From Talking With Sartre: Conversations and Debates, a selection of interviews with Jean-Paul Sartre by John Gerassi, from the 1970s, to be published this fall by Yale University Press. Translated from the French by the good folks at Harper’s.
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, “Okay, 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.
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.
I would have liked my crabs to come back. The crabs were mine. I had gotten used to them. They kept reminding me that my life was absurd, yes, nauseating, but without challenging my immortality. Despite their mocking, my crabs never said that my books would not be on the shelf, or that if they were, so what?
They left me during the war. You know, I’ve never said this before, but sometimes I miss them—when I’m lonely, or rather when I’m alone. When I go to a movie that ends up boring, or not very gripping, and I remember how they used to sit there on my leg. Of course I always knew that they weren’t there, that they didn’t exist, but they served an important purpose. They were a warning that I wasn’t thinking correctly or focusing on what was important, or that I was heading up the wrong track, all the while telling me that my life was not right, not what it should be. Well, no one tells me that anymore.