The best thing would be to write down events from day to day. Keep a diary to see clearly—let none of the nuances or small happenings escape even though they might seem to mean nothing.
These sentences, opening the “Undated Pages” section of the novel, establish both the form of the novel and the intentions of the narrator, Antoine, in writing his diaries. It becomes clear that Nausea will be made up of Antoine’s meticulous journals, and we learn of his desire to track down the nuances and meanings of things. Yet, Antoine’s optimistic first sentence also stands in sharp contrast to his attitude at the end of the novel, where he feels alienated from and uncertain about his own writing and language in general.
Well, when I heard him come up the stairs, it gave me quite a thrill, it was so reassuring: what is there to fear in such a regular world? I think I am cured.
Here, at the end of the “Undated Pages,” hearing a regular visitor to the hotel work his way upstairs seems to “cure” Antoine's nausea. This quote establishes how a sense of normalcy and regularity can conceal the radical instability of existence. Antoine’s air of confidence is slowly destroyed, and this early sense of security starkly contrasts with Antoine’s later inability to find a cure to nausea in his old habits. It implicitly foreshadows Antoine’s increasing fear and the loss of his belief in a “regular world.”
I want to pick it up and feel the weight of it, I stretch out my hand [. . .] God! That is what has changed, my gestures. This movement of my arm has developed like a majestic theme […] I seem to be dancing.
Here, Antoine’s sudden exaltation in the café develops the theme of his nausea, especially as it relates to the objects around him. Rather than draw back from objects like his glass of beer, he suddenly “want[s] to pick it up…” No longer so alienated from his body, he feels as if he is dancing. We then see how music, and especially "Some of These Days," is able to alleviate Antoine’s nausea and make him not only accept but embrace the existence of things.
You would have to repeat very quickly: "This is a public park, this is winter, this is Sunday Morning.”
At the beginning of the extended Sunday diary, Antoine’s insistence on the repetition of these phrases points to two connected aspects of the book. First, it establishes a phrase that will be repeated (with some variation) throughout the diary entry. These repetitions give structure and continuity to a long section of prose. Second, it establishes how language—outside of the novel—can be used to attempt to keep oneself stable and avoid acknowledging the absurdity of existence. Antoine’s persistent repetitions belie the extent to which he no longer feels comfortable in his understanding of the world, and these simple declarative statements, by the end of the section, seem like a vain attempt at structuring a complex world.
They have closets full of bottles, stuffs, old clothes, newspapers; they have kept everything. The past is a landlord’s luxury.
After Antoine has witnessed the awkward scene between the waitress at Camille’s and Achille (“the loon”), he thinks about the comfortable bourgeois lives of people in Bouville. In this quote, Antoine shows how class affects something seemingly abstract as memory. Whereas the land and space owned by those in the upper classes enables them to surround themselves with mementos, those in the lower classes are unable to do so.
Now I knew: things are entirely what they appear to be—and behind them . . . there is nothing.
When Antoine decides to give up on writing his history of the Marquis de Rollebon because “the past did not exist,” he goes on to suggest that the world is entirely made up of appearances. Within the context of Nausea, this builds on the motif of the theatricality of the world. Like a mask with nothing behind it, the world is all appearance. Additionally, this might refer to a kind of philosophical methodology called phenomenology, which studies the appearances (phenomena) of things.
I exist because I think … I am. I am, I exist, I think, therefore I am; I am because I think, why do I think?
As he wanders Bouville in his climactic musings on the absurdity of existence, Antoine makes a strong allusion to Descartes’ most famous philosophical phrase: “I think therefore I am.” Importantly, Antoine’s version is more of a revision. In Antoine’s version (as in Sartre’s), existence precedes thought; Sartre’s syntax places “I am” first (simple being), then consciousness of existence, then thinking, then the logic of existence (“therefore”). In the end, he returns to thinking, now wondering “why” he thinks. We’re left not with a neat syllogism, but with a question that doesn’t have an answer, and Sartre revises Descartes to acknowledge what he sees as the ever-present absurdity of existence.
“Perhaps you are a misanthrope?"
I know what this fallacious effort at conciliation hides. He asks little from me: simply to accept a label.
During the lunchtime conversation between the Self-Taught Man and Antoine, the two enter into something of a philosophical dialogue, a form popular in philosophy since Plato. Here, we see how Sartre uses this form to show the limits of both men’s perspectives. Antoine does appear quite misanthropic throughout the scene, while at the same time, the novel’s considerations of language and the instability of the self make it seem as if this “label” is also not particularly correct.
“For no reason at all, out of defiance, to make the bare pink appear absurd on the tanned leather: to play with the absurdity of the world. Absurd, irreducible; nothing—not even a profound, secret upheaval of nature—could explain it. Evidently I did not know everything, I had not seen the seeds sprout, or the tree grow.
While Antoine is transfixed by the root, he realizes the absurdity of the world. This passage not only defines this absurdity as the lack of an explanation for something, but it also foreshadows Antoine’s final decision to write a novel. When he suggests he might “play with the absurdity of the world,” he gestures towards the possibility of using art and play to acknowledge the absurdity of the world without being disgusted by it. Importantly, this impulse to play remains unjustified, but it presents a way to be active in the world without needing a “bad-faith” (false) justification or explanation.
“You had to transform privileged situations into perfect moments. It was a moral question.”
During the exchange between Anny and Antoine, Anny insists that there is a moral justification for the transformation of “privileged situations.” This draws into focus the distinctions between Anny and Antoine: the former was focused on her duties to others, while the latter thinks of these “privileged situations” in the terms of art. Similar to Antoine, Anny has abandoned her belief in moral necessities or duties. Statements like this, and the scene in general, create a sense of Anny as Antoine’s “double;” while in many ways different, they often seem like imperfect reflections of the other.
Nausea Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Nausea is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.