10 Great Quotes from “Nausea” by Jean-Paul Sartre

I recently read Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, originally published in 1938. It’s a very philosophical novel, structured like a diary, where its protagonist is a historian who talks about writing a book on a historical figure in Bouville. I see it as an attempt to provide a logical explanation for life and a world with no meaning. This explanation, I find unsatisfactory, which would naturally imply that a world without meaning is a world that is deeply unsatisfactory. Which is kind of why the novel is so powerful. Here are ten quotes from the book that particularly stood out to me.

“The idiots. It horrifies me to think that I am going to see their thick, self-satisfied faces again. They make laws, they write Populist novels, they get married, they commit the supreme folly of having children. And meanwhile, vast, vague Nature has slipped into their town, it has infiltrated everywhere, into their houses, into their offices, into themselves. It doesn’t move, it lies low, and they are right inside it, they breathe it, and they don’t see it, they imagine that it is outside, fifty miles away. I see it, that Nature, I see it … I know that its submissiveness is laziness, I know that it has no laws, that what they consider its constancy doesn’t exist. It has nothing but habits and it may change those tomorrow.”

“I savour this total oblivion into which I have fallen. I am between two towns. One knows nothing of me, the other knows me no longer.”

“Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.”

“Four lines on a white paper, a splash of blood, together that makes a beautiful memory.”

“The world of explanations and reasons is not that of existence.”

“My memories are like the coins in the devil’s purse: when it was opened, nothing was found in it but dead leaves.”

“Shall I awake in a few months, a few years, exhausted, disappointed, in the midst of fresh ruins? I should like to understand myself properly before it is too late.”

“Something begins in order to end: an adventure doesn’t let itself be extended; it achieves significance only through its death.”

“You know, it’s quite an undertaking to start loving somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness …. There is even a moment, right at the start, where you have to jump across an abyss: if you think about it you don’t do it.”

“That could even serve as a fable: there was a poor fellow who had got into the wrong world. He existed, like other people, in the world of municipal parks, of bistros, of ports and he wanted to convince himself that he was living somewhere else, behind the canvas of paintings, with the doges of Tintoretto, with Gozzoli’s worthy Florentines, behind the pages of books, with Fabrice del Dongo and Julien Sorel, behind gramophone records, with the long dry laments of jazz music. And then, after making a complete fool of himself, he understood, he opened his eyes, he saw that there had been a mistake: he was in a bistro, in fact, in front of a glass of warm beer. He sat there on the bench, utterly depressed; he thought: I am a fool.”

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