Wednesday, August 08, 2007

In the Stomach
by Jean-Paul Sartre

Nausea has been sitting on my shelf for a good five years, and only after a minor existential crisis of my own was I propelled into a desire to read it. Existentially speaking, I'm looking for meaning in life, not that I'll find it in existentialism, but at least, I thought, I'd hear about the struggle.

Sartre is one of those really cool people that you secretly wish you were if you lived forever and could be five different people of your choice. He was a great philosopher who wrote some really hefty philosophical texts, of which his most famous is Being and Nothingness, and also a fantastic storyteller and wrote plays and novels, No Exit and Nausea being the most accessible. I won't go too much into his philosophy as it would be a moot point other than to say that he supports it well in the novel form.

I'm glad Nausea is a short book, because any more and I'd be sick. Told in the form of the diary of the main character, Antoine Roquentin, it follows his exploits in France as he tries to trace the nausea that crashes over him at random times. Roquentin is a lonely man, and it's his loneliness that follows him around and nearly condemns him to his nausea. It almost seems that Sartre is saying that meaning comes from relationships, that we seek out connection to distract ourselves from existence. In fact, what Roqeuntin comes to find is that the nausea he feels is existence itself, it is realizing that he is and is not at the same time, and when he realizes that, he observes others unintentionally distracting themselves from seeing the same.

I can see why this is one of Sartre's more popular novels. The surreal moments are astounding. Its most surreal moments are utterly graphic and somewhat disturbing (but I found that fun), and it's meandering plot does end up having a point, but it is a difficult book to get through because of its subject matter. There is no mystery to solve. Instead, there is one man and his random encounters with objects, former lovers, and other odd sorts of people. I must say that I did like it, though, and it has left quite an impression on me.

Oh, the existential crisis continues! If you've got time, read it, keep the crisis alive.

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