Among the earliest of Sartre’s extant writings, begun and tentatively completed as early as 1936, Nausea first took shape in Sartre’s mind under the working title “Melancholia,” inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I, which depicts a disrupted and disturbed “thinker.” Art, either as product or as process, looms large throughout the work, casting into the foreground Antoine Roquentin’s growing sense of superfluity in a hostile, or at least indifferent, universe.
Invited on an archaeological expedition to Cambodia, the trained historian Roquentin, a former archaeology teacher, undergoes a kind of reverse “conversion” upon viewing a Khmer statuette displayed to him as enticement to make the trip. Suddenly confronted with the immortality or “solidity” of art, Roquentin instantly feels himself “fluid” and “viscous” by contrast. Refusing his colleague’s offer, Roquentin decides to seek immortality of his own through completion of a scholarly project begun some years earlier. His subject is the life and career of the Marquis de Rollebon, a minor figure in the French Revolution, whose papers his descendants have willed to the public library at Bouville, a port city closely modeled upon Le Havre. Spending much of his time in the public library of Bouville, the remainder in cafés and restaurants, Roquentin becomes increasingly, disgustingly aware of his own weight upon the earth’s surface, of his “existence” as object in a world threateningly filled with other “existing” objects both living and inanimate. (Significantly, the term...
(The entire section is 657 words.)