as marian used to say, i did not write this, but if you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and experience it - it’s a long quote, but worth it. read it outloud; again, it’s long, i don’t understand it all, it is a kind of prose-poetry that grasps at what most people i believe would never even begin to consider, let alone wrestle with or even get to the point of dismissing as unworthy of consideration. dark and beautiful and tragic and profound and human and honest and agnostically mystical. (i have no experience with sartre) what i do think i understand about it is that being, in so far as it is not under our control, frightens him, because he doesn’t feel he has any connection with, and trust in, its source. but it’s no less an amazing reaction to raw, encountered being for that.
my Trinity professor read selections of it outloud to us a few classes before the end of this semester and i loved it…
The Nausea has not left me and I don’t believe it will leave me so soon; but I no longer have to bear it, it is no longer an illness or a passing fit: it is I.
So I was in the park just now. The roots of the chestnut tree were sunk in the ground just under my bench. I couldn’t remember it was a root anymore. The words had vanished and with them the significance of things, their methods of use, and the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, stooping forward, head bowed, alone in front of this black, knotty mass, entirely beastly, which frightened me. Then I had this vision.
It left me breathless. Never, until these last few days, had I understood the meaning of “existence.” I was like the others, like the ones walking along the seashore, all dressed in their spring finery. I said, like them, “The ocean is grean; that white speck up there is a seagull”; usually existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can’t say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it. When I believed I was thinking about it, I must believe that I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word ” to be.” Or else I was thinking… how can I explain it? I was thining of belonging, I was telling myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that the green was a part of the quality of the sea. Even when I looked at things, I was miles from dreaming that they existed: they looked like scenery to me. I picked them up in my hands, they served me as tools, I foresaw their resistance. But that all happened on the surface. If anyone had asked me what existence was, I would have answered, in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form which was added to external things without changing anything in their nature. And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things, this root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder - naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness.
…all these objects… how can I explain? They inconvenienced me; I would have liked them to exist less strongly, more dryly, in a more abstract way, with more reserve. The chestnut tree pressed itself against my eyes. Green rust covered it half-way up; the bark, black and swollen, looked like boiled leather… all things gently, tenderly, were letting themselves drift into existence like those relaxed women who burst out laughing and say: “It is good to laugh,” in a wet voice; they were parading, one in front of the other, exchanging abject secrets about their existence. I realized that there was no half-way house between non-existence and this flaunting abundance.
If you existed, you had to exist all the way, as far as mouldiness, bloatedness, obscenity were concerned. In another world, circles, bars of music keep their pure and rigid lines. but existence is a deflection. Trees, night-blue pillars, the happy bubbling of a fountain, vital smells, little heat-mists floating in the cold air, a red-haired man digesting on a bench: all this somnolence, all these meals digested together, had its comic side… Comic…no: it didn’t go as far as that, nothing that exists can be comic; it was like a floating analogy, almost entirely elusive, with certain aspects of vaudeville. We were a heap of living creatures, irritated, embarrassed at ourselves, we hadn’t the slightest reason to be there, none of us, each one, confused, vaguely alarmed, felt in the way in relation to the others. In the way: it was the only relationship I could establish between these trees, these gates, these stones…
And I - soft, weak, obscene, digesting, juggling with dismal thoughts - I too, was In the way. Fortunately, I didn’t feel it, although I realized it, but I was uncomfortable because I was afraid of feeling it (even now I am afraid - afraid that it might catch me behind my head and lift me up like a wave). I dreamed vaguely of killing myself to wipe out at least one of these superfluous lives. But even my death would have been In the way. In the way, my corpse, my blood, on these stones, between these plants, at the back of this smiling garden. And the decomposed flesh would have been In the way in the earth which would receive my bones, at last, cleaned, stripped, peeled, proper and clean as teeth, it would have been In the way: I was In the way for eternity.
…Now there is this song on the saxophone. And I am ashamed. A glorious little suffering has just been born, an exemplary suffering. Four notes on the saxophone. They come and go, they seem to say: You must be like us, suffer in rhythm. All right! Naturally, I’d like to suffer that way, in rhythm, without complacence, without self-pity, with an arid purity. But is it my fault if the beer at the bottom of my glass is warm, if there are brown stains on the mirror, if I am not wanted, if the sincerest of my sufferings drags and weighs, with too much flesh and the skin too wide at the same time, like a sea-elephant, with bulging eyes, damp and touching and yet so ugly? No, they certainly can’t tell me it’s compassionate - this little jewelled pain which spins around above the record and dazzles me. Not even ironic: it spins gaily, completely self-absorbed; like a scythe it has cut through the drab intimacy of the world and now it spins and all of us, Madeleine, the thick-set man, the patronne, myself, the tables, benches, the stained mirror, the glasses, all of us abandon ourselves to existence, because we were among ourselves, only among ourselves, it has taken us unawares, in the disorder, the day to day drift: I am ashamed for myself and for what exists in front of it.
It does not exist. It is even an annoyance; if I were to get up and rip this record from the table which holds it, if I were to break it in two, I wouldn’t reach it. It is beyond - always beyond something, a voice, a violin note. Through layers and layers of existence, it veils itself, thin and firm, and when you want to seize it, you find only existants, you butt against existants devoid of sense. It is behind them: I don’t even hear it, I hear sounds, vibrations in the air which unveil it. It does not exist because it has nothing superfluous: it is all the rest which in relation to it is superfluous. It is.