Category Archives: Sartre

Revelations

The first light to come on was that of the Caillebotte lighthouse; a little boy stopped near me and murmured ecstatically: ‘Oh, the lighthouse!’
Then I felt my heart swell with a great feeling of adventure.
[…]

I am alone, most people have gone home, they are reading the evening paper and listening to the wireless. This Sunday which is drawing to a close has left them with a taste of ashes and already their thoughts are turning towards Monday. But for me there is neither Monday nor Sunday: there are days which push one another along in disorder, and then, all of a sudden, revelations like this.

Nothing has changed and yet everything exists in a different way. I can’t describe it; it’s like the Nausea and yet it’s just the opposite: at last an adventure is happening to me and when I question myself I see that it happens that I am myself and that I am here: it is I who am piercing the darkness, I am as a happy as the hero of a novel.

– Sartre, Nausea (tr. Baldick)

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A fresh upheaval

If I am not mistaken, and if all the signs which are piling up are indications of a fresh upheaval in my life, well then, I am frightened. It isn’t that my life is rich or weighty or precious, but I’m afraid of what is going to be born and take hold of me and carry me off – I wonder where? Shall I have to go away again, leaving everything behind – my research, my book? 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.

– Sartre, Nausea (tr. Baldick)

The Noble Prize

In the obituaries respectfully delivered to mark his passing, the great works of the age have often been mentioned, Proust, Joyce, Musil and even Kafka, these finished-unfinished works, which nevertheless retain, in what one can barely call their failure, ‘a form of appearance of truth’, including, most of all, a concern to glorify, if not the author, then at least art itself by pushing traditional literature (even if one then calls it modern) to its furthest limit. But compare Sartre and Beckett, both having to contend with the false glory of the Nobel Prize for literature. This prize that, nobly, Sartre refused, one might say he did everything possible to be awarded it by the very act of writing Words, a book which, he believed, by the sublime power of its rhetoric, would henceforth make it impossible to hope for a finer work. The dream is a touching but childish one (entirely in keeping with Sartre’s own child-like nature). And the punishment for having wanted to write (and publish) a necessarily glorious text followed immediately, in the form of the award of the Nobel Prize, from which he derived additional glory by rejecting it. Nothing of the sort happened to Beckett: he had neither to accept nor refuse a prize that was for no particular work (there is no work in Beckett) but was simply an attempt to keep within the limits of literature that voice or rumble or murmur which is always under the threat of silence, ‘that undifferentiated speech, spaced without space, affirming beneath all affirmation, impossible to negate, too weak to be silenced, too docile to be constrained, not saying anything, only speaking, speaking without life, without voice, in a voice fainter than any voice: living among the dead, dead among the living, calling to die, to be resurrected in order to die, calling without call’ (and I quote — to end — these lines from Awaiting Oblivion because Beckett was willing to recognize himself in that text).

— Blanchot, ‘Oh All To End’ (trans. L. Hill)

In the café

I paid. Madeleine took away my saucer. My glass crushes a puddle of beer, with a bubble floating in it, against the marble top. The bench is broken just where I am sitting, and to avoid slipping I am forced to press the soles of my shoes hard against the floor; it is cold. On the right, they are playing cards on a woollen cloth. I didn’t see them when I came in; I simply sensed that there was a warm packet, half on the bench, half on the table at the back, with some pairs of arms waving about. Since then, Madeleine has brought them cards, the cloth, and the chips in a wooden bowl. There are three or four of them, I don’t know how many, I haven’t the courage to look at them. There’s a spring inside me that’s broken: I can move my eyes but not my head. The head is all soft and elastic, as if it had just been balanced on my neck; if I turn it, it will fall off. All the same, I can hear a short breath and now and then, out of the corner of my eye, I can see a reddish flash covered with white hairs. It is a hand.

— Sartre, Nausea (trans. R. Baldick)