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To Be or Not To Be: Sexual Ambivalence in Sartre's La Nausée Lawrence D. Kritzman "Je n'aime pas les hommes, je veux dire les mâles de l'espèce. SARTRE'S LA NAUSÉE (1938) HAS TRADITIONALLY BEEN VIEWED as a novel in which the central character—Roquentin—confronts a meaningless universe that repels him. Narcissistically isolated in the bourgeois universe of Bouville, the nothingness that he perceives may be regarded as a defensive strategy against being engulfed by the forces of alterity. The external world is perceived as a threat to Roquentin's sense of serenity, and the viscous quality of being produces a sensation through object relationships that undermine his stability. On another level, however, the existential angst underlying Sartre's text translates a form of alienation beyond the simple parameters of the metaphysical . "Ma passion était morte. Elle m'avait submergé et roulé pendant des années; à présent, je me sentais vide. Mais ce n'était pas le pire; devant moi posée avec une sorte d'indolence, il y avait une idée volumineuse et fade" (19).2 Underlying Roquentin's so-called journey to freedom is a recurrent symptomology of sexual ambivalence which is manifested in the narrative.3 This emanates from Roquentin's multiple perceptions of masculinity, and it translates an inability to come to terms with the dangers of homoerotic desire and the challenges of bisexuality. If Roquentin's masculinity is in question, it is because he perceives an alternative model of relationality, a type of identification that both reifies the terms self and other and simultaneously defies the stability of identity and difference. Early in the novel Roquentin witnesses a scene of boys playing on a beach, a group of young adolescents with whom he wishes to identify but from whom he feels excluded. Samedi les gamins jouaient aux ricochets, et je voulais lancer comme eux un caillou dans le mer. Ace moment-là , je me suis arrêté, j'ai laissé tomber le caillou et je suis parti. Je devais avoir l'air égaré probablement, puisque les gamins ont ri derrière mon dos ... Voilà pour l'extérieur. Ce qui s'est passé en moi n'a pas laissé de traces claires. Il y avait quelque chose que j'ai vu et qui m'a dégoûté, mais je ne sais plus si je regardais la mer ou le galet. Le galet était plat, sec sur tout un côté, humide et boueux sur l'autre. Je le tenais par les bords, avec les droits très écartés, pour éviter de me salir. (14) Vol. XLIII, No. 3 79 L'Esprit Créateur The older man's desired identification with the boys may be understood here as the darker side of his narcissism. Victim of a metaphysical nausea that he is unable to decipher, Roquentin's angst, translated by this disorientating sensation , is the result of something that disturbs the tranquility of his male selfconsciousness and of which he cannot take hold. The image of the pebble functions metonymically in relation to his desire to turn the boys into an object of cathexis, and Roquentin's attempt not to touch the pebble reveals an unmitigated need not to "dirty himself." In this context the avoidance of defilement is the result of a cathartic energy which expels that which is fundamentally dirty or improper. It functions as a defensive strategy that serves to bracket an alien outside; it thus enacts, as Adrian van den Hoven has suggested in consulting the nineteenth century Larousse dictionary, one of the linguistic antecedents of the proper name Roquentin: from the word rocantin signifying "the name given in the past to the veterans charged with the defense of a roc or citadel."4 Accordingly, Roquentin dons the mask of the veteran soldier defending the solidity of the masculine self from the infelicitous dangers of alterity. A self-imposed concept of masculinity functions as a symptom of fear, and it binds the subject to perceived social norms through a constantly deferred process of recognition. What we have here is symptomatic reflection functioning as an ontological foreclosure, a showing of something...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 79-86
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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