ABSTRACT: In this paper, I argue that temporality, as described in Being and Nothingness, is a central theme in Nausea. In the first section I make the point that one of Sartre's guiding concerns at the time of publishing Nausea is temporality and the temporal nature of freedom. In the second section, the theme of melancholy and its relationship to temporality is explored. The third section explores Sartre's use of this image of being taken 'from behind'. I use this temporal imagery as a guide for interpreting Roquentin's reaction to the rape and murder of Lucienne. By interpreting this scene by way of the temporality of Being and Nothingness, we can duly recognize the early Sartre's concern with temporality, understand the melancholia that arises because of the 'internal' negation of the past, and give a more satisfying account of a scene which is often ignored in the secondary literature.
KEYWORDS: melancholy, Nausea, Sartre, temporality
At the time of publication of Nausea, Sartre wrote a short back cover gloss or "blurb"--a "priere d'inserer"--that does not appear in the English translation. In it, Sartre refers to the phenomenon of nausea:
"It is Nausea; it grabs you from behind and then one floats in a lukewarm pool of time." (1)
What are we to make of this description of nausea? Nausea, as we know, is Roquentin's reaction to the contingent absurdity of an overabundant existence. It signals a direct experience of this existence unmediated by project or purpose. But what could it mean that this unmediated experience "grabs you from behind"? The imagery of being taken "from behind" foreshadows Roquentin's vision of rape in which the little girl named Lucienne is taken from behind. Roquentin, too, feels himself caught from behind by existence and by desire. (2) But Sartre's reference to a "pool of time" suggests that we consider this imagery in terms of temporality. Indeed, in Being and Nothingness, Sartre uses this same imagery of being taken "from behind" to describe the relationship of the for-itself to its past. I hope to show that the temporality implicit in Nausea can only be made sense of by way of the analysis of temporality found in Being and Nothingness.
This paper has three sections. The first section is a discussion of Sartre's early literary critiques and the temporality that he espouses therein. These literary criticisms are all meant to expose the fallacy of characterizing man as if he has no future and as if he could disconnect himself from his past. I will argue that Nausea should be read in terms of this ongoing concern.
The original and Sartre's preferred title for Nausea was Melancholia and in the second section, the theme of melancholy and its relationship to temporality is explored. I argue that Roquentin's feeling of melancholy reveals that his relation to existence and to his past is an internal negation. This means that, using the language of Being and Nothingness, although the for-itself flees, and thereby negates, the facticity of its embodied past, this negation does not radically isolate the for-itself from its past. Roquentin is obliged to exist by way of his past and his melancholy signals the nature of this relationship.
The third section uses Sartre's temporal imagery as a guide for interpreting one scene in Nausea in particular-Roquentin's reaction to the news of Lucienne's rape and murder. By interpreting this scene by way of Sartre's later analysis of temporality, we can duly recognize the early Sartre's concern with the temporality of freedom and give a more satisfying account of a scene that may otherwise seem awkward or gratuitous.
The decision to interpret Nausea by way of the later Being and Nothingness needs some justification. Although Nausea pre-dates Being and Nothingness, Sartre was developing many of the themes found in both works at about the same time. In the first section, I will be emphasizing this point by showing that the specific analyses which I rely on from Being and Nothingness are already present in Sartre's writings published in the late 1930's around the time of the publication of Nausea. As with Sartre's priere d'inserer, these essays demonstrate an ongoing concern with temporality and suggest that Sartre was already working within a conception of temporality similar to that espoused in Being and Nothingness. Exactly when did Sartre develop this conception? In part three of this paper I will provide textual evidence to suggest that this likely occurred before submitting Nausea for publication. But we can also gauge this by way of Sartre's early literary critiques that will be examined in the first section of this paper. Although Sartre's essay on Faulkner was published in 1939, Simone de Beauvoir tells us that she and Sartre were discussing Faulkner's works around the same time that Sartre was writing Nausea. (3) It is plausible, therefore, that the conceptions of temporality that underlie Sartre's critique of Faulkaner, and that anticipate the discussion of temporality in Being and Nothingness, were developed at that time. By the end of tiffs paper, I hope to have shown that this must have been the case because the temporality of Nausea can only be made sense of by way of the analyses of temporality found in Being and Nothingness.
