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Old March 29th, 2011, 10:10 AM   #1

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Sartre, Nausea


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Old March 30th, 2011, 11:52 AM   #2

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Ithell Colqhoun , 1939, © Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery, Glasgow



Jean Paul Sartre was born in Paris in 1905. He studied at École Normale Supérieure from 1924 to 1929 where he met Simone Beauvoir (who studied at Sorbonne) who became his lifelong companion. Together, the two challenged the cultural and social assumptions of their upbringing. In 1932, he continued his studies in Berlin where he was heavily influenced by the writings of Husserl and Heidegger. In 1939 he was drafted into the French Army and was captured at the Maginot line and spent the next nine months as a prisoner. On his release, he joined the Paris Resistance movement as a journalist. It was during this period that he published his first play, The Flies.

He was well known for his literary criticism, including a 6000 word essay on Albert Camus’s The Stranger, in 1942. Camus had written a generally favorable review of Nausea in 1937 but which contained some remarks about his inexperience which must have stung. In his (Sartre’s) review of Nausea, it has been suggested that he took revenge by pointing out that Camus had quoted Jaspers, Heidegger, and Husserl “whom he seems not to fully understand.” At any rate, they became close friends through the French resistance and until 1952, when they broke up over political differences. While Camus had always opposed violence, even for the sake of justice, Sartre was a Communist and remained in favor of revolution.

Sartre’s philosophy is at the center of all his writing. Though he drew heavily from Husserl’s phenomenology and Heidegger’s existentialism, he differed with both on many points and his own brand of existentialism was highly original. While his earliest philosophical work went largely unnoticed, his first novel, Nausea (1937), was an immediate success. The novel and the play became his principle media for philosophical exposition. Nevertheless, he did develop a coherent system which was published in On Being and Nothingness in 1943. His other major philosophical work was A Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), hislast and which he regarded as his most important.

Besides the works already mentioned, Sartre is best known for his many plays, including The Flies and No Exit. His most popular lecture, by far, was the 1945 lecture Existentialism is a Humanism. Ironically, Sartre was dissatisfied with the misunderstandings that arose from it and regretted having published it. It has been called “Existentialism on the fly.”
I can give no better introduction to Nausea than Camus’s own critique.
Quote:

On Jean-Paul Sartre’s La Nausée



Albert Camus


A novel is never anything but a philosophy expressed in images. And in a good novel the philosophy has disappeared into the images. But the philosophy need only spill over into the characters and action for it to stick out like a sore thumb, the plot to lose its authenticity, and the novel its life.

Nonetheless, a work that is to endure cannot do without profound ideas. And this secret fusion of experience and thought, of life and reflection on the meaning of life, is what makes the great novelist (as we see him in a work like Man’s Fate, for example).

The novel in question today is one in which the balance has been broken, where the theories do damage to the life. Something that has happened rather often lately. But what is striking in La Nausée is that remarkable fictional gifts and the play of the toughest and most lucid mind are at the same time bboth lavished and squandered.

Taken individually, each chapter of this extravagant meditation reaches a kind of perfection in bitterness and truth. The novel that takes shape—a small port in the north of France, a bourgeoisie of shipowners who combine religious observance with the pleasures of the table, a restaurant where the exercise of eating reverts to the repugnant in the narrator’s eyes—everything that concerns the mechanical side of existence, in short, is depicted with a sureness of touch whose lucidity leaves no room for hope.

Similarly, the reflections on time, represented in an old woman trotting aimlessly along a narrow street, are, taken in isolation, among the most telling illustrations of the philosophy of anguish as summarized in the thought of Kierkegaard, Chestov, Jaspers, or Heidegger. Both face of the novel are equally convincing But taken together, they don’t add up to a work of art: the passings from one to the other is too rapid, too unmotivated, to evoke in the reader the deep conviction that makes art of the novel.

Indeed, the book itself seems less a novel than a monologue. A man judges his life, and in so doing judges himself. I mean that he analyzes his presence in the world, the fact that he moves his fingers and eats at regular hours—and what he finds at the bottom of the most elementary act is its fundamental absurdity.

