Jean-Paul Sartre is famous for his philosophical works expounding his theory of Existentialism which Webster’s dictionary defines as “the plight of each individual to assume the ultimate responsibility for his acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right and wrong, good and bad.” All that is certain is that we exist and we each must create our own meaning. Finding it difficult to express the essence of Existentialism by definition alone, Sartre found literary expression in his powerful novel Nausea.
The narrator, Antoine Roquentin, through stream of conscious writing, illustrates the meaning the Existentialism. He is a young successful author of documentaries. Unfortunately his choice of career required constant travel for research and rigid isolation for writing, thus no home, no serious relationships, no emotional attachments, and no rooted past. He wakes up one day and suddenly realizes his life is meaningless. Not just his life, but all life…meaningless. He is confronted with the absurdity that we exist for no other purpose but to exist. The feeling of nausea begins.
There is very little plot to this book. Similar to Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, Antoine keeps a diary of his daily encounters, his nihilistic anguish, his self discoveries, and his ultimate conclusion to finding authentic meaning in life.
Nausea offers insight into many of the principles of Existentialism; the sterile roles people assume and pointless activities that humans use to define themselves. Meaningless adventures turned into discarded memories. Superficial connections to people we really don’t know at all. The false barriers we erect based on our pasts, the imaginary limitations we impose on ourselves; the self-deception, the blame game, and the difficulty in accepting that we have the free will to make choices and we alone bear the responsibility to create meaning in our life. As Sartre once said, “We are only as good as our deeds”, or in more contemporary terms, there is no “woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’….no excuses. I previously knew very little about Existentialism, but after reading Nausea I spent several weeks researching Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy and found myself profoundly moved.
Not to be taken lightly, Nausea at the very least evokes an elevated level of consciousness. People who merely read for entertainment or who strongly oppose the Existentialist doctrine might find Nausea depressing and pessimistic.
Rated 4.5 Stars.
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finsih; books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.