After a slight detour, we are back on topic. Sex and seduction is the current Salonica theme. We walked along the edge with Bataille, but Marquis de Sade is foremost when it comes to shock, philosophy and the ultimate pursuit of pleasure. He has been viewed as deplorable, a true enemy of woman and their role in society. He has been hailed by feminists as a sexual liberator, a warden that unlocked their sexuality from the jailers of morality. No matter how you view de Sade, most agree, he was a pervert. A perverted mind that was imprisoned consistently for his writings and his behavior. To be the ultimate libertine was de Sade’s goal and he wrote extensively about his pursuit of that goal as well as the abolishment of religion as the answer to sexual freedom and happiness. His most famous work, 120 Days of Sodom, basically becomes an exploration of hedonism with touches of humor. De Sade’s work is valid for it’s treatment of all sexual orientations as equal and equally deserving of pleasure. There is no right or wrong, merely the idea of satisfaction.
Where de Sade becomes controversial is with the aspect of consensuality. The term sadism is derived from de Sade’s writing, the idea of pleasure from pain, is fine as long as the two parties agree. But the thread of pleasure and pain run through his works, but not necessarily the thread of consent. There is an element of control in his work that justifies someone’s pursuit of sexual nirvana even if it means forcing someone else to do something they don’t want to do. We are dealing with the precepts of nihilism, and to some extent, the seeds that led to existentialism.
This is interesting to note and perhaps why I chose to highlight one of de Sade’s lesser read works, Philosophy in the Boudoir, a play that focuses on three characters deflowering a fifteen year old virgin. Along the journey through a demented sexual twister game, de Sade also takes on adultery, morality, abortion, safe sex and the Republic of France. Sounds like a great political agenda, in my humble opinion. I, for one, am amazed at how contemporary these views are especially since they were written over two hundred years ago.
De Sade on virtue:
Renounce all virtues, Eugenie! Is there a single sacrifice we can make to those false deities that’s a minute of the pleasures we savor while outraging them? Why, virtue is nothing but a chimera, whose cult consists of perpetual immolations, countless revolts against the inspirations of the temperament. Can such processes be natural? Does nature advise us to do something outrageous? Don’t be the dupe, Eugenie, of those women who you hear are virtuous. It is not, if you like, the same passions as we whom they serve–they’ve got other ones, which are often far more horrible. These passions are pride, ambition, greed, frequently just the coldness of a temperament that never counsels them.
De Sade on abortion:
In expanding the measure of our rights, we have finally come to realize that we were perfectly free to take back what we had given only reluctantly or accidentally, and that it was impossible to require any individual whomsoever to become a parent if he didn’t wish to do so. We also acknowledge that it was of no special consequence whether one creature more or less lived on the earth. In short, we became as certain the masters of this lump of flesh–however animated–as we are the masters of the nails we cut from our fingers, or the outgrowths we remove from our bodies, or the digestives we expel from our innards; that’s because they all come from us and they belong to us, and we are the sole owners of whatever derives from us.
And De Sade on Sodomy:
Yet how moronic would it be to believe that our species is so crucial to the world that who didn’t work for its propagation or who interfered with its propagation would necessarily be a criminal! Let’s stop blinding ourselves to this point, and may the example of nations more reasonable than ours serve to convince us of our errors! There’s not a single corner of the earth where this alleged crime of sodomy did not have its temples and its adherents! The Greeks, who turned it into a virtue, as it were, erected a statue to sodomy, Venus Callipygos; while Rome went in search of Athenian laws and imported this divine pleasure.
Like him or not, he challenged the mores, ethics and social structure of his time. Sounds like a great guy to have at a dinner party, though.
Interesting note about the picture I use for the Salonica blog. It was taken on a trip to France in the Fortress of Miolans where de Sade was imprisoned at one point. It was eerie and extremely depressing and I imagine de Sade dreamed about being liberated often.