Book Review: Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot is a 1953 play by Samuel Beckett that has become one of the most important and enigmatic plays of the 20th century. The story revolves around two men waiting for someone – or something – named Godot. The result is a comical wordplay of poetry, landscapes, and nonsense, which has been interpreted as mankind’s inexhaustible search for meaning. Beckett’s language pioneered an expressionistic minimalism that captured post-World War II Europe. His play remains one of the most magical and beautiful allegories of our time.

Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature and commended for having “transformed the destitution of man into his exaltation”.

Waiting for Godot has frequently been described as an existentialist play, however – while it does have existentialist themes, it is not an existentialist play, it belongs rather, to what is known as “The Theatre of the Absurd”, focusing on absurdist fiction.

Jean Paul Sartre, who popularised the existentialist movement, tells us that “existence precedes essence”.  We first exist and only then do we define our essence. Just as a painter paints on a blank canvas, our life is a work of art and every action defines us. Therefore, man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. This freedom and responsibility creates a sense of angst, as we are completely on our own, with no ability to depend on others to create our meaning.

Waiting for Godot shares this existentialist condition, that there is no God or superior knowledge we can depend on. However, a major difference is that it does not share that we can create our own meaning. Thus, it is better described as an absurdist play. This stems from the absurdist philosophy of Albert Camus, who describes the Absurd in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”, as the human incapacity of finding meaning in a meaningless world. The characters are doomed to be faced with the Absurd, and all they can do is try to pass the time.

Waiting for Godot is subtitled “a tragicomedy in two acts”.

Act I

The first act opens up with the following line:

“Estragon: Nothing to be done”

This neatly captures the absurd despair of the play. The main characters are Estragon and Vladimir, they also refer to themselves as Gogo and Didi.

Vladimir is the more responsible and mature of the two, while Estragon seems helpless, always looking for Vladimir’s protection.

Vladimir often muses on religious or philosophical matters, showing his focus on his thoughts, while Estragon is preoccupied with mundane bodily needs such as food and sleep. The duality involves body and mind, making the characters complementary.

They meet at a leafless tree and discuss a variety of issues, ultimately revealing that they are waiting for Godot. Both of them try to pass the time to avoid thinking. They even contemplate hanging themselves from the tree, merely to pass the time. This is a key theme throughout the whole play.

Estragon has a poor memory and Vladimir has to remind him of the events that happened the previous day. But this may be what binds their relationship together. As Estragon forgets, Vladimir reminds him, and together they pass the time.

Estragon falls asleep while waiting¸ but Vladimir wakes him up because he feels lonely. Estragon starts to tell Vladimir about his nightmares, which Vladimir refuses to hear. This idea suggests that the setting of the play may be understood as a purgatory, from which neither man can escape.

The repetitiveness of the play is best illustrated by Estragon’s repeated questions to leave, which are followed each time by Vladimir telling him that they cannot leave because they are waiting for Godot.

While they wait, two other men enter. Pozzo and his slave, Lucky, who is bound by a rope around his neck. Lucky carries heavy bags full of sand and only puts them down when it is necessary to fulfil one of Pozzo’s orders, he immediately picks them back up afterwards. This symbolises humanity’s enslavement to burdens, fulfilling tasks mindlessly and without purpose. Lucky has been serving him for nearly sixty years and Pozzo is on the way to the market to sell Lucky.

We also see the first suggestions that Vladimir and Estragon might represent all of humanity. Later, when Pozzo asks Estragon what his name is, he replies “Adam”, suggesting the first man and the representation of all mankind, this link between Estragon and Adam might tempt one to relate the idea of Godot as God.

Everything commanded by Pozzo is obeyed by Lucky. He commands him to dance and entertain them, and then to think. Lucky performs a sudden monologue spouting a long stream of words and phrases that amount to gibberish. It is so unbearable that they beg him to stop, but he keeps on going, until they throw themselves on him.

Pozzo and Lucky soon depart, leaving Vladimir and Estragon to continue waiting for Godot.

In fact, Lucky seems to fit the role of the absurd hero. In Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, Sisyphus is a man condemned to rolling a large boulder up a hill, only to reach the top of the hill and have the boulder roll back down to the bottom, for him to start all over again – for eternity.

This is an allegory of the human condition. It is our punishment to our futile search for meaning in an indifferent and meaningless universe, while working on the same mundane tasks, we all have to push our own boulders only to watch it roll back down.

When Beckett was asked why Lucky was so named, he replied, “I suppose he is lucky to have no more expectations…”

Soon a boy shows up and explains to Vladimir and Estragon that he is a messenger from Godot, and that Godot will not be arriving tonight, but tomorrow. They try to ask about Godot, but the boy exits.

Vladimir’s statements that he has met Pozzo, Lucky and the boy before suggests that the same events have been going on for some time: the first act is merely an instance in a long pattern of ceaselessly repeating events.

Estragon: Well? Shall we go?

Vladimir: Yes, let’s go.

[They do not move.]

The inability of the characters to move renders both men unable to determine their own fates. Instead of acting, they can only wait for someone or something to act upon them.

Act II

In the second act, Vladimir and Estragon are again waiting near the tree, which has grown a number of leaves since last witnessed in Act 1. This indicates that a certain amount of time has passed between both acts. They are still waiting for Godot.

Lucky and Pozzo reappear, but they are different. Pozzo has become blind and Lucky has become dumb. The balance of power has been switched. Pozzo runs into Lucky and they both fall down, as Pozzo asks for help – Vladimir and Estragon are too busy talking. Vladimir suddenly recognises the problem of inaction when he decides that they should help Pozzo:

“Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance!”

Despite this, Vladimir takes plenty of time to begin to help Pozzo to his feet. This suggests that, even with good intentions and resolution, the habit of inaction cannot be broken immediately.

Vladimir also declares at this point that: “all mankind is us, whether we like it or not.” This continues the theme of Vladimir and Estragon’s representation of mankind as a whole and shows that Vladimir is himself aware of this comparison.

After Pozzo and Lucky leave, the boy reappears again. Vladimir already knows what he will say. Godot is not coming this evening, but he’ll come tomorrow. Vladimir implores the boy to remember him the next day, but the boy leaves.

This further indicates that the play is just a representative sample of the larger circle that defines Vladimir and Estragon’s lives.

By this point, the dialogue about waiting for Godot has been repeated so many times that even Estragon knows it:

Estragon: “Let’s go. We can’t. Ah!”.

Vladimir and Estragon consider suicide, but they do not have a rope. They decide to leave and return the day after with a rope if Godot does not arrive.

Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?

Estragon: Yes, let’s go.

[They do not move.]

Analysis

The repetition of these two final lines at the end of each act shows the continued importance of repetition in waiting for Godot. However, the characters switch lines from the previous act, suggesting that ultimately, despite their differences, they are interchangeable after all.

Waiting for Godot is about inaction, waiting for an action that never happens.

“It is a play that has achieved a theoretical impossibility – a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.” – Vivian Mercier

So, who might Godot be? Godot has often been interpreted as God and the fact that he never shows up reflects the death of God from the post-war world.

However, Beckett explicitly stated that:

“if by Godot I had meant God, I would have said God, and not Godot.”

Godot does not have any fixed definition. It can be described as any belief that promises a complete explanation of our life, this includes religion, science, and philosophy. The play is about the loss of all explanations and all answers.

In the title “Waiting for Godot”, the first part should be stressed. It is about waiting and enduring without answers, forcing us to confront time. It shows what we are like when we have got nothing left but time.

Estragon: I can’t go on like this.

Vladimir: That’s what you think.

For Jung, the only real adventure remaining for each individual is the exploration of his own unconscious. The ultimate goal of such a search is the forming of a harmonious and balanced relationship with the Self.


Sign up and don’t miss out on the latest posts!


Waiting for Godot | Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot is a 1953 play by Samuel Beckett that has become one of the most important and enigmatic plays of the 20th century. The story revolves around two men waiting for someone – or something – named Godot. His play remains one of the most magical and beautiful allegories of our time.


Support Eternalised


Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!

Book Review: The Dream of a Ridiculous Man – Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man is a short story published in 1877 by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The book is subtitled as “A Fantastic Story”, since it is essentially a tale of the imagination.

According to Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man is “practically a complete encyclopedia of Dostoevsky’s most important themes”.

Most of Dostoevsky’s major characters always have “something ridiculous” about them, but they are simultaneously highly self-conscious and capable of deep insight into themselves and the world.

The story opens with the narrator contemplating the ridiculousness of his own life, and his recent realisation that there is nothing of any value in the world, everything to him appears as indifferent.

“I suddenly felt that it made no difference to me whether the world existed or whether nothing existed anywhere at all.”

He slips into nihilism and sees no way out other than to commit suicide. As he wanders the streets in a dismal night, he looks up to the sky and becomes aware of a little star. And he made up his mind to kill himself that night.

He reveals that, two months before, he had bought a revolver with the intent of shooting himself in the head. But two months had elapsed and it was still lying in the drawer.

