Paul Nizan 1938

Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Nausea”

Source: Pour une nouvelle culture, Paris, Grasset, 1971;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2008.

Jean-Paul Sartre who is, I think, a philosophy professor, and to whom we owe an excellent book on “Les Images,” has just made a startling debut in the novel. I would say that Sartre could be a French Kafka by virtue of his gift for expressing the horror of certain intellectual situations, if it weren’t that his ideas, unlike those of the author of “The Great Wall of China,” were not completely foreign to moral problems. Kafka always questioned the meaning of life. M. Sartre only questions the fact of existence, which is an order of reality much more immediate than the human and social elaborations of the life that is on this side of life.

“Nausea,” the journal of Antoine Roquentin, is the novel of absolute solitude. It is a question here of nothing but the spiritual results of solitude. They are analyzed with a rigor of thought and expression that will no doubt seem intolerable to most readers.

In the person of M. Sartre there is no doubt that we possess a philosophical novelist of the first order. Since Voltaire, we know that the in France the philosophical novel has been a light genre, not far from the fable. M. Sartre’s literature bears no relation to this frivolous genre, but it gives a very good idea of what a literature associated to an existentialist philosophy might be. It would, however, be wrong to rush – as some will not fail to do – to bring together M. Sartre and Martin Heidegger. For the German philosopher the object of anguish is nothingness; for M. Sartre it is existence. The law of the man who is rigorously alone is not the fear of nothingness, but the fear of existence. This discovery takes us far.

If M. Sartre’s first novel was a work without a solution, by which I mean that it no more opens up any solutions for the universe than the principal works of Dostoevsky, it would perhaps be a singular success without a successor. But with its final pages “Nausea” is not a book without a solution. M. Jean-Paul Sartre who throughout the novel paints a portrait of a great bourgeois city – in which I seem to recognize Le Havre – with a ferocious humor and a violent sense of social caricature, and has gifts as a novelist that are too precise and too cruel not to result in great denunciations, not to completely open up into reality.