Amidst the Nausea
I had difficulty delving in to Sartre’s book Nausea so I had to do a bit of background research. Once I understood the sentiments behind the character and his experiences, it presented a more visceral experience.
The book follows the diary of a man who experiences the onset of Nausea which lingers on continuously for days. He justifies that the gut-wrenching feeling in his stomach is the result of existential angst. We follow his psychic journey through his detailed reconstruction of different experiences he’s had with people along with his sensory perception of the objects around him.
What I liked is the contrast between the past and the present, self and other. The character in the book aligns himself with a historical French aristocrat he has been researching, however the comparison brings him an overwhelming sense of Nausea. The character then resolves to define their own existence, focusing entirely upon their own sensory experiences and interactions with other people.
The fact that the character records his own experiences in a diary tells us a great deal about the importance of these experiences in affirming his existence. He records the seemingly insignificant mundane events of the everyday in great detail, as though he were forcing himself to believe that he exists. These experiences which seemed fleeting are engraved in to his diary which gives a sense of permanence, a form of immortality that transcends the bodily experience. In doing so, he is extending beyond the sensory experience and transforming it in to a personal narrative. He also records the various encounters he’s had with different people, detailing their idiosyncrasies and his thoughts about them. In doing so, he is reinforcing the bridge between self and other where his interactions with other people reaffirms his own experiences. Perceiving in the moment isn’t enough to convince him of his existence so he resorts to diary-keeping as a concrete reminder that he is present.
I enjoyed the sentiments of the book but as for the reading process itself, it wasn’t very smooth. It wasn’t an easy read and I felt that I had to be in the perfect mindset in order to be able to fully explore the depths of the story. It does tend to drag on and I found myself spacing out in between as Sartre darted from one experience to another. There were times when I felt that the entire book lacked any inherent meaning but I suppose that is what Sartre was aiming for; to invoke the same feeling of nausea experienced by the character within the reader.
“I can’t complain: I recognise here her love of perfection. She always wanted to enjoy ‘perfect moments’. If the time was not convenient, she took no more interest in anything, the life went out of her eyes, and she trailed around lazily like a gawky schoolgirl at the awkward age.” —Jean-Paul Sartre