“I was so utterly indifferent to everything that I was anxious to wait for the moment when I would not be so indifferent and then kill myself.”

As he was looking at the sky, a little girl seizes him by the arm, distressed and seeking his help. She is poorly dressed and soaking wet and he makes out from her cry of despair that something terrible must have happened to her mother. He walks away but she insists and keeps running after him. It was then that he stamped his foot and shouted at her.

Back at his apartment he sinks into a chair and places the gun on a table next to him. However, he hesitates to shoot himself because of a nagging sense of pity that has plagued him since he shunned the little girl.

“Though nothing made any difference to me, I could feel pain, for instance, couldn’t I? If anyone had struck me, I should have felt pain. The same was true so far as my moral perceptions were concerned. If anything happened to arouse my pity, I should have felt pity, just as I used to do at the time when things did make a difference to me […] What made me angry was the conclusion I drew from the reflection that if I had really decided to do away with myself that night, everything in the world should have been more indifferent to me than ever […] I remember that I was very sorry for her […] It was clear to me that so long as I was still a human being and not a meaningless zero, and till I became a zero, I was alive, and consequently able to suffer, be angry, and feel shame at my actions. Very well. But if, on the other hand, I were going to kill myself in, say, two hours, what did that little girl matter to me and what did I care for shame or anything else in the world? I was going to turn into a zero, into an absolute zero.”

He intently ponders this and other questions growing out of it, but he still has no doubt that the suicide will happen that night. Unexpectedly, however, he falls asleep.

He dreams that he shoots himself straight at his heart and descends into a terrible darkness. All around him people were shouting and he was being carried in a closed coffin and soon after was being buried in the earth.

After some time, the grave suddenly opens and he is seized by some dark and unknown being and they find themselves in space. He can only see a little star in the darkness and finds out it was the same star he saw back on earth.

They were rapidly approaching another planet. The Ridiculous Man says that:

“On our earth we can only truly love with suffering and through suffering! We know not how to love otherwise. We know no other love. I want suffering in order to love.”

But the companion left him and he stands alone on this other earth in the bright light of a sunny day, beautiful as a paradise. The people of this blessed earth – the children of the sun –  surround him and kiss him. Their faces were beautiful and their eyes of these happy people shone with a bright lustre.

This is akin to the Golden Age, which according to Greek mythology, denotes a period of peace, harmony, and prosperity.

“They desired nothing. They were at peace with themselves. They did not strive to gain knowledge of life as we strive to understand it because their lives were already full. But their knowledge was higher and deeper than the knowledge we derive from our science.”

It may have been just a dream, but for him, it does not make a difference whether it is a dream or not, because to him it revealed the Truth. It is a dream that makes life worthwhile even if it can never be realised; indeed, it makes life worthwhile just because it can never be realised. In this paradox Dostoevsky seemed to glimpse some meaning in man’s tragic story.

However, The Ridiculous Man ended up corrupting them. He accidently taught them to lie, and they grew to appreciate the beauty of a lie. It all began innocently but this germ made its way into their hearts and they liked it. Sensuality, jealousy, cruelty, and pride ensued and soon the first blood was shed and they began to separate and to shun one another.

“They only vaguely remembered what they had lost, and they would never believe that they ever were happy and innocent. They even laughed at the possibility of their former happiness and called it a dream […] we have science and with its aid we shall again discover truth, though we shall accept it only when we perceive it with our reason. Knowledge is higher than feeling, and the consciousness of life is higher than life. Science will give us wisdom. Wisdom will reveal to us the laws. And the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness.”

Leaders began to emerge and told their people how they could be reunited again:

“[…] so that everybody should, without ceasing to love himself best of all, not interfere with everybody else and so that all of them should live together in a society which would at least seem to be founded on mutual understanding. Whole wars were fought over this idea.”

Religions were founded to propagate the cult of non-existence and self-destruction for the sake of everlasting peace in nothingness. Despite all this, The Ridiculous Man loved them more than before when there was no sign of suffering in their faces and when they were innocent.

“Alas, I have always loved sorrow and affliction, but only for myself, only for myself; for them I wept now, for I pitied them. I stretched out my hands to them, accusing, cursing, and despising myself. I told them that I alone was responsible for it all – I alone; that it was I who had brought them to corruption, contamination, and lies! […] But they only laughed at me, and in the end they began looking upon me as a madman.”

Then he woke up. He jumped in great amazement and caught sight of his gun lying there ready and loaded but he pushed it away.

“Oh, how I longed for life, life! I lifted up my hands and called upon eternal Truth – no, not called upon it, but wept. Rapture, infinite, and boundless rapture intoxicated me. Yes, life and – preaching! I made up my mind to preach from that very moment and, of course, to go on preaching all my life.”

Through the dream, the Ridiculous Man sees an entirely new reality for human beings. He is alone in his knowledge of the truth and is therefore ridiculed by everyone as a madman.

“He had a dream”, they say, “a vision, a hallucination!” Oh dear, is this all they have to say? Do they really think that is very clever? And how proud they are! A dream! What is a dream? And what about our life? Is that not a dream too? I will say more: even – yes, even if this never comes to pass, even if there never is a heaven on earth, even then I shall go on preaching.”

The Ridiculous Man says that the dream is a thousand times better, brighter, and more joyful than could ever be described. The theme of a utopia is explored not as an abstract ideal but as a living vision of a living person. He saw how an earthly paradise was possible, and that vision is enough to cure his nihilism and indifference that would’ve otherwise led to suicide.

“And really how simple it all is: in one day, in one hour, everything could be arranged at once! The main thing is to love your neighbour as yourself, that is the main thing, and that is everything, for nothing else matters. And yet it is an old truth, a truth that has been told over and over again, but in spite of that it finds no place among men! The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of happiness is higher than happiness – that is what we have to fight against!


Sign up and don’t miss out on the latest posts!


The Dream of a Ridiculous Man | Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man is a short story published in 1817 by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It is practically a complete encyclopedia of Dostoevsky’s most important themes.


Support Eternalised


Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!

Book Review: Man and His Symbols – Carl Jung

Man and His Symbols is the last work undertaken by Carl Jung before his death in 1961. He had never tried to popularise his work and refused several attempts by his colleagues to persuade him to do so.

At this moment he had a dream. Instead of talking to the great scholars, he was directing himself to the general public. Jung was essentially “advised” by his own unconscious to reconsider an inadequate judgment he had made with the conscious part of his mind.

The principle aim of “Man and His Symbols” is an introduction to Jung’s work and ideas. The last year of his life was devoted almost entirely to this book, finishing his own section only some 10 days before his final illness.

Man and his Symbols is an examination of man’s relation to his own unconscious, emphasising the importance of dreams in the life of the individual.

The book was first published in 1964 and is divided into five parts, four of which were written by Jung’s closest associates in the world of analytical psychology.

Part I. Approaching the Unconscious – Carl G. Jung

The Unconscious

Jung introduces the reader to several key ideas: symbols, dreams, and archetypes, which all arise from the unconscious.

The language of the unconscious are symbols, and the means of communication are dreams.

Symbols are objects of the known world hinting at something unknown; it is the known expressing the life and sense of the inexpressible.

Dreams are an integral and personal expression of the unconscious. They are just as “real” as any other phenomenon attaching the individual.

Due to the vast amounts of complex data encountered in daily life, human understanding must create a method of simplifying the concepts. The limitations of consciousness forces certain concepts of our daily life to become subliminal and develop part of the unconscious psyche, and without us realising it, they influence the way in which we react to people and events.

Jung observes that primitive man was much more governed by his unconscious instincts than modern man, who has become too rational. This one-sidedness has created a dissociation in the psyche of modern civilisation.

Using the symbolic images of dreams, Jung found that the unconscious was conveying crucial information to help the entire psyche reach a balance which the conscious attitude has repressed.

Dreams are the essential message carriers from the instinctive to the rational parts of the human mind. Their interpretation enriches the poverty of consciousness, reviving the forgotten language of the instincts.

While the unconscious symbolic language in a dream is specific to an individual, it continues to rest on a bedrock layer of shared psychic material across all humans. Jung calls this the collective unconscious. This is where archetypes are found. These our inherited experiences of human life, representing universals patterns of emotional and mental behaviour.

They have been ingrained in man since time immemorial. However, archetypes cannot be fully interpreted if one does not consider the whole life situation of the individual. They come to life only if one takes into account their relationship with oneself.

“The one thing we refuse to admit is that we are dependent upon “powers” that are beyond our control.”

Part II. Ancient Myths and Modern Man – Joseph L. Henderson

The Hero Myth

Joseph L. Henderson illustrates the appearance of several archetypal patterns in ancient mythology. For modern man, these appear somehow irrelevant to our current society due to the development of the conscious ego. However, many collective celebrations such as Christmas and Easter, are ripe with unconscious symbolic content that we rarely recognise intellectually within the ego.

One of the most common archetypal motifs is the hero myth. The hero descends into darkness to slay dragons and other monsters, usually winning the battle.

