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Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Casual Critic — Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea

Writing a novel to espouse a literary line of theory or criticism doesn't seem like a very good idea to me. And while literary folks much more serious than I would no doubt scoff at my review of Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea, and probably rightly so, this book did little for me. That is with the possible exception of depressing me.

Antoine Roquentin is horrified by his own existence. The French writer keeps a diary of his life, depicting himself and those he encounters in such a way that literally makes him nauseous. He fails to find refuge in a lost love, and ultimately attempts to find a fresh start.

While Sartre plays with some interesting concepts, and the journal-style text has offered me pleasurable reads in other novels, this novel just never pulls the reader in. It can't. The first-person narrator is our eyes and ears through this world, and he pretty much hates everything and everyone — including himself.

There is an element of history that approaches interesting. Roquentin is attempting to write about Marquis de Rollebon, a French aristocrat who was involved in politics during and after the French Revolution. Like everything else, Roquentin begins to think working on the book is worthless, and begins to question whether or not Rollebon ceases to exist if everyone just forgets about him.

The problem is Sartre's attempt to offer up Existentialist thought presumably as worthwhile is far too prevalent in the story. I googled "existentialism," and I found the following at
Existentialism attempts to describe our desire to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. Unfortunately, life might be without inherent meaning (existential atheists) or it might be without a meaning we can understand (existential theists). Either way, the human desires for logic and immortality are futile. We are forced to define our own meanings, knowing they might be temporary.

I would imagine this theory lends itself to doomsayers more than upbeat, positive folks, eh? There, of course, is room for the latter, but Sartre rarely if ever glanced that way.

Then again, Nausea won the 1964 Noble Prize in Literature, so maybe I'm just an idiot. Read this one at your own peril. It may just broaden your horizons.

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