Nausea Essay by GG

Metropolitan Escapism, Natural Liberation

Before the dawn of civilization, humans, living among wild and free beasts, were searching for meaning in life, seeking explanations for their seemingly purposeless existence. These difficult quandaries perplexed humans, but thankfully the Neolithic Revolution, which birthed the dense center of human activity known as cities, freed humans from senselessness and let them exist merely as worker bees in a hive. Yet this escape from perplexion into metropolis has proved detrimental to human life; an alternative is necessary. As humans find new forms of classification and work to continually flee from absurdity, the eternally monolithic routine within cities becomes the perfect escape from existence, but in the process thought and individuality are destroyed. Thus humans must embrace the beautiful absurdity within both nature and themselves to live authentically as individuals.

Humans, attempting to escape the absurdity within their own complex individuality, classify everything and busy themselves with menial tasks. Antoine defines the absurd as “irreducible; nothing-not even a profound secret upheaval of nature-could explain it.” (Sartre, 129) Thus any explanation or division of life detracts from the true irreducibility of absurd existence. In Nausea both tasks, which reduce individuals to one function towards one goal, and classifications, which reduce complexity to categories, cause this detraction and allow for escape from absurdity. In the cafe, Antoine sees a young couple trying “to find something else to veil the enormous absurdity of their existence” and comments that all humans have their “little personal difficulty which keeps [them] from noticing that [they] exist…each one of them does one small thing.” (Sartre, 111) Here Antoine shows how human specilaization in one task distracts from existence and veils absurdity. The tasks themselves don’t matter; as the Underground Man points out man needs “to be eternally and continually building roads for himself, leading somewhere, no matter where” so that man may never face his existence. (Dostoevsky, 32) Later in the scene Antoine shows how classification can provide another veil. In the same cafe Antoine resists a “humanism” that “takes possession and melts all human attitudes into one,” it “has digested Manicheism, mysticism, pessimism, anarchy and egotism.” Soon after leaving the cafe Antoine says “the ocean is green,” he was “telling [himself] that the sea belonged to the class of green objects” but later realized that “The true sea is cold and black, full of animals; it crawls under this thin green film made to deceive human beings.” (Sartre 124, 127) The simplification of the lively ocean and the unique ideologies into “green” and “humanism” represent classifications that deliberately reduce individual complexity into all-encompassing explanations. The simplifying classification that reduce living things to parts of categories and the menial tasks that reduce individuals into workers are common escapes for the characters in Nausea. In human’s quest to reduce and explain all living beings in order to escape existence, one invention provides an ultimate and eternal remedy; the city.

.             By dehumanizing all humans into functions, codifying life into laws and protecting against nature’s wild absurdity, cities are the ultimate solution in man’s urge to escape existence, but the damage done to thought and individuality in the process is terrible. In Antoine’s description of city-dwellers he uses verbs that are presumably addressing individuals (writing, making) yet uses the plural pronoun “they” repeatedly; “they come out of their offices…they make laws, they write popular novels, they get married, they are fools enough to have children.” (Sartre, 158) Despite that only an individual, with his or her two hands, can commit to an action, Antoine describes the actor as a “they”. His description illuminates how cities organize individuals into large functional crowds, thus the city “renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible, or at least weakens his sense of responsibility by reducing it to a fraction.” (Kierkegaard, 92) As each individual takes up a specific social function within the crowd, that individual “becomes identified with this function, and the rest of his being is allowed to subsist as best it can – usually to be dropped below the surface of consciousness and forgotten.” (Davis, 544) These dehumanized masses will feel security in their dehumanization since cities give “proof, a hundred times a day, that everything happens mechanically, that the world obeys fixed, unchangeable laws” and thus life as a function will never be thrown into uncertainty or despair. (Sartre, 158) The true genius of the city’s escape is that the escape is eternally viable: “cities have only one day at their disposal and every morning it comes back exactly the same.” (Sartre, 158) Thus if an individual is able to successfully distract himself from existence with a task one day he is assured that he can use the same distraction the next day, since every day is the same and no laws can change this mechanical routine. Cities, “by dictating the fundamental ways and routines by which life itself moves,” create a civilization where individuals “do less and less thinking,” thereby destroying thought as well as individuality. (Davis, 546) Antoine also notes his fear of the wild vegetation surrounding the city, which waits to “climb over the stones…make them burst with its long black pincers” and ruin the comatose order of cities. (Sartre, 156) Antoine sees “this nature…has no laws”, thus Cities destroy all the wildness within nature to preserve the law-driven monotony. (Sartre, 158) “All they have ever seen is trained water running from taps, light which fills bulb when you turn on the switch, half-breed, bastard trees held up by crutches.” (Ibid., 158) In this scenery three natural symbols (water, light, and trees) are shown as trained, controlled by switches, and weakened; the city removes the wildness and life within them, thereby removing the danger posed by lawless nature. But Antoine’s fear of the “vegetation” is in fact an industrial paradigm, which seeks to convince city-dwellers that cities are the only viable home and that life in nature is violent and savage, when in fact it is a connection with nature that allows us to embrace and enjoy the beauty of our absurd existence.

Through a connection with the complex individuality of all living things in nature and refusal to reduce life’s intricacies, one can regain their authentic existence and appreciate the beauty within absurdity. Loss of individuality stems from a reduction of existence into simplified categories; reclamation of individuality stems from a celebration of the “irreducible” absurd. Antoine first begins his reclamation by appreciating the complex individuality in himself; “I exist. It’s sweet, so sweet, so slow…For ever I shall have a little pool of whitish water in my mouth…And this pool is still me. And the tongue. And the throat is me.” (Sartre, 98) While Antoine’s renewed appreciation for his own being brings clarity to his life, it is in the reconnection and respect for all of nature’s complexity that Antoine is truly able to find meaning and playfulness within absurd existence. Antoine rejects the city’s reduction of all beings to functions and, while looking at a root, “saw clearly that you could not pass from its function as a root, as a breathing pump, to that, to this hard and compact skin of a sea lion, to this oily, callous headstrong look. The function explained nothing: it allowed you to understand generally that it was a root, but not that one at all.” (Sartre, 129) Antoine recognizes that neither function nor classification nor laws can capture the intricacies in that individual root since “the world of explanations and reason is not the world of existence.” (Ibid., 129) With these newfound conclusions Antoine finds that he is able “to play with the absurdity of the world” and that in fact, despite the city’s attempts to categorize all nature as violent vegetation, “the smile of the trees, of the laurel, meant something; that was the real secret of existence.” The real secret: despite the perplexing riddles of existence, there is meaning in nature and in the absurdity of complex individuals.

While cities can eternally satisfy our gnawing urge to flee individual responsibility and veil absurdity, the damages they wreck on our freedom of thought and wholeness of being are unjustiable; finding meaning as an individual in an absurd world can only be done through genuine relationships with nature and oneself. Nausea is not an abstract piece; it a call to action. It asks all of us remember the last time we existed first and foremost as human being instead of as a bureaucratic tool. But most importantly, it reveals the true lifestyle of city-dwellers; crowds upon crowds of dehumanized beings, following routines like blind beetles. Yet Nausea also provides an alternative; a genuine relationship with nature that treats every living being as an individual. In the novel, Sartre compares Antoine to the tragically prophetic daughter of King Priam and asked, “Is there nowhere another Cassandra on the summit of a hill, watching a city engulfed in the depths of nature?” (Sartre, 160) He was not being rhetorical; he was predicting an imminent future and demanding action.

Nausea Essay by G.G.

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