Fictional Technique and Temporality
In the late 1930's Sartre published a series of essays in which he analyzes the writing styles of various authors in terms of an implicit metaphysics of time. Sartre declares in his essay on Faulkner, for instance, that,
A fictional technique always relates back to the novelist's metaphysics ... it is immediately obvious that Faulkner's metaphysics is a metaphysics of time. (4)
In these early essays, Sartre describes how each author's depiction of freedom is constrained by an underlying misconception of human temporality. According to Sartre, these authors have removed from their characters the future and its possibilities. In various ways their fictional techniques have distorted time:
Most of the great contemporary authors ... have tried, each in his own way, to distort time. Some of them have deprived it of its past and future in order to reduce it to the pure intuition of the instant; others, like Dos Passos, have made of it a dead and closed memory. Proust and Faulkner have simply decapitated it: They have deprived it of its future, that is, its dimension of deeds and freedom ... (5)
Camus also reduces temporality to the "pure intuition of the instant." Sartre says of The Outsider:
Each sentence is a present instant ... the sentence has frozen. Its present reality becomes the noun. Instead of acting as a bridge between past and future, it is merely a small, isolated, self-sufficient substance. (6)
What Sartre is criticizing here and throughout these early essays is a conception of human existence in which one is essentially separated from the past and future, a conception in which one exists from instant to instant. This distortion of time deprives man of his freedom. In contrast, Sartre argues that freedom is only possible to the extent that man projects into a future. This, in turn, is only possible by way of a past that situates and makes this freedom necessary.
It is clear, therefore, that in these early essays, Sartre is no longer espousing the instantaneous conception of consciousness that he describes in The Transcendence of the Ego:
[Consciousness] determines its existence at each instant, without our being able to conceive anything before it. Thus each instant of our conscious life reveals to us a creation ex nihilo ... (7)
In this conception, the past is external to consciousness. Consciousness is radically separated from its past and constitutes itself solely from what is present. Memory and the past have no particular hold upon consciousness. One's past is more intimate, it is available as an object for one's own consciousness and no one else's, but it has the same ontological status as an object of the imagination. In contrast, Sartre's literary essays of the 1930's depart from the instantaneity of The Transcendence of the Ego. This passage, for example, clearly anticipates the analysis of temporality in Being and Nothingness.
... a consciousness buffeted so from one instant to another ought, first of all, to be a consciousness and then, afterwards, to be temporal; does anyone believe that time can come to it from the outside? ... We can no longer arrest man at each present and define him as "the sum of what he has." The nature of consciousness implies, on the contrary, that it project itself into the future. We can understand what it is only through what it will be. (8)
To write as if consciousness is isolated in the instant, either disconnected from, trying to re-appropriate, or as determined by the past, is to portray consciousness as unfree; as unable to shape the future and unable to give meaning to its past. As Sartre writes in another of these essays, again anticipating one of the major themes of existentialism, "There is not one of our acts whose meaning and value we cannot still transform even now." (9) This is the message of Being and Nothingness and of these earlier essays: The past does not fully inform or determine present consciousness. Neither does it slide into oblivion leaving consciousness to continually discover itself from out of nothing. Present consciousness exists towards a future, by way of a past.
But what of Sartre's first novel, Nausea? How do the fictional techniques of this novel relate back to the metaphysics of its novelist? Nausea appears, at first, to be open to the same criticism that Sartre levels at Camus. Roquentin writes in the instantaneous present. He feels that he has lost his past:
... my past is nothing more than an enormous vacuum. My present: this waitress in the black blouse dreaming near the counter, this man (N 64).
When he does recall his past, Roquentin is unable to distinguish memory from imagination:
I search the past in vain, I can only find these scraps of images and I am not sure what they represent, whether they are memories or just fiction (N 32).
