Combatting Nausea

Sartre wrote “Hell is other people” and I must say I agree with him. The line appears in his play No Exit, and no, I didn’t know that, unfortunately, before looking it up. I once tried to read Nausea and failed. The attempt lasted a few pages and I think I explained the experience by saying that Sartre was overrated, and perhaps he is, but that doesn’t mean I was right at the time. At the time I was looking for something that those few pages didn’t deliver for me. Some sort of respite. Fine writing and a passable story – which is usually the order in which the features of a literary work appeal to me, and it’s upside down, of course, but there you go – were what I was looking for. Perhaps looking for something I had already read, or roughly similar, with the characters named differently and maybe the action taking place in Kent rather than Derbyshire, but the same general template of a novel nevertheless. We all do this sometimes, and some people have real trouble finding a new book to read, following their angst-filled moment of finishing the book before, as they liked the world they were in, in an imaginative sense, and don’t want to leave and don’t feel confident that the next world will be as good. Normally I’m pleased to finish whatever I have been reading, as it strokes my ego, in a rather pathetic reinforcement of the idea that I can read and understand writing in English, sometimes even by intelligent writers who have interesting and occasionally complex ideas. But on this occasion a comforting escape was what was looked for, and as a sub-ambition, the hope of finding, or ‘discovering’ a famous author for myself and realising that I really enjoyed reading that author. But it wasn’t to be. Philosophically laden ideas didn’t appeal and were never likely to, in that mood, and perhaps I was too young, or something, anyway, and so Sartre, a great thinker and a towering intellectual figure was dismissed, by me, as a bit of a wanker. Perhaps he was a wanker. And perhaps I was a wanker too, for dismissing his entire oeuvre on such flimsy evidence, and basing that decision on my mood which was temporarily a bit black.

But it’s a good line, and while it doesn’t often appear in my mind, until after the event anyway, the thought that often does occur goes something like: I wish all of these people would just shut up or go away or this experience would be improved if all of these people weren’t here. It’s like when you go to a foreign country and you keep encountering Australians and they wreck the experience by being too familiar when what you wanted was exotic, and the type of familiar that they represent is a type you were quite pleased to have left behind for a while. You’re in a temple somewhere, and it’s cool and quiet, and then the loud voices talking about the cost of beer fill the room, and you just wonder why – why – and wish it wasn’t happening and think of how you can get out before they notice you’re one of them, or can you hide in the corner before they head back outside to their tour bus? Imagine if life was like that all the time. If the presence of other people made you feel like the preciousness and privacy of a moment, of all moments, was sullied and threatened.

It doesn’t happen all the time, of course. It happens sometimes though. Quite often, in fact. And the intensity of the feeling can vary, but when it is intense even the prospect of other people being around, or the prospect of having to be sociable in a situation where society isn’t what you were hoping for, can manifest itself in a kind of sickness. It can contribute to feelings of depression. It can also be something to be overcome and a good time in the company of others can be had by all – principally because that company will often fortify the cynical view that all people are worthless and deserve contempt but individuals are the exception (despite the fact that individuals are part of the contemptible group – it’s a paradox, man), and that basically means that spending time with your people is never a bad thing, unless you really are having trouble hauling your shy unwilling arse out from under the sheets and rising to the challenge of leaving the house.

What does all this mean? Not much. Years ago a fortune told me some things based on how I cut a pack of cards and a few other things. She was psychic, or intuitive, and she spoke sense when she said that when I come home from being out, pretty much anywhere, I need to “deprogram”, I think that’s what she called it, meaning to relax and turn off the social façade which we all need in public, but which some of us can find a trial to keep on sometimes. She said she needed to do the same thing. I love being in my pyjamas, which 1) means I’m about 107 years old, and 2) means I crave the security of being away from society and calmly happy on my side of the front door.

Sartre should be one of the people on my To Read list. All of Shakespeare and all of the King James version of The Bible are on that list, among many other things.

Enough. It was good to write in a room with only the cat for company, but he wants to be fed now.

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Published in: on January 23, 2013 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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