Customer Reviews: Nausea (New Directions Paperbook)
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on October 3, 2004
With his first novel, Sartre began to explore what would later come to be known as existentialism, or the philosophy that: 'Holds that there is no intrinsic meaning or purpose, therefore it is up to each individual to determine his own meaning and purpose and take responsibility for his actions'. While this line of philosophical thought does have its origins in Kierkegaard, it was in the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Sartre that these ideas were fully developed.

Antoine Roquentin is a solitary man, recently afflicted with a recurrent feeling, one that he terms 'the Nausea'. At times, he feels that life is repugnant, a vapid, shallow game between mindless people who have no real idea of their own purpose or consequence, himself included. At first he dismisses these feelings as the typical lonely thoughts of an ageing academic who is unable to complete the book he has been researching for years, but as the feeling continues and he is able to examine himself with greater and greater clarity, Roquentin begins to learn that maybe he has stumbled upon one of the great truths of our reality.

He discovers that there is no essence, no importance in motion or in the petty labels that people like to attach to themselves and others in a bid to catalogue the world and everything in it, and by cataloguing, to control. He reasons that we are essentially impossible to control, that each person exists because they exist, and for no other reason that that. The terms of our existence are unspecific, but clear. We do not exist to be pawns to a god, or to move the path of humanity forward. Instead, we exist simply to exist, we are an end unto ourselves, and the inherent absurdity in our lives means that a meaningful existence is impossible and even blasphemous. Through clear-eyed, coherent thinking, we are able to control our lives as we choose, and it is up to every man and woman to independently reject suicide. For those that do not, the meaningless quality of our lives makes no different when compared to those that do, thus there is no dishonour or achievement in either.

During the novel, there are a few side stories involving an ex-lover and a child-molesting friend, but these characters are used mostly as foils for Sartre's philosophy. In presenting arguments to Roquentin, Sartre is able to adequately satisfy the objections to his philosophy. There is a sense, however, that while the elements of existentialism presented in Nausea are powerful and compelling, the picture is not yet complete and no real answers are given. Later on in his career, Sartre was able to provide a large number of these answers, but even this early on, with his first novel, the depth of his thinking and the power of his message is quite simply amazing. Nausea is a stunning book, an intellectual delight, and is recommended to all.
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on September 5, 2002
Nausea is not an easy book to read, not because of length or complexity of writing but because it forces the reader to confront some of the most frightening questions about life. The plot is largely uneventful, and yet this is where the majority of the book's philosophical questions arise. It's amidst the mundane, the every-day, the common interactions in life wherein the main character Roquentin questions the foundations of reality: what is this world I live in? why am I here? what does my life mean?
The thing Roquentin encounters most dramatically is existence: dull, ever-present, unable to be explained, a hidden and dumb force that waits silently behind the meanings we ascribe to it. And it is this force, the force of existence, which is the ultimate source of humility, for in it all of our actions are rendered meaningless.
Why do we do what we do? What are our motivations, our ambitions, and why do we have them? Sartre explores questions like these in a variety of daily situations and presents a concept of reality that has no mercy for the squeamish mind. He approaches his reader with such intensity that one cannot look away, one is forced to follow his reasoning to its unconventional and disturbing conclusions. Still, as the introduction points out, "Coming for the first time to the works of Sartre, Japsers, or Camus is often like reading, on page after page, one's own intimate thoughts and feelings, expressed with new precision and concreteness."
This is an excellent novel, very thought-provoking, best approached with an open mind and the courage to listen patiently to that which may frighten one the most. Regardless of your reaction to it, Nausea will have you thinking for quite some time afterward.
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on February 18, 2000
Nausea is one of the most powerful literary experiences one can find. The form of the novel enables us to enter into Sartre's brilliant (and warped)mind. There is a sort of inexplicable energy that keeps on pushing you to read further and further- it is impossible to put this book down. The work can be appreciated as a novel for the quality of the story, but can also be understood as a powerful argument for Sartre's existentialist philosophy. He takes the reader through different alternatives to realizing that one's knowledge of one's existence makes one sick or creates nausea. Common escapes such as glorifying the past, the hope of relentless self-improvement,placing faith in love, are all explored and dramatically proven by Sartre to be false delusions to the truth that human existence is sickening.
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on November 24, 2007
This is not a review of the literary prowess of the work of Jean-Paul Sartre; this is a review of the horribly lackadaisical attitude towards editing that allowed this edition to be sent to press. I would only accept the quality of this book were it a pre-press proof.

