Monday, September 1, 2008

John-Paul Sartre and Sickness

Jean-Paul Sartre and Sickness: Classically absurd and yet classically French are two characterizations often attributed to Sartre's first novel Nausea. Published in 1938, it is widely regarded as a quintessential work in existential literature. In fact, the protagonist, Antoine Roquentin, finds it increasingly difficult to define himself as a human being in the circumstances surrounding modern life. He is eerily similar to the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Roquentin sees other people living according to the way in which they perceive themselves in the mirror every morning. The superficiality behind such actions truly starts to affect him in a nauseating, albeit existential, fashion. So what is the cure to this nausea that masquerades among inanimate objects and presents itself on the breaths of other people? There is no cure. People like Roquentin try to seek refuge in the domain of their inner Selves; however, that just leads to more sickness. Perhaps Sartre said it best when he stated that "Genius is what a man invents when he is looking for a way out." This statement surely encapsulates a variety of sentiments echoed throughout existentialist literature. And even Sartre himself refused to be labeled anything other than a pure exception, as he declined the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964.

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