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     Nausea.   By  Jean-Paul  Sartre.  Translated  by  Lloyd
Alexander. 258 pp. New York: New Directions, 1949 

     Sartre's  name,  T  understand,  is  associated   with   a
fashionable  brand  of  cafe  philosophy,  and  since for every
so-called   "existentialist"   one   finds    quite    a    few
"suctorialists"   (if   I   may   coin  a  polite  term),  this
made-in-England translation  of  Sartre's  first  novel.  La
Nausje  (published  in  Paris  in  1938)  should enjoy some
     It is hard to  imagine  (except  in  a  farce)  a  dentist
persistently  pulling  out  the  wrong  tooth.  Publishers  and
translators, however, seem to get away with something  of  that
sort.  Lack  of  space  limits me to only these examples of Mr.
Alexander's blunders.
     1. The woman who "s'est offert,  avec  ses  jconomies,  un
jeune  homme"  (has  bought  herself  a  young husband with her
savings) is said by the translator (p.  20)  to  have  "offered
herself and her savings" to that young man.
     2.   The   epithets  in  "Il  a  l'air  souffreteux  et
mauvais" (he looks seedy and vicious) puzzled Mr. Alexander
to such an extent that he apparently left out the  end  of  the
sentence  for  somebody  else to fill in, but nobody did, which
reduced the English text (p. 43) to "he looks."
     3. A reference to  "ce  pauvre  Ghehenno"'  (French
writer) is twisted (p. 163) into "Christ . . . this poor man of
     4.  The  forkt  de verges (forest of phalli) in the
hero's  nightmare  is  misunderstood  as  being  some  sort  of
     Whether,   from   the   viewpoint   of  literature,  La
Nausje was worth translating at all is another question. It
belongs to that tense-looking but really  very  loose  type  of
writing,  which  has  been  popularized by many second-raters--
Barbusse,  Coline,  and  so  forth.  Somewhere   behind   looms
Dostoevski  at  his  worst, and still farther back there is old
Eugene Sue, to whom the melodramatic Russian owed so much.  The
book  is  supposed  to be the diary ("Saturday morning," "11.00
p.m."-- that sort of dismal thing) of a certain Roquentin, who,
after some quite implausible travels, has settled in a town  in
Normandy to conclude a piece of historical research.
     Roquentin  shuttles  between cafe and public library, runs
into a voluble homosexual, meditates,  writes  his  diary,  and
finally  has  a long and tedious talk with his former wife, who
is  no\v  kept  by  a  suntanned   cosmopolitan.   Great
importance  is  attached  to  an  American  song  on  the  cafe
phonograph:  "Some  of  these  days  you'll  miss  me,  honey."
Roquentin would like to be as crisply alive as this song, which
"saved  the  Jew  [who wrote it] and the Negress [who sang it]"
from being "drowned in existence."
     In  an  equivocal  flash  of  clairvoyance  (p.  235)   he
visualizes  the  composer  as  a  clean-shaven Brooklynite with
"coal-black eyebrows" and "ringed fingers,"  writing  down  the
tune  on  the  twenty-first  floor of a skyscraper. The heat is
terrific. Presently, however, Tom (probably a friend) will come
in with his hip flask (local color) and they will take swigs of
liquor ("brimming glasses of whisky" in  Mr.  Alexander's  lush
version).  I  have  ascertained  that  in reality the song is a
Sophie Tucker one written by the Canadian Shelton Brooks.
     The crux of the whole book seems to  be  the  illumination
that  comes to Roquentin when he discovers that his "nausea" is
the result of the pressure of an absurd and amorphous but  very
tangible  world.  Unfortunately for the novel, all this remains
on a purely mental level, and the discovery might have been  of
some  other  nature,  say  solipsistie,  without  in  the least
affecting the rest of the book. When  an  author  inflicts  his
idle  and arbitrary philosophic fancy on a helpless person whom
he has invented for that purpose, a lot of talent is needed  to
have  the trick work. One has no special quarrel with Roquentin
when he decides that the world exists. But the task to make the
world exist as a work of art was beyond Sartre's powers.

     The New York Times Book Review 
               April 24, 1949

Last-modified: Sat, 25 Jul 1998 20:52:23 GMT
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