Chris Blattman

Close this search box.

Jean Paul Sartre… has crabs

Sartre: . . . when we decided to experiment with drugs, I ended up having a nervous breakdown.

Gerassi: You mean the crabs?

Sartre: Yeah, after I took the 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 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? You have to realize that my psychosis was literature. . . . My crabs had considered me important, or else why bother me? De Gaulle, the ridiculousness of the Cold War, America’s drive to conquer and control, all that made me realize that I was not and would never be significant.

Gerassi: From the end of the war until de Gaulle’s coup d’état in 1958, you were haunted by neither crabs nor depression?

Sartre: We keep calling them crabs because of my play The Condemned of Altona, but they were really lobsters.

Gerassi: Anyway, they were gone then?

Sartre: Oh, yes, 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.

More in the recent issue of Harper’s. Hat tip to John Williams.

Why We Fight - Book Cover
Subscribe to Blog