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.
It’s a repetition of the recurrence
Don’t believe the hype
This ain’t no singularity
Nowt new beneath
The gaudy painted disk
That meanders monotonously
Against the banal backdrop
The Ingenue is always searching
In other people’s bathroom cabinets
And the Melancholy Lieutenant
Is eternally on the verge
Of nodding off, drifting away
To a place that only exists
Within the confines of his skull
While the Rebel is forever swerving
Just a fraction too late
On the rain slick Parisian street
The serpent eats it tails
So that whatever happens
Happens again just so
Exactly as it was
And there is no end in sight
Because there was never
A starting point to begin with
It’s the recurrence of a repetition
Attributed by legend to the Old Man of the Mountain, the leader of the Nizari Isma’ilites and the founder of the Order of Assassins (Hashshashin), Hassan-i-Sabbah, the line ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted‘, is first found in print in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, and was later taken up in a book entitled Le Grand Maître des Assassins by Betty Bouthoul, where it was discovered by the hit-man for the Apocalypse, William S. Burroughs, who was very fond of quoting it. From there it has infiltrated into popular culture, via movies and video games, and now appears to be the guiding maxim of 21st Century political irreality.
With its perplexing and gnomic quality, the phrase could be read as merely a particularly nihilistic variant of the Liars Paradox. While I am willing to concede that this approach has claims to validity it also shows a lack of imagination, a certain tone-deafness. One can only echo Nietzsche remarks about the labyrinthine consequences of such a proposition as ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’. So we can safely leave the logical positivists to their sterile linguistic games and pursue an investigation into its meaning and potential implications.
Karl Jaspars warned in 1936 that the statement found in Nietzsche, if removed from its context and taken by itself ‘…expresses complete lack of obligation; it is an invitation to individual caprice, sophistry, and criminality.’ Hannah Arendt illuminatingly remarked in The Origins of Totalitarianism that, ‘In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.’
However others saw in the statement not a dire warning but the possibility of freedom; after all, if nothing is true then everything is permitted. The idea that the world is illusionary is one of the certain tenets of Gnosticism (see my ongoing series, starting with A Heresy for the 21st Century), and the second part of the maxim could easily have been part of the philosophy of a particularly radical and libertine Gnostic sect. But then the early Nizari, although not Gnostic, certainly seems to have been one of the more esoteric and heretical of Islamic movements, as the following story of the qiyāma (resurrection) illustrates.
In 1164 on the seventeenth day of Ramadan, Hasan II, a student of Sufism and the descendent of Hassan-i-Sabbah, gathered Assassins from the Nizari territories at the mountain stronghold of Alamut. The crowds are carefully positioned around the pulpit so that are facing away from Mecca. Behind the pulpit are tables covered in the finest silk clothes. When the sun reaches its zenith in the sky, Hasan II enters through the gates of the citadel, dressed all in white. Addressing the audience he states that he is God’s khalifa and declares the qiyāma (which is supposed to only happen at the end of time). As the esoteric aspect of religion has now been revealed and Paradise is actualised in the corporeal world, sharia law is abolished and those that continue to adhere will be punished. As a coup de grace Hasan II has the silk clothes removed to reveal tables laden with dishes of pork and flagons of wine. The crowd, fearing a test, do not make a move until Hasan II helps himself to a glass and a plate. Then they begin to realise that nothing is true and everything is permitted: there are no laws in Paradise.
Burroughs, who would return to the statement time and time again, interpreted it in a somewhat Gnostic and Blakean sense, with special relevance to artistic creation, stating, ‘Not to be interpreted as an invitation to all manner of unrestrained and destructive behaviour, that would be a minor episode, which would run its course. Everything is permitted because nothing is true. It is all make-believe . . . illusion . . . dream . . . art. When art leaves the frame and the written word leaves the page, not merely the physical frame and page, but the frames and pages that assign the categories.
A basic disruption of reality itself occurs. The literal realisation of art. Success will write apocalypse across the sky. The artist aims for a miracle. The painter wills his pictures to move off the canvass with a separate life. movement outside of the picture and one rip in the fabric is all it takes for pandemonium to break through.”
