Antoine watches a fly crawl along a table and crushes it. The Self-Taught Man is next to him, asking him not to kill it. But Antoine goes ahead and kills it anyway, saying that he did the bug a favor. How's that for pessimism?
There are four days left until he sees Anny. It is noon, but he already feels himself killing time until bed. He hopes that Anny will come back to him.
The STM seems to realize that there's something wrong with Antoine. He asks him if he's all right.
He is sitting at lunch with the STM, who mentions how happy he is for them to be dining together. They order their food and get to talking. The STM mentions that he was a prisoner of war during World War One. That's where he apparently got his iron stomach, since he boasts that he can eat almost anything.
Antoine thinks about how the STM has gone through real hardship, while his own hardship is just a product of his mind. He has all the money he'll ever need, but still can't help but feel empty.
He can feel the STM trying to get to know him more intimately, but he draws back from it. He doesn't want to become good buddies with the guy.
Antoine asks him if he has straightened out his troubles with the librarian. The STM blushes at this and says it was nothing. It's just that the librarian is a jerk to him.
A young man and woman come into the restaurant. The STM stares at them for a while before declaring that they're wonderful. Antoine thinks about the times when he and Anny would go out to restaurants just to be stared at.
The STM tells Antoine that he saw him coming out of the Bouville museum a few days before. The STM wants to know what he looked at, and Antoine tells him about looking at the paintings of all the community leaders from Bouville.
The STM admits that he wishes he knew more about painting. Then he draws out a little notebook that he has used to write down any thoughts that have struck him as being important.
He reads out a statement about painting and then asks if Antoine has heard anything like it before. In his mind, the statement can only be true if someone has thought of it before.
Antoine says no at first, then yes when he sees the STM's face falling.
The STM mentions how nice it is to be talking to someone.
Nearby, the young man and woman are talking. The young man is trying to get the woman to do something that she doesn't want to do. We can only assume that there's something sexual about it. But the question gets murkier when they start talking about a mutual friend named Jeanette and how her life got better after she did "it," whatever that means.
Antoine, for his part, knows that the two young people are going to sleep together. But like everything in life, the most important part of having sex is killing tons of time with anticipation. After all, how else are you going to get through life while keeping yourself distracted from the fact that everything is empty.
Antoine thinks about telling everyone in the bar about the absurdity of their existences. He bursts out laughing when he thinks about how they would respond. The Self-Taught Man eyes him with concern.
He finally spills the beans and tells the Self-Taught Man that he's laughing at how absurd their lives are. No one in the bar has any reason for existing.
The Self-Taught Man accuses Antoine of being a pessimist, since he seems to be arguing that life doesn't have any purpose or goal.
Antoine disagrees. He's not wondering about whether or not life is worth living. But he doesn't want to take the time to explain to the STM what he really does mean.
The STM continues on about the virtues of "voluntary optimism," which is another way of saying that life has meaning as long as we choose to give it one. He asks Antoine what he thinks of this idea, and Antoine says he thinks nothing of it. In reality, he thinks that this is a silly lie people tell themselves to help them get by.
The STM says he doesn't believe the idea of voluntary optimism, either. He thinks the goal of life is "humanity." He is a humanist, as it turns out, which means that he thinks that the goal of life is to improve the state of humanity in general.
Antoine, though, thinks that the STM isn't very intelligent. He finds the man's love for humanity to be "naïve and barbaric" (24.152), meaning that it's intellectually clumsy and not properly thought through.
Antoine asks the STM how he can care about people so much when he spends his entire life with his face in a book.
The STM suddenly decides that he wants to tell Antoine his life story. He claims that before fighting in the war, he lived with his parents and didn't get along with them. He was very lonely, and to put it more bluntly, he was emotionally dead inside.
He claims that while he was a prisoner of war, many of his comrades learned to believe in God again. But he learned to believe in men.
He says that toward the end of the war, the enemies would force him and 200 other soldiers into a cramped building whenever it rained. The STM had some sort of epiphany in that building, as he came to love the feeling of being pressed up against so many other bodies. Sometimes he would even sneak back into the building when his guards weren't around. He came to love his fellow humans that way.
While the STM talks, Antoine feels a terrible rage building up inside himself. Suddenly, the feeling vanishes and he clues back in to what the STM is saying.