In the same way that he is untouched by a fictional object, Roquentin feels untouched by these images of the past. They make no claim upon him. Each image, each instant, seems external to every other. As Roquentin conceives of it, there is no bridge between the present and the past with which to distinguish memory from imagination. And so he says, for example:
I build memories with my present self. I am cast out, forsaken in the present: I vainly try to rejoin the past: I cannot escape (N 33).
Roquentin's description of the movement of the woman walking down the road illustrates this external relationship between temporal moments (N 31). This point is made by Rhiannon Goldthorpe:
As he watches the old woman his often paratactic sentences suggest what is not explicitly stated-that there is no necessary or dynamic relation between the separate elements which they describe, their syntax enacts the disintegration of time and space into purely external relationships. (10)
This external relationship between instants is described in Being and Nothingness as "universal time"-the time of the in-itself. (11) Roquentin misconceives his own temporality, the temporality of the for-itself, by way of this "universal time." The syntax and fictional technique used by Roquentin betrays a metaphysics of time in which the present is, to echo Sartre's critique of Camus, "a small, isolated, self-sufficient substance." It seems that even Roquentin's relationship to his own past has disintegrated into a purely external relationship. He describes his past as a "confused dream." "scraps of images," and an "enormous vacuum" and says, for example:
I build memories with my present self. I am cast out, forsaken in the present: I vainly try to rejoin the past: I cannot escape (N 33).
Later he declares that "the past did not exist at all" (N 96). In short, Roquentin conceives of himself as living in the momentary instant disconnected from his past and future.
This instantaneity would seem to preclude any attempt to transform the meaning and value of past acts. An "enormous vacuum" would hardly be in need of justification. What, then, are we to make of the final pages of Nausea, where Roquentin seeks to do just that, to justify his past? For the first time in the novel, Roquentin exercises his freedom to choose a future. He is no longer isolated in the instant. He looks to the future and recognizes the possibility, and even the necessity, of transforming the meaning of his past. Describing the project that he decides upon at the end of Nausea, Roquentin says:
... a time would come when the book would be written, when it would be behind me, and I think that a little of its clarity might fall over my past. Then, perhaps, because of it, I could remember my life without repugnance ... I might succeed ... in accepting myself (N 178).
There has been debate over the coherence of Roquentin's "aesthetic solution." However, read in the context of Sartre's early essays in literary criticism, the importance of the ending of Nausea lies, not in the specifics of its "solution," but in its change of fictional technique. Roquentin's isolated descriptions of the present give way to a narrative that includes a freely chosen future, and that recognizes the reality and the inseparability of the past. The abrupt ending of the novel signals that the chronological rendering of isolated moments in diary form is no longer appropriate. The underlying metaphysics demands this change in fictional technique. Until its final scene, Nausea portrays an instantaneity similar to the pure intuition of the instant that Sartre criticizes in Camus. The change of fictional technique at the end of the novel implies that Roquentin has, at least implicitly, recognized the temporal nature of his existence.
Sartre may have had Faulkner's Quentin in mind when he chose Roquentin as the name of his protagonist. Certainly Roquentin's decision to choose his future stands in direct contrast to the fatalism of Quentin. According to Sartre, Quentin represents a metaphysics in which time has been deprived of its future:
As to Faulkner's heroes, they never look ahead ... The coming suicide which casts its shadow over Quentin's last day is not a human possibility; not for a second does Quentin envisage the possibility of not killing himself. (12)
Quentin is fully absorbed by his past and never looks ahead. His future is determined. Roquentin, on the other hand, feels radically detached f?om his past. But he too never looks ahead. Not until the end of the book does Roquentin take responsibility for his future. The temporal message of Nausea would seem to be this: Neither the absorption by the past, as portrayed by Faulkner's Quentin, nor the instantaneous isolation from the past, as portrayed by Roquentin, accurately reflect our temporally situated freedom. Only after Roquentin chooses his future and recognizes that he must justify rather than detach himself from his past does an authentic freedom become a possibility for him. In this way, the change of fictional technique in Nausea, and the metaphysics of time that it portrays, can be seen as a repudiation of the distorted temporality that Sartre finds portrayed by Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.
