When Sartre is describing the lonely old proctor on the bench he states they feared him not because of how he appeared but because they thought he might be "shaping thoughts of crab or lobster in his head."
Is this some sort of french saying? I get the gist of it in the context of the text and i love the sound of it but what does it actually mean?
>Is this some sort of french saying?
It's more a mescaline-induced obsession that's personal to Sartre:
>L'auteur de «l'Etre et le néant» avait commencé à expérimenter avec la mescaline dès 1935, intrigué, comme tant d'autres intellectuels et artistes, tels Aldous Huxley ou Henri Michaux, par les altérations, voire l'expansion de la conscience, que pouvait induire cette drogue. Mais, raconte Sartre à Grenassi:
>« Après avoir pris de la mescaline, j'ai commencé à voir tout le temps des crabes autour de moi. Ils me suivaient dans la rue, en classe. Je me réveillai le matin et leur disais : ''Bonjour les petits, avez-vous bien dormi ?'' Puis : "Okay les gars, nous partons en classe maintenant"... et ils restaient là, autour de mon bureau, tout à fait calmes, jusqu'à ce que la cloche sonne.»
So you are saying he means to imply they thought the proctor was mad, or hallucinating in some way.
I've always felt it to meant that he was without any form of human contact to keep his thoughts in line so had become dangerous in his thoughts.
I always read it as the people fearing him because his thoughts betrayed an awareness of existence's ultimate contingency, that things might as well be bizarre and alien, like crustaceans are to human beings (deep-sea monstrous-looking animals). It has ties to the scene where Roquentin is staring at Bouville and imagining all sorts of grotesque and bizarre things happening to its inhabitants: if you're not aware of your own existence (like the man with the moustache), these sorts of things don't seem possible because the world seems to ground itself as it conventionally is. The 'madman' is capable of imagining weird crustaceans and so is free of that bad faith, which disturbs people who need it to feel secure.