some onanistic notes on nausea (drunk post)

This is not an attempt at “review”. It is just, as this blog’s subtitle states, a mess of morbid self-attention. Also: I’m drunk, having gone to lunch, and met this lonely middle-aged English guy spilling over with enthusiasm for the New Year who kept buying me beer. I am drunk, in the middle of the day, and posting about Sartre, for the New Year. This should wind up sufficiently embarrassing. Later, there could be desperate deletion.

I won’t presume to subject Sartre to my natural half-assed mixture of criticism and shallow analysis, but I recently had a whim to reread Nausea, based on some vague memory I had of its commentary on travel and my own constant inability to answer when anyone asks me what the hell I think I’m doing over here. I cannot answer why.

And I don’t know how to respond to the people who label my coming here an “adventure.” These are often the same who call my going to Alaska “adventure.” Alaska, where I stand at length, and sleep when I can, and rarely leave the confines of a 5×20 block town. I do not have adventures, I just go to someplace different, slightly or violently, from the one I come from, and there I live for a time, and hope for new images, and it means nothing aside from, sometimes, discipline.

So I read books, thinking they’ll give me insight to myself, and become That Guy, in the cafe, reading existential novels, thankfully not quite as bad as That Girl, over there, who has finished her meal and sips tepid water while holding aloft a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Thank you, That Girl, for giving me the opportunity to judge you, and in doing so direct some of this natural harshness away from myself.

In Nausea, Antoine Roquentin has resettled in France after a long period of travel abroad. For three years he’s remained in one place, working on a historical biography, living a largely solitary life devoid of family or close friends. An acquaintance asks to see photographs and etc. from his travels, and his begrudging agreement causes Antoine to consider at length his memories of that time in his life

My memories are like coins in the devil’s purse: when you open it, you find only dead leaves.

As for the square at Meknes, where I used to go every day, it’s even simpler: I do not see it at all anymore. All that remains is the vague feeling that it was charming, and these five words are indivisibly bound together: a charming square in Meknes. Undoubtedly, if I lose my eyes or stare vaguely at the ceiling I can re-create the scene: a tree in the distance, a short dingy figure run towards me. But I am inventing all of this to make out a case. The Moroccan was big and weather-beaten, besides, I only saw him after he had touched me. So I still know he was big and weather-beaten: certain details, somewhat curtailed, live in my memory. But I don’t see anything anymore: I can search the past in vain, I can only find these scraps of images and I am not sure what they represent, whether they are memories or just fiction.

There are many cases where even these scraps have disappeared: nothing is left but words: I could still tell stories, tell them too well… but these are only the skeletons… New images are born in me, images such as people create from books who have never traveled. My words are dreams, that is all.

My memory is not strong; my short life has been lived with too much easy information. I record things, every day, writing down the events and images as they come to no end except to feed the compulsion to keep writing. Later, when I return to things I wrote, I sometimes don’t remember them. Often they are at odds with the idea I have formed of myself during stage X of my life, or they take the precision, the continuity of my feelings toward Y and render them bloated, messy. Did it matter that I forgot? Is it any help, now, to remember?

How do these experiences, that seem to belong to another person, shape me?

Sometimes, when writing only for myself, I feel an impulse to lie, to twist, to fix the event in a different light, because in the end what I write will be my memory, and even if I strain to render things perfectly factual I am still a slave to my focus, my little obsessions, my point of view anyway. I am intrigued by the idea of self as the shape of memories made willfully false, but then I think: I will never forget that I changed this, or that, the deliberation will fix the reality in my actual memory. Unless it doesn’t; unless I did; and then I didn’t.

The existence of the impulse is enough to make me wonder.

Anyway, if memory is reduced to words that don’t resonate with experience you’re shaping nothing and it’s all just a silly whim, right? Like this blog post.

(Hey kids, remember Dark City? Remember the end, when Our Hero tells the Space Goth that with all this memory-monkeying nonsense he was forgetting about one important thing that makes us human, and then indicates the heart? Yean, I got a little pissed that they resorted to that instead of trying to articulate an actual idea, too.)

This is what I thought: for the most banal event to become an adventure, you must (and this is enough) begin to recount it. This is what fools people: a man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own live as if he were telling a story.

Nothing happens while you live. The scenery changes, people come in and go out, that’s all. There are no beginnings. Days are tacked on to days without rhyme or reason, an interminable. monotonous addition…

That’s living. But everything changes when you tell people about it; it’s a change no one notices: the proof is that people talk about true stories. As if there could possibly be true stories; things happen one way and we tell about them in the opposite sense. You seem to start at the beginning: “It was a fine autumn evening in 1922. I was a notary clerk in Marommes.” And in reality, you have started at the end.

I wanted the moments of my life to follow and order themselves like those of a life remembered. you might as well try and catch time by the tail.

Maybe if I got over my impulse to tell stories people would lay off about “adventure”.

I come here, I experience this different space, this different culture, but I am stubbornly in all things myself.


So: Sartre is just using the past experience of travel as a means to explore memories, and I probably wanted to go back to it because I’m obsessed with memory, and the application and limits thereof, especially as related to narrative.

I had forgotten, somehow,the conclusion, with its uncomfortable echoes of Proust, and here I am myself, with my uncomfortable echoes of both.

I am done.


~ by ironcupshrug on 12/30/2009.

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