Mourning and the ethics of form in Sartre's La Nausée and Woolf 'sTo the Lighthouse

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Abstract:

This article analyses the relationship between Jean-Paul Sartre's La Nausée (1938) and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (1927), which share many textual details and a concern with the representation of traumatic loss. In both texts, there is an encounter with contingency and a quest for an ethical form that might symbolize suffering. Roquentin's melancholic quest for an aesthetic vision to render loss constructs a false dichotomy of history versus art, in which the relation with the Other is abjected. Unable to find a form for his suffering – as he terms it, 'souffrir en mesure' ['to suffer in time'] like the jazz tune which relieves his existential nausea – Roquentin ultimately retreats into narcissistic abstraction. In To the Lighthouse, Lily Briscoe's post-Impressionist quest to represent her spiritual love for Mrs Ramsay in portraiture is more successful: in its eschewal of narcissistic signature and its hospitality to difference, Lily's vision becomes an aesthetic space of encounter with the (m)Other, removed from the melancholic, narcissistic project of novel-writing that Roquentin envisages at the end of La Nausée.

Keywords: ART; LA NAUSEE; MELANCHOLY; MOURNING; NARRATIVE; TO THE LIGHTHOUSE; TRAUMA

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/147335306780579741

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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