Literature Study GuidesNauseaThursday February 8 1130 Friday February 9 300 Pm Summary

Nausea | Study Guide

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Nausea | Thursday, February 8, 11:30–Friday, February 9, 3:00 p.m. | Summary



Thursday, February 8, 11:30

This morning, Antoine Roquentin spends two hours in the library, and then he takes a break to smoke a pipe in Cour des Hypothèques, a town square and pedestrian-only zone. In the square, Roquentin studies the statue of Gustave Impétraz, a school inspector in 19th-century Bouville. "A mute power emanates from him," says Roquentin. He senses Impétraz "would like to chase me out of the Cour des Hypothèques," but Roquentin remains, smoking his pipe. The Self-Taught Man walks up just then, and they return to the library. Someone has left a novel open on the table. It is Eugénie Grandet, by the French writer Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850). Roquentin starts reading exactly where the book has fallen open, on page 27. The Self-Taught Man has two books brought to him, one on peat moss by Larbalétrier and a book of advice translated from Sanskrit by Lastex. For some reason, the Self-Taught Man is reluctant to answer when Roquentin asks him what he's reading. Roquentin thumbs through the translated Sanskrit book and cannot understand the source of the Self-Taught Man's embarrassment.

3:00 pm

Still at the library, Roquentin has put the novel aside and returned to his work. He notices the Self-Taught Man looking at him "with respectful lust." The Self-Taught Man envies him for writing a book. The Self-Taught Man has another book brought to him, a Norman history by Julie Lavergne. Suddenly Roquentin recalls the names of the authors the Self-Taught Man has been reading: "Lambert, Langlois, Larbalétrier, Lastex, Lavergne." He has figured out the Self-Taught Man's plan: "he teaches himself alphabetically," reading his way through the library in alphabetical order. Roquentin feels "a sort of admiration" for the willpower necessary to carry out this plan: "He has passed brutally from the study of coleopterae to the quantum theory." However, Roquentin wonders what the Self-Taught Man will do when he finishes "the last book on the last shelf."

Friday, February 9, 3:00 pm

On Friday afternoon, Roquentin is at home, staring out the window. He watches an old woman walk around on her errands. Of this boring spectacle he says, "This is time, time laid bare, coming slowly into existence." He lies down in bed and looks at the ceiling, where he sees an image from his previous travels, a camel he saw in Marrakesh. He thinks wistfully of his mental state two years ago, when he could easily bring up images in his mind: "I could conjure faces, trees, houses, a Japanese girl in Kamaishiki washing herself naked in a wooden tub." Back then, he could readily "recapture the taste of kousskouss, the smell of olive oil." But "this joy was used up a long time ago." He thinks again of the past, returning to memories of Meknes, a city in Morocco. However, his memory is vague. It consists only of "these five words ... a charming square at Meknes." He can recreate a scene, but he would only be making it up. "Nothing is left but words," he thinks. He goes to look for his photographs of Morocco, and he finds one labeled "Anny, Portsmouth, April 7, '27."

There is a knock at the door. He has invited the Self-Taught Man over to look at his photographs. "He can go to Hell," thinks Roquentin, but he invites the Self-Taught Man in. He hopes the Self-Taught Man will shut up and look at the photos in silence, but the Self-Taught Man prattles away. Roquentin thinks about the variability of customs all over the world, as people "celebrate their strangest solemnities, eat their old fathers ... spin to the sound of tomtoms until they faint." The Self-Taught Man mentions a book he read and tries to recall the author's name: "Na ... No ... Nod." Roquentin points out he's "only up to Lavergne," revealing he knows the secret of the Self-Taught Man's reading plan. The Self-Taught Man is embarrassed, looking "as if he were going to cry," but he rallies and talks about a cruise he'll go on when he finishes his reading.

The Self-Taught Man asks whether Roquentin has had any adventures. "A few," Roquentin answers, but inwardly he doubts whether he has had any. "It seems as though I am lying," writes Roquentin, "that I have never had the slightest adventure in my life."

Finally Roquentin gets rid of his guest. He thinks back on a time when he was nearly stabbed, in Morocco. He realizes, "I have never had adventures. Things have happened to me, events, incidents." He had wanted to look back on "great moments" and "adventures" in "London, Meknes, Tokyo," but he realizes adventures are created retrospectively, by imbuing events with narrative sense. Adventure "only makes sense when dead." For this reason he welcomes the disappearance of the present, even as unique, irreplaceable moments slip away from him. He still wants adventures. An "idea" addresses him, telling him he has fooled himself with "the glitter of travel, the love of women." The idea tells him he has never had adventures and never will; he has "no one other than yourself." The entry ends with Roquentin's response: "But Why? WHY?"


On the same day Roquentin discovers the randomness of the Self-Taught Man's reading plan, he too embarks on a reading plan determined by contingency, although only temporarily. He picks up a novel and starts reading it at the random page where it was left open. However, the Self-Taught Man's reading plan is not truly "random" as he reads in alphabetical order. However, within that order, the choice of books, authors, and topics is as if it is random. Alphabetical order appears random in comparison to a traditional concept of academic disciplines and literary genres, which would group similar books together.

Another phenomenon also belongs here: Roquentin's discovery that adventure "only makes sense when dead." In all these cases—the Self-Taught Man's alphabetical reading plan, Roquentin's random encounter with a novel, and Roquentin's decision to supply a narrative meaning to the events of his life—an individual is faced with chance, and the individual decides how to respond. Roquentin accepts the chance order of the novel and starts reading at the open page. The Self-Taught Man, too, accepts the order he finds. He reads the books in the order in which they are shelved. When Roquentin tries to impose narrative order and sense on his travels, he recoils at the inauthenticity of what he creates. "I have been lying to myself for ten years," he says of his adventures.

Boredom continues to be a revelatory experience for Roquentin. Looking out his window, he watches an old woman toddle about the square on her errands. This is the opposite of "adventure." The travel involved is confined to a public square, and there is nothing dashing, glamorous, or sexy about the old woman, at least nothing Roquentin notices and mentions. Her dull errands, unobscured by glamour, reveal something to Roquentin: "This is time, time laid bare, coming slowly into existence." It is not clear exactly what Roquentin means by this, but as always, the bleakest mood is the most illuminating one for him.

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