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Existential Lobster

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  • DJRNews@xxx.xxx
    In a message dated 19/7/99 8:45pm GMT Daylight Time, lingvoj@lds.co.uk writes:
    Message 1 of 4 , Jul 21, 1999
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      In a message dated 19/7/99 8:45pm GMT Daylight Time, lingvoj@... writes:

      << the story (if true) is i think fairly well known. sartre was supposed to
      have hallucinated being chased down a street by a lobster or some such (yeah!
      it was a bad one - he was reported to have *not* enjoyed it... ummmm sartre
      i mean not the lobster :-)) and this comes through in Nausea where he talks
      about such things as a third eye suddenly appearing in the middle of your
      forehead. >>

      (The article I read was in some academic journal or other and focused on
      notes which show the development of Sartre's description of the chestnut tree
      in the park.)
      Hang on, I remember noting something down about a lobster... ah,
      here we are,

      "I am alone in the midst of these happy, reasonable voices. All these
      characters spend their time explaining themselves, and happily recognizing
      that they hold the same opinions. Good God, how important they consider it
      to think the same things all together. It's enough to see their expressions
      when one of those fishy-eyed men who look as if they are turned in upon
      themselves and with whom no agreement is possible passes among them. When I
      was eight years old and used to play in the Luxembourg Gardens, there was one
      who came and sat in a sentry-box [...]. It wasn't the fellow's
      poverty-stricken appearance which frightened us, nor the tumour he had on his
      neck which rubbed against the edge of his collar: but we felt that he was
      shaping crab-like or lobster-like thoughts in his head. And it terrified us
      to think that somebody could have lobster-like thoughts about the sentry-box,
      about our hoops, about the bushes." (Sartre, Nausea, p. 20)

      "[Fleeing the cafe after a bout of nausea...] I don't need to turn round to
      know that they are watching me through the windows; they thought that I was
      like them, that I was a man, and I deceived them. All of a sudden, I lost
      the appearance of a man and they saw a crab escaping backwards from that all
      too human room. Now the unmasked intruder has fled: the show goes on. [...]
      There are a lot of people walking along the shore, turning poetic, springtime
      faces towards the sea; they're in holiday mood because of the sun. [...] If I
      grabbed one of them by the lapels of his coat, if I said to him: 'Come to my
      help,' he would think: 'What the devil is this crab?' and would run off
      leaving his coat in my hands." (Sartre, Nausea, p. 178)

      Sartre also describes Roquentin's eyes as like fish scales; the nausea seems
      to be gradually turning him (metaphorically) into a "fishy-eyed" crustacean
      like the scary old man in the park. But why should the existentially
      anguished man seem particularly fishy-eyed and lobster-like? I'm not sure I
      understand the analogy, what do you think? And what, if anything, does this
      'existential lobster' (or crab) have to do with Sartre's notorious lobster
      hallucinations?

      Cheers,

      Don.
    • esperanto
      On 21 Jul 99 at 14:15, you, DJRNews@aol.com wrote: Hi all ... It s intriging... I bet there is something here about bad faith. perhaps sartre is drawing on
      Message 2 of 4 , Jul 21, 1999
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        On 21 Jul 99 at 14:15, you, DJRNews@... wrote:

        Hi all

        > But why should the existentially anguished man
        > seem particularly fishy-eyed and lobster-like?
        > I'm not sure I understand the analogy, what do
        > you think? And what, if anything, does this
        > 'existential lobster' (or crab) have to do with
        > Sartre's notorious lobster hallucinations?

        It's intriging...

        I bet there is something here about bad faith. perhaps sartre is
        drawing on his hallucionegic experiences to come up with a non-human
        metaphor which would allow characters to become less than human like
        which as i suggest compliments notions of bad faith. on the other
        hand perhaps there is nothing in it.

        you sem to have access to the textx better than me. in _Les Mains
        Sales_ there is the bit where Hoederer is talking to Hugo about
        getting his arms in to all the 'blood and shit' and Hoederer says
        something about how he loves human beings for all their faults. i
        seem to remember for example he speaks of the look of angst in their
        eyes. now doesn't he here talk about their clammy flesh being fish
        like in some way...

        really i forget. but a couple of weeks on this list may help some of
        it to come back.

        one thing *has* come back. i feel sure that if you wanted to find the
        anecdote about sartre/lsd and the lobster you will find it in S de
        B's writings somewhere. some biographical piece she wrote *before* he
        died... maybe i read about it in Cohen - Solal's biography... heck,
        this may bug me and i may end up looking it all up myself :-)

        n

        FREEDOM PRESS
        http://freedom.tao.ca
      • DJRNews@xxx.xxx
        Okay perhaps this is getting a bit silly, but I ve just read a passage in Sartre s biography, The Words (1964), which might shed some light on the
        Message 3 of 4 , Jul 25, 1999
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          Okay perhaps this is getting a bit silly, but I've just read a passage in
          Sartre's biography, The Words (1964), which might shed some light on the
          crustacean-man of Nausea,

          "[One day, aged approx. eight,] I came across a hair-raising illustration: a
          moonlight quay, a long rugged claw emerged from the water, grabbed a
          drunkard, and dragged him down to the bottom of the dock. The picture
          illustrated a text which I read avidly and which ended -approximately- with
          these words: 'Was it a drunkard's hallucination? Had Hell gaped?' I was
          afraid of water, of crabs [...]. Above all, I was afraid of books: I cursed
          the tormentors who peopled their stories with these loathsome shapes. Yet I
          imitated them.
          Of course, it had to be the right moment. For instance, at dusk:
          shadows would be filling the dining-room. I would push my little desk over
          to the window, my anguish would return, and the docility of my heroes,
          unfailingly sublime, misunderstood and vindicated, would betray their lack of
          substance; then it would come: an invisible, bewildering creature would
          hypnotize me; in order to see it you had to describe it. [...] What then
          issued from my pen -an octopus with fiery eyes, a twenty-ton crustacean, or a
          giant talking-spider -was myself, a childish monster; it was my boredom with
          life, my fear of death, my mawkishness and my perversity. I did not
          recognize myself: as soon as it was engendered, the loathsome creature would
          turn on me and my courageous potholers; I would fear for their lives, my
          heart would give a leap [...]" (pp. 96-97)

          From this it would seem that the lobster/crab is meant to be something
          definitely monstrous, perhaps "evil" (cf. the discussion of evil in Saint
          Genet), a metaphor for the monstrous otherness of our own freedom, our
          constant possibility of choosing to become evil monsters instead of heroes.
          Sartre several times refers to the anguished consciousness perceiving its own
          freedom as 'monstrous'. The notion of the monster ,or of evil, seems to
          refer to the nihilating quality of freedom, its ability to choose precisely
          what is not human, not normal, not moral.

          Yours lobsterly,

          Don.
        • P.B.Whiston
          Just a quick thought from the pimordial lobster swamps. Sartre s notion of evil being a realisation of his own monsterous being not a other wordly evil
          Message 4 of 4 , Jul 26, 1999
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            Just a quick thought from the pimordial lobster swamps. Sartre's
            notion of evil being a realisation of his own monsterous being not a
            other wordly 'evil' reminds me of Bosch's paintings. Ya know, all
            those strange forms(reptiles, frogs, humanoid hydrids etc)
            arising out of the swamp. With Bosch's 'Last Judgement' these sea
            monsters often fuse with human forms suggesting that the evil in this
            'religious' battle is man-made not other worldy.

            Cabs
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