But taken literally in the 21st Century with its hyper-mediated and conflicting levels of reality, where truth has become something of an unknown quantity, depending upon your own personal, subjective point of view, the maxim has become a political tool in the hands of media-savvy opportunists. We expect politicians to lie, but we are far beyond that stage now. Our precarious sense of reality has eroded to such an extent that nothing is true, everything is permitted, is no longer just a verbal paradox but a damning assessment of the situation it which we find ourselves.
This strange and disturbing Surrealist text, with its frenzied sexual connotations and violent imagery was written by Georges Bataille in 1927 and published in 1931 with illustrations by longtime collaborator Andre Masson (alas I have been unable to find the drawings so I have chosen a colour lithograph by the same artist instead).
L’Anus solaire is a riot of analogy and allusion, and as it mentions both a sewing machine and an umbrella would seem to be clearly indebted to the Black Bible of Surrealism, Les Chants de Maldoror by the mysterious Uruguayan Comte de Lautréamont. Other touchstones are the Marquis De Sade, William Blake and Friedrich Nietzsche.
A quick word about the Jesuve mentioned in the text. Bataille elsewhere notes that “The Jésuve is not only Jesus, which in France is both a saviour and a sausage, but also sève, the sap of Dionysos; the Jesuve is both the volcano, Vésuve, and the goddess, Vénus; it is the je suis of Descartes …”
It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form.
Ever since sentences started to circulate in brains devoted to reflection, an effort at total identification has been made, because with the aid of a copula each sentence ties one thing to another; all things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
But the copula of terms is no less irritating than the copulation of bodies. And when I scream I AM THE SUN an integral erection results, because the verb to be is the vehicle of amorous frenzy.
Everyone is aware that life is parodic and that it lacks an interpretation. Thus lead is the parody of gold. Air is the parody of water. The brain is the parody of the equator. Coitus is the parody of crime.
Gold, water, the equator, or crime can each be put forward as the principle of things.
And if the origin of things is not like the ground of the planet that seems to be the base, but like the circular movement that the planet describes around a mobile center, then a car, a clock, or a sewing machine could equally be accepted as the generative principle.
The two primary motions are rotation and sexual movement, whose combination is expressed by the locomotive’s wheels and pistons.
These two motions are reciprocally transformed, the one into the other.
Thus one notes that the earth, by turning, makes animals and men have coitus, and (because the result is as much the cause as that which provokes it) that animals and men make the earth turn by having coitus.
It is the mechanical combination or transformation of these movements that the alchemists sought as the philosopher’s stone.
It is through the use of this magically valued combination that one can determine the present position of men in the midst of the elements.
An abandoned shoe, a rotten tooth, a snub nose, the cook spitting in the soup of his masters are to love what a battle flag is to nationality.
An umbrella, a sexagenarian, a seminarian, the smell of rotten eggs, the hollow eyes of judges are the roots that nourish love.
A dog devouring the stomach of a goose, a drunken vomiting woman, a slobbering accountant, a jar of mustard represent the confusion that serves as the vehicle of love.
A man who finds himself among others is irritated because he does not know why he is not one of the others.
In bed next to a girl he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches.
Without knowing it, he suffers from the mental darkness that keeps him from screaming that he himself is the girl who forgets his presence while shuddering in his arms.
Love or infantile rage, or a provincial dowager’s vanity, or clerical pornography, or the diamond of a soprano bewilder individuals forgotten in dusty apartments.
They can very well try to find each other; they will never find anything but parodic images, and they will fall asleep as empty as mirrors.
The absent and inert girl hanging dreamless from my arms is no more foreign to me than the door or window through which I can look or pass.
I rediscover indifference (allowing her to leave me) when I fall asleep, through an inability to love what happens.
It is impossible for her to know whom she will discover when I hold her, because she obstinately attains a complete forgetting.
The planetary systems that turn in space like rapid disks, and whose centers also move, describing an infinitely larger circle, only move away continuously from their own position in order to return it, completing their rotation.
Movement is a figure of love, incapable of stopping at a particular being, and rapidly passing from one to another.
But the forgetting that determines it in this way is only a subterfuge of memory.
A man gets up as brusquely as a specter in a coffin and falls in the same way.