The essential function of the hero myth is the development of the individual’s ego-consciousness – his awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses – in a manner that will equip him for the arduous tasks which life confronts him.

Most people are unaware of their shadow (the dark side of their personality). The hero, on the contrary, must realise that the shadow exists and come to terms with its destructive powers if he is to defeat the dragon. Before the ego can triumph, it must master and assimilate the shadow. This heroic sacrifice represents the death and rebirth of an individual.

The need for hero symbols arises when the conscious mind needs assistance in some task that it cannot accomplish unaided or without drawing on the sources of strength that lie in the unconscious mind.

Part III. The Process of Individuation – M.L. von Franz

Individuation

Marie Louise Von Franz describes the process by which consciousness and the unconscious have learned to live at peace and to complement one another. This is known as individuation and is perhaps the most important part of the whole book, addressing the essence of Jung’s philosophy of life: Man becomes whole when (and only when) the process of individuation is complete.

If a person devotes himself to individuation, he frequently has a positive contagious effect on the people around him.

Jung interpreted around 80.000 dreams in his life and he discovered that they seem to follow a pattern. If one watches one’s dreams over a period of years, one will see that certain contents emerge, disappear, and then turn up again. This slow process of psychic growth is the process of individuation. It is driven by the unconscious, which is the guiding force of psychic development. The ego acts as a bridge with the outer world and has the capacity to bring the unconscious elements into consciousness.

The source of the dreams is what Jung calls the Self, the totality of the whole psyche, which is different from the ego or consciousness. It is often represented by mandalas.

In order to have a relationship with the Self archetype, one must face and assimilate one’s shadow and the anima or animus.

The anima and animus are the contrasexual aspect of one’s personality. The anima is the personification of all feminine psychological tendencies in a man’s psyche, it is “the woman within”, while the animus is “the man within”.

A positive integration of these archetypes can put one’s mind in tune with the right inner values and thereby opening the way into more profound inner depths. This allows an individual to be more conscious of the activity of the unconscious in daily relationships with others and the world itself, avoiding the ego to become inflated and being more authentic to yourself.

Part IV. Symbolism in the Visual Arts – Aniela Jaffé

Cave of Altamira

In Part 4 “Symbolism in the Visual Arts”, Aniela Jaffé, demonstrates man’s recuring interest in the symbols of the unconscious. The visual arts delight us by a constant appeal to the unconscious.

The artist may be seen as the spokesman of the spirit of his age. He is controlled by forces of the unconscious:

“People don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.”

Jaffé takes us through a history of art from the lens of analytical psychology. She states that three central symbolic motifs are represented continuously throughout human history: the stone, the animal, and the circle.

Humans began to arrange stones and carve them to indicate the divinity and spirit found in the stone itself.

Animals have been continuously documented through cave paintings as adornment or objects of veneration. The animal motif is symbolic of man’s instinctual nature. The acceptance of our animal nature is essential if wholeness is to be achieved.

Humans across time and cultures have always used the circle as a symbol of wholeness. Jung equated this symbolically with a representation of the Self.

In turning to modern art, Jaffé argues that it reflects the dissociated nature of human age, consequence of an extremely rational age, retreating from reality.

Part V. Symbols in an Individual Analysis – Jolande Jacobi

Analytical psychology

In the final chapter “Symbols in an Individual Analysis”, Jolande Jacobi presents an individual case of a successful analysis. However, it must be pointed out that there is no such thing as a typical Jungian analysis. There can’t be, because every dream is a private and individual communication, in other words, every Jungian analysis is unique.

It is the case study of Henry, an introverted 25-year-old engineer. With his logical mind, he represses everything “irrational”, giving way to an unbalanced psyche. He also has an extreme dependence on his mother. He is stuck and unable to move forward in life due to a continual tension with instinct and his anima.

Over the course of his analysis and dream interpretation, he is able to explore the unconscious and reach a level of maturation that is mirrored in the outer reality of his life, as he successfully overcomes his complexes and is able to marry and move out of his family home, becoming a self-sufficient and responsible adult.

This strengthening of the ego completes the first half of the individuation process, the second half of one’s life consists of the establishment of a right relationship between the ego and the Self.

For Jung, the only real adventure remaining for each individual is the exploration of his own unconscious. The ultimate goal of such a search is the forming of a harmonious and balanced relationship with the Self.


Sign up and don’t miss out on the latest posts!


Man and His Symbols in 10 Minutes | Carl Jung

Man and His Symbols is the last work undertaken by Carl Jung before his death in 1961. The principle aim of “Man and His Symbols” is an introduction to Jung’s work and ideas.


Support Eternalised


Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!

Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, originally titled “A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp” was released in German in 1946, becoming one of the most influential books in the United States, having sold over 10 million copies at the time of Frankl’s death in 1997, and continues to this day to inspire many to find significance in the very act of living.

He sees the success of his book as a symptom of the “mass neurosis of modern times” since the title promised to deal with the question of life’s meaningfulness.

Frankl’s writings have been called “the most important contributions in the field of psychotherapy since the days of Freud, Adler and Jung.” He is the founder of logotherapy, which he describes as a “school of psychotherapy in spiritual terms”, in which a search for meaning in life is the primary motivational force in man.

Frankl chronicled his experiences as a prisoner in concentration camps during World War II. Instead of giving up and accepting that he was doomed as most did, he decided to use his suffering as an opportunity to help others and himself.

While a man’s destiny in life is certainly affected by the circumstances in which he finds himself, he is ultimately free to choose his attitude towards life.

Part I “Experiences in a Concentration Camp” constitutes Frankl’s autobiographical account  of his experiences in the concentration camps, while Part II “Logotherapy in a Nutshell” introduces his theory of logotherapy.

Part I. Experiences in a Concentration Camp

Concentration camp

Frankl begins by telling the reader that his book is a compilation of his experiences and observations. He focuses on how the daily struggles of camp life affected the mental state of his fellow inmates.

There are three psychological stages experienced by the prisoners: (1) shock during the first few days in the camp, (2) apathy after being accustomed to camp existence, and (3) depersonalisation, leading to bitterness and disillusionment with life after being liberated.

Many experienced the phenomenon known as “delusion of reprieve”, a man sentenced to death becomes convinced that he might be set free just before his execution.

The prisoners were made to pass in front of a guard who pointed them to the right or the left. About 90% were sent to the left for execution, the remaining few were sent to the right, including Frankl. They then had all their possessions removed, being left with nothing but their own “naked existence.”

The second psychological stage of the prisoner is apathy, the blunting of the emotions and the feeling that one could not care anymore. Frankl writes that there is much truth in Dostoevsky’s definition of man as a creature that can get accustomed to anything.

Frankl often thought of his wife and he realised that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire, and that in a position of utter desolation, this intensification of inner life helped him seek refuge from the emptiness, and spiritual poverty of his existence. However, many prisoners suffered a loss of values in their personal ego, becoming part of an enormous mass of people, whose existence descended to the level of animal life.

Frankl argues that man is not just an accidental product of biological, psychological, and sociological nature, but that man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical distress.

If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life. As Dostoevsky pointed out:

“There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.”

The inmates lived a provisional existence of unknown limit, without a future and without a goal, intensifying the feeling of lifelessness. However, one could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did the majority of the prisoners.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

The sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect, weakening one’s power of resistance and making one vulnerable to illness. The death rate in the week between Christmas and New Year’s increased in camp beyond all previous experience, as many hoped to be freed and reunited with their loved ones. Man needs a future goal. Frankl approvingly quotes the words of Nietzsche:

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

“That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

What was really needed was a fundamental change in one’s attitude toward life.

“It does not really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us.”

The third stage is the psychology of the prisoner after his liberation. Frankl was freed after 3 years, yet he and his inmates did not feel pleased.

“Freedom, we repeated to ourselves, and yet we could not grasp it. Its reality did not penetrate into our consciousness; we could not grasp the fact that freedom was ours.”

They had literally lost the ability to feel pleased and had to relearn it slowly. This is known as depersonalisation, everything appears unreal, unlikely, as in a dream.

Many experienced bitterness. The superficiality and lack of feeling of one’s fellow men was so sickening that:

“one finally felt like creeping into a hole and neither hearing nor seeing human beings anymore.”

Others experienced disillusionment:

“Woe to him who found that the person whose memory alone had given him courage in camp did not exist anymore!”

Part II. Logotherapy in a Nutshell

Logotherapy

The second section of the book, “Logotherapy in a Nutshell,” is devoted to explaining Frankl’s ideas about logotherapy in more detail.

He named his practice after the Greek word logos, which denotes “meaning.” His form of therapy is oriented around helping patients find meaning in their future, in contrast to the psychoanalytic practice of solving a patient’s problems by focusing on their past.

The most important force in a man’s life is his desire to find meaning. While Freud speaks of a “will to pleasure” and Adler speaks of a “will to power,” Frankl focuses on a “will to meaning”, as the primary motivational force in man.

