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By Justine Johnson - Posted on 03 January 2011

 she got past me but i'm still wishing

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dbanach's picture

From Sartre's Nausea


This root—there was nothing in relation to which it was absurd. Oh, how can I put it in words?

Absurd: in relation to the stones, the tufts of yellow grass, the dry mud, the tree, the sky, the green

benches. Absurd, irreducible; nothing—not even a profound, secret upheaval of nature—could

explain it. Evidently I did not know everything, I had not seen the seeds sprout, or the tree grow. But

faced with this great wrinkled paw, neither ignorance nor knowledge was important: the world of

explanations and reasons is not the world of existence. A circle is not absurd, it is clearly explained by

the rotation of a straight segment around one of its extremities. But neither does a circle exist. This

root, on the other hand, existed in such a way that I could not explain it. Knotty, inert, nameless, it

fascinated me, filled my eyes, brought me back unceasingly to its own existence. In vain to repeat:

"This is a root"—it didn't work any more. I saw clearly that you could not pass from its function as a

root, as a breathing pump, to that, to this hard and compact skin of a sea lion, to this oily, callous,

headstrong look. The function explained nothing: it allowed you to understand generally that it was a

root, but not that one at all. This root, with its colour, shape, its congealed movement, was . . . below

all explanation. Each of its qualities escaped it a little, flowed out

of it, half solidified, almost became a thing; each one was In the way in the root and the whole stump

now gave me the impression of unwinding itself a little, denying its existence to lose itself in a

frenzied excess. 

. . .

But as soon as you held on to them for an instant, this feeling of comfort and security gave

way to a deep uneasiness: colours, tastes, and smells were never real, never themselves and nothing but

themselves. The simplest, most indefinable quality had too much content, in relation to itself, in its

heart. That black against my foot, it didn't look like black, but rather the confused effort to imagine

black by someone who had never seen black and who wouldn't know how to stop, who would have

imagined an ambiguous being beyond colours. It looked like a colour, but also . . . like a bruise or a

secretion, like an oozing—and something

else, an odour, for example, it melted into the odour of wet earth, warm, moist wood, into a black

odour that spread like varnish over this sensitive wood, in a flavour of chewed, sweet fibre. I did not

simply see this black: sight is an abstract invention, a simplified idea, one of man's ideas. That black,

amorphous, weakly presence, far surpassed sight, smell and taste. But this richness was lost in

confusion and finally was no more because it was too much.

This moment was extraordinary. I was there, motionless and icy, plunged in a horrible ecstasy.

But something fresh had just appeared in the very heart of this ecstasy; I understood the Nausea, I

possessed it. To tell the truth, I did not formulate my discoveries to myself. But I think it would be

easy for me to put them in words now. The essential thing is contingency. I mean that one cannot

define existence as necessity. To exist is simply to be there; those who exist let themselves be

encountered, but you can never deduce anything from them. I believe there are people who have

understood this. Only they tried to overcome this contingency by inventing a necessary, causal being.

But no necessary being can explain existence: contingency is not a delusion, a probability which can

be dissipated; it is the absolute, consequently, the perfect free gift. All is free, this park, this city and

myself. When you realize that, it turns your heart upside down and everything begins to float . . .


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