He gets up a few hours later and then he falls again, and the same thing happens every day; this great coitus with the celestial atmosphere is regulated by the terrestrial rotation around the sun.
Thus even though terrestrial life moves to the rhythm of this rotation, the image of this movement is not turning earth, but the male shaft penetrating the female and almost entirely emerging, in order to reenter.
Love and life appear to be separate only because everything on earth is broken apart by vibrations of various amplitudes and durations.
However, there are no vibrations that are not conjugated with a continuous circular movement; in the same way, a locomotive rolling on the surface of the earth is the image of continuous metamorphosis.
Beings only die to be born, in the manner of phalluses that leave bodies in order to enter them.
Plants rise in the direction of the sun and then collapse in the direction of the ground.
Trees bristle the ground with a vast quantity of flowered shafts raised up to the sun.
The trees that forcefully soar end up burned by lightning, chopped down, or uprooted. Returned to the ground, they come back up in another form.
But their polymorphous coitus is a function of uniform terrestrial rotation.
The simplest image of organic life united with rotation is the tide. From the movement of the sea, uniform coitus of the earth with the moon, comes the polymorphous and organic coitus of the earth with the sun.
But the first form of solar love is a cloud raised up over the liquid element. The erotic cloud sometimes becomes a storm and falls back to earth in the form of rain, while lightning staves in the layers of the atmosphere.
The rain is soon raised up again in the form of an immobile plant.
Animal life comes entirely from the movement of the seas and, inside bodies, life continues to come from salt water.
The sea, then, has played the role of the female organ that liquefies under the excitation of the penis.
The sea continuously jerks off.
Solid elements, contained and brewed in water animated by erotic movement, shoot out in the form of flying fish.
The erection and the sun scandalize, in the same way as the cadaver and the darkness of cellars.
Vegetation is uniformly directed towards the sun; human beings, on the other hand, even though phalloid like trees, in opposition to other animals, necessarily avert their eyes.
Human eyes tolerate neither sun, coitus, cadavers, nor obscurity, but with different reactions.
When my face is flushed with blood, it becomes red and obscene.
It betrays at the same time, through morbid reflexes, a bloody erection and a demanding thirst for indecency and criminal debauchery.
For that reason I am not afraid to affirm that my face is a scandal and that my passions are expressed only by the JESUVE.
The terrestrial globe is covered with volcanoes, which serve as its anus.
Although this globe eats nothing, it often violently ejects the contents of its entrails.
Those contents shoot out with a racket and fall back, streaming down the sides of the Jesuve, spreading death and terror everywhere.
In fact, the erotic movements of the ground are not fertile like those of the water, but they are far more rapid.
The earth sometimes jerks off in a frenzy, and everything collapses on its surface.
The Jesuve is thus the image of an erotic movement that burglarizes the ideas contained in the mind, giving them the force a scandalous eruption.
This eruptive force accumulates in those who are necessarily situated below.
Communist workers appear to the bourgeois to be as ugly and dirty as hairy sexual organs, or lower parts; sooner or later there will be a scandalous eruption in the course of which the asexual noble heads of the bourgeois will be chopped off.
Disasters, revolutions, and volcanoes do not make love with the stars.
The erotic revolutionary and volcanic deflagrations antagonize the heavens.
As in the case of violent love, they take place beyond the constraints of fecundity.
In opposition to celestial fertility there are terrestrial disasters, the image of terrestrial love without condition, erection without escape and without rule, scandal, and terror.
Love then screams in my own throat; I am the Jesuve, the filthy parody of the torrid and blinding sun.
I want to have my throat slashed while violating the girl to whom I will have been able to say: you are the night.
The Sun exclusively loves the Night and directs its luminous violence, its ignoble shaft, toward the earth, but finds itself incapable of reaching the gaze or the night, even though the nocturnal terrestrial expanses head continuously toward the indecency of the solar ray.
The solar annulus is the intact anus of her body at eighteen years to which nothing sufficiently blinding can be compared except the sun, even though the anus is night.
To judge from the photos of the participants at the ‘Unite the Right’ event in Charlottesville, Virginia it was attended exclusively by two types. One was the usual knuckle dragging good ole boy Klansman and skinