Review: Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

91d9vEpud1LHey, I’m a pessimist.  There, I said it. I’m already horrified at my existence. I don’t need anyone else doing it for me, but that’s exactly what Jean-Paul Sartre did in Nausea, the story of a writer (Anton Roquentin) who becomes horrified by his own existence while working on a novel about a historical figure. Over the course of the novel, in true existentialist fashion, Roquentin wonders about the purpose of his life, whether or not he really has free will, the idea of “adventure,” and what it all means. In other words, if you talk to me for more than ten minutes at a time, you’ll be hearing the gist of this novel. It’s not the kind of book you can breeze through. It’s heavy, both in subject matter and in density.

I was actually surprised how much a French history course from my college days came up here. I instantly thought of the idea of the flaneur, which was essentially a person who walk, wander around, and just observe. Roquentin spends a lot of time as a flaneur, wandering around Paris and observing the lives of others. His perceived invisibility during his walks make him seem very much in the tradition of Baudrillard’s flaneur. These are the guys that stare at you when you’re out at the store.

I’ll be honest–I read Nausea in tandem with the Sparknotes on the novel. The novel is under 200 pages, but there’s a hell of a lot to unpack in this novel, and there are a lot of cultural references that I wanted to be sure I wouldn’t miss.

Roquentin looks to the Marquis de Rollebon to try to figure out his own existence, but he struggles to find anything definitive about the past, so he is forced to turn to the present. Even Roquentin’s writings about Rollebon seem more like they’re based on his own life, so he’s also calling objectivity into question. Finally, by comparing his own life to that of the Marquis, Roquentin brings up the idea of a duality present in existentialism–the conscious self and the kind of internal “other” that observes that conscious self. To Roquentin, little seems to make sense. Since it had been a few years since I studied philosophy, little seemed to make sense (until I went back over my notes).

And this was only about 50 pages in.  See what I mean?

Get in a shitty mood and read this novel.  You’ll say “Yeah, finally, someone else!”  Read it when you’re in a good mood, and you’ll get into a shitty mood and wonder what the hell was up Sartre’s ass.

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9 thoughts on “Review: Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

  1. I’m reminded of a cultural studies class I did at uni last year (or the year before?? I have no idea anymore) in which we looked at social and cultural influences on the individual. I ended up deciding that what we don’t have as much free will as we believe. Our actions are still – for the most part – bound by laws and social expectations of what is appropriate; we can do whatever we like, provided it’s within certain boundaries.
    Anyway…

    This book sounds really interesting and insightful – will add it to my TBR!

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    1. That sounds like a pretty interesting class. I think I did something similar in philosophy or sociology. I think you’re definitely right to feel that way. We sort of become this being with these intrinsic boundaries. Maybe we’re thinking more in terms of Thomas Hobbes and his savage state of nature that needs society to straighten man out. I think Roquentin just comes to the idea that man makes his own meaning in life. Without commitment to that idea, life is jut rather inexplicable.

      It was interesting, though I had to read it in chunks of about 50 pages due to its density. I’d recommend going about it that way because, while there is some plot, there is far more description that can wear you down in time.

      Let me know what you think when you get to it!

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      1. I think my class was sociology now that you mention it. Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’ was mentioned in that class, so I got a copy last year to read (but haven’t actually read it yet). Have you read it?
        I suspect that I would need to read it in a manner similar to ‘Nausea’ – in little bits at a time, with lots of thinking in between sessions!

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        1. No…I was the same. I heard a lot about Leviathan, but I’ve yet to read it. I haven’t read much in terms of actual philosophical works except for the ones built around fiction like “Nausea” or Camus’ “The Stranger.” Most of my learning about philosophy came out of textbooks. I wanted to delve further in, but my degree didn’t allow for much more than philosophy 101. I still want to get to Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, though.

          Some of the classic Russian novels are built around philosophical ideas, but they’re much more novels than philosophical treatises like “Nausea.” I could really recommend some Russian lit. Loved me my Russian lit. Maybe that will be a post for me to write this week.

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          1. Yes please write a post about that! I’m rereading ‘War & Peace’ at the moment (but I’m not sure if that’s what you had in mind). I LOVED ‘Crime and Punishment’ (I could do with a reread of that) aaaaand that’s about the extent of my knowledge; that I can recall anyway.

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          2. Is that the one by Danielewski? I haven’t heard of it before but I just had a look at it on Goodreads (assuming this is the one you’re meaning) and it looks AMAZING.

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          3. Yep. It’s a door-stopper at something like 750 pages, and it can take a while to get through, but I enjoyed it. Plus it kind of mocks that kind of pretentious academia with obscure references and such by having tons of fictional footnotes about a fictional documentary.

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