An inability to follow the will to meaning gives way to existential frustration. This can in turn result in neuroses, which may be defined as a poor ability to adapt to one’s environment, an inability to change one’s life patterns and the difficulty to develop a richer, more complex and satisfying personality.

Unlike the neuroses dealt with in psychoanalytical practice which emerge from gratification and satisfaction of drives, in logotherapy one speaks of noögenic neuroses (from the Greek word noös or “mind”), which arise from existential issues and problems with the will to meaning.

A man’s concern over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease. A misinterpretation of this may motivate a doctor to bury his patient’s existential despair under a heap of tranquilising drugs.

The logotherapist regards his assignment as that of assisting the patient to find meaning in his life through widening and broadening the visual field of the patient, so that the whole spectrum of potential meaning becomes conscious and visible to him.

To be mentally sound, man must constantly be struggling and striving for a worthwhile goal.When people are haunted by their inner emptiness, with a feeling of ultimate meaninglessness, they exist in what is known as an “existential vacuum”.

Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognise that it is he who is asked. Thus, responsibility is the very essence of human existence.

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

Frankl claims that there are three ways to find meaning in life: (1) by working or doing a deed; (2) by love; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

The first is the way of achievement or accomplishment. The second way of finding a meaning in life is through love:

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.”

The third way of finding a meaning in life is by suffering. Suffering is in no way necessary to find meaning, but rather meaning is possible in spite of suffering, provided that it were unavoidable.

“Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

Suffering may well be a human achievement. One of the basic tenets of logotherapy is that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.

“Our current philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.”

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. A human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, through actualising the potential meaning inherent and dormant in every given situation.


Sign up and don’t miss out on the latest posts!


Man’s Search for Meaning in 10 Minutes | Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning was published by Viktor Frankl in 1946. Frankl is the founder of logotherapy. The most important force in a man’s life is his desire to find meaning.


Support Eternalised


Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!

Book Review: No Exit – Jean Paul Sartre

No Exit is one of Jean Paul Sartre’s most interesting existentialist short stories. It is a one-act play that was widely praised when it was first performed in 1944, shortly after the Liberation of France. The original title “Huis Clos” refers to a private discussion behind closed doors. It tells the story of three characters who find themselves trapped in a mysterious locked room, which they later find out, is in fact, hell. Sartre brilliantly emphasises that hell is not so much a specific place, but a state of mind.

The book is the source of one of Sartre’s most celebrated phrases: “Hell is other people”, which is frequently misinterpreted and disregarded as misanthropic. However, this is not the case. It is connected with his idea of the Look, which explores the experience of being seen, as we are always under the eyes of others.

You are a subject, but if someone gazes into you for a long time, you start becoming hyper aware of yourself as an object in other people’s views. It is the perpetual struggle of being caused to see oneself as an object from the view of another person’s consciousness.

The conflict of being a subject (an agent of one’s life) and being an object that other people are observing, alienates us and locks us in a particular kind of being, which in turn deprives us of our freedom, because we are unable to escape the “devouring” gaze of the other.

Sartre illustrates the difficult coexistence of people, as the entire social realm is based on adversarial aspects.

The one-act play opens on a drawing room with Second-Empire style furniture and a massive bronze statue on a mantelpiece.

A quiet yet peculiar looking Valet leads Garcin, a journalist from Rio, into the room.

At first, Garcin is very confused and then claims that this is not what he expected hell to be like. The Valet laughs at Garcin for wanting his toothbrush and asking where the bed is: he has not fully accepted his death.

The Valet does not have eyelids and Garcin is bothered by having someone gaze at him so intently. He begins to worry about having to keep his own eyes open during eternal daylight, especially when there are no books around.

As the Valet leaves, he points out a bell that should summon him, but he says that it does not always work. After he is left alone, Garcin gazes at the bronze statue for a moment, but then repeatedly rings the bell and tries to open the door. As soon as he gives up and sits down, the door opens.

A woman named Inez comes in, and she immediately suspects that Garcin is a torturer. But Garcin laughs at her. Inez states that she does not like men and Garcin tries to make peace with her to no avail.

The Valet re-enters followed by Estelle, the third and last character, who is a wealthy young housewife from Paris. Inez instantly takes a liking to her.

The three characters reflect on how they had died. Garcin was shot by a firing squad for being an outspoken pacifist during the war, Inez died from a leaky gas stove and Estelle from pneumonia.

They can all see their funerals and how people react to their death. Garcin and Estelle think they have been randomly put into a room together. But Inez disagrees, explaining that it had all been planned as the perfect method of torture. There is no need for physical torture in hell, as they will just torture each other simply by being together.

The three strangers locked in a room and divorced from the world and people they knew is the perfect setting for an existentialist “laboratory”. Their actions and feelings will define exactly who they really are. They are given a choice: will they define who they are on their own or rely on the other members to decide who they are?

Garcin believes that a man is what he wills himself to be, while Inez believes one is what one does. “You are your life, and nothing else.”

The characters constantly look for mirrors in order to avoid the judging gaze of each other. Inez tells Garcin that his mouth looks grotesquely frightened and he must decide if she is right or what he thinks himself is right. However, Garcin believes Inez rather than his own judgment, letting her define his essence (his personal characteristics).

Similarly, Estelle believes she does not really exist unless she can see herself, and since there are no mirrors – she looks into the eyes of Inez to see her own reflection. Estelle is unable to define her essence as she does not trust her own judgment but relies on other people to verify her existence, she sees herself as others do. This leads to Inez to take advantage of her and tell her she has a pimple when she really doesn’t. She surrenders her individuality to Inez’s gaze.

Sartre calls this “bad faith”, a way of denying the fundamental nature of our freedom and responsibility. Even though they are already dead and have nothing to lose, each character continues to lie to themselves. One of the core existentialist ideas is being authentic to oneself.

Sartre examines the question of existence and essence through the characters, which leads to his fundamental idea that existence precedes essence. An individual first exists and then creates himself (his essence) through what he does, he is what he does.

With this freedom of choice comes the absolute responsibility of one’s actions, giving way to anxiety. This anxiety leads many people to ignore their freedom and responsibility by letting other people make choices for them, resulting in bad faith.

Sartre believed that suffering was an essential step in affirming one’s existence, he states that:

“Life begins on the other side of despair”

When they all start to argue with each other again, Garcin tells them that it is best to just remain silent and mind their own business. He says:

“I think I could stay ten thousand years with only my thoughts for company.”

However, after a short while – they disturb him and start talking. It is essentially impossible for them to ignore each other’s existence.

Inez can’t stand Garcin looking at her because she thinks that he is automatically judging her. Since she thinks that is her own role, she accuses him of “stealing” her face. Garcin’s mere existence thus reduces Inez’s feelings of autonomy.

As this approach fails, they decide to tell each other everything and why they think they might be in hell. Garcin admits that he treated his wife horribly, Inez confesses that she enjoys making vulnerable people suffer and Estelle admits that she drowned her unwanted baby, making her lover shoot himself.

They enter a sort of love triangle. Estelle tries to seduce Garcin while Inez tries to seduce Estelle. As Garcin and Estelle begin to kiss, Inez refuses to look away, screaming that she will watch them the whole time they are together.

Garcin, however, wants something more from Estelle. He confesses that the reason he was executed was because he was a deserter. He explains that he faced death poorly and has been haunted ever since by the judgments of his friends and co-workers. The only thing Garcin wants is for her to say that he is not a coward and she agrees. But Inez starts to laugh, explaining to Garcin that Estelle was just agreeing with him because she wanted to be close to a man.

Garcin turns out to have the worst case of “bad faith” of all three characters, stemming from his complete inability to accept responsibility for his actions. He can’t decide on his own that he is not a coward, but will only believe it if Estelle says so herself.

Disgusted with both of them, Garcin begins ringing the bell for the Valet and furiously pounding on the door. He exclaims that he would be willing to withstand any physical torture if the door opens. Suddenly, the door opens but Garcin hesitates to step out, he can’t imagine existing on his own, knowing that Inez will be judging him and that he won’t know what she is saying. He decides to stay to convince Inez that he is not a coward.

Garcin and Estelle remain prisoners of the past, they look at their friends and loved ones back on earth, attempting to justify their existence by only thinking about their past experiences. They keep listening to what people are saying about them, rather than listening to their own voice in the present.

Inez sees her past as meaningless and inaccessible, choosing to exist in the present instead – she asserts her freedom to choose her essence in the present, even though she is in hell. She confronts her responsibility and her suffering, an essential step in asserting her existence.

Sartre wrote that the responsibility of one’s freedom is so overwhelming that “we are condemned to be free”, a statement literally played out by Garcin’s inability to leave the room. Unable to exist without people judging his past, Garcin condemns himself to remain in the eternal present of the room.

As Garcin discovers, there is no need for physical torture: the gaze of the “other” reduces and “devours” his individuality. He is unable to do anything, even kiss Estelle, when Inez is watching. Ignoring his innate freedom and responsibility, Garcin thinks Inez’s judgment is the only proof of his existence.