If Roquentin abandons the instantaneous temporality that he portrays throughout most of the book, two questions arise: How is Roquentin related to his past such that he is not isolated from his past but such that neither is he is absorbed and determined by that past? How does Roquentin become aware of this relationship? These questions are addressed in the next two sections.
Melancholy and the Internal Negation of the Past
Roquentin is a historian and his research into the life of one M. Rollebon sets the backdrop for his attempt to understand his relation to his own past. Although I do not want to displace the traditional readings of Nausea that emphasize the contingency and the absurdity of existence, this concern with the past, and one's relation to the past, should be recognized as a major theme in the novel. "Melancholia," Sartre's preferred and original title for Nausea, is particularly significant if understood by way of this theme. "Melancholia" is certainly meant to be an allusion to Albrecht Durer's engraving, "Melancholia I," as well as to the work of Theophile Gautier and Michelet (LN1). Roquentin also seems to be referring to the Freudian sense of melancholy when he thinks of Anny early in the novel:
... I purge myself of a certain melancholy the cause of which I know too well ... In the past-even a long while after she left me-I thought about Army (N 6-7). (13)
However, to understand the temporal implications of Sartre's choice of Melancholia for the title we have to look to Being and Nothingness.
Sartre uses melancholy in Being and Nothingness to illustrate the idea of internal negation and its relation to consciousness. External negation is the act of consciousness whereby one is able to distinguish objects from each other: A is not B. The observer is unaffected by this negation because he is isolated from the objects in question. As we have seen, Roquentin describes existence, even his own existence, in terms of this sort of external perspective. On the other hand, in an internal negation there is no essential isolation or separation between an object and the for-itself. Here is the passage from Being and Nothingness in which Sartre explains this distinction using melancholy as his example:
... we should distinguish two types of negation: external negation and internal negation. The first appears as a purely external bond established between two beings by a witness ... it serves neither to enrich them nor to constitute them, it remains strictly external. But we can already guess the meaning of the other type of negation if we consider such expressions as "I am not rich" or "I am not handsome." Pronounced with a certain melancholy, they do not mean only that the speaker is denied a certain quality but that the denial itself comes to influence the inner structure of the positive being who has been denied the quality ... It characterizes me within; as negative it is a real quality of myself--that of not being handsome-and this negative quality will explain my melancholy (BN 243-44, emphasis added).
Melancholy therefore signals that there is an internal relation established by way of the negation. To recognize that "I am not handsome," for example, does not just qualify external objects in the world, it establishes a quality of myself.
Consider the melancholy of the internal negation in comparison to the strictly external relations between phenomena that Sartre attributes to Camus' The Outsider:
That is what Hume did when he stated that he could find nothing in experience but isolated impressions. That is what the American neo-realists still do when they deny the existence of any but external relations between phenomena ... It is this analytic process that explains the use of the Amercian technique in The Outsider... our life has "no future," it is a series of present moments ... he sees only a series of instants. (14)
To reiterate, Sartre's criticism is that Camus isolates man in the instant with only an external relation between phenomena. Time is a "series of present moments" that have only external relation to each other and to consciousness. However, according to Sartre's distinction between internal and external negation, if one feels melancholy when considering one's existence and one's relationship to the past, this relationship cannot be external. It must be an internal relationship; one is distinct from one's past--one nihilates each passing instant-not by an external negation that radically separates the for-itself from its past, but by an internal negation that qualifies or characterizes the for-itself. Therefore, although Roquentin claims that he has an external, isolated relation to his past, his melancholy proves otherwise. As Sartre writes in Being and Nothingness:
... the past cannot be possessed by a present being which remains strictly external to it as I remain, for example, external to my fountain pen ... External relations would hide an impassable abyss between a past and a present which would then be two factual givens without real communication (BN 166).
Roquentin's melancholy reveals that there is not an "impassable abyss between past and present" and that his relation to his past cannot be an external relation.
If we understand the melancholy and the temporality of Nausea in this way we can also understand Nausea as a clarification of the Freudian notion of melancholy as a sense of loss. If the past were truly lost then it could have no effect upon consciousness. Melancholy as a sense of loss can only be understood once we recognize that we are not isolated from our past. Roquentin's melancholy when he thinks of his past with Army, for example, is only possible because this past is not completely lost to him; it is not separated from him by an impassable abyss. One feels melancholy towards one's past because consciousness has an internal relationship to its past.