The feeling is common to all of us. For most men the approach of dinner, the arrival of a letter, or a smile from a passing girl are enough to help them get around it. But the man who likes to dig into the ideas finds that being face to face with this particular one makes his life impossible. And to live with the feeling that life is pointless gives rise to anguish. From sheer living against the stream, the whole of one’s being can be overcome with disgust and revulsion, and this revolt of the body is what is called nausea.

A strange subject, certainly, and yet the most banal. M. Sartre carries it to its conclusions with a vigor and certainty that show how ordinary so seemingly subtle a form can be. It is here that the similarity between M. Sartre and another author, whom, unless I am mistaken, no one has mentioned in connection with La Nausée, is to be found. I mean Franz Kafka.

But the difference is that with M. Sartre’s novel some indefinable obstacle prevents the reader from participating and holds him back when he is on the very threshold of consent. I attribute this to the notic4eable lack of balance between the ideas in the work and the images that express them. But it may be something else. For it is the failing of a certain literature to believe that life is tragic because it is wretched.

Life can be magnificent and overwhelming—that is its whole tragedy. Without beauty, love, or danger it would be almost easy to live. And M. Sartre’s hero does not perhaps give us the real meaning of his anguish when he insists on those aspects of man he finds repugnant, instead of basing his reasons for despair on certain of man’s signs of greatness.

The realization that life is absurd cannot be an end, but only a beginning. This is a truth nearly all great minds have taken as their starting point. It is not this discovery that is interesting, but the consequences and rules for action that can be drawn from it. At the end of his voyage to the frontiers of anxiety, M. Sartre does seem to authorize one hope: that of the creator who finds deliverance in writing.

From the original doubt will come perhaps the cry “I write, therefore I am.” And one can’t help finding something rather comic in the disproportion between this final hope and the revolt that gave it birth. For, in the last resort, almost all writers know how trivial their work is when compared to certain moments of their entire life. M. Sartre’s object was to describe these moments. Why didn’t he go right through to the end?

However that may be, this is the first novel by a writer from whom everything may be expected. So natural a suppleness in staying on the far boundaries of conscious thought, so painful a lucidity, are indications of limitless gifts. These are grounds for welcoming La Nausée as the first summons of an original an vigorous mind whose lessons and works to come we are impatient to see.

Review published in Alger republicain
October 20, 1938

Existentialism was as much a literary movement as a philosophical system. While Sartre's brand of existentialism is important to a full understanding of his works, one should realize that as a philosophy is identified by the concepts that these authors consider central rather than their beliefs about them. Some of those concepts are the individual, freedom, authenticity, and existence. In the discussion, as the need arises I will try to give more attention to these concepts as defined in Being and Nothingness.

In Nausea, Roquentin is a historian living in a small village on the northern coast of France, Bouville. He begins to keep a diary to help him understand the nausea that he has been experiencing the last few days. But within a few days, he is so overcome with his nausea that he begins to list every fact, detail, and impression occuring to him. He is a historian who has been writing the life of the French Revolution aristocrat Marquis de Rollebon.

As Roquentin begins to understand that his nausea has something to do with the very question of existence, he comes to understand that he has been using Rollebon to justify his own existence. Defiantly he begins to assert his own existence. He now believes that everyone else is afraid to acknowledge their existence. Thus he discovers Sartre's own message that existence precedes exxence.

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Old April 3rd, 2011, 12:08 AM   #3

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Old April 3rd, 2011, 02:57 AM   #4

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SYNOPSIS


Nausea is a didactic novel in the sense that its main purpose is to teach rather than to entertain. But Sartre’s artistry is in the fact that, unlike Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or his Brothers Karamazov, there are no extended didactic passages where the author addresses the reader directly to bring out the message. To obtain the message, we must look at the protagonist and read what is in his mind and what is in his interactions with the other characters. At the same time, the intensity of the didacticism has made the novel difficult, almost inaccessible. So it is that Albert Camus said in his critique above that
Quote:
A novel is never anything but a philosophy expressed in images. And in a good novel the philosophy has disappeared into the images. But the philosophy need only spill over into the characters and action for it to stick out like a sore thumb, the plot to lose its authenticity, and the novel its life. . .The novel in question today is one in which the balance has been broken, where the theories do damage to the life. Something that has happened rather often lately. But what is striking in La Nausée is that remarkable fictional gifts and the play of the toughest and most lucid mind are at the same time both lavished and squandered.