Realizing that they are stuck together forever, they maniacally laugh together as the curtain falls.

“All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So, this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!


Sign up and don’t miss out on the latest posts!


No Exit in 10 Minutes | Jean Paul Sartre

No Exit (Huis Clos) is one of Jean Paul Sartre’s most interesting existentialist short stories. The book is the source of one of Sartre’s most celebrated phrases: “Hell is other people”.


Support Eternalised


Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!

Book Review: The Plague – Albert Camus

The Plague was published in 1947 and is widely considered as Albert Camus’s most successful novel. It tells the story of a plague epidemic in the Algerian coastal town of Oran, where thousands of rats are found dead all over the city.

Camus’ absurdist philosophy is at the background of the novel. He stresses the powerlessness of the individual to affect his destiny in an indifferent world. In fact, in the novel he mentions “a young company employee who had killed an Arab on a beach”. This, of course, is an allusion to Meursault’s murder in The Stranger and is connected with the ravages of the pestilence in The Plague.

Illness, exile, and separation are themes that were present in Camus’ life and his reflections upon them form a vital counterpoint to the allegory. This makes his description of the plague and the pain of loneliness exceptionally vivid and heartfelt.

Part I

The book begins with an unnamed narrator, who reveals his identity at the end of the novel, so as to make the chronicle that follows as objective as possible. The main character of the book, Dr. Rieux, is a committed humanist and atheist. He struggles with the authorities’ denial when he urges that stringent sanitation measures be taken to fight the rising epidemic. And despite his efforts in fighting the plague makes little or no difference, he continues to do so.

One day, Dr. Rieux steps out of surgery and finds a dead rat lying on the floor. In the days that follow, an increasing number of rodents stagger out into the open and die. At first, he doesn’t give a great deal of attention to this event, and the concierge for the building believes that someone is pulling a prank on them.

As the appearance of dying rats continues to increase, the citizens of Oran start to feel uneasy and question the city government’s ability to address the problem. The concierge is the first victim of the plague. Other victims succumb to the same illness in the days that follow.

The narrator introduces the reader to Jean Tarrou, the author of a written eyewitness account of the events in question. He keeps notebooks containing detailed reports of his observations about daily life in Oran, including the mysterious illness that strikes the city.

The unknown narrator states that before Oran was struck by the plague, it was a city of monotonous routines: work, cafés, movies, and empty commercialism. The citizens are not living their lives to the fullest, their narrow routines prevents them from making the most of their finite existence. In other words, they are wasting their time and live meaningless lives.

When the plague hits the city, the citizens react slowly and the government adopts an attitude of “wait-and-see” instead of alarming the public. Dr. Rieux urges immediate measures to be taken, requesting a plague serum, because he fears the disease could kill off half the city. His stance is that one has to act as if the disease were the bubonic plague. His main concern is saving as many lives as possible.

This shows the power of indifference and denial present in the city, the metaphorical plague of the novel. It is only when things escalate and the citizens become prisoners of the plague under total quarantine, that they realise how little priority they gave to the things that mattered most to them, suggesting that it is questionable whether they were really “free” before the plague.

Dr. Rieux notes that wars and plagues have always existed, yet people are always surprised when they become victims of one or the other. He recalls the horrifying historical accounts of plague epidemics and braces himself for the possibility of another one.

Part II

It starts with the citizens feeling a deep sense of isolation. Many have been separated from their loved ones and the mail service has ceased, for fear of spreading the plague beyond the city walls. They begin to slowly accept their exile. The past provokes regret, the present provokes helpless impatience, and slowly the future too, ceases to be hopeful.

The citizens are like prisoners drifting aimlessly, but continue to be selfishly self-absorbed with their personal suffering. One of Dr. Rieux’s patients has chosen to spend time by counting peas from one pan into another, a meaningless and time-wasting activity.

On the other hand, Joseph Grand, an elderly civil servant who is assigned the daily task of calculating the deaths, takes the complete opposite view. He tries to write a book but cannot “find the right words for it”, spending endless days on rewriting the same sentence so as to make it flawless. He contemplates on how he had worked so hard that he forgot to love his wife, who eventually left him, and has tried unsuccessfully for years to write her a letter explaining his actions, representing an unattainable ideal that leads to inaction.

For Camus, a third option is possible: acknowledging the absurd impossibility of winning the struggle for the ideal and then struggle anyway.

Dr. Rieux continues his work. The beds in the emergency hospitals are always full, and there is always an emotional scene when he evacuates patients from their homes to isolate them from their families. His situation requires a certain “divorce from reality”, avoiding pity because he needs to preserve his energy to continue working against the plague. This is, however, not a matter of indifference, as that would require one to be in a state of inaction or denial in response to other people’s suffering.

The only person who finds himself relieved in the plague is Cottard, a man who committed a crime and feared his arrest every day. However, with the plague, the authorities change priorities. His happiness is also due to his relief that everyone in the city now shares his anxiety. Contrary to being isolated, he becomes liberated.

Father Paneloux, a Jesuit priest, delivers a sermon to his confused and frightened congregation declaring that the plague is a God-sent punishment for their sins. He believes there to be a “Truth” behind the plague, other than seeing it as a collective disaster.

However, the irony is that death is an irrefutable fact of human existence. Before the plague, the citizens were doing little more than waiting for death, passively entertaining themselves and unaware of the certainty of their deaths.

Dr. Rieux has frequently seen people face impending death, as patients declared their resistance to death as they took their last breath. The dying realise the utter futility of their resistance, yet many of them declare defiance anyway, it is the absurd condition of intense desire to continue living and being condemned to death.

Camus suggests that the only meaningful thing to do in response to it, is to rebel against it, that is, rebel against death. When asked what keeps him going, Dr. Rieux states:

“[…] This whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency. ‘What is decency?’ Rambert asked, suddenly serious. ‘In general, I can’t say, but in my case I know that it consists in doing my job.’”

Part III

The inhabitants of Oran begin to view the plague as a collective disaster. It is neither rational nor moral and its victims occupy all levels of the social hierarchy. Death is always a collective catastrophe because it is humankind’s collective fate.

The bodies in the cemeteries start to overflow and the authorities begin to cremate them. The plague victims are disposed of in the same manner as the rats had been a few months earlier.

In Part IV the inhabitants escape to a performance, an inability to recognise the real dangers facing them. However, they are confronted with the denial of their own death and at the end, they run for the exit.

“After the plague, I’ll do this, after the plague I’ll do that… They are ruining their lives, instead of staying calm. And they don’t even realise what they have going for them … I think they are miserable because they don’t let themselves go.”

Camus suggests that the citizens can break the isolation produced by their fear not by surrendering, but only by fighting the plague.

When Father Paneloux delivers his next sermon, the church is emptier than before. He declares that the unanswerable question of an innocent child’s suffering is God’s way of placing the Christian’s back to a wall.

“One must believe everything or deny everything. And who among you would dare to deny everything?”

He later dies, although it is not clear if he died of the plague, symbolising the doubtful nature of his understanding of human existence.

Camus declares that the rebellion against the relentless progress of the epidemic is nonetheless a noble, meaningful struggle even if it means facing never-ending defeat.

We must continually fight the “plague” within us, for we all are contaminated in some measure:

“No one in the world, no one, is immune […] we must constantly keep a watch on ourselves to avoid being distracted for a moment and find ourselves breathing in another person’s face and infecting him.”

Part V

The deaths slowly begin to decline. However, the inhabitants hesitate to show any hope because they have become cautious during their long confinement.

The unknown narrator reveals himself to be Dr. Rieux, who limited himself to reporting only what people did and spoke so as to present an objective narrative.

The survivors of the plague honour the dead with a memorial before returning to their old lives and activities as if nothing happened.

“ … the plague bacillus never dies or vanishes entirely … it can remain dormant for dozens of years in furniture or clothing … it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and old papers, and … perhaps the day will come when, for the instruction or misfortune of mankind, the plague will rouse its rats and send them to die in some well-contented city.”

They think about finding her a husband that can sustain the family. This suggests that a new chapter in her life is beginning. The story concludes with Grete stretching, an act that suggests emerging after a long period of confinement, as if from a cocoon.


Sign up and don’t miss out on the latest posts!


The Plague in 10 Minutes | Albert Camus

The Plague (La Peste) was published in 1947 and is widely considered as Albert Camus’s most successful novel. It tells the story of a plague epidemic in the Algerian coastal town of Oran, where thousands of rats are found dead all over the city.


Support Eternalised


Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!

Book Review: The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis is a book written by Franz Kafka published in 1915. It has been called one of the seminal works of fiction of the 20th century.

The story begins with a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who wakes up to find himself transformed (metamorphosed) into a giant insect. In German, “ungeheuren Ungeziefer”, roughly “monstrous vermin”.

The story has central existentialist themes such as angst and alienation and mostly takes place in a single confined room. The cause of Gregor’s transformation is never revealed, and Kafka himself never gave an explanation. The book is divided into 3 parts.

Part I

It starts off with one of the most iconic opening lines in literature:

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

Gregor lay on his armour-like back and his many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.