Temporality and the Death of Lucienne
In this section I argue that Roquentin's reaction to the rape and murder of Lucienne (N 100-103) dramatically illustrates this internal relationship that consciousness has to its past. The scene in question occurs just past midway through the novel. The journal entry begins with Roquentin describing the difficulty he is having making sense of, and giving order to, the past. Roquentin is struggling to understand if, and how, the past can continue to exist through him and through his writing. He asks, "How can I, who have not the strength to hold on to my own past, hope to save the past of someone else?" (N 95). Sartre thereby signals that temporality and man's relationship to the past is the theme of this journal entry.
But the journal entry takes a strange turn when Roquentin reads about the rape and murder of a girl named Lucienne. It seems to represent a thematic break with the discussion of temporality leading up to this point. The news of the rape and murder of Lucienne triggers a sort of panic attack in which Roquentin becomes sexually aroused, admits to a desire for rape, and gives details of the rape from the point of view of the rapist. Significantly, this desire, catches Roquentin "from behind": "A soft, criminal desire to rape catches me from behind ..." (N 101). Roquentin then flees, running through the streets of Bouville.
John Duncan explains this scene by way of the atemporal conception of consciousness that Sartre gives in Transcendence of the Ego. (15) Duncan suggests that we can understand the imagery of this scene as Roquentin's surprise and distress at the feeling of alienation that he has from his own thoughts:
If consciousness is pure, impersonal, non-substantial awareness of objects, it is free from the effects of objects ... Sartre illustrates the radical nature of this view in Nausea with his portrayal of the main character finding himself besieged by his own thoughts. In fact, they are not his own; they are born of impersonal consciousness, which seems to surprise him continuously "from behind," as it were. (16)
Duncan quotes from Transcendence of the Ego to further explain Roquentin's distress:
Thus each instant of our conscious life reveals to us a creation ex nihilo ... There is something distressing for each of us, to catch in the act this fireless creation ... of which we are not the creators. (17)
To be sure, Roquentin is surprised and overwhelmed by images and thoughts that take him from behind. However, the images and thoughts that catch Roquentin, and that seem to cling to him as he flees through the streets of Bouville, impose themselves upon him in a way that disconnected, external images, or purely imaginary images created ex nihilo, would not. Flee as he might, literally and figuratively, these thoughts and images obligate Roquentin to a particular existence because they are related to him in a way that external objects are not. Distress over the revelation of a "creation ex nihilo" cannot explain this sense of imposition or the obligation that Roquentin feels to these particular images.
Rhiannon Goldthorpe, in contrast, uses the analyses of consciousness from Being and Nothingness to explain Roquentin's strange reaction. Roquentin's actions are made predictable, according to Goldthorpe, by the pull of the in-itself and the primordial role that desire plays in consciousness. Goldthorpe interprets Roquentin's behavior by way of several overlapping Sartrean themes, as an "enactment of the relationship between facticity, spontaneity, passivity, desire, sexuality and death." (LN 169-70). In Goldthorpe's version, Roquentin is both passively fainting and actively fleeing his "sense of self and its facticity" (LN 171). But if Roquentin has chosen his facticity and has chosen to passively accept himself as body and desire, why and from what is he fleeing? Goldthorpe acknowledges the difficulty in explaining this scene in terms of flight:
Roquentin's flight from desire departs to some extent from the theoretical analysis of Being and Nothingness... Roquentin's experiences of flight ... remain ambiguous. (18)
If, however, we are receptive to the idea that this scene is meant to illustrate the temporality of existence, the image of Roquentin's flight is not ambiguous. Consider the imagery that Sartre uses in his discussion of the temporal nature of consciousness in Being and Nothingness. Sartre uses the imagery of flight to describe our relationship to the past:
My past is past in the world, belonging to the totality of past being, which I am, which I flee (BN 285).
