The best way I can describe it is as a headache from an endless mind loop. Imagine thoughts going around and around like a mouse on a wheel, all in your head. What’s the purpose of life if we live to die? On and on, it would make anyone dizzy and eventually lead to nausea.
Nausea (French: La Nausée) is a philosophical novel by the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, published in 1938. It is Sartre’s first novel and, in his own opinion, one of his best works.
The novel takes place in ‘Bouville’ (homophone of Boue-ville, literally, ‘Mud town’) a town similar to Le Havre, and it concerns a dejected historian, who becomes convinced that inanimate objects and situations encroach on his ability to define himself, on his intellectual and spiritual freedom, evoking in the protagonist a sense of nausea.
The protagonist of the novel, Antoine Roquentin, is a former adventurer who has been living in Bouville for three years. Antoine does not keep in touch with family, and has no friends. He is a loner at heart and often resigns himself to eavesdropping on other people’s conversations and examining their actions, while not being willing or able to partake in them. He settles in the fictional French seaport town of Bouville to finish his research on the life of an 18th-century political figure. But during the winter of 1932 a “sweetish sickness,” as he calls nausea, increasingly impinges on almost everything he does or enjoys: his research project, the company of an autodidact who is reading all the books in the local library alphabetically, a physical relationship with a café owner named Françoise, his memories of Anny, an English girl he once loved, even his own hands and the beauty of nature.
Even though he at times admits to trying to find some sort of solace in the presence of others, he also exhibits signs of boredom and lack of interest when interacting with people. His relationship with Françoise is mostly hygienic in nature, for the two hardly exchange words and, when invited by the Self-Taught Man to accompany him for lunch, he agrees only to write in his diary later that: “I had as much desire to eat with him as I had to hang myself.” He can afford not to work, but spends a lot of his time writing a book about a French politician of the eighteenth century. Antoine does not think highly of himself: “The faces of others have some sense, some direction. Not mine. I cannot even decide whether it is handsome or ugly. I think it is ugly because I have been told so.” When he starts suffering from the Nausea he feels the need to talk to Anny, but when he finally does, it makes no difference to his condition. He eventually starts to think he does not even exist: “My existence was beginning to cause me some concern. Was I a mere figment of the imagination?”
Anny is an English woman who was once Antoine’s lover. After meeting with him, Anny makes it clear that she has changed a considerable amount and must go on with her life. Antoine clings to the past, hoping that she may want to redefine their relationship, but he is ultimately rejected by her.
Ogier P., generally referred to as “the self-taught man” or the Autodidact, is an acquaintance of Antoine’s. He is a bailiff’s clerk who lives for the pursuit of knowledge and love of humanity, which inspires in Roquentin much criticism and mockery, although he develops a strange compassion for him. Highly disciplined, he has spent hundreds of hours reading at the local library. He often speaks to Roquentin and confides in him that he is a socialist. At the end of the novel he is revealed to be a pedophile.
From the psychological point of view, Antoine Roquentin could be seen as an individual suffering from depression, and the Nausea itself as one of the symptoms of his condition. Unemployed, living in deprived conditions, lacking human contact, being trapped in fantasies about the 18th century secret agent he is writing a book about.
Sartre views absurdity as a quality of all existing objects (and of the material world collectively), independent of any stance humans might take with respect to them. Our consciousness of an object does not inhere in the object itself. Thus in the early portions of the novel, Roquentin, who takes no attitude towards objects and has no stake in them, is totally estranged from the world he experiences. The objects themselves, in their brute existence, have only participation in a meaningless flow of events: they are superfluous. This alienation from objects casts doubt for him, in turn, on his own validity and even his own existence.
Roquentin says of physical objects that, for them, “to exist is simply to be there.” When he has the revelation at the chestnut tree, this “fundamental absurdity” of the world does not go away. What changes then is his attitude. By recognizing that objects won’t supply meaning in themselves, but people must supply it for them – that Roquentin himself must create meaning in his own life – he becomes both responsible and free. The absurdity becomes, for him, “the key to existence.”
In his essay What Is Literature?, Sartre wrote, “On the one hand, the literary object has no substance but the reader’s subjectivity … But, on the other hand, the words are there like traps to arouse our feelings and to reflect them towards us … Thus, the writer appeals to the reader’s freedom to collaborate in the production of the work.”
Definition of absurd
(Entry 1 of 2)
1: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous
an absurd argument
: extremely silly or ridiculous
2: having no rational or orderly relationship to human life : MEANINGLESS
an absurd universe
also: lacking order or value
an absurd existence
3: dealing with the absurd (see ABSURD entry 2) or with absurdism
Definition of absurd (Entry 2 of 2)
: the state or condition in which human beings exist in an irrational and meaningless universe and in which human life has no ultimate meaning —usually used with the
the theater of the absurd.
Other Words from absurd
Synonyms & Antonyms for absurd
bizarre, crazy, fanciful, fantastic (also fantastical), foolish, insane, nonsensical, preposterous, unreal, wild
Visit the Thesaurus for More
Choose the Right Synonym for absurd
ABSURD, FOOLISH, and SILLY mean not showing good sense. ABSURD is used when something is not in keeping with common sense, good reasoning, or accepted ideas. The notion that horses can talk is absurd. FOOLISH is used when something is not thought of by others as wise or sensible. You would be foolish to invest your money in that. SILLY is used when something makes no sense and has no purpose. They had a silly argument over who ate the most.
Making Sense of Absurd
Absurd contains the rarer related adjective surd, which, like absurd, derives from the Latin surdus (“deaf, silent, stupid”).
Surd can mean “lacking sense or irrational,” much like absurd:
While the grandparents might scratch their heads at the Star Wars references, the actors and perhaps some younger parents likely delighted in manic, jumbled and surd structure of the play.
–Patrick Clement, Kiowa County Signal (Greensburg, Kansas), 23 Jan. 2013
Absurd, however, stresses a lack of logical sense or harmonious agreement, of parts (such as a premise and a conclusion) not fitting together. In philosophy, it describes the problem of trying to distill meaning from one’s experiences. In A Discourse on Novelty and Creation (1975), Carl R. Hausman writes, “There is an incongruity, an inconsistency, a conflict with a context that appears as lawful, orderly experience. As [Albert] Camus points out, absurdity ‘springs from a comparison,’ a comparison between two aspects of reality which seem to be out of harmony.”
Examples of absurd in a Sentence
In an era when federal judges issue rulings that in their impact often rival the lawmaking of any legislature in the land, it is increasingly absurd that their proceedings should remain off-limits to the same wider public scrutiny that news cameras have brought to courts in 48 states.
— Editor & Publisher, 14 July 2003
By the time Showalter was fired one day after the end of last season, the stories of how he carried his attention to detail to absurd lengths—including his insistence that the A on the players’ socks be completely visible—had been well circulated.
— Phil Taylor, Sports Illustrated, 30 July 2001
This criticism, patently absurd to anyone who has read even a handful of Updike’s more than 40 books, nevertheless has been made so often that it is worth Pritchard’s long rebuttal.
— Jonathan Wilson, New York Times Book Review, 24 Sept. 2000
Yet from time to time, virtually every parent falls back on threats, often absurd ones that leave Mom and Dad feeling foolish and the problem unresolved.
— Dorothy Foltz-Gray, Parenting, December/January 1996
The charges against him are obviously absurd.
absurd claims of having been abducted by UFO’s