Friday, December 28, 2012

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre


from the diary of Antoine Roquentin or one man's confrontation with sheer existence

“Nausea: it spreads at the bottom of the viscous puddle, at the bottom of our time—the time of purple suspenders and broken chair seats; it is made up of wide, soft instants, spreading at the edge, like an oil stain…
“Nothing happens while you live. The scenery changes; people come in and go out, that’s all. There are no beginnings. Days are tacked on to days without rhyme or reason, an interminable, monotonous addition. From time to time you make a semi-total. You say: I’ve been travelling for three years… That’s living. But everything changes when you tell about life; it’s a change no one notices… You suddenly feel that time is passing, that each instant leads to another, this one to another one, and so on; that each instant is annihilated, and that it isn’t worthwhile to hold it back, etc., etc…
“Experienced professionals? They have dragged out their life in stupor and semi-sleep; they have married hastily, out of impatience; they have made children at random… Sometimes caught in the tide, they have struggled against it without understanding what was happening to them. All that has happened around them has eluded them…
“The true nature of the present revealed itself: it was what exists, and all that was not present did not exist. The past did not exist. Not at all. Not in things, not even in my thoughts… I knew things are entirely what they appear to be—and behind them . . . there is nothing…
“So I was in the park just now. The roots of the chestnut tree were sunk in the ground just under the bench… I was sitting, stooping forward, head bowed, alone in front of this black, knotty mass, entirely beastly, which frightened me… If anyone had asked me what existence was, I would have answered, in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form which was added to external things without changing anything in their nature… their individuality were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder—naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness…
“I sank down on the bench, stupefied, stunned by this profusion of things without origin: everywhere blossomings, hatchings out, my ears buzzed with existence… I thought why so many existences… What good are so many duplicates of trees? So many existences missed, obstinately begun again and again missed—like awkward efforts of an insect fallen on its back? I was one of those efforts…
“Consciousness exists as a tree, as a blade of grass. It slumbers; it grows bored. Small fugitive presences populate it like birds in the branches. Populate it and disappear. Consciousness forgotten, forsaken between walls, under this grey sky…”
(1938)
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Nausea. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1964.

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