“What’s happened to me? He thought. It wasn’t a dream […] How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense […]”.

He starts to reflect on his strenuous travelling career.

“The curse of travelling […] bad and irregular food, contact with different people all the time so that you can never get to know anyone or become friendly with them. It can all go to Hell!”

We get the first glimpses into Gregor’s feeling of alienation, a central motif in the book. Gregor’s friendships as a travelling salesman are only casual and never intimate, since he must always be travelling, he never goes out in the evenings but stays at home. This suggests that he already lives predominantly in isolation, prior to his transformation. Gregor thinks about leaving his job but has to work as hard as he can to pay off his parents’ debts.

However, with the transformation – his alienation is intensified, creating a psychological distance between his mind and his body, and those around him. Gregor refers to this as his “imprisonment”. He is a human trapped in a non-human body.

While ruminating, he looks over the alarm clock and finds out that he has overslept and is late for work. He is startled and thinks about taking the next train to work, but is unable to get out of bed. His mother knocks on his door, and as Gregor tries to speak – his words appear incomprehensible. The family suspects that he may be ill, so they beg him to unlock the door.

Gregor finds that his office manager has appeared to inquire why he hasn’t shown up to work. But all they can hear is his incomprehensible noises. Gregor tries to drag himself across the floor, and with much effort finally opens the door with his mouth, injuring himself. He delivers a long speech asking the office manager to put in a good word for him at work. However, the office manager is horrified and flees, Gregor’s family is petrified as well, and his father drives him back into his room under the threat of violence, slamming the door shut.

The contrast between the extraordinary situation of Gregor’s transformation and the ordinary terms he uses to describe it, creates the sense of an irrational and absurd world. Gregor embodies this absurdist tone from the start, being preoccupied with ordinary concerns such as being late for work, instead of his sudden transformation into a monstruous vermin.

Part II

Gregor wakes up to find that someone has put a bowl of milk and bread in the room. Once one of his favourite foods, he finds that he cannot stand the taste of milk now. The next morning, his sister Grete comes in and replaces the food with rotten food scraps, which Gregor happily eats.

This begins a routine in which his sister feeds him and cleans up while he hides under the couch, afraid that his appearance will frighten her.

Gregor spends his time listening through the wall to his family talking. With his unexpected incapacitation, the family is deprived of their financial stability. The motif of money plays a major role throughout the novella.

“Their business misfortune had reduced the family to a state of despair. Gregor’s only concern at that time had been to arrange things so that they could all forget about it as quickly as possible […] They took the money with gratitude and he was glad to provide it, although there was no longer much warm affection given in return.”

Gregor finds out that his father had secretly stored away savings and is happy to hear that. The main priority of the family is to find employment.

Gregor begins to behave more and more like an insect, preferring darker spaces and enjoying crawling on the walls and ceiling, suggesting that our physical lives shape and direct our mental lives. Discovering his new pastime, his mother and sister decide to remove some of the furniture to give him more space.

However, Gregor grows anxious as he hears his mother worry that they might be doing him a disservice by stripping the room of his possessions. He panics at the thought of losing all the remnants of his human life and clings to a particularly loved portrait on the wall, as he is emotionally attached to it.

His mother loses consciousness at the sight of Gregor clinging to the image to protect it, and his sister rushes to help her. Gregor runs out of the room as well, however, his father returns home from work and believes that Gregor tried to attack his mother. He angrily hurls apples at him, one of which is lodged in his back and severely wounds him.

There is a big disconnect between mind and body. Gregor tries to reconcile his human emotions and history with the physical urges of his new body. The details show that he still feels connected with his human past and considers himself a part of the family.

One of the central themes that dominates this part is if Gregor is still human and if so, to what degree. Towards the end, his sister starts to think of him as a mere insect who is a chore and an inconvenience. The father gives no indication that he regards Gregor as the same, and is particularly hostile against him. Only the mother calls him as her “unfortunate son”, implying that she believes Gregor to be fundamentally the same despite his appearance.

Part III.

Gregor suffers from his injuries for several weeks and barely eats food. The family focus on earning money, replacing their regular maid with a cheaper charwoman, and taking in three lodgers into their apartment to earn some money.

The main thing holding the family back from moving out to a cheaper apartment has to do with:

“their total despair, and the thought that they had been struck with a misfortune unlike anything experienced by anyone else they knew or were related to.”

Gregor is increasingly alienated and neglected by his family and his room becomes used for storage. One day, his door is left open and he can hear his sister’s violin-playing in the living room and crawls out of his room. He is entranced by the violin.

“Was he an animal if music could captivate him so? It seemed to him that he was being shown the way to the unknown nourishment he had been yearning for.”

One of the lodgers spots Gregor and cries out. They all immediately complain about the apartment’s unhygienic conditions and cancel their tenancy, without paying any money.

Grete concludes that Gregor is a burden on the family and tell her parents that they must get rid of “it”, or they’ll all be ruined. His father, repeats “If he could just understand us”. This indicates that there is still hope that Gregor’s mind remains intact. However, Grete soon convinces her parents that nothing of Gregor exists in the insect and that the real Gregor would’ve understood them and left on his own accord, letting them carry their lives and remember him with respect.

“He thought back of his family with emotion and love […] he felt that he must go away even more strongly than his sister […] He watched as it slowly began to get light everywhere outside […] and his last breath flowed weakly from his nostrils.”

The family gather around the corpse and Grete notices how skinny Gregor had become, suggesting that there still is sympathy involved. The family kick out the lodgers and fire the charwoman, who had disposed of Gregor’s body without their consent.

After briefly crying together, they finally feel a sense of relief. They take a day off from their work and take the tram to the countryside, the “warm sunshine” creates a marked contrast from the confining image of the family’s small apartment. This creates a sense of hope for the future, reaching its climax in the final lines of the story. Grete has grown up into a pretty young woman, suggesting that her own metamorphosis is complete.

They think about finding her a husband that can sustain the family. This suggests that a new chapter in her life is beginning. The story concludes with Grete stretching, an act that suggests emerging after a long period of confinement, as if from a cocoon.


Sign up and don’t miss out on the latest posts!


The Metamorphosis in 10 Minutes | Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis is a book written by Franz Kafka and published in 1915. It has been called one of the seminal works of fiction of the 20th century as well as a classic absurdist fiction book.


Support Eternalised


Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!

Friedrich Nietzsche – 10 Key Ideas

In this post we’ll briefly explore ten of Nietzsche’s key ideas as an introduction to Nietzsche’s philosophy. One of the most revolutionary thinkers in Western philosophy and intellectual history as well as a cultural critic of his era, mainly of religion and morality.

1. Apollonian & Dionysian

Apollo (left) and Dionysus (right)

Nietzsche discusses these two opposing forces in The Birth of Tragedy. Apollo represents logic, harmony, and clarity (thesis) while Dionysus represents instincts, disorder, and intoxication (antithesis). Nietzsche considers him a follower of Dionysus, and the Dionysian way of life.

At the end of Twilight of the Idols or How To Philosophise with a Hammer, he states:

“I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus – I, the teacher of the eternal recurrence.”

2. The Three Metamorphoses: Camel, Lion, Child

The Three Metamorphoses

In the beginning of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche dedicates a chapter on the “Three Metamorphoses”.

The spirit first becomes a camel, but not everybody can become a camel. There are many heavy things for the spirit, things that weigh upon us.  A camel requires us to be greater than ourselves, and that requires some sacrifice – the strength longs for the heavy. Thus we must exercise self-discipline and renounce to our comforts.

One can then become the lion, one who wants to take on freedom, but is confronted by the mightiest of dragons, on every scale of which is a rule, every “Thou shalt” compiled since the beginning of time – the lion must fight back and oppose the dragon, saying I Will and uttering the “sacred No”. However, the lion lives in rebellion – it has yet to undergo a final and last transformation – becoming the child.

“The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes.”

The child is the act of new creation. He can thus create his own values, giving way to the overman.

3. Slave morality and Master morality

Nobleman representing master morality

This famous dichotomy is discussed in his Genealogy of Morals. The slave morality resents the virtues of the powerful, they turn the other cheek, and this translated to Christianity “the meek shall inherit the earth”.

The revolt of “slaves” in morals begins in the principle of ressentiment. The inferiority complex and jealousy gives way to revenge, ending up attacking the source of one’s frustration. Thanks to the self-deception of the resentful man, weakness is turned into merit.

Nietzsche was appalled by this, he calls for the master morality, which does not intend to oppress others, but rather create new values and ways of life.

They form two different value systems: master morality fits actions into a scale of “good” or “bad” consequences, whereas slave morality fits actions into a scale of “good” or “evil” intentions. He disdained both, although he clearly preferred the first.

4. Radical perspectivism

The Persistence of Memory, 1931 - Salvador Dali - WikiArt.org
The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dalí

Nietzsche view does not regard all perspectives as being of equal truth or value, it holds that no one has access to an absolute view of the world cut off from perspective. Rather than to determine truth to things outside any perspective, it seeks to compare perspectives to each other.