Many portions of this edition are rife with typos. Most are simple juxtapositions of letters, but some horrendous substitutions of words make sections of the book nearly unreadable without consulting the original text. The translation is at times clunky and dated, but at worst, inaccurate.

For example, on page 170, an oft cited passage originally phrased as "Personne. Pour personne, Antoine Roquentin n'existe. Ça m'amuse." instead reads: "No one. Antoine Roquentin exists for on one. That amuses me." It doesn't amuse me. With the original text by their side, even one who does not speak French can identify the blatant error allowed to pass here.

Additionally, quotation marks at times encapsulate the non-quoted portions of sentences.

The book, 4 stars.
The quality of the publication, 1 star.

The poor editing in this edition makes it far more difficult to read than it should be. Do yourself a favor: go to the library and get a different, readable out-of-print edition if you can find one, and save your cash for a book that is truly deserving.
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on April 29, 2001
When I bought this book I could not put it down. The emotions and thoughts that Antoine has very much mirrored the way I felt about life and existence. As a few of the reviewers have pointed out, the whole story is depressing and grim. This is the whole point of the story!!! Life and existence, as the books name suggests, is nauseating and disgusting.
The writing style of Jean Paul Sartre is nothing less than breath taking. The anger, the depression, and the fear of existing is captured beautifully in Sartre's writing. Highly recommended if you want to learn and get a feel of the main ideas of existentialism.
By the way, as to the question of "If existence is meaningless, why not just kill yourself?" Well, why do people climb mountains if they are just going to come back down? Some people create their own personal purpose and give meaning to their lives through some medium. So, why not kill myself? I suppose it's the same reason Bertrand Russel didn't kill himself: I wish to learn more Mathematics.
Anyways, Albert Camus answers this very question with lucid prose in his book "The Myth of Sisyphus."
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on September 14, 2002
Nausea is the difinitive work of Jean-Paul Sartre and reflects the nature of the existential movement. Often oversimplified as boring, depressing or pointless; Nausea is in fact a phycological journey for the courageous thinker. It poses and answers many important existential questions through the interactions and ruminations of the main charecter, Antoine. The book is so well written and translated that the discriptions actually transform your philisophical state - you feel the Nausea. This little book is also packed with information, and calls for so much self-exploration, that it is sometimes described as hard to read. If taken slowly and internalized, this is an endlessly rewarding read.
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on June 6, 2004
Antoine Roquentin, the protagonist of Sartre's "Nausea," is a man who stands in awe of himself. No, he's not an egotist or a narcissist in the self-admiring sense; he is completely and intensely absorbed in the contemplation of his own existence. That is to say, he constantly ponders the fact he exists, that there is a consciousness connected to a body whose collective name is Antoine Roquentin. For some, the reaction to such a realization might be wonder and amazement, perhaps an acknowledgement of the omnipotence of a higher power; for Antoine, the reaction is horror, a perception of the void enshrouding existence, leading to a feeling of what he calls nausea.
To evade the nausea, Antoine immerses himself in the study of those that have existed in the past, and he is currently in the city of Bouville (possibly a renamed Boulogne), France, researching the history of the Marquis de Rollebon, a courtier of Marie Antoinette and a most adventurous scoundrel. The ordinariness of Antoine's career emphasizes the absurdity of existence in a world designed for those who are content to live the unexamined life. At the local library, he makes the acquaintance of a Self-Taught Man (the only name by which he is known) who endeavors to educate himself by reading every book available to him, in alphabetical order. The Self-Taught Man, an ex-soldier who had spent some time as a prisoner of war, is the essence of bourgeois humanism and optimism; he mistakes Antoine's inquiries into existence for a search for the meaning of life. Another perspective on existence is given by Antoine's snide ex-girlfriend Anny, whose childhood experiences have led her to the conclusion that death, or dying, is a "privileged situation" because of the importance it is attributed not only in actuality but as the subject in so many works of art, where it is portrayed as the transcendence of existence.
Written in the style of a diary, "Nausea" reads like a memoir containing many personalized aphorisms about existence and its opposite, nothingness, which ironically also must exist; but these are too subjective to be universally useful. Rather, the novel's biggest triumph is the convincing expressiveness of Sartre's protagonist, who manages to convey in lucid language the ideas behind coming to terms with one's own existence. Antoine may be morose and introverted, but he is an excellent analyst of nature and has intellectual energy to spare.
