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Book review: Sartre's "Nausea" Book review: Sartre's "Nausea"
by Joseph Gatt
2020-10-19 07:10:29
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There are really two ways of reading Sartre. One way to read him is to read his books like it's his point of view, one that you think is correct or incorrect, but that you don't necessarily want to follow. The other way to read Sartre is to apply his philosophy to your daily life.

A few weeks back I did a review of Sartre's Being and Nothingness. What I forgot to mention in that review is that Sartre deal with all knowledge as if it were theoretical knowledge with no practical applications.

naus001_400That is Sartre reasons that the universe is made up of planets and stars that planets and stars move around and don't care that they have their 15 minutes of fame among some astrophysicists and students. So Sartre argues that there's no point in bothering your mind with the existence of planets and stars, or having any emotional attachment to those celestial objects, because they don't care that you care.

But Sartre's big omission is the practical applications of theoretical knowledge, as in when understanding the mechanisms of the universe, you can apply that knowledge and send satellites that provide faster internet connections and better views of what goes on in the planet, and has consequences as in preventing wars, predicting natural disasters, desertification or famines.

But Sartre treats all knowledge as if it were theoretical knowledge, food for thought with no practical applications. Sartre also argues that the world surrounding is mere knowledge, and that we can shut ourselves out of the world surrounding us.

Sartre's Nausea is the practical application of his “Being and Nothingness”. That is, “Nausea” is Sartre's diary, in which he describes his day to day activities. He has no emotional attachment to the people surrounding him, not emotional attachment to his day to day tasks, and does not seem to ponder the past or the future.

Sartre lives in some kind of “parallel” universe, far from what “normal” people do. “Normal” people react to the news, are irritated (or happy) with the people surrounding them, spend a great deal of time thinking about the environment surrounding them.

Sartre does none of that. His day-to-day activities involve all the activities normal people do (eating, washing, talking to people, writing, keeping up with the media) but Sartre distances himself from the activities, and attaches minimal importance to them.

Sartre is not a “donneur de leçons” (or someone who lectures people about life) in that he simply describes his day to day activities.

As I said, there are two ways to read him. One way is to read Sartre to get an idea of his point of view. The other way to read Sartre is to try to gain life lessons from him and apply them to your daily life.

Interestingly, we do live in a world where we spend a great deal attaching judgment and emotions to our day-to-day activities. We love (or resent) our friends for their actions, our friends and family stir positive (or negative) emotions, we have emotional attachment to food, and we go crazy on social media in the comments sections of articles that we agree (or disagree) with.

So Sartre's way of life is “I read the newspaper, and that's it. Then I talked to my guest Paul, and that's it. Then I wrote six pages for of my next book, and that's it. Then I had dinner, and that's it. Then I listened to the radio, and that's it.”

I personally couldn't have that level of emotional detachment. Maybe Sartre hangs out with the right people. Maybe Sartre has no emotional filter, and feels no shame, guilt or anger at some people's actions. I'm not like that. I feel pride, warmth, love, guilt, shame, anger and the whole spectrum of emotions, depending on the situation.

Interestingly enough, in my specific case, I lived my entire life as an “outsider” or some would say an “outcast.” So a lot of times my emotions start bubbling specifically when people start treating me like I'm an “insider” (often for convenience purposes).

That is, the minute I get invited to a clan and get told to obey the clan's rules, I feel very, very uncomfortable. I played by outsider rules my entire life, and being an insider is something I would have trouble with.

Interestingly, because I'm an outcast with a “sharp” (arguably sharp) view of things, and because there were many attempts to place me as an insider in several groups (all of which failed miserably) that's how I was able to observe things that no insider can observe, because to an insider those things are second nature.

Why can't I play by insider rules? Being an insider means that you get both burdens AND privileges. All my life I got all the burdens and no privileges.

Since I was never an insider anywhere to begin with, when groups invite me inside their groups, they always give me all the burdens, and make it sound like to get the privileges you need to be born inside the group.

In sum, Sartre was lucky enough to be an insider, keep the privileges, and rid himself of any burden. That's how I read him.

I am the polar opposite. I was born an outsider, got stripped of the privileges, and got all the burdens. That's why I don't completely adhere to the kind of emotional distancing Sartre implicitly invites his readers to follow.

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