“Everything is subjective,” you say; but even this is interpretation. The “subject” is not something given, it is something added and invented and projected behind what there is.—Finally, is it necessary to posit an interpreter behind the interpretation? Even this is invention, hypothesis.

In so far as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings.—”Perspectivism.”

It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm.

–  The Will to Power, §481

5. God is Dead – Critique of Christianity

The Creation of Adam – Michelangelo

God is dead is one of Nietzsche’s most famous and misinterpreted concepts. It refers to a historical event in response to the decline of Christianity with the Enlightenment bringing about scientific rationality. It represents a crisis in the existing moral values opening the possibility for nihilism.

The most well-known aphorism is the parable of the madman, where Nietzsche proclaims the death of God:

“[…] God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him […]

– The Gay Science §125

Nietzsche suggests that this question was not yet asked widely, but that before long the sense that whatever we do is hardly of any consequence will spread like a disease. This terrifying sense of weightlessness is nihilism.

6. Nihilism

The Nihilist – Paul Merwart

One of Nietzsche’s main interests. People often mistake Nietzsche as a nihilist, which he is not – quite the opposite, he seeks to be the ultimate life affirmer (Yes-sayer). He urges us to overcome nihilism and strive through it, rather than remaining passive to it, warning us of its inevitability.

“What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism […] For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe […].” – The Will to Power, Preface

7. Will to Power

Colours – Cynthia Christine

The will to power is the fundamental component of human identity. It is closely tied to his idea of self-overcoming. Contrasted with living for procreation, pleasure, or happiness, the will to power is the summary of all man’s struggle against his surrounding environment as well as his reason for living in it.

The concept of the will to power is also the foundation of Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence and the basis of his metaphysics. It is a dynamic force in continuous becoming and striving, manifesting itself in the encounter with obstacles. In essence, it is the main drive force in humans, aiming at the intensification of power and creativity.

8. Eternal Recurrence

The Ouroboros

The eternal recurrence supposes that you’d have to experience the same life, with the same events and same experiences, repeated for eternity. It makes its first appearance in The Gay Science, under the title “The greatest weight”, where Nietzsche raises the hypothetical question of how you would react if a demon spelled it out to you.

The idea is horrifying and paralysing as it carries the burden of the “heaviest weight” imaginable. However, it is also the ultimate affirmation of life, it is the rock the fills the emptiness and weightlessness void of nihilism. To comprehend and embrace it, requires amor fati, the love of fate and the acceptance and affirmation of the events of life.

The idea of the eternal recurrence does not suggest there to be an eternal afterlife, but rather an eternal repetition of what constitutes existence in the present world.

9. Revaluation of All Values

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog – Caspar D. Friedrich

Nietzsche’s task was monumental, he called it a “Revaluation of All Values”, in which he seeks to offer an alternative to traditional values in the absence of a divine order and avert nihilism, so human beings might stop turning their eyes toward a supernatural realm and begin to acknowledge the value of this world. Nietzsche uses the metaphor of an open sea, which can be both exhilarating and terrifying. The people who eventually learn to create their lives anew will represent a new stage in human existence, the Overman.

10. Übermensch and The Last Man

Übermensch

The Übermensch or Overman is the response to the rise of nihilism, which is the consequence of the death of god or decline of Christian values and the rise of the Enlightenment.

“ Behold, I teach you the Overman! Man is something to be overcome. […] What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to Overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape […] The Overman is the meaning of the earth.

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Overman – a rope over an abyss […] What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.”

“Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the madness with which you should be cleansed? Behold, I show you the Overman. He is this lightning, he is this madness.

Nietzsche believed that men could do without religion and create new values, rising up to the figure of the Übermensch. Thus, man becomes God. Man must remain faithful to earth, identifying himself as a polluted stream that must be overcome, avoiding the temptation of the banal existence of the so-called “Last Man”, the antithesis of the Übermensch, a mediocre animal without dignity and comfortably surrounded by the herd, who despises everything the Übermensch has to say.  

Zarathustra suggests that humanity is becoming increasingly tame and domesticated, and will soon be able to breed only the “most contemptible” last man. Those who are all alike, like herd animals, enjoying simple pleasures and mediocrity, afraid of anything too dangerous or extreme.


Sign up and don’t miss out on the latest posts!


Support Eternalised

Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!

Book Review: The Gay Science – Nietzsche

The Gay Science is one of Nietzsche’s most beautiful and important books. He describes it as “the most personal of all his books”. When inquired on why he chose this title to his book, he wrote in a letter:

“As for the title ‘Gay Science’, I thought only of the gaya scienza of the troubadours – hence also the little verses.”

– Nietzsche’s letter to Erwin Rohde (1882-83)

The Provençal troubadours were performers of lyric poetry specialising in the art of composing love poetry or “gai saber”. Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil:

“Love as passion – which is our European specialty – must absolutely be of noble origin; as is well known, its invention is due to the Provençal knight-poets, those magnificent and inventive human beings of ‘gai saber’ to whom Europe owes so many things and almost owes itself.”

– Beyond Good and Evil, §260

Science implies seriousness, discipline, and rigor, while Nietzsche accepts this – he proposes to go further, adding singing, dancing, and laughter.

“Where laughter and gaiety are found, thinking does not amount to anything”.

– The Gay Science, §327

Gay Science has the overtones of a light-hearted defiance of convention; it suggests Nietzsche’s “immoralism” and his “revaluation of all values”. In Nietzsche’s own words, one must strive to be an:

“Artistic Socrates”

– The Birth of Tragedy, §14

A philosopher with both an intellectual conscience and with a feeling for art. Nietzsche recommends the artistic style of life that he considers his own life to be an example of. As well as a philosopher, he counts himself among the poets and artists.

The book contains Nietzsche’s first proclamation of the death of God, as well as the eternal recurrence. It also contains some of his most sustained discussions on knowledge and truth, the intellectual conscience, and the miseries that accompany religion and morality, warning us against the “preachers of morality”.

The book is written in Nietzsche’s aphoristic style consisting of short paragraphs covering a variety of themes. This style was unparalleled in the history of philosophy. Some hypothesise that it was born out of his terrible vision and headaches, which forced him to quickly write down a few ideas at a time, or as he would put it – to philosophise with a hammer.

The book starts with Nietzsche’s preface followed by a Prelude in Rhymes. It is composed of 383 aphorisms divided into five books and ends with an appendix of songs. The book contains the largest collection of Nietzsche’s poetry that he himself ever published.

Nietzsche’s first edition ended in Book IV and was published in 1882. The last section titled “Incipit tragoedia”, consists literally of the beginning of his next book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The second edition which includes Book V was not published until 1887, after Beyond Good and Evil.

What may at first seem to be a haphazard sequence of aphorisms turns out to be a carefully crafted composition. The structure should be seen as part of a long train of thought, instead of isolated aphorisms.

In the preface, Nietzsche speaks of the gratitude of a convalescent:

“This whole book is nothing but a bit of merry-making after long privation and powerlessness, the rejoicing of strength that is returning, of a reawakened faith in a tomorrow […]”

– The Gay Science, Preface

The history of philosophy is filled with a great deal of sick thinkers, which are misled on account of their suffering. However, Nietzsche tells us that from such abysses, from such severe sickness, one returns new-born. One should not philosophise with one’s deprivations, but with one’s riches and strengths. He proclaims a return to the lifestyle of the Greeks, the Dionysian lifestyle.

The Prelude in Rhymes include pithy remarks such as:

“I do not love my neighbour near,

but wish he were high up and far.

How else could he become my star?”

– Prelude in German Rhymes, The Neighbour, §30

“He should be praised for climbing; yet

The other man comes always from a height

And lives where praise can never get –

Beyond your sight.”

– Prelude in German Rhymes, Higher Men, §60

There is a steady crescendo throughout the book. Book I is inferior to what follows; Book II gradually picks up strength; Book III is far better still. However, Book IV, titled “Sanctus Januarius” is most impressive. Nietzsche wrote to his friend Peter Gast:

“The Gay Science has come; I immediately send you the first copy […] Read, for example, the conclusions of Books II and III […] Above all: is Sanctus Januarius at all comprehensible? After everything I have experienced since I am among men, my doubt about that is tremendous!”

– Nietzsche’s Letter to Peter Gast, August 20, 1882

The title of Book IV “Sanctus Januarius” has a double meaning: it means Holy January (he published the book on January 1882), as well as the miracle of Saint Januarius, whose blood is kept in a vial in a Church and by virtue of a miracle, becomes liquid again on a certain feast day. After a period of convalescence, Nietzsche feels that his own blood has become liquid again.

“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”

– The Gay Science, §276

Book V, titled “We Fearless Ones”, is late Nietzsche and belongs with the major works of his maturity. The addition of Book V makes it clear that Nietzsche did not consider this book dated by his other masterpieces. It mirrors Nietzsche’s thoughts in such a way that it is a work of art in itself.

