The Passionate Philosopher

Man Ray-Hommage to D.A.F De Sade
Once the grave has been filled in it shall be sown over with acorns so that afterwards the ground of the said grave having been replanted and the thicket being overgrown as it was before, the traces of my tomb will disappear from the  surface of the earth, as I flatter myself that my memory will be effaced from the minds of men, except none the less from those of the small number of people who have been pleased to love me up to the last moment, and of whom I carry into the grave a most tender recollection.

Marquis De Sade-Last Will and Testament

Regardless of your opinion of the Divine Marquis, it has to be admitted that he got it spectacularly wrong in his prediction that his memory would be effaced from the minds of men. Although he certainly didn’t invent the sexual pathology that bears his name, he does hold the world trademark rights. Rarely has a writer, and a writer so rarely read, achieved such lasting notoriety far beyond the narrow confines of literature and philosophy. Sadism is an important concept in psychology, jurisprudence and is a boon to journalists, not to mention has given rise to an increasingly visible sub-culture, of which Fifty Shades of Grey is the most prominent and commercially succesful.

The pioneering sexologist Krafft-Ebing introduced the term Sadism in 1890 based on the content of his works. In many ways De Sade anticipated both Krafft-Ebing and Sigmund Freud by placing sexual desire and sexuality as the prime, motivating factor in human behaviour, and furthermore  categorising all the possible aberrations inherent in humanity.  It was another German psychiatrist Ewan Bloch who first published The 120 Days of Sodom, De Sade’s most extreme and surely the darkest book ever to be written, in 1904, further spurring interest in his work.

Although it was the psychiatrists who brought De Sade back to public attention in the 20th century, it was the poets who venerated him as the ultimate rebel . Apollinaire proclaimed him ‘the freest spirit to have ever lived’, and in the First Manifesto of Surrealism Andre Breton noted that ‘De Sade is surrealist in sadism.’ Georges Bataille entire oeuvre is a marriage of Sade and Nietzsche. Barthes and Foucault wrote extensively (and infuriatingly) about a figure they saw as an important post-modern predecessor.

Outside of France, Henry Miller was an early champion and a number of Beats either translated his work or produced Sadean erotica for the Olympia Press. In recent years biographies have proliferated (with good reason, De Sade’s life reads better than most novels, no matter how imaginative) and Penguin Classics just issued a new translation of The 120 Days of Sodom, the original manuscript of which was recently sold for 7 million euro at auction.

The Marquis or characters from his novels has made many a cameo in movies as well. In L’Age D’or by Luis Bunuel the coda contains the blasphemous suggestion that Jesus Christ was one of the libertines of the Chateau de Silling. Bunuel would later feature a vignette of De Sade in La Voie Lactee. A sardonic De Sade is the main character of Peter Weiss’s Brechtian film Marat/Sade, while more recently  the Philip Kaufman directed Quills  re-imagines the Marquis’s time in Charenton in gothic horror fashion. And one shouldn’t forget Pasolini’s highly controversial Salo or his influence upon the pornographic and sexploitation genres, especially Jesus De Franco.

Two centuries after his death it is safe to say that De Sade isn’t going away any time soon. Whether he is viewed as the destroyer of traditional values or the apostle of radical liberty, his vision of a total, impossible freedom will continue to haunt the imagination.

49 thoughts on “The Passionate Philosopher

  1. Wow, I didn’t know sadism was named for him. Was he a sadist? It does seem that he was totally wrong about how he’d be remembered. And this photo- that says a lot, doesn’t it? Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In a certain sense yes he was, he was certainly the first to formulate the pleasure/pain nexus. In my series I have tried to show that he is more than just that though. The photo I previously used in my dreams of Desire series, no 4. Hope you enjoyed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. oh, hmm, that’s certainly an interesting nexus… I do remember the photo. I’m sure the church loves that photo. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you Vic, different disciplines but I enjoy them the same, writing about art and literature is like a holiday from writing stories and poetry. Hopefully I do my subjects justice because I have an enormous affectation for them. They are like friends to me even though most of them are dead.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. For me, writing poetry is a holiday from writing stories but I’ve been on holiday way too long! I should find something else to do…
        Yes, your enthusiasm and affection for your subjects is lovely and makes me excited to learn about them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A nice overview of the man. I am pleased to have had my eyes opened to the larger story of Sade. A fascinating character. I wonder how many of your readers have seen or even heard of those films, though. Mystic Cake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Will I want to educate not patronise any viewers. Salo is one of the most controversial movies ever, theatre buffs will probably have heard of Marat/Sade, L’age d’or was banned for over 50 years and Quills is relatively recent and a Hollywood movie to boot. As for 70’s porn well his imprint is all over it

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He was notorious during his life and notorious after his death… a French encyclopaedia mentioned Sadism as early as 1831, Lord Byron scandalised Lady Caroline with his copy of Justine. Baudelaire and Flaubert knew his work and the Decadents of course loved him. Krafft-Ebing him a scientific veneer and the rest is history.

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      2. I really do know a lot of useless information. The portrait of the Marquis in quills as a reclusive rock star was quite accurate in a weird kind of way. He was celebrity material, notorious before he even set pen to paper.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I disagree. You have managed to thoroughly educate yourself on subjects you are passionate about. You write eloquently on said subjects, shining a light on the obscure and the arcane. I find conversations with you exceptionally stimulating. And I hope that you don’t really find yourself lacking in any way. I appreciate your humility. But damn, Cake you’ve made this more interesting than any art course I could’ve taken in school. Now hush and take my compliment.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well the competition is stiff (no pun intended) in this field. He is the intellectuals favourite deviant and the literature is extensive already. Some of it is dreadful (I read Foucault on Sade and I am like are you reading the same write I am? Because I certainly can’t tell.) However a year hanging around Provence and Paris researching sounds nice.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Roger I am flattered. You are an gifted academic and I am sure you have nothing to learn from me with my wayward scattershot self learning. But thank you. I was talking about you earlier today, I am privileged to call you my friend (hope you don’t mind at the presumption).


  3. Like some of your other readers, I didn’t know that the term was linked to the Marquis. It’ll probably never be a Jeopardy clue, but it’s still very interesting to know. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How would he feel to know he is quite the topic of conversation to this day, I wonder. His personal history is quite tumultuous and controversial. It often happens that the ones who challenge our thinking also are deeply flawed. The art you chose is interesting, the inverted cross which in my eyes, in addition to the religious undertones, also mirrors the black lines made at the intersection of the gluteus maximus and the thighs. Some good insights here, C.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you… De Sade was notorious in his life time and something of a dubious celebrity. I think he would have (as somebody mention) been a social media star with a million followers. His last will and testament is quite clear that he wanted to be forgotten but he could have been disingenuous in this regard. The inverted cross is meant to form a visual rhyme with the areas you mentioned, and is meant as a nod towards his proclivities. Hopefully the points raised are thought provoking.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I find it very interesting how there always seemed to be some persons like hand-picked for the inspiration of artist, writers and so on over generations and centuries… Must be due to some process of abstractions, people only can cope with a certain amount of information. It is not for nothing, that it is currently rather fasionable practice to deliberately deminish the amount of incoming information. This may be applied to any information there is, might it be virtual, or non-virtual, visual, verbal, whatever. Highly interesting. Well. I’m a bit off topic now. Yes. (De)Sade was a highly interesting person, that’s for sure. Thanks for writing, posting, keeping it up, please keep them informations coming. Cheers.

    Liked by 2 people

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