Sartre’s first novel, Nausea, gave a name for existential angst. He considered it as one of his most precious novels, it portrays Antoine Roquentin, a French writer who is horrified at his own existence and finds it meaningless. He lives alone, has no friends, and usually eavesdrops on other people’s conversations and watches their actions. It is written in the form of a diary, in which he documents his every feeling and sensation about the world and people around him.
He finds situations and inanimate objects imbued with meanings which bear the stamp of his existence, all that he encounters in his everyday life is permeated with a horrible taste, evoking in him a sense of nausea, especially his freedom.
In a passage from the book, he states:
“Nothing looked real. I felt surrounded by cardboard scenery which could suddenly be removed. The world was waiting, holding its breath, making itself small – it was waiting for its attack, its Nausea”.
It is believed that Sartre used the term Nausea after reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where it is used and associated with contemplating the mediocrity of humanity.
The Absurdity of the World
Have you ever looked at a word hard enough and had the thought of it seeming unusually strange? Almost as if it were the first time you’ve heard the word?
For Sartre, this feeling extends way beyond words and things and encapsules the whole of life. He calls it “The Absurdity of the World.”
Consider having dinner with your partner. You are essentially part of a habitable planet called Earth, in the midst of the milky way galaxy, sitting down on chopped up wood which people use to make chairs and tables and you put pieces of plants and meat in your mouth along with your partner, with whom you one day hope to procreate with and start a family.
This is the true absurdity of the world and we live our lives immersed in it.