Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Great Ghastly

I don't know why Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea is so unpopular. Bulemics could love it, but without unpopularity, it could not exist at all, except perhaps on the shelves of a few irrelevant academics who find it more approachable than Being and Nothingness. Without pretension, there would be no book, or at most, it could only be as little more than a long and unsatisfactory shaggy dog story. Camus, or Ca-moooo as we call him in dairy country, is the only existentialist read by liberated coeds at the University of Wyoming, in my experience. He had currency. Or rather his publishers did. He failed to exist in 1960, and my correspondent was reading him in 1964. I wonder if he was buried in a hollow tree. Apologies to the artist who pretends that Dorothy Gale was shocked, shocked by Sartre. I don't remember where I found the image, but it strikes me as funny. Mikhail Bulgakov was a thousand times more interesting than Sartre, but I suspect him of mummery as well. The only thing that ever nauseated me about Sartre (aside from his reputation and his companions) was listening to a German physicist demonstrating how to gargle a French R, like Edith Piaf. I understand weariness, and being dead beat: Clarity is tiresome. As I recall "Sartre" is pronounced like the first syllables of "sardine" and "gravel." Americans say "Star Trek" without the first T or last K. Whatever. Sartre makes me tired. If it weren't for Sartre I could rattle off my Castilian R's like a gatling gun. Immiscible phonemes.

You'd think that niche could have been occupied by the promiscuous Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre's death-eating smizmar — in Chantal (1979), she described an unwed friend's 90 day old fetus as "rot" growing in the womb — but so far as I can tell, her effect on American culture was to insist, as a good intellectual Marxist, on the historically redemptive value of good intellectual Marxist labor. She must have been absolutely seminal because at 636 pages Being and Nothingness is HUGE; not to mention, in an interview granted in the Seventies, de Beauvoir denied having any effect at all on women, except maybe Betty Friedan. De Beauvoir failed to exist ten years later. Tres chic!

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