(Warning: in this essay I will reveal a plot detail of the novel Indecision. I can’t decide if this is a major or minor plot detail, but I’m leaning towards minor. Ish. If you prefer to consume your media with no prior knowledge of plot, do not read on. Read this instead.)

Reading the novel Indecision, a fine first novel, an excellent novel, a novel that reminds me of nothing so much as the pleasant sensation of reading young adult novels, in the sense that this is a novel about my exact demographic, I came to feel a certain horrific nausea. The novel itself touches on existential themes (point of jealousy #1–I am existential! I write about existence! Now I must do it louder and better to drown out these other voices also concerned with this unique topic!), though it attributes many of the existential themes to a fictitious philosopher named Otto Knittel, when they are in fact Martin Heidegger’s ideas. (Point of jealousy #2–I never read Heidegger, which this author obviously did, since he can quote him and attribute his ideas to a fictitious philosopher of his own imagining. I think there was a Heidegger book in my library carrel that semester in England, but at some point I put it back on the shelf and went to find my art student roommates to smoke hash and beat them all at basketball.)

Of the many themes the novel touches on, which include: indecisiveness, hopelessness, nihilism, doing drugs, doing drugs on September 11, doing drugs in foreign countries, ambivalence, commitment phobia, corporate greed, Marxism, wealth, the irony of anthropology, the ambivalence of sex and the offensive boredom of privilege, there is hardly one with which I don’t identify. Of the scenarios described in the book, scenarios at once universal and specific, there is hardly one that I haven’t lived, or someone close to me hasn’t lived. (Except for the incest theme, that is.)

It’s a book about a 28-year-old guy who can’t make any important decisions in his life, works in a cubicle at Pfizer and sleeps with a girl he doesn’t love that much. Then he takes a pill that’s supposed to cure his indecision and goes on a trip to Central America, maintaining his neurotic/ironic detachment from the experiences of his own life until he goes into the Amazon and takes a drug called San Pedro, and has a mind-blowing tripping experience complete with mind-blowing sex.

The thing, therefore, that causes me the most existential nausea about this book is the fact that two years ago I went to South America and I took this same drug and I had a mind-blowing tripping experience. I wrote about it in such abstract terms that no one knew what the hell I was talking about, but it did happen. And now, reading about it in someone else’s words, I felt several levels of horrible existential nausea of the kind that can only come from realizing that one of most seemingly unique experiences in your life wasn’t unique at all, and that you yourself are not as unique as you seem, and the fact that you desire to be unique–and yet to belong–and that you hold both of these conflicting desires and yet at the same time know that they can never be satisfied, that you will never be truly unique and no one ever truly belongs, only for fleeting moments here and there, if at all, and you and everyone else is going to die without achieving true originality or belonging, that you belong only in the sense that you do not belong and you are unique only in the fine flavors of your own neuroses. The vertigo of these multiple levels of nausea was itself nauseating.

The funny part is, the drug in the book, the drug in my memory, the drug that made me love a garbage can and my best friend and a total stranger equally in one night–it, like many drugs, makes you nauseated, too. But it removes so many other problems, like the fear of death or the terribly sad illusion that we are separate consciousness. (Unless you drink too much and then you might need to pass some time in a minivan until the sound of all the DNA vibrating in the universe just gets a little less noisy.) But if you’ve only taken a little and are feeling quite fine and also have attained special powers like being able to smell each mountain you can see individually or perhaps understand the feelings that your campfire is trying to convey to you, you might feel some physical nausea, but without a nauseous feeling in your consciousness to land on your physical nausea will only be a pleasant reminder that you are alive. So I experienced existential nausea reading about the physical nausea brought on by one of the only drugs I’ve ever taken that can actually cure–or at least suspend–existential nausea. But if I had been on San Pedro while I was reading the book, while I might have been physically nauseated, I might not have been so existentially nauseated, because the idea that someone else was living a similar life and writing about it would not have made me so hopeless and sad. Instead, I would have accepted this other person’s experience and their writings about it as evidence of the Total Oneness of the Universe. Oh, the irony! The only thing worse than existential angst, worse than nausea! Irony is terribly dangerous, but then, hallucinogenic drugs can be, too. One form of nausea can cure another, but the only cure for all kinds of nausea is death, a concept one can contemplate with both total acceptance and pleasant removal and physical nausea when tripping, and terror, denial and existential nausea when sober.

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