Monday, August 18, 2008


I read “Nausea” by Jean-Paul Sartre. It is about a man, Antoine Roquentin who, like Ulysses, after years of travelling and adventure resides in a small port in France and starts to write a historical book about a Frenchman of antiquity. However as the novel goes on, Roquentin’s life of utmost loneliness results in a series of peculiar contemplations by him during which he starts to look at ordinary and everyday objects and events in a totally new way.

During his contemplations, monologues and epiphanies, he gains a new definition of “existence”. This new essence bears a strong sense of nothingness and absurdity. Roquentin feels this existence, when he is confronted by a so-called feat of nausea. He feels that this new sense of existence is actually the real meaning of the word and that other people are totally unaware of it. In other words, he thinks that ordinary people are so much drowned in their everyday lives that they cannot understand that their whole life is a useless effort in order to escape from loneliness and nausea. In other words people struggle so hard so as to forget their existence: their useless and absurd being. For example the act of writing a history book on Marquis de Rollebon, for Roquentin is a mere medium so that he can forget his being: “Marquis needs me in order to be and I need him in order to forget my being.”

The notion of loneliness is presented in a variety of ways. One lonely person is Roquentin himself, who has chosen to drown himself in his unconscious and contemplating others. Another lonely figure is Anny, Roquentin’s ex-wife who is supposedly a tinge of hope and a prospect of happiness for Roquentin, but ironically she is lonely too, but in a slightly different way. Abhorring her husbands’ eccentric manners, she has left him to seek a better life, but she has only lost herself and has become lonelier than ever. During her life of widowhood, she has pursued an unsuccessful acting career (life is just a play, actors merely fools) and now has come back to France, maybe to reconcile with her ex-husband (but in vain).

Anny is very pathetic, because she is too proud and too paralyzed to accept Roquentin’s offer of reconciliation, thus destroying any chance of a better life.
Another dominant lonely figure in the novel is the Autodidact who is a mere repeater of others. His lacks confidence, lacks courage to think and speak independently. Existentially speaking, although he is condemned to be free and responsible for his actions, he has chosen to stay in a library and read the books from A to Z (unconditional and unreasonable order). The lonely Autodidact envies Roquentin’s former life of adventure, and starts to hate him because of that. His final act of sexual harassment in the library is like a final blow both to himself and to the reader. This conclusion also concludes another kind of loneliness. Drowning oneself into a life of seclusion without giving the permission to oneself to, at least, think independently.

At the end of the novel, Roquentin thinks that it was not wise to write about Marquis in order to forget his being. After listening to an inspiring Jazz song, and going through an epiphany in which Roquentin finds his loneliness parallel to that of the singer (power of music is apparent in two occasions in the novel), he starts to believe that he must have written a book on himself, so that others and most importantly himself could understand him and his feelings better.


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