The novel is epistolary, presented as a diary. It begins with a note that establishes that Antoine Roquentin intends to keep a diary to sort out his feelings of angst. He describes these feelings with respect to a stone which he picks up and feels disgust. A few days later, he begins the diary on Jan 30, 1932. A “passing moment” of angst has turned into a permanent feeling of uneasiness around people and objects. As he continues, he notices a glass of beer or a soggy piece of paper on the ground, but is unable to touch them even though he tries. He is not “free” to touch them. Roquentin is a historian and now attempts to get rid of his angst, now described as “nausea,” through his work on the life of Marquis Rollebon, a French Revolutionary aristocrat.

The feeling, now openly described as Nausea, deepens. Initially it affected Roquentin only when he was alone. By Friday at 5:30 he writes in his diary:
Things are bad! Things are very bad: I have it, the filth, the Nausea. And this time it is new: it caught me in a cafe. Until now cafes were my only refuge because they were full of people and well lighted: now there won't even be that any more; when I am run to earth in my room, I shan't knowwhere to go.

Where to go? He tries to distract himself by asking Madeleine, the barmaid, to play one of his favorite records. He intensifies his research on Rollebon, but becomes increasingly distracted from that. At the library he meets the “self-taught man,” a man he finds boring, but with whom he spends much time. This man has the project of reading the entire Bouville library in alphabetical sequence. He is also inordinately interested in Roquentin’s photographs. His behavior brings to Roquentin’s attention that the Nausea has made traditional divisions of time meaningless to him. Thus on Saturday afternoon he writes:
[Y]ou never leave a woman, a friend, a city in one go. And then everything looks alike: Shanghai, Moscow, Algiers, everything is the same after two weeks. There are moments—rarely—when you make a landmark, you realize that you're going with a woman, in some messy business. The time of a flash. After that, the procession starts again, you begin to add up hours and days: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. April, May, June. 1924, 1925, 1926.

Unable to finish his research on Rollebon, Roquentin tries to smother his nausea with women. Fondling Francoise under the table at the café, he finds himself disgusted and wanting to vomit. It is about this time that he receives a letter from Anny, who wants him to visit her in Paris. While trying to remember Anny, Roquentin he finds it impossible to think about someone in the past. He concludes that the past no longer exists. He goes to the museum where he regard a new painting The Death of a Bachelor. He ponders that the bachelor (like himself) has lived alone and isolated and now he lived in the past. Monday following Shrove Tuesday the final revelation comes. (page 49 in this copy of Nausea) Roquentin realizes that Rollebon is in the past and no longer exists. Rollebon is dead and so is the part of Roquentin in which Rollebon lived.

Roquentin’s realization of the meaning of existence leads him to look with disgust at the other people in the café. It leads him into a heated argument with the self-taught man about humanism. The self-taught man leaves in a huff, and Roquentin himself is overcome by nausea. He is afraid to touch anything for fear that it will cause him to vomit. He takes out his knife and wounds his hand. The blood comes out and dries. The blood still exists, but it is no longer him. He is coming to realize that his nausea is his fear of his own existence.

At this point an extended metaphor is made of the root of a chestnut tree. (p 64 of the linked text) The existence of the root are not in its name, root. What’s more, the qualities of the root are not the root, nor do they exist. Black does not exist. Rough-skinned does not exist. Even its function does not exist. These are essences of the root, but they are not the root itself. Roquentin is arriving at one of the central ideas of existentialism. Existence precedes essence. The root exists, but its essence cannot exist—they are dependent on the existence of the root.

