Thursday, December 04, 2008

"The Divine Marquis"

Marquis de Sade





It is of course rather rare for someones name to become a noun but in the case of the Marquis de Sade to say that the man has become well known as a noun is a spectacular underestimate. Sadism is simply an all too familiar word. It originated from a combination of a rather "extreme" erotic appetites of Monsieur de Sade and, largely, because of his writings. Here I will discuss his most famous, along with being his most disgusting work, The 120 Days of Sodom.1

The details of his life are fairly simple. He was born in 1740 and died in 1814. He spent c. 32 years of his life in various prisons including the Bastile. The last 13 years in the Charenton Insane Asylum.2

While in the Bastile he composed his The 120 Days of Sodom, some times in the early 1780's. In 1785 concerned that the manuscript might be seized and destroyed he decided to make that less likely. He pasted together into sort of a scroll paper sheets twelve centimeters wide and a bit over 12 meters long. Between October 22 and November 28th 1785 he copied the entire work onto both sides of the scroll and then carefully hid it away behind some loose bricks. There it stayed for sometime. Shortly before the Bastile was stormed Sade had been removed from the prison, (he apparently was encouraging the milling revolutionary crowds around it). After the Bastile was stormed de Sade's cell was sacked and practically all of its contents lost or destroyed. Sade apparently thought that the manuscript was lost for good. Sade mourned the loss of this and other manuscripts.3
Amazingly at least this one manuscript survived. An Arnoux de Saint-Maximin looking for stuff to take found the manuscript behind some loose bricks and amazingly kept it. Probably has a strange keepsake. It ended up in the care of the Villeneuve-Trans family for three generations. They then sold it to a German collector c. 1900. In 1904 the German Psychologist Dr. Iwan Bloch published the work.4

The 120 Days of Sodom is divided into four main sections. Part one is the 150 Simple Passions, Part two is the 150 Complex Passions, Part three is the 150 Criminal Passions and Part four is the 150 Murderous Passions. Before the four main sections is a long introduction setting the scene. The manuscript we have is not a complete work in any sense only the Introduction and Part One are in any sense complete. Parts two to four exist only in draft form. What we have is still 484 pages long.5 The four parts are each divided into two parts. In one part a different story teller narrates one of 150 tales of various passions, intermingled with these tales is a description of the goings on of our "Heroes", (extreme anti-heroes more accurately), which forms the second part of each part.

The setting of this tale is a remote castle were 4 aristocratic gentlemen, the Duc de Blangis, the Bishop, Curval and Durcet, have after careful planning, taking more than a year, have arranged to have the ultimate in carnal and "libertine" pleasures. All four of them are vicious murderous men, guilty of myriad crimes such as assault, rape, murder and incest and are only interested in their own satisfactions. Their victims include 16 young adolescents, between the ages of 12-15, 8 boys and 8 girls; they have kidnapped. Their 4 wives, who are also their daughters and whom they have married to each other, 8 adult men, 4 older women who will act has "Governesses" of the adolescents and 4 women who will serve has Story tellers, and 3 Cooks and 3 Scullery maids. Their potential victims thus number 42. The 6 Cooks and Scullery maids are excluded from the reign of terror that follows until near the end.

The 36 main victims are controlled in a ruthless relentless fashion by a series of sadistic rules that resemble the brutality of a concentration camp.

Should any subject in some way refuse anything demanded of him, even when incapacitated or when that thing is impossible, he shall be punished with utmost severity; 'tis for him to provide, for him to discover ways and means.6

Sade in this book aside from incredible sadistic cruelty has an obsession with scatology, that is both stomach turning and numbing by its frequency. Another trade mark is the book's interminable obsession with blasphemy. The following combines the two.

13. The man who amused himself with Eugenie on Duclos' eleventh day has the girl shit, wipes the well be-shitted ass; he possesses an out-sized prick, and embuggers, ploughing into the asshole behind a consecrated Host.7

That is merely one of the less disgusting and offensive examples, there are many, many more.

Regarding the sadism, so to speak, the following is one of the ultimate passages of sheer terror and horror.

That accomplished, the flesh is peeled away from the bones of her arms and legs, which bones are sawed in several places, then her nerves are laid bare in four adjacent places, the nerve ends are tied to a short stick which like a tourniquet, is twisted, thus drawing forth the aforesaid nerves, which are very delicate parts of human anatomy and, which, when mistreated, cause the patient to suffer much. Augustine's agonies are unheard-of.8

Augustine is 15 years old.

This sort of stuff is relentless in The 120 Days of Sodom, it goes on for page after page without let up. So whats the point? Aside from the psychological / pathological aspects which are of interest in themselves. (Assuming you can keep your lunch down reading this stuff). The main focus of interest is its portrayal of evil. Frankly the 4 anti-heroes are evil men. Their obsession with their own needs and satisfactions; their delight in the crushing / destruction of others; their astounding pathological, psychopathic inability to empathize with others is one of the truest portrayals of not just the psychopathic sex killer but frankly of the psychopathic murderous politician, and those who carry out his dirty work. I said earlier that this horrid little castle in the tale is similar to a concentration camp, and has such it frighteningly mirrors the idea of the Concentration camp Universe. In this tale the murderous runners of the system terrorize everyone else and kill with abandon and cold blooded fury. Those that survive the ordeal with our 4 villains survive because they participate in the torture and murders of others. In the end of the 42 people our Camp Commandants take to the castle, thirty are murdered, in horrific fashion, twelve are allowed to survive having purchased survival by participating in torture and murder. Rather similar to some of the doings in our own concentration camp Universes.

To quote:

Les Cent Vingt Journees de Sodome and La Philosophie dans le Boudoir are dreams of absolute, destructive power, manifesting itself through rape, mutilation, and murder, and exercised by groups of seigneurs over their helpless victims. These fictions are just as much wish-fulfillment fantasies as sentimental novelettes of the romantic kind, only they are black fantasies instead of white ones;...9

It is also I contend a frightening view of the sadism and dreams of absolute power of a certain type of politician obsessed with absolute dreams and not empathizing with people. That is one of the reasons to read the Marquis de Sade; to provide insight into a dangerous mentality.

1, I'm using the Grove Press translation, New York, 1967.

2, See article in Wikipedia Here See also The Malcontents, Editor Joe Queenan, Running Press, London, 2002, pp. 517-519, and The Human Comedy of the Divine Marquis, John Weightman, New York Review of Books, V. XL No. 15, September 23, 1993, pp. 6-10.

3, The 120 Days of Sodom, pp. 183-187.

4, Ibid.

5, In the Grove edition.

6, Ibid. p. 248.

7, Ibid. p. 601.

8, Ibid. p. 658.

9, Weightman, p. 8.

Pierre Cloutier

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