Sartre’s Crabs

This is one of the weirder things I ever read about the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. From an interview in 1971 with John Gerassi, a political science professor at Queens College in New York:

Sartre: Yeah, after I took mescaline, I started seeing crabs around me all the time. They followed me in the streets, into class. I got used to them. I would wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, my little ones, how did you sleep?” I would talk to them all the time. I would say, “O.K., guys, we’re going into class now, so we have to be still and quiet,” and they would be there, around my desk, absolutely still, until the bell rang.

Gerassi: A lot of them?

Sartre: Actually, no, just three or four.

Grassi: But you knew they were imaginary?

Sartre: Oh, yes. But after I finished school, I began to think I was going crazy, so I went to see a shrink, a young guy then with whom I have been good friends ever since, Jacques Lacan. We concluded that it was fear of being alone, fear of losing the camaraderie of the group. You know, my life changed radically from my being one of a group, which included peasants and workers, as well as bourgeois intellectuals, to it being just me and Castor. The crabs really began when my adolescence ended. At first, I avoided them by writing about them — in effect, by defining life as nausea — but then as soon as I tried to objectify it, the crabs appeared. And then they appeared whenever I walked somewhere. Not when I was writing, just when I was going someplace. … The crabs stayed with me until the day I simply decided that they bored me and that I just wouldn’t pay attention to them. And then the war came, the stalag, the Resistance, and the big political battles after the war. – NYTimes

Serves him right for having mescaline with crabs. He’d be better off with horse radish, melted garlic butter, or cocktail sauce. But what’s the sense in talking to a Frenchman about anything at all, let alone food?

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10 Responses to Sartre’s Crabs

  1. Hunter S. Thompson says:

    Four or five little crabs, huh? What an amateur.

  2. Joe Balls says:

    This is really all you need to know about the French, isn’t it? That they consider this asshat a great intellectual and cultural icon?

    I love that he defined life as nausea, too. From inside where he is, it’s probably accurate.

  3. Head Lice says:

    We resent any association with his clown.

  4. You May Call Me Pierre says:

    Of course, such a candid moment from as insightful and profound an existentialist thinker as Sartre would be entirely wasted upon most Americans, whose unimaginative intelligence cannot match the leaps of metaphor and meaning here contained.

    We French are centuries beyond you, and our patience waiting for you to catch up is tiresome at best, wasted at worst.

  5. Flaming Yon says:

    Pierre: Centuries beyond, huh. Keep going, alright? We can still smell you.

  6. Breaded Veal Cutlet says:

    This answers one of the burning questions of all time: What language do crabs speak? That might come in handy when you’re ordering at Joe’s Stone Crabs.

  7. ya'gotta'guessit says:

    The Resistance?!?!?!

    What did Jean-Paul do during those dangerous times – shake a pointy little fist & stamp his foot?

    Or was it replacing a jewish university instructor who didn’t quite meet the Vichy government’s profile for long-term employment?

    Whatever form J-P’s resistance took could not have been too controversial, as the SS was *very* short-tempered in those days, and forgiveness would not have been in the cards for that myopic little barnacle.

    Resistance, my ass…probably just worked on his surrendering gestures.

    And as for Pee-Air, and bold Frenchman in general, here’s something from King Harry:

    WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
    But one ten thousand of those men in England
    That do no work to-day!

    KING. What’s he that wishes so?
    My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
    If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
    To do our country loss; and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
    God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
    By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
    Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
    It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
    Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
    But if it be a sin to covet honour,
    I am the most offending soul alive.
    No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
    God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
    As one man more methinks would share from me
    For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
    Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
    We would not die in that man’s company
    That fears his fellowship to die with us.
    This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But he’ll remember, with advantages,
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in his mouth as household words-
    Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
    This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remembered-
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition;
    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

  8. You May Call Me Pierre says:

    Charming poetry, my friend, if somewhat dull and dated, and in a language that reminds those of us who speak more than one how harsh your English sounds, and how flat in depth and insight.


    As for M Sartre during the resistance, I presume you are unaware that he was imprisoned for about a year, and closely monitored as an active leftist. Of course, he championed the rights of the unfortunate and the dignity of the collective, even after he soured on organized leftwing government, which he recognized as oppressive and self-serving as the right.

    A remarkable man, and an independent thinker. Of course Americans, with their bovine herd mentality, are pleased to scorn his memory particularly, and his country generally.

    Please continue. We don’t care.

  9. ya'gotta'guessit says:

    Mon Dew, Petey…it’s for certain that J-P embodied all that’s so widely revered about the French…you know, that remarkable ability to quickly & easily surrender, while maintaining a malleable code of ethics, rubber backbone, and whining self-pity.

    Your “independent thinker” must have made one hell of an impression on the Nazis (who, at the time, had *absolutely* no shortage of bullets), as they considered him to be no more dangerous than a leaking vagina, and released him back into the wilds of academia.

    And, of course, his “championing” of Che Guevara and “remarkable” rationalization of the Olympic terrorists’ methods are completely consistent with French pussydom – that is, to say, or do *anything*, as long as there’s no price to pay.

    The French…you assholes deserve each other.
    I wish every day could be Agincourt.

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