Roquentin looks forward to seeing Anny in Paris and hopes to reignite the old flame. Once there, he finds himself little interested in the new Anny, who has become mistress for a man (men) who pays for her keep. They discuss some things that Roquentin never understood. Two things of interest are “privileged situations” and “perfect moments.” They part rather indifferently, although Roquentin does secretly watch her board the train with her lover. He then returns to Bouville.

Once there, a few loose ends are tied up. Roquentin has two days before he returns to Paris. On the second day he goes to the library hoping to talk to the self-taught man again. But while there he sees him molesting a young boy. The self-taught man is run out of the library and forbidden ever to return. Roquentin goes to the café and asks the bartender to put on his favorite Railway Rendezvous ragtime record (nice alliteration there). Several times. The last time it is fifteen minutes before his train leaves.

As he is on the platform waiting for the train, Roquentin resolves to write a book—a novel this time. A book. It would not stop him from existing or from feeling his existence, but one day he could look back to this moment on the train platform in Bouville and say “That’s when it all began!”

“Night falls. On the second floor of the Hotel Printania two windows have just lighted up. The building-yard of the New Station smells strongly of damp wood: tomorrow it will rain in Bouville”

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Old April 3rd, 2011, 03:03 AM   #5

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This novel was not easy reading, but it had its moments.

On Saturday morning after Shrove Tuesday, Roquentin left the library and went to the museum. He crossed the vestibule where:
Quote:
Above the entrance to the main hall—the Salon Bordurin-Renaudas—someone had hung, undoubtedly only a little while ago, a large canvas which I did not recognize. It was signed by Richard Severand and entitled "The Bachelor's Death." It was a gift of the State.

Naked to the waist, his body a little green, like that of a dead man, the bachelor was lying on an unmade bed. The disorder of sheets and blankets attested to a long death agony. I smiled, thinking about M. Fasquelle. But he wasn't alone: his daughter was taking care of him. On the canvas, the maid, is mistress, her features marked by vice, had already opened a bureau drawer and was counting the money. An open door disclosed a man in a cap, a cigarette stuck to his lower lip, waiting in the shadows. Near the wall a cat lapped milk indifferently.

This man had lived only for himself. By a harsh and well-deserved punishment, no one had come to his bedside to close his eyes. This painting gave me a last warning: there was still time, I could retrace my steps. But if I were to turn a deaf ear, I had been forewarned:
When I read this passage, I was reminded of Ithell Colquhoun’s painting Gouffres Amers, which I stranded in the introduction to this discussion. The title alludes to Charles Baudelaire’s poem Fleurs du Mal or Flowers of Evil (the opium poppy). The addict, like the dead bachelor and like Roquentin is isolated and alone. He lacks the freedom to “exist” which is the theme of this novel. Here, in his memory, is Beaudelaire’s poem.

Le vin sait revêtir le plus sordide bouge
D'un luxe miraculeux,
Et fait surgir plus d'un portique fabuleux
Dans l'or de sa vapeur rouge,
Comme un soleil couchant dans un ciel nébuleux.

L'opium agrandit ce qui n'a pas de bornes,
Allonge l'illimité,
Approfondit le temps, creuse la volupté,
Et de plaisirs noirs et mornes
Remplit l'âme au delà de sa capacité.

Tout cela ne vaut pas le poison qui découle
De tes yeux, de tes yeux verts,
Lacs où mon âme tremble et se voit à l'envers...
Mes songes viennent en foule
Pour se désaltérer à ces gouffres amers.

Tout cela ne vaut pas le terrible prodige
De ta salive qui mord,
Qui plonge dans l'oubli mon âme sans remords,
Et charriant le vertige,
La roule défaillante aux rives de la mort!


Wine knows how to adorn the most sordid hovel
With marvelous luxury
And make more than one fabulous portal appear
In the gold of its red mist
Like a sun setting in a cloudy sky.

Opium magnifies that which is limitless,
Lengthens the unlimited,
Makes time deeper, hollows out voluptuousness,
And with dark, gloomy pleasures
Fills the soul beyond its capacity.