The STM continues on about how he goes to church mass even though he doesn't believe in God. He goes because he likes standing in a crowd of people. If you think back, there's actually a parallel here with the way Antoine likes to mill around in the crowds outside the church, although Antoine himself wouldn't want to admit to having the same human needs as the STM.
He asks the STM if he misses being a prisoner of war, and the STM admits that when he was freed from the prison, he went through a long period of sadness.
The only way he got over the sadness was to dedicate himself to the project of reading through the library alphabetically.
At this point, the STM leans in more closely and tells Antoine that he is a registered member of the French Socialist Party. As you can imagine, he doesn't want everyone around to hear him say this, for fear that he'll be insulted.
Antoine, though, says that it's totally fine if the guy wants to be a socialist. The STM appreciates his acceptance, since he was apparently thinking about committing suicide before he committed himself to Socialism.
He claims that the most important thing is that he no longer feels lonely.
Antoine thinks to himself that in reality, humanists actually hate their fellow human beings as individuals. They like the idea of loving humanity, but as individuals, they can't get along at all. He doesn't have the heart to tell the STM this, though.
The STM says that he feels like Antoine is similar to him, since he has his books and his library research to keep him company.
Antoine argues that he's not writing for the same reasons as the STM. He claims that he's not writing for an audience, or for the sake of connecting with other people. With surprise, the STM then asks him why he writes at all. Antoine claims that he writes simply for the sake of writing and nothing else.
Smiling, the STM asks Antoine whether he would still be writing if he were stuck on a desert island or if he, for example, were the last person on earth. Doesn't a person always write with the thought that they'll be read?
The STM thinks that he has cornered Antoine in the argument. He then asks if Antoine is actually a "misanthrope," meaning that he is a loner who doesn't like people. Antoine, though, is becoming annoyed with the STM. The guy basically wants to pin Antoine down and get him to accept some kind of label.
He is determined, though, to deny all of the labels that the STM tries to put onto him.
The STM tells Antoine that he must love everyone around him. Antoine, though, points to the young couple nearby and says he doesn't love them.
He also argues that the STM doesn't love the people, either. He just loves the idea of them. The truth is that he knows absolutely nothing about them. They might be total jerks, but he doesn't know. The STM, rather, is just in love with the idea of loving all people at all times. But it's not real.
The STM starts to get flustered and sad, but Antoine carries on. He claims that love for humanity is impossible since humanity with a capital "H" doesn't exist. There are only individuals, and we can never actually love these individuals because all we ever know about them are our ideas about them.
So therefore, there's no such thing as love. There is only existence and non-existence. The same rules apply to humans that apply to chairs, rocks, and tables. They either exist or they don't, and that's the only question you can answer about life.
Antoine feels a little bit bad for the STM. The guy has been looking forward to this lunch all week, but now it's turning sour and making him sad. He also feels sorry for the STM, because the guy doesn't realize that no one in the world cares about him.
Finally, the STM leans in and tells Antoine that he (Antoine) loves all of humanity just as much as the STM does. He'll never believe otherwise. So that's that. Nothing Antoine says will ever shake the STM's beliefs.
Suddenly, Antoine feels "The Nausea" coming over him, and he wants to vomit.
The STM keeps rambling on. Antoine starts to feel as though he is completely free to do anything he wants. For example, he could pick up his cheese knife and stab it into the STM's eye. Sure, people would attack him and he'd go to jail, but he could still do it.
When he looks around the restaurant, Antoine realizes that everyone is staring at him. He gets up to leave. The STM asks him where he's going, implying that he (the STM) has won their philosophical debate. Antoine just gets up and leaves. He knows that something about the sight of him has disturbed everyone in the restaurant.
He thinks of himself as a crab scuttling along the streets. It's like he's a different species than the rest of humanity.
The longer he wanders around, the more he thinks about the objects around him. They have names, like "bus" and "seat," but he knows that the words are just inventions of humans. In reality, there is only existence and non-existence. Words aren't real; only things are—nameless things that simply exist and don't care about humanity. Feeling confused yet? Well so is Antoine, it seems.
He gets onto a streetcar, and then jumps back off while it's moving. He can't stand in one place for too long or he feels sick.
He feels like "existence" is closing in around him from all sides, entering through his eyes, nose, and mouth.
And then, all of a sudden, he claims that, "the veil is torn away, I have understood, I have seen" (24.299).
We don't know exactly what he's seen, and before he tells us, the diary entry cuts off.