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sartre, kerouac, burroughs


sort of Sartre – foto by Smith

I first read Sartre’s Nausea 42 years ago because that’s what young outlaw intellectuals did. Didn’t much care for it but loved that I’d bagged it for my trophy wall.

Couple months ago I began rereading it because I could not remember one single thing about it except that it was supposed to be important. At first I was enchanted — it’s decent writing and this time I finally understood what he was writing about the nausea of daily life. But a third of the way through I began to tire of his eternal crying over the nothingness he calls being alive — the book is essentially a 178 page repetitive whine.

So I moved it to the bathroom and read a few pages every day. Found I started dreading opening the book even for a paragraph. But I finally almost finished the fluxer — I say almost because with 12 pages left, I accidentally left it at the Soap Opera Laundromat. When I got home and discovered I’d left it behind, my first impulse was to drive back over hoping to recover it because it’s a $13 book, but then I thought why – it’s a pain to read, Lady decided it wasn’t for her, and I definitely wouldn’t loan it to anyone because I don’t loan books I don’t like. So I decided to leave it lost, allowing someone who may need or enjoy it to find it for free.

Just like my recent reread of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, I found Nausea to be another Emperor’s classic without any clothes — there’s no there there. On the other hand I recently reread William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and while it’s still just as nasty and unpleasant as I found it 40 years ago, it still zings with originality and power whereas On the Road came across as sad and shallow, less cool than desperate.

The theme of Nausea can summed up in this one line from page 133 – “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance”.

This is a true statement, but Sartre uses it as his end point while I’ve found it is but our starting point — life does frequently suck and make no sense, so deal with it. . . instead of whining whining whining and crying crying crying about the stark dark of it all, make yourself a life that fits you, benefits you, brings you joy.

Life doesn’t have to give you gifts – life IS the gift — it’s your unwrapping of it that makes or breaks it.

Now I go on to reread Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I didn’t care for it the first time back in the early 1970’s, but this is a new translation and I’m tired of reading how great a novel it is, especially since I can’t remember word one of it, so I’m going to reread it now that I more or less have a better grasp of the complexities we call life, love, crime, literature.

I expect it’ll be my bathroom book for awhile.

PS – I may be wrong, turns out Crime and Punishment is a decent read so far.


no lub – foto by Smith

12 Responses to “sartre, kerouac, burroughs”

  1. Jack McGuane says:

    You are the first one I’ve met who agrees with me that “On The Road” is a pile of trash. “Less cool than desperate” good catch.

  2. e b bortz says:

    After reading “On the Road” it led me to “Desolation Angels” which I found to be a great experience…I loaned it out and now have been missing it for years…time to buy another one.

  3. smith says:

    e.b. – i’ve read maybe 6 kerouac, and like them all. actually like on the road but it’s not a celebration of coolness but rather a dark description of desperation.

    jack – when i read it at 17 it changed my life because from that point on i wanted to go to mexico and i wanted to smoke grass. took me 4 years to find grass and 44 years to get to mexico.

  4. ke says:

    SB: If you ever get a chance (if you haven’t already) read ‘Nickel Mountain’ or October Light’ by John Gardner. Let me know what you think…

  5. ke says:

    Also, Woody Guthrie wrote some great stuff ’bout bein’ ‘on the road’…

  6. Jack McGuane says:

    I always thought Blue Highways was a real road book (William Least-Heat Moon). I has substance and insight that Kerouac never touched. When you’re driving drunk and stoned you miss a lot.

  7. ke says:

    Jack : Loved that book! I’d forgotten all about it. Kinda like rediscoverin’ Pearls Before Swine’s ‘Balaklava’ starting out with trumpeter Nancy (?) one of the surviving members of the Charge of the Light Brigade…

  8. chris/ runewarrior says:

    So far I’m not a big fan of Kerouac either. My son read on the road for his class this semester and was bored.
    But I’m open to seeing if anything else is better.

  9. Jesus Crisis says:

    When I first read On the Road, I thought, “Is that all there is?” and wondered what the big deal was about. I found Kerouac’s Visions of Gerard, about his dead brother, a much more satisfying read.

    There are very few classics I’ve liked as much or more the second time around. They include Orwell’s 1984, John Barth’s The End of the Road, Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

    Dostoevsky may be my favorite writer – but I found Crime and Punishment to be, though still a good book, the work by him I enjoyed reading least and would least likely want to read again.

  10. smith says:

    i’ve read a lot of good kerouac like the subterranians and sartori in paris. on the road was important to me when i was 17 because it made me want to go to mexico and smoke dope. took me 4 years to find dope, and 42 years to reach mexico.

    the great gastby impressed me when i first read it but when i reread it a couple years ago i was left unsatisfied.

    i read all of john barth at one point, although i think at the time that meant only 3 novels. love 1984 in all its permutations

  11. lucya says:

    Thank you for your honesty! I too have reread some books and thought they were just as awful as the first time around. Naked Lunch is one I will never reread it was dreadful…just as Jean Genet’s Lady of the Flowers (I think that’s what its called it)it was horrible as well. Another book that was touted as a great book was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence by Pirsig…I just cant get into it…I have tried over and over…maybe its just me. Visions of Gerard by Kerouac was much more interesting for me than On the Road. Other books I would like to reread are by Camus as well as Sartre but I will be skipping Nausea. Thanks for your insight!

  12. smith says:

    I’ve read half a dozen kerouac and like all of them more than on the road. on the road was a valid story, but it was a story of sadness, being lost, shallowness, sort of a fake hysterical hipster cool.

    i like camus a lot, at least his essays and travel pieces. i should check into sartre’s being and nothingness just because of its reputation and cuz i’ve never read it.

    i’m a whole different life form than i was 40-some years ago when i first got into these folk. now that i’ve done stuff and had adventures of my own, i’m not so easily impressed.

    it’s funny but i thought this would be a boring blog for people yet i’ve gotten more comments on this one than most.

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