All that is not equal to the poison which flows
From your eyes, from your green eyes,
Lakes where my soul trembles and sees its evil side...
My dreams come in multitude
To slake their thirst in those bitter gulfs.

All that is not equal to the awful wonder
Of your biting saliva,
Charged with madness, that plunges my remorseless soul
Into oblivion
And rolls it in a swoon to the shores of death.
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

While the Death of the Bachelor is a forewarning to Roquentin in itself, even it is foreshadowed by previous passages:
Jan. 30: From two to four the cafe is deserted, then M. Fasquelle takes a few dazed steps, the waiters turn out the lights and he slips into unconsciousness: when this man is lonely he sleeps. There are still about twenty customers left, bachelors, smalltime engineers, office employees.

Jan. 30: I have been avoiding looking at this glass of beer for half an hour. I look above, below, right and left; but I don't want to see it. And I know very well that all these bachelors around me can be of no help: it is too late, I can no longer take refuge among them.
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Old April 3rd, 2011, 03:16 AM   #6

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Regarding Baudelaire's poem in the previous post, I think Gustavo Becquer said it better and in fewer words:

Por una mirada, un mundo,
por una sonrisa, un cielo,
por un beso... yo no sé
qué te diera por un beso.


or in English

For a glance, a world,
for a smile, a sky,
for a kiss... I don't know
what I'd give you for a kiss.

But this is supposed to be about Sartre.
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Old April 3rd, 2011, 08:22 PM   #7

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The following passage is from the Summary of Nausea taken from pp 52-3 of

Amazon.com: The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre Volume 1: A Bibliographical Life (SPEP) (9780810104303): Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Contat, Michel Rybalka, Richard C. McCleary: Books
Amazon.com: The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre Volume 1: A Bibliographical Life (SPEP) (9780810104303): Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Contat, Michel Rybalka, Richard C. McCleary: Books


and reproduced here

Quote:
It is then that his real adventure begins – an insinuating, softly horrible metamorphosis of all his sensations. It is Nausea. It grabs you from behind, and then you drift in a tepid sea of time. Is it Roquentin who has changed? Is it the world? Walls, gardens, cafes are abruptly overcome by nausea. Another time he wakes up to a baleful day: something is rotten in the air, the light, people’s gestures. M. de Rollebon dies a second time: the dead can never justify the living. Roquentin wanders the streets, voluminous and unjustifiable. And then, on the first day of spring [sic! February 21], he grasps the meaning of his adventure: Nausea is existence revealing itself – and existence is not pleasant to see.
I found this passage while reading some of Sartre's other works and the internet looking for a succinct definition. This is more succinct than anything I had been able to devise and has the special benefit of Sartre's own blessing.
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Old April 4th, 2011, 03:04 PM   #8

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Patito de Hule, your introductions are admirable and enlightening - as usual. Thank you.

My reply is delayed and somewhat curtailed, but nonetheless an honest attempt to find something from a book I confess to simply not liking. It was a difficult book to read. Not because it was complex or difficult to understand - neither was the case -but I simply kept wanting to put it down. It seemed to lack purpose. No matter, some brief thoughts:

Roquentin, discovers that in this world of M. De Rouen, regular trams and cafes where ‘everything is normal’, as regular and reassuring as it might be, something has changed. If not something, then it might be he who has changed. He is an isolated individual man who cannot gauge his own thoughts and action against the opinions and reactions of another intimate. Thus he seeks some truth in the mirror:
My gaze travels slowly and wearily down over this forehead, these cheeks: it meets nothing firm, and sinks into the sand. Admittedly there is a nose there, two eyes and a mouth, nut none of that has any significance, nor even a human expression. Yet Anny and Vélines thought I looked alive; it may be that I am too accustomed to my face. ... (From pp. 30-31 in Penguin Modern Classics edition.)
It seems to be the case that Roquentin has been living on the lonely fringes of society without any of its traditional refuges, such as family, friends, or profession, which mask the truth of life by giving a sense of the right or necessity to exist:
‘I was neither a grandfather, nor a father, nor even a husband. I didn’t vote, I scarely paid any taxes; I couldn’t lay claim to the rights of a taxpayer, nor to those of an elector, nor even to the humble right to honour which twenty years of obedience confer on an employee. My existence was beginning to cause me serious concern. Was I a mere figment of the imagination?’ (pp. 126-127)
Thus he was un étranger, an outsider, free of the obligations.
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Old April 4th, 2011, 03:14 PM   #9