The present is a perpetual flight in the face of being ... As for-itself it has its being outside of it, before and behind. Behind, it was its past; and before, it will be its future. It is a flight outside of co-present and from the being which it was toward the being which it will be (BN 179).
Consciousness is described as a flight from its past towards its future. Tim past is revealed to consciousness by way of this nihilating movement.
Roquentin's flight can thereby be understood as a flight from his past.
Similarly, and as suggested by Sartre's priere d'inserer, Sartre's use of the imagery of being taken "from behind" should also be understood by way of the descriptions of temporality in Being and Nothingness.
Upon hearing of the fate of Lucienne, Roquentin describes how desire and existence take him from behind. Note hove Sartre has Roquentin emphasize this formulation of being taken "from behind":
... existence takes my thoughts from behind and gently expands from behind; someone takes me from behind, they force me to think from behind, therefore to be something, behind me, ... "from behind" from behind from behind ... (N 102).
Sartre has Roquentin repeat the phrase "from behind" a total of 13 times in the space of a page and a half. This formulation is emphasized because of its very specific role in Sartre's analysis of temporality. A representative quote from Being and Nothingness:
It is not because I have a past that I thus carry my being behind me; rather the past is precisely and only that ontological structure which obliges me to be what I am from behind (BN 172). (19)
Sartre uses this imagery of being claimed from behind to describe our relation to the past. The specific and repeated use of this phrase signals that the ontological structure of the past (20) is operative in Roquentin's desire for rape and in his visions of rape.
The coincidence of temporal imagery between Nausea and Being and Nothingness does not end there. In the same journal entry, just before reading about Lucienne, Sartre has Roquentin formulate two conceptions of time that Sartre refers to, and argues against, in Being and Nothingness. Quoting Roquentin:
The true nature of the present revealed itself: it was what exists, and all that was not present did not exist. The past did not exist. Not at all. Not in things, not even in my thoughts. It is true that I had realized a long time ago that mine had escaped me. But until then I believed that it had simply gone out of my range. For me the past was only a pensioning off: it was another way of existing, a state of vacation and inaction; each event, when it had played its part, put itself politely into a box and became an honorary event ... Now I knew: things are entirely what they appear to be--and behind them ... there is nothing (N 96).
Originally, Roquentin thinks that the past exists, though in a state disconnected from the present and unable to affect the present. He describes the past as "a pensioning off" and "an honorary event." However, his estrangement from his own past, and his inability to resuscitate the past by way of his historical research, leads Roquentin to conclude that the past does not exist at all and that he is "forsaken in the present" (N 95). On the one hand we have the idea that the past exists but ineffectually isolated from the present and on the other hand we have the idea that the past does not exist at all.
Sartre makes the argument in Being and Nothingness, contra Roquentin, that both of these conceptions of the past are inadequate for the task of explaining the temporality of consciousness because they strand consciousness in an instantaneous present. Sartre says:
... if we begin by isolating man on the instantaneous island of his present, and if all his modes of being as soon as they appear are destined by nature to a perpetual present, we have radically removed all methods of understanding his original relation to the past. We shall not succeed in constituting the dimension 'past' out of elements borrowed exclusively from the present (BN 161).
Similarly, Sartre challenges the notion, as expressed by Roquentin, that "each event puts itself politely into a box and becomes an honorary event." In this case the past would exist but impotently disconnected from the present. For Sartre, this conception is no better than a non-existent past:
Popular consciousness has so much trouble in refusing a real existence to the past that alongside the thesis [that the past does not exist] it admits another conception equally imprecise, according to which the past would have a kind of honorary existence. Being past for an event would mean simply being retired, losing its efficacy without losing its being (BN 161).
