When I was in my early twenties I was a serious fan of existential literature. It's what ultimately led me to do my masters degree in German, focusing on Hesse and doing some comparative papers on Camus and others in the genre. One of the books I read back then that I probably didn't pay enough attention to was Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. If you haven't read it, it's basically the story of a historian that suffers from attacks of nausea due to the panic caused by life's free will. Essentially, a tale of the angst that being completely responsible for your own actions can cause, along with a feeling of hopelessness and meaninglessness that accompanies one's daily activities when we realize there's no real purpose for our existence. That type of stuff. Real uplifting.
I was thinking about Sartre today in Paris because I wound up in a book store this morning and found these books called Le Paris de...., a series that allows you to read about Paris from the perspective of the most renowned artists and thinkers who lived there. They had Cocteau, Cendrars, and of course Sartre along with his companion Simone de Beauvoir. I picked up the Sartre/Beauvoir edition and started reading it at the Café de Flore while having coffee. That's when I decided I would spend a thematic day in Paris retracing their footsteps and hanging out at their old haunts, using the book as a sort of guide. I had an entire day to kill, so why not? I think this is my ninth time in Paris so I've pretty much seen the main attractions at this point.
Apparently, Sartre and Beauvoir once sat on a bench outside the Louvre, near the Jardin des Tuileries, and made a pact to continue their relationship while watching the passers-by stroll along the stony paths. I went and visited the spot after finishing my coffee, then wound up taking a walk through the Louvre since I was in the area anyway. That's when the nausea hit me. If you ever need a dose of reality as to the meaningless of life in the modern age, go check out the main attractions at the Louvre. It's bad enough when people take pictures of other pictures (they're all available to look at online!!), but now it's an entire room of people taking pictures of themselves in front of other pictures. The entire world is just one big Instagramable attraction at this point. Fashion is no longer just for clothing and celebrities. It's everything. Cities are fashion. Food is fashion. Bottles of whiskey are fashion. All of these things have lost their inherent and original meaning and have been replaced with a new value and purpose: their potential to become the next viral social media post.
We are indeed free to do what we want in this life. And this is what we have chosen to do. Barf.