Sartre on Beginnings

March 22, 2010

Now I can see so clearly what I wanted. Real beginnings, appearing like a fanfare of trumpets, like the first notes of a jazz tune, abruptly, cutting boredom short, strengthening duration; evenings among those evenings of which you later say: ‘I was out walking, it was an evening in May.’ You are walking along, the moon has just risen, you feel idle, vacant, a little empty. And then all of a sudden you think: ‘Something has happened.’ It might be anything: a slight crackling sound in the shadows, a fleeting silhouette crossing the street. But this slight event isn’t like the others: straight away you see that it is the predecessor of a great form whose outlines are lost in the mist and you tell yourself too: ‘Something is beginning.’

I study each second, I try to suck it dry; nothing passes which I do not seize, which I do not fix forever within me, nothing, neither the ephemeral tenderness of these lovely eyes, nor the noises in the street, nor the false light of dawn: and yet the minute goes by and I do not hold it back, I am glad to see it pass.



Jean-Paul Sartre,  Nausea, London: Penguin Books, 2000: 63.


Sartre has that same mastery of pace and pause in prose that so excites me about Virginia Woolf: one skips along his lines, recognising, rejoicing (isn’t it wonderful when you read of yourself, of your innermost experience, in another’s lines, especially when they are worded so much more beautfiully than your own recounting can allow?), but almost desperate, breathless, at the fast receding of prose that you should like so much just to hold on to and appreciate in its beauty… I think I’ve read this passage over ten times in the past twenty-four hours. But I can never just bring myself to hover over one sentence: I find myself having to pass through the piece in its entirety, without stopping. And that is perhaps the mastery of the thing: that of this passage, its parts cannot exist but in immediate relation to each other: sever one from its others and the magic is lost.

[sigh].

I do love Sartre’s work.

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