Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) is a philosophical novel that explores the themes of phenomenology and existentialism. Throughout the novel, the main character, Antoine Roquentin, experiences a profound sense of nausea and alienation as he grapples with the meaninglessness of existence.
Here are some examples of how the novel reveals the combination of phenomenology and existentialism;
1. Roquentin’s experience of objects:
Phenomenology: Roquentin’s description of the physical world is infused with phenomenological insights. He analyzes the sensory experience of objects, noting their texture, shape, and color. For example, he describes a pebble in great detail, noting its roughness and how it reflects the light.
Existentialism: Roquentin’s observation of objects is not just a neutral description, but a reflection of his subjective experience. He feels a sense of unease when looking at objects, as they seem to be “too much” or “too little.” This reflects his sense of existential dread and his feeling that the world lacks meaning.
More Notes: Nausea
2. Roquentin’s conceptual breakdown
As it is stated in Roquentin’s diary, certain objects in their raw existence lead him to face a conceptual breakdown. The rotting piece of paper on the street and the dirty stone, he holds in his hands. He becomes totally unable to classify and determine exactly what he is looking at. He looks at a glass of beer and relates,
“I can no longer explain what I see”.
While going through these experiences Roquentin calls his free will into question
“I tried to pick up a piece of paper lying on the ground and didn’t succeed it occurred to me that I was no longer free”
However, thanks to the anxiety over nausea, he advances toward acquiring an existentialist understanding of life
3. Roquentin’s perception of time:
Phenomenology: Roquentin’s experience of time is analyzed in detail. He notes how time seems to stretch or contract depending on his subjective experience. He also notes how his memories are intertwined with his perceptions of the present moment.
Existentialism: Roquentin’s perception of time reveals his sense of mortality and impermanence. He realizes that his existence is fleeting and that he will eventually cease to exist. This realization is a key aspect of existentialist thought, which emphasizes the importance of individual freedom and responsibility in the face of life’s inherent uncertainty.
4. Roquentin’s relationships with others:
Phenomenology: Roquentin observes people’s behaviors and speech patterns, paying close attention to their nonverbal cues. He describes their physical appearance and the way they move through space.
Existentialism: Roquentin’s relationships with others reflect his sense of alienation and isolation. He struggles to connect with others and often feels like an outsider. This reflects the existentialist idea that individuals are fundamentally alone in the world and must create their own meaning and purpose.
5. Roquentin’s experience of nature:
Phenomenology: Roquentin’s experience of nature is infused with phenomenological insights. He describes the way the light changes throughout the day and the way the wind moves through the trees.
Existentialism: Roquentin’s experience of nature reflects his sense of existential dread. He feels a sense of unease when surrounded by nature, as it seems to be indifferent to his existence. This reflects the existentialist idea that the world lacks inherent meaning or purpose, and that individuals must create their own meaning in a world that is indifferent to them.
6. Free Will of action
Revolting against all doctrines and institutions that curb individual freedom, Sartre maintains that human beings are free to do whatever they want, but they consequently must accept full responsibility for their actions. The more Roquentin proceeds to acknowledge this existential reality the more seriously he scrutinizes his own actions as well as the way other people behave. When Anny writes in a letter to Roquentin that she is in Paris and desperately wants to see him, he realizes that it is completely his derision what pens next: he can either go to see her or do nothing. But this freedom demands a huge price, as Roquentin admits,
“I was bowed down under the weight of the weight of my responsibility”.
Nausea combines phenomenological insights with existentialist themes to create a powerful exploration of the human condition. The novel invites readers to grapple with questions of meaning, purpose, and mortality, while also emphasizing the importance of subjective experience and individual perspective in understanding reality.