The Nausea has given me a short breathing spell. But I know it will cone back again: it is my normal state. Only today my body is too exhausted to stand it. Invalids also have happy moments of weakness which take away the consciousness of their illness for a few hours. I am bored, that’s all. From time to time I yawn so widely that tears roll down my cheek. It is a profound boredum, profound, the profound heart of existence, the very matter I am made of. I do not neglect myself, quite the contrary: this morning I took a bath and shaved. Only when I think back over those careful little actions, I cannot understand how I was able to make them: they are so vain. Habit, no doubt, made them for me. They aren’t dead, they keep on busying themselves, gently, insidiously weaving their webs, they wash me, dry me, dress me, like nurses. Did they also lead me to this hill? I can’t remember how I came any more. Probably up the Escalier Dautry: did I really climb up its hundred and ten steps one by one? What is perhaps more difficult to imagine is that I am soon going to climb down again. Yet I know I am: in a moment I shall find myself at the bottom of the Coteau Vert, if I raise my head, see in the distance the lighting windows of these houses which are so close now. In the distance. Above my head; above my head; and this instant which I cannot leave, which locks me in and limits me on every side, this instant I am made of will be no more than a confused dream.
Never, until these last few days, had I understood the meaning of “existence.” I was like the others, like the ones walking along the seashore, all dressed in their spring finery. I said, like them, “The ocean is green; that white speck up there is a seagull,” but I didn’t feel that it existed or that the seagull was an “existing seagull”; usually existence hides itself. It is there, around us, in us, it is us, you can’t say two words without mentioning it, but you can never touch it. When I believed I was thinking about it, I must believe that I was thinking nothing, my head was empty, or there was just one word in my head, the word “to be.” Or else I was thinking… how can I explain it? I was thinking of belonging, I was telling myself that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that the green was part of the quality of the sea. Even when I looked at things, I was miles from dreaming that they existed: they looked like scenery to me. I picked them up in my hands, they served me as tools, I foresaw their resistance. But that all happened on the surface. If anyone had asked me what existence was, I would have answered, in good faith, that it was nothing, simply an empty form which was added to external things without changing anything in their nature. And then all the sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things, this root kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder—naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness.
The Self-Taught Man studies them at great length, with a kindly eye; then he turns to me and winks tenderly as if to say: “How wonderful they are!”
They are not ugly. They are quiet, happy at being together, happy at being seen together. Sometimes when Anny and I went into a restaurant in Piccadilly we felt ourselves the objects of admiring attention. It annoyed Anny, but I must confess that I was somewhat proud. Above all, amazed; I never had the clean-cut look that goes so well with that young man and no one could even say that my ugliness was touching. Only we were young: now, I am at the age to be touched by the youth of others. But I am not touched. The woman has dark, gentle eyes; the young man’s skin has an orange hue, a little leathery, and a charming, small, obstinate chin. They are touching, but they also make me a little sick. I feel them so far from me: the warmth makes me languid, they pursue the same dream in their hearts, so low, so feeble. They are comfortable, they look with assurance at the yellow walls, the people, and they find the world pleasant as it is just as it is, and each one of them, temporarily, draws life from the life of the other. Soon the two of them will make a single life, a slow, tepid life which will have no sense at all—but they won’t notice it.
I don’t listen to them any more: they annoy me. They’re going to sleep together. They know it. Each one knows that the other knows it. But since they are young, chaste and decent, since each one wants to keep his self-respect and that of the other, since love is a great poetic thing which you must not frighten away, several times a week they go to dances and restaurants, offering the spectacle of their ritual, mechanical dances…
After all, you have to kill time. They are young and well built, they have enough to last them another thirty years. So they’re in no hurry, they delay and they are not wrong. Once they have slept together they will have to find something else to veil the enormous absurdity of their existence. Still… is it absolutely necessary to lie?
I glance around the room. What a comedy! All these people sitting there, looking serious, eating. No, they aren’t eating: they are recuperating in order to successfully finish their tasks. Each one of them has his little personal difficulty which keeps him form noticing that he exists; there isn’t one of them who doesn’t believe himself indispensable to something or someone. Didn’t the Self-Taught Man tell me the other day: “No one better qualified then Nouçapié to undertake this vast synthesis?” Each one of them does one small thing and no one is better qualified than he to do it. No one is better qualified than the commercial traveller over there to sell Swan Toothpaste. No one is better qualified than that interesting young man to put his hand under his girl friend’s skirts. And I am among them and if they look at me they must think that no one is better qualified than I to do what I’m doing. But I know. I don’t look like much, but I know I exist and that they exist. And if I knew how to convince people I’d go and sit down next to that handsome white-haired gentleman and explain to him just what existence means. I burst out laughing at the thought of the face he would make. The Self-Taught Man looks at me with surprise. I’d like to stop but I can’t; I laugh until I cry.
I believe that, late in life, I managed to understand her much better; but at the height of my love how greatly I was mistaken about her! For the whole effort of my love tended less to bridge the gap between us than to bridge the gap between her and that ideal figure I invented.
Then I realized what separated us: what I thought about him could not reach him; it was psychology, the kind they write about in books. But his judgement went through me like a sword and questioned my very right to exist. And it was true, I had always realized it; I hadn’t the right to exist. I had appeared by chance, I existed like a stone, a plant or a microbe. My life put out feelers towards small pleasures in every direction. Sometimes it sent out vague signals; at other times I felt nothing more than a harmless buzzing.