Note that Sartre uses the same metaphor here that he has Roquentin use. In Nausea, the past is "pensioned off" to become an "honorary event" while in Being and Nothingness, the past is "retired" to become an "honorary existence." In both books, the same conceptions of time are described, in the same order, and using the same formulations. It seems, therefore, that Sartre is operating within the same conception of temporality in both books. (21)
But if Sartre did not agree with the conceptions of temporality that he has Roquentin articulate, it would be surprising if he had Roquentin articulate these erroneous notions without repudiating them in some way. In fact, what I am suggesting here is that Roquentin's reaction to the news of Lucieime's death is this repudiation. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre declares that an instantaneous conception of temporality cannot explain our "original relation to the past." Sartre then describes the ontological structure of temporal consciousness in which consciousness flees the past and in which the past obligates consciousness "from behind." In Nausea, rather than describing the temporality of consciousness directly, Sartre has Roquentin illustrate this ontological structure by way of his reaction to the news of Lucienne's murder. His past desire "catches" Roquentin "from behind" and he then flees from this past desire. Implicitly in Nausea, and explicitly in Being and Nothingness, instantaneity is repudiated. The instantaneity portrayed by Roquentin is repudiated to the extent that his past intrudes upon him, obligates him to a particular existence, and demands justification. Roquentin himself does not consciously articulate the conception of temporality that Sartre espouses in Being and Nothingness. Instead, the fictional technique used in Nausea, and in this passage in particular, exposes the distortions of time underlying Roquentin's descriptions of existence.
Sartre uses this imagery of being claimed "from behind" to describe our ontological relation to the past. The implication is that these images of rape that catch Roquentin "from behind" are images from his own past. With this in mind, consider again Roquentin's strange reaction to the news of Lucienne's rape and murder and his half-articulated confession: "I ... there I ... Raped. A soft criminal desire to rape catches me from behind" (N 101). The desire for rape that Roquentin admits to, and the details of the rape, are all fragments of his own past. This suggests, in other words, that Roquentin raped and murdered little Lucienne. (22)
When Gotdthorpe claims that this scene "has as its climax an intuition of the self as pure flesh," (23) one must keep in mind the role that the body plays for Sartre as the embodiment of one's past. Sartre makes the connection between the body, facticity, and the past clear in Being and Nothingness: "the body as facticity is the past" (BN 431). (24) The imagery of being taken "from behind" signals that the temporal nature of this "flesh" must be recognized. The body is facticity and it is the past. One's past does not simply exist externally, side by side, with consciousness in the instantaneous present. Rather, the past Clings to consciousness as body and obligates consciousness to a particular existence. Consciousness apprehends the contingency of this embodied existence as nausea (BN 445-6, 460). (25) This nausea "grabs you from behind and then one floats in a lukewarm pool of time." The point of this passage of the novel, therefore, is not just that contingent existence is engulfing Roquentin without his consent but that this contingent existence is his existence. This existence is structured by an internally negated past that clings to him and obliges him to a particular body and a particular past which Roquentin must continually surpass towards a future.
To conclude: The implicit theme of temporality in Nausea, and particularly the imagery of being taken "from behind," can only be understood by way of the analyses of temporality found in Being and Nothingness. The message of Nausea is that the idea of being an external spectator or witness to our past inaccurately characterizes our existential dilemma and deprives us of our freedom to transform the value of our past acts. Roquentin's challenge, and ours, is to justify and give meaning to existence, and to a past, that situates and internally qualifies who we are.
Beauvoir, Simone de (1962), The Prime of Life. New York: Penguin Books.
Clayton, Cam (2009), "Temporality and the Death of Lucienne in Nausea," in Sartre's Second Century eds. Roy Elveton and Benedict O'Donohoe. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.
Duncan, John (2005), "Sartre and Realism-All-the-Way-Down," in Sartre Today: A Centenary Celebration. Ed. Adrian Van Den Hoven and Andrew Leak. New York: Berghahn Books.
Goldthorpe, Rhiannon (1968), "Presentation of Consciousness in Sartre's La Nausee and its Theoretical Basis: Reflection and Facticity," French Studies 22.
--(1991), La Nausee. London: Unwin Critical Library.
Sartre, Jean-Paul (1955), Literary and Philosphical Essays. Trans. Annette Michelson. New York: Collier Books.
--(1957), The Transendence of the Ego. Trans. F. Williams and R. Kirkpatrick. New York: Noonday Press.
--(1964), Nausea. Trans. Lloyd Alexander. New York: New Directions.
--(1966), Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel Barnes. New York: Washington Square Press.