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'Sartre, Nausea': that just about sums up my feelings about the man and his writings.
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Old April 4th, 2011, 05:08 PM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by avon View Post
Patito de Hule, your introductions are admirable and enlightening - as usual. Thank you.

My reply is delayed and somewhat curtailed, but nonetheless an honest attempt to find something from a book I confess to simply not liking. It was a difficult book to read. Not because it was complex or difficult to understand - neither was the case -but I simply kept wanting to put it down. It seemed to lack purpose. No matter, some brief thoughts:

Roquentin, discovers that in this world of M. De Rouen, regular trams and cafes where ‘everything is normal’, as regular and reassuring as it might be, something has changed. If not something, then it might be he who has changed. He is an isolated individual man who cannot gauge his own thoughts and action against the opinions and reactions of another intimate. Thus he seeks some truth in the mirror:
My gaze travels slowly and wearily down over this forehead, these cheeks: it meets nothing firm, and sinks into the sand. Admittedly there is a nose there, two eyes and a mouth, nut none of that has any significance, nor even a human expression. Yet Anny and Vélines thought I looked alive; it may be that I am too accustomed to my face. ... (From pp. 30-31 in Penguin Modern Classics edition.)
It seems to be the case that Roquentin has been living on the lonely fringes of society without any of its traditional refuges, such as family, friends, or profession, which mask the truth of life by giving a sense of the right or necessity to exist:
‘I was neither a grandfather, nor a father, nor even a husband. I didn’t vote, I scarely paid any taxes; I couldn’t lay claim to the rights of a taxpayer, nor to those of an elector, nor even to the humble right to honour which twenty years of obedience confer on an employee. My existence was beginning to cause me serious concern. Was I a mere figment of the imagination?’ (pp. 126-127)
Thus he was un étranger, an outsider, free of the obligations.
I didn't like the book either--I had a hard time reading more than ten pages at a time. Existentialism is about as far from my world view as it can get. Your last sentence is the key to my suggestion that we discuss it.

I have another confession. At the time I suggested it, there were two other forum members, Tennenbaum and Raleigh St. Clair, who always wrote with an existentialist POV. Tennenbaum even posted in the thread on The Stranger. I don't know or care why they were permanently suspended, but obviously the same person. I mean same writing style, same ideas, and, after all, Raleigh St. Clair was the protagonist in The Royal Tenenbaums. A film with an absurdist POV. I hoped he (they) would come along and clarify some of the points in the story for me.

That said, I think Albert Camus's review of the novel was very appropriate. He recognized that Sartre was to become an important writer of the period. How he recognized that from Nausea mystifies me, but we know that Sartre went on to win the 1964 Nobel prize in literature. But Nausea was not one of his mature works. Its importance is that it foreshadowed the philosophy Sartre put down in Being and Nothingness, also an immature work. Only ten years after writing Nausea, Sartre wrote The Age of Reason, the first in his Roads to Freedom trilogy. It explores Sartre's concept of freedom far more fully than Nausea. That was a concept that Raleigh St. Clare and I got into a little bit just before he was suspended.

When I was reading this novel, I made notes of seven concepts and related passages that I'd like to take a better look at. I'll keep posting here--that helps me sort out my own thoughts. You'll probably see me change some of my ideas about the novel as I do.

Meanwhile, as I've posted before, in the ocean of philosophy I am a filter feeder--a sponge that soaks up some of the scum from the top, then is squeezed dry before proceeding to the next feeding site. For me, philosophy answers no questions, though it presents some itneresting ones. Philosophy enables us to look at other societies' perspectives. That's good.
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