Jean-Paul Sartre - Nausea

Jean-Paul Sartre - Nausea
Rating - 8.1

With his first novel, Sartre began to explore what would later come to be known as existentialism, or the philosophy that: 'Holds that there is no intrinsic meaning or purpose, therefore it is up to each individual to determine his own meaning and purpose and take responsibility for his actions'. While this line of philosophical thought does have its origins in Kierkegaard, it was in the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Sartre that these ideas were fully developed.

Antoine Roquentin is a solitary man, recently afflicted with a recurrent feeling, one that he terms 'the Nausea'. At times, he feels that life is repugnant, a vapid, shallow game between mindless people who have no real idea of their own purpose or consequence, himself included. At first he dismisses these feelings as the typical lonely thoughts of an ageing academic who is unable to complete the book he has been researching for years, but as the feeling continues and he is able to examine himself with greater and greater clarity, Roquentin begins to learn that maybe he has stumbled upon one of the great truths of our reality.

He discovers that there is no essence, no importance in motion or in the petty labels that people like to attach to themselves and others in a bid to catalogue the world and everything in it, and by cataloguing, to control. He reasons that we are essentially impossible to control, that each person exists because they exist, and for no other reason than that. The terms of our existence are unspecific, but clear. We do not exist to be pawns to a god, or to move the path of humanity forward. Instead, we exist simply to exist, we are an end unto ourselves, and the inherent absurdity in our lives means that a meaningful existence is impossible and even blasphemous. Through clear-eyed, coherent thinking, we are able to control our lives as we choose, and it is up to every man and woman to independently reject suicide. For those that do not, the meaningless quality of our lives makes no different when compared to those that do, thus there is no dishonour or achievement in either.

During the novel, there are a few side stories involving an ex-lover and a child-molesting friend, but these characters are used mostly as foils for Sartre's philosophy. In presenting arguments to Roquentin, Sartre is able to adequately satisfy the objections to his philosophy. There is a sense, however, that while the elements of existentialism presented in Nausea are powerful and compelling, the picture is not yet complete and no real answers are given. Later on in his career, Sartre was able to provide a large number of these answers, but even this early on, with his first novel, the depth of his thinking and the power of his message is quite simply amazing. Nausea is a stunning book, an intellectual delight, and is recommended to all.

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