruins? I should like to understand myself properly before it is too late. (p.15)

8. There is nothing very new about all that; I have never rejected these harmless emotions; far from it. In order to feel them, it is sufficient to be a little isolated, just enough to get rid of plausibility at the right moment. But I remained close to people, on the surface of solitude, quite determined, in case of emergency, to take refuge in their midst: so far I was an amateur at heart. (p.18)

9. It wasn’t the fellow’s poverty-stricken appearance which frightened us, nor the tumour he had on his neck which rubbed against the edge of his collar: but we felt that he was shaping crab-like or lobster-like thoughts in his head. And it terrified us to think that somebody could have lobster-like thoughts about the sentry-box, about our hoops, about the bushes. (p.20)

10. I should like to talk to somebody about what is happening to me before it is too late, before I start frightening little boys. (p.20)

11. Three o’clock. Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do. A peculiar moment in the afternoon. Today it is intolerable. (p.27)

12. I liked yesterday’s sky so much, a narrow sky, dark with rain, pressing against the window-panes like a ridiculous, touching face. This sun isn’t ridiculous, quite the contrary. On everything I love, on the rust in the yards, on the rotten planks of the fence, a miserly, sensible light is falling, like the look you give, after a sleepless night, at the decisions you made enthusiastically the day before, at the pages you wrote straight off without a single correction. The four cafés on the boulevard Victor-Noir, which chine brightly at night, side by side, and which are much more than cafés – aquariums, ships, stars, or big wide eyes – have lost their ambiguous charm. (p.27)

13. On the wall there is a white hole, the mirror. It is a trap. I know that I am going to let myself be caught in it. I have. The grey thing has just appeared in the mirror. I go over and look at it, I can no longer move away. (p.30)

14. My gaze travels slowly and wearily down over this forehead, these cheeks: it meets nothing firm, and sinks into the sand. Admittedly there is a nose there, two eyes and a mouth, but none of that has any significance, nor even a human expression. (p.31)

15. I am listening to a Negress singing while the feeble night prowls outside. (p.40)

16. Night has entered, smooth, hesitant. No one sees her, but she is there, veiling the lamps; you can breathe something thick in the air: it is she. It is cold. (p.40)

17. (…) in the mirror, above the vet’s head, I see an inhuman face gliding along. (p.40)

18. (…) for the time being I’ve seen enough of living things, of dogs, of men, of all the flabby masses which move about spontaneously. (p.41)

19. A handsome face full of hatred grimaces against a green background, torn into the shape of a star; under the nose somebody has pencilled a curled-up moustache. (p.42)

20. The Nausea has stayed over there, in the yellow light. I am happy: this cold is so pure, this darkness is so pure; am I myself not a wave of icy air? To have neither blood, nor lymph, nor flesh. To flow along this canal towards that pallor over there. To be nothing but coldness. (p.44)

21. Here are some people. Two shadows. What did they have to come here for? (p.44)

22. She needs to be taken by the shoulders and led to the lights, among people, into the pink, gentle streets: over there you can’t suffer so acutely; she would soften up, she would recover her positive look and return to the ordinary level of her sufferings. (p.45)

23. I can receive nothing more from these tragic solitudes, except a little empty purity. I walk away. (p.45)

24. A little more and I would have fallen into the mirror trap. I avoided it, but only to fall into the window trap: (…) (p.49)

25. I can see the future. It is there, stationed in the street, hardly any paler than the present. Why does it have to be fulfilled? What advantage will that give it? The old woman hobbles away, she stops, she tugs at a lock of grey hair escaping from her shawl. She walks on, she was there, now she is here…I don’t know where I am anymore: am I seeing her movements, or am I foreseeing them? I can no longer distinguish the present from the future and yet it is lasting, it is gradually fulfilling itself; the old woman advances along the empty street; she moves her heavy mannish shoes. This is time, naked time, it comes slowly into existence, it keeps you waiting, and when it comes you are disgusted because you realize that it’s been there already for a long time. (p.50)

26. I tear myself from the window and stumble across the room; I am ensnared by the mirror, I look at myself, I disgust myself: another eternity. Finally I escape from my image and I go and throw myself on my bed. I look at the ceiling, I should like to sleep. (p.51)

27. In a little while I shall leave for another country. I shall never find this woman again or this night. I study each second, I try to suck it dry; nothing passes which I do not seize, which I do not fix forever within me, nothing, neither the ephemeral tenderness of these lovely eyes, nor the noises in the street, nor the false light of dawn: and yet the minute goes by and I do not hold it back, I am glad to see it pass. (p.59)

28. Then I had a violent feeling that I was having an adventure. But Erna came back, she sat down beside me, she put her arms around my neck, and I hated her without knowing why. I understand now: it was because I had to begin living again that the impression of having an adventure just vanished. (p.61)

29. When you are living, nothing happens. The settings change, people come in and go out, that’s all. There are never any beginnings. Days are tacked on to days without rhyme or reason, it is an endless, monotonous addiction. Now and then you do a partial sum: you say: I’ve been travelling for three years, I’ve been at Bouville for three years. There isn’t any end either: you never leave a woman, a friend, a town in one go. And then everything is like everything else: Shanghai, Moscow, Algiers, are all the same after a couple of weeks. Occasionally – not very often – you take your bearings, you realize that you’re living with a woman, mixed up in some dirty business. Just for an instant. After that, the procession starts again, you being adding up the hours and days once more. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. April, May, June. 1924, 1925, 1926. (p.62)

30. I had dinner at the Rendez-vous des Cheminots. Since the patronne was there, I had to fuck her, but it was really out of politeness. She disgusts me slightly, she is too white and besides she smells like a new-born baby. She pressed my head against her breast in a burst of passion: she thinks this is the right thing to do. As for me, I toyed absent-mindedly with her sex under the bedclothes; then my arm went to sleep. (p.88)

31. A soft glow; people are in their houses, they have probably turned on their lights too. They read, they look out of the window at the sky. For them…it’s different. They have grown older in another way. They live in the midst of legacies and presents, and each piece of furniture is a souvenir. Clocks, medallions, portraits, shells, paper-weights, screens, shawls. They have cupboards full of bottles, material, old clothes, newspapers; they have kept everything. The past is a property-owner’s luxury. (p.97)

32. Where should I keep mine? You can’t put your past in your pocket; you have to have a house in which to store it. I possess nothing but my body; a man on his own, with nothing but his body, can’t stop memories; they pass through him. I shouldn’t complain: all I have ever wanted was to be free. (p.97)

33. The little man stirs and sighs. He has huddled up in his overcoat, but now and then he straightens up and takes on a human appearance. He has no past either. If you looked hard, you would probably find, in the house of some cousins of his who no longer have anything to do with him, a photo-graph showing him at a wedding, with a wing-collar, a stiff shirt, and a young man’s prickly moustache. I don’t think that even that much remains of me. (p.97)

34. That’s what I call a handsome face. Worn and furrowed by life and passions. But the doctor has understood life, mastered his passions. (p.98)

35. I heave a sigh: we are among men now. (p.99)

36. I don’t laugh, I don’t respond to his advances: so, without stopping laughing, he tries the terrible fire of his eyes on me. We consider each other in silence for a few seconds; he looks me up and down with half-closed eyes, he classifies me. In the crackpot category? Or in the scoundrel category? (p.100)

37. sdfsdf

 

 

 

 

ISBN: 978-0-141-18549-1 (First published: 1938.)

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