--(1981), Oeuvres Romanesques. Paris: Gallimard.
(1.) Jean-Paul Sartre, Oeuvres Romanesques (Paris: Gallimard 1981), 1695. Translation from Rhiannon Goldthorpe, La Nausee (London: Unwin Critical Library 1991), 48. This priere d'inserer is not found in the English translation used here.
(2.) Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, trans. Lloyd Alexander (New York: New Directions 1964), 101-102. (hereafter N)
(3.) "We talked a great deal about Katka and Faulkner when Sartre came to Paris for the Easter Holidays " Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life (New York: Penguin Books 1962), 187.
(4.) Jean-Paul Sartre, "Time in the Work of Faulkner" in Literary and Philosphical Essays, trans. Annette Michelson (New York: Collier Books 1955), 84-85.
(5.) "Time in the Work of Faulkner," 90. More specifically: "... for Proust salvation lies in time itself, in the full reappearance of the past. For Faulkner, on the contrary, the past is never lost, unfortunately; it is always there, it is an obsession ... But for Faulkner, as for Proust, time is, above all, that which separates," 88-9.
(6.) Jean-Paul Sartre, "Camus' The Outsider" in Literary and Philosphical Essays, 41.
(7.) Jean-Paul Sartre, The Transendence of the Ego trans. F. Williams and R. Kirkpatrick (New York: Noonday Press 1957), 98-99; hereafter TE.
(8.) Jean-Paul Sartre, "Time in the Work of Faulkner," 91-92.
(9.) Jean-Paul Sartre, "John Dos Passos and 1919" in Literary and Philosphical Essays, 98.
(10.) Rhiannon Goldthorpe, La Nausee (London: Unwin Critical Library 1991), 126; hereafter LN.
(11.) Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel Barnes (New York: Washington Square Press, 1966), 279; hereafter BN.
(12.) Jean-Paul Sartre, "Time in the Work of Faulkner," 90.
(13.) Translation altered. I have used "melancholy" as the translation for melancolie instead of "nostalgia."
(14.) Jean-Paul Sartre, "Camus' The Outsider," 40.
(15.) John Duncan "Sartre and Realism-All-the-Way-Down," Sartre Today: A Centenary Celebration, ed. Adrian Van Den Hoven and Andrew Leak (New York: Bergahn Books 2005)
(16.) "Sartre and Realism," 98.
(17.) Jean-Paul Sartre, as quoted in "Sartre and Realism," 98.
(18.) Rhiannon Goldthorpe "Presentation of Consciousness in Sartre's La Nausee and its Theoretical Basis: Reflection and Facticity," French Studies 22 (1968): 130.
(19.) Another example: "The past is given as a for-itself become in-itself ... It has become what it was--behind me." BN 174.
(20.) "The Past is an ontological law of the for-itself; that is, everything which can be a for-itself must be back there behind itself" (BN 175).
(21.) The two misconceptions of temporality espoused by Roquentin reflect the development in Sartre's own thinking. While in The Transcendence of the Ego the past is refused a real existence, in The Imaginary the past has gone into "retirement": "Pierre's handshake when leaving me yesterday evening did not undergo a modification of irreality while flowing into the past: it simply went into retirement." Sartre, Jean Paul The Imaginary: A phenomenological psychology of the imagination trans. J. Webber (London: Routledge 2004), 181.
(22.) I further explore this possibility in: "Temporality and the Death of Lucienne in Nausea," in Second Century eds. Roy Elveton and Benedict O'Donohoe (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009). Some sections of that paper are included here.
(23.) Goldthorpe "Presentation of Consciousness in Sartre's La Nausee and its Theoretical Basis: Reflection and Facticity," 117.
(24.) See also: "'Facticity' and 'Past' are two words to indicate one and the same thing. The Past, in fact, like Facticity, is the invulnerable contingency of the in-itself which I have to be, without any possibility of not being it" (BN 173).
CAM CLAYTON is a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph. He has also published a chapter on Sartre entitled "Temporality and the Death of Lucienne in Nausea," in Sartre's, Second Century (forthcoming).…