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on June 12, 2001
I found this book to be one of the toughest to bear, not because it's badly written, but because its search for truth touches the lower depths of existence. It is profoundly significant and tackles subjects that anyone who has thought about existence can identify with.
Also, it deserves the chance of being read fully. Most of the critics who've commented seem to miss the point of its finale.
What's optimism if we can't bear to look at ourselves? This book does so, and is meant for readers who can stomach truth.
It's been pointed out that this is philosophy & not literature: It is a combination of both, as any great book is. Pure literature is fluff, pure philosophy is dense: This book is a wonderful mix of both worlds, taking what's best from each.
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on July 8, 2002
'Nausea' - Sartre used a negative sounding title for a philosophy which, albeit incomplete, is still positive.
The book is about a lonely historian, Roquentin, who moves into this small town of Bouville to further his biographical research on a French Nobleman - Monsieur Rollebon. Roquentin has a certain uneasy feeling about everything going on about him - but he is not able to pin it down.
"Something fundamental has changed. I know it. Is it me who has changed or is it from the outside, I do not know. But I must decide". This is the chilling statement in the first page of the diary of Roquentin. Here, Sartre is using the gist of existentialism and Husserl's phenomenology to analyze the most basic issue of all - What the hell is existence?
Existentialism - Simply put, it means existence over essence. Its better to live as it is rather than condition oneself to existence(Wherin the essences are intravenously fed into our consciousness).
'You have to be good and kind if you need salvation';
'Spare the rod and spoil the child'.
These are rather simplistic aspects of conditioning that I am citing but if one were to actually map his/ her life from the beginning, he realises that right from day-1, the world as represented by parents,family & society has been preparing him in an effort to make him 'ready' to survive in the world and 'live'. This conditioned sense of 'Living' is what Roquentin loses all of a sudden. Those things which once mattered a lot to him like his own work on Rollebon, his love for Annie, even the very sense of day-to-day living fall away. And what is left is this rather naked sense of 'Nausea'.
Thus Roquentin's feeling of uneasiness or nausea is the predicament of a man who suddenly has abrogated himself from(both voluntarily and involuntarily) all previous notions of conditioned existence.
But whats the answer and solution to this nausea?
Roquentin has flashes of naked existence or what Eckhart called as 'Isness' when he listens to a black Jazz singer. The sheer sense of music without the baggage of 'Interpreted music' acts like a breath of fresh air in Roquentin's otherwise stale life.
But I think, Sartre did not complete the answer to the riddle of 'How does one live authentically?'. But this is not to be seen as a limitation of the book. The writer is remaining true to his thoughts, I feel, and Sartre himself was possibly looking for answers.
Read this book if you want old, wrong answers about life in your mind to be decimated. You might not get readymade solutions but possibly, the right questions would pervade your intellect and lead you on to other streams of philosophy which deliver the answers to these questions.
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on November 7, 2003
Those who look carefully at the book's cover will notice that the gentleman's hand, as if feeling his heartbeat, makes up the lips of the larger portrait image of himself, superimposed on the former, smaller self. Was this an aesthetic decision on the part of the publishers? Or does it serve to implicate the essence of the novel- the fractured self?
The novel is more than just about existentialism (the idea that asserts existence over essence, commonly attributed to the lack of God and Intrinsic Meaning), it is about a man's ambivalence with trying to be an emotional human while contemplating said belief.
Nausea may be the companion novel to Camus' more lyrical and popular, "The Stranger". They are both first person accounts of men who wander around all day with nothing to do or believe. All they are left with are their thoughts, and the relentless drone of their own restless consciousness. However, the narrator in Nausea is a deeper thinker. He goes to the library and talks with 'the learned man', he contemplates the black bark of a tree and awakens to 'nothingness', he is more self-aware, more pensive, less ironic than Camus' hero, who truly doesn't care about anything.
Before reader's dismiss such men as self-absorbed philistines, it is important to understand the context of such writings: Europe, mostly France, between or directly after the two World Wars. It was time of moral breakdown and relativity, when humans had proven to eachother that perhaps there wasn't a God. Sartre's solution was sobering and brave: Mankind's existence without essence, pure and empty. Follow our narrator, one entry at a time, one endless walk at a time, as he tries to make the most of what he has: nothing.
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