The trappings of adult praise and identity.

from Les Mots by Jean-Paul Sartre page 207 nonfiction ~3 min read

In the beginning, I was sound as an apple: a little faker who knew enough to stop in time. But I worked hard; even when it came to bluffing, I remained a plugger. I now regard my tricks and jugglings as spiritual exercises and my insincerity as the caricature of an utter sincerity that Was constantly grazing me and always eluding me. I had not chosen my vocation; it had been imposed on me by others. Actually, nothing had happened: some words tossed off by an old woman and Charles machiavellism. But that was enough for me to be convinced. The grown-ups, who were installed in my soul, pointed to my star; I didn't see it, but I saw their fingers pointing; I believed in the adults who claimed to believe in me. They had taught me the existence of the great dead—one of whom was still alive— Napoleon, Themistocles, Philip Augustus, Jean- Paul Sartre. I did not doubt the fact: to have doubted would have been to have doubts about the adults. As for the last-named, I would have liked simply to meet him face to face. I gaped and writhed in an effort to bring on the intuition that would have filled me with joy. I was a frigid woman whose convulsions crave and then try to replace the orgasm. Is she shamming or just a little too eager? In any case, I got nowhere, I was always before or after the impossible vision that would have revealed me to myself. At the end of my exercises, I would still be dubious, having gained nothing but a fine state of jangled nerves. Nothing could confirm or deny my mandate, which was based on the principle of authority, on the unquestionable goodness of grown-ups. Sealed and beyond reach, it remained inside me but belonged to me so little that I had never been able, even for an instant, to have doubts about it and could neither dissolve nor assimilate it.

Faith, even when profound, is never entire. One must constantly prop it up, or at least refrain from ruining it. I was consecrated, illustrious. I had my tomb in Pere Lachaise Cemetery and perhaps in the Pantheon; an avenue was named after me in Paris, as were public squares in the provinces and in foreign countries. Yet, at the core of my optimism I had a sneaking feeling that I lacked substance. At Saint Anne's Psychiatric Clinic, a patient cried out in bed: "I'm a prince I Arrest the Grand Duke!" Someone went up to him and whispered in his ear: "Blow your nose!" and he blew his nose. He was asked: "What's your occupation?" He answered quietly: "Shoemaker," and started shouting again. I imagine that we're all like that man. In any case, at the beginning of my ninth year, I resembled him: I was a prince and a shoemaker.

Two years later, I would have been considered cured. The prince had disappeared, the shoe- maker believed in nothing, I had even stopped writing. The "novel notebooks" had been thrown out, mislaid, or burned and had made way for grammar, arithmetic, and dictation notebooks. If someone had crept into my head, which was open to all the winds, he would have come upon a few busts, a stray multiplication table and the rule of three, thirty-two counties with the chief town of each but not the sub-prefecture, a rose called rosarosarosamrosaerosaerosa, some historical and literary monuments, a few polite maxims engraved on stiles, and sometimes, like a scarf of mist hovering over this sad garden, a sadistic reverie. Not a single female orphan. No sign of a gallant knight. The words hero, martyr, and saint were not inscribed anywhere, not repeated by any voice. The ex-Pardaillan received satisfactory health reports every term: child of average intelligence, very well behaved, not gifted for the exact sciences, imaginative but not excessively, sensitive; quite normal, despite a certain affectedness which, moreover, was on the wane. But I had gone completely mad. Two events, one public and the other private, had swept away the little reason that remained.

—Jean-Paul Sartre, Les Mots, p. 207