God is Dead

God is Dead

The most well-known aphorism is the parable of the madman, where Nietzsche proclaims the death of God:

“Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” – As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another […] The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers […] Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement? What sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? […]”

– The Gay Science, §125

The death of God is one of Nietzsche’s most popular and misinterpreted statements. It is not a celebratory statement, but a tragic historical event in response to the decline of Christianity with the Enlightenment bringing about scientific rationality. It represents a crisis in the existing moral values opening the possibility for nihilism.

Nietzsche suggests that this question was not yet asked widely, but that before long the sense that whatever we do is hardly of any consequence will spread like a disease. This terrifying sense of weightlessness is nihilism.

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism […] For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe […].”

– The Will to Power, Preface

The Eternal Recurrence

Eternal Recurrence

One of Nietzsche’s response to nihilism is his doctrine of the eternal recurrence, described under the title “The greatest weight”. Though he hints at it in The Gay Science, it gains a crucial importance in his next book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

The eternal recurrence supposes that you’d have to experience the same life, with the same events and same experiences, repeated for eternity. Nietzsche raises the hypothetical question of how you would react if a demon spelled it out to you.

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” […]

– The Gay Science, §341

Nietzsche suggests that most people would consider this a curse and that it would require the most impassioned love of life

“to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal.”

– The Gay Science, §341

The overman, introduced in Thus Spoke Zarathustra as God’s successor, is the “meaning of the earth” and is the type that would be able to gladly accept the eternal recurrence.

The Overman

Sign up and don’t miss out on the latest posts!


The Gay Science in 10 Minutes | Friedrich Nietzsche

The Gay Science is one of Nietzsche’s most beautiful and important books. He describes it as “the most personal of all his books”.


Support Eternalised


Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!

Book Review: Nausea – Jean Paul Sartre

Jean Paul Sartre’s first novel, Nausea, gave a name for existential angst. He considered it as one of his best works. It is a philosophical novel with existentialist vibes, that delves into the pure absurdity of the world with Sartre’s wild imagination and explores the randomness and superfluity of the world. Everything that we take for granted and seems normal to us, is disintegrated and torn apart to make it look absolutely absurd.

1. Story

Antoine Roquentin has no need to earn a living. For the past ten years, he has devoted himself to writing a history book about Marquis de Rollebon, a French aristocrat.

Roquentin

His life revolves around writing this book, going to cafés, and spending many hours in the library. He is a solitary figure and a solipsist; he has no friends and usually eavesdrops on other people’s conversations and watches their actions.

Roquentin is a militant and a sufferer. He is at war with Bouville, literally “mud-town” (where he lives), at war with the regulars at the café, at war with the two principal characters with whom he interacts, which are in some way his doubles: Anny (his former lover) and the Autodidact (who has spent hundreds of hours reading at the library, and who thinks he can learn all there is to know by reading every book available in alphabetical order), and finally, he is at war with himself.

Roquentin is overcome by a feeling of nausea as he realises that he had been attempting to resuscitate a historical figure from the past in order to justify his own existence. He experiences an existential crisis. Roquentin decides that the past is a meaningless concept that does not exist, people use the past to take a “vacation from existence”. Thus, he loses interest in his work and decides to live in the present.

He constantly repeats “I exist” and mocks the people of his town. However, he is horrified of his existence and its meaninglessness, but he does not understand why.

“I am. I am, I exist, I think, therefore I am; I am because I think, why do I think? I don’t want to think any more, I am because I think that I don’t want to be, I think that I . . . because . . . ugh!”

He begins to write in a diary to help him explain the strange and sickening sensations that have been bothering him. He documents his every feeling and sensation about the world and people around him. He is struck by episodes that simultaneously alienate and overimmerse him from reality.

“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”.

Cardboard scenery

Roquentin 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 nauseating sensation.

His sense of life’s pointlessness concerns his awareness that life’s occurrences are random. Life resembles a pack of cards, which he sees earlier in the novel. When we play cards, we invest each card with a useless significance; for what is more random than that fine King of Hearts, say, which we hold in our hands?

“Handsome king, come from so far away, prepared for by so many combinations, by so many vanished gestures. Now he disappears in his turn, so that other combinations may be born, other gestures, attacks, counterattacks, changes of fortune, a host of little adventures.”

King of Hearts

He thinks about killing himself, but concludes that given life’s randomness, suicide too would be random, and thus meaningless – death itself would have been superfluous.

He furiously writes down every insignificant detail. Everyday things such as a pebble, a beer glass, a tree, his own hand, oppresses him with their awful superfluity.

In a peculiar scene, Roquentin finds himself at awe looking at a train seat, he sees it as a pile of dead animals. A seat is only a seat by name, and it seems ridiculous to call them seats or anything at all, he says:

I am in the midst of Things, which cannot be given names”.

Sartre says that we structure life by absences, by nullity. We call a tree a “tree” rejecting all other possible names for it.

Train seat

2. Contingency

One of the key themes is the idea of “contingency”. There is no necessary reason for anything to exist. If evolution were to happen over again, the results would be completely different. He thinks that people attribute essences to objects to supply a reason for their existence. However, Roquentin finds only “nothingness”, an empty vacuum that paradoxically makes up existence. As he explains to the Autodidact, human beings are an accidental offspring of a meaningless reality.

Sartre uses the theme of contingency to criticise the emphasis on a rational world with human existence as its focus and purpose.

In the climax of the novel, Roquentin finds himself looking at a chestnut tree and is flabbergasted by the roots of it, he feels at one with the tree.

“A circle is not absurd, it is clearly explicable by the rotation of a segment of a straight line around one of its extremities. But a circle doesn’t exist either. That root, on the other hand, existed in so far that I could not explain it. Knotty, inert, nameless, it fascinated me, filled my eyes, repeatedly brought me back to its own existence.”

Chestnut Tree

Roquentin realizes that the root first existed and then he attributed an essence to it by describing it as “black.” He realizes that his perception of the root’s essence, in fact hides the truth of the object’s existence.

The comforting facade of tastes, colours, smells, weight, and appearance are thus the creation of the observer. Looking through the essence of objects (the physical characteristics), Roquentin is confronted with the bare existence of things, and thus the source of his Nausea.

He has an epiphany, he discovers that “existence precedes essence”, one of Sartre’s central philosophical claims. Roquentin concludes that the essence of objects are just comforting “facades” that hide the unexplainable nakedness of existence.

He confronts his existential anguish in the face of “nothingness.” Although he can’t see it, “nothingness” is a force that makes up a purposeless reality. He believes that his overwhelming presence of existence is too much for people to handle.

3. Freedom

Freedom

The concept of freedom is an essential part of the book. To understand how truly free we really are, in this case it is optimistic. However, it is also terrifying as we are immersed in an infinite sea of possibilities, in which we must choose.

Sartre said that: “Man is condemned to be free.” We are free to make our own choices but we are condemned to always bear the responsibility of the consequences of these choices.

“Standing in front of the passage Gillet, I no longer know what to do. Isn’t something waiting for me at the end of the passage? But in the place Ducoton, at the end of the rue Tournebride, there is also a certain thing which needs me in order to come to life. I am full of anguish: the slightest gesture engages me. I can’t imagine what is required of me. Yet I must choose: I sacrifice the passage Gillet, I shall never know what it held for me.”

4. Bad Faith

Bad faith

The people whom he watches going about their everyday business, are still veiled in ignorance of their arbitrariness. They are as unfree as Roquentin, yet they hide the terrible imprisonment of their existences by getting up and going to work and so on. They are examples of what Sartre calls bad faith, a way of denying the fundamental nature of our freedom and responsibility, it is a way of making excuses for ourselves to avoid the anguish of absolute freedom.

However, Roquentin defiantly asserts his own existence, claiming that everyone else he sees is afraid to acknowledge that they exist.

5. Conclusion

Conclusion of the novel

Only at the end of the novel does a chink of hope glance on this hero, when he listens to his favourite song on the record player. First, he scoffs at the idea that music “consoles”. But then he begins to think about the melody existing beyond the record player.

“It is beyond, it does not exist, since it has nothing superfluous: it is all the rest which is superfluous in relation to it. It is.”

For the first time in years, Roquentin is moved by the idea of a human being. This reliance on artistic creation to understand oneself becomes the ultimate cure to his Nausea. Rather than give into despair, he thinks about doing something similar to this, not in the realm of music, but in the realm of art. Not a history book, because that is about what has existed. But perhaps an invented story, about something that has never existed:

“It would have to be beautiful and hard as steel and make people ashamed of their existence… A book. A novel.


📚The Book

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.



Nausea in 10 Minutes | Jean Paul Sartre

Jean Paul Sartre’s first novel, Nausea, gave a name for existential angst. He considered it as one of his best works. It is a philosophical novel with existentialist vibes, that delves into the pure absurdity of the world with Sartre’s wild imagination and explores the randomness and superfluity of the world.


Support Eternalised


Buy Official Merch

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” — Cicero

Discord Community

Follow Eternalised on social media!