Sunday, June 19, 2005

Childrens' Philosophy


Image Source (CC 2.0): Daveybot / Dave Morris.

Excerpt from 'Nausea' by Jean-Paul Sartre:

I can't say that I feel relieved or happy: on the contrary, I feel crushed. Only I have achieved my aim: I know what I wanted to know; I have understood everything that has happened to me since January. The Nausea hasn't left me and I don't believe it will leave me for quite a while; but I am no longer putting up with it, it is no longer an illness or a passing fit: it is me.

I was in the municipal park just now. The root of the chestnut tree plunged into the ground just underneath my bench, I no longer remembered that it was a root. Words had disappeared, and with them the meaning of things, the methods of using them, the feeble landmarks which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, slightly bent, my head bowed, alone in front of that black, knotty mass, which was utterly crude and frightened me. And then I had this revelation.

It took my breath away. Never until these last few days, had I suspected what it meant to 'exist'. I was like the others, like those who walk along the sea-shore in their spring clothes. I used to say like them: 'The sea is green; that white speck up there is a seagull', but I didn't feel that it existed, that the seagull was an 'existing seagull'; usually existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can't say a couple of words without speaking of it, but finally you can't touch it. When I believed I was thinking about it, I suppose that I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word 'to be'. Or else I was thinking ... how can I put it? I was thinking appurtenances, I was saying to myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that green formed part of the sea's qualities. Even when I looked at things, I was miles from thinking that they existed: they looked like stage scenery to me. I picked them up in my hands, they served me as tools, I foresaw their resistance. But all that happened on the surface. If anybody had asked me what existence was, I should have replied in good faith that it was nothing, just an empty form which added itself to external things, without changing anything in their nature. And then, all of a sudden, there it was, as clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost its harmless appearance as an abstract category: it was the very stuff of things, that root was steeped in existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass on the lawn, all that had vanished; the diversity of things, their individuality, was only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft monstrous masses, in disorder naked with a frightening, obscene nakedness.

I took care not to make the slightest movement, but I didn't need to move in order to see, behind the trees, the blue columns and the lamp-post of the bandstand, and the Velleda in the middle of a clump of laurel bushes. All those objects ... how can I explain? They embarrassed me; I would have liked them to exist less strongly, in a drier way, more abstract way, with more reserve. The chestnut tree pressed itself against my eyes. Green rust covered it half way up; the bark, black and blistered, looked like boiled leather. The soft sound of the water in the Masqueret Fountain flowed into my ears and made a nest there, filling them with sighs; my nostrils overflowed with a green, putrid smell. All things, gently, tenderly were letting themselves drift into existence like those weary women who abandon themselves to laughter and say: 'It does you good to laugh', in tearful voices; they were parading themselves in front of one another, they were abjectly admitting to one another the fact of their existence. I realised that there was no half-way house between non-existence and this rapturous abundance. If you existed, you had to exist to that extent, to the point of mildew, blisters, obscenity. In another world, circles and melodies kept their pure and rigid lines.

But existence is a curve. Trees, midnight-blue pillars, the happy bubbling of a fountain, living smells, wisps of heat haze floating in the cold air, a red-haired main digesting on a bench: all these somnolences, all these digestions taken together had a vaguely comic side. No: it didn't go as far as that, nothing that exists can be comic; it was like a vague, almost imperceptible analogy with certain vaudeville situations. We were a heap of existents inconvenienced, embarrassed by ourselves, we hadn't the slightest reason for being there, any of us, each existent, embarrassed, vaguely ill at ease, felt superfluous in relation to the others. Superfluous: that was the only connection I could establish between those trees, those gates, those pebbles. It was in vain that I tried to count the chestnut trees, to situate them in relation to the Velleda, to compare their height with the height of the plane trees: each of them escaped from the relationship in which I tried to enclose it, isolated itself, overflowed. I was aware of the arbitrary nature of these relationships, which I insisted on maintaining in order to delay the collapse of the human world of measures, of quantities, of bearings; they no longer had any grip on things.


What I yesterday overheard a child say:

"Hello chair."


4 Comments:

Anonymous Mark Wallace said...

And what did the chair say?

Sat. Jun. 25, 07:40:00 am AEST  
Blogger Neal Stewart said...

"Mention my name and you'll get a good seat."

Wed. Jun. 29, 11:22:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Thanks!

Tue. Oct. 18, 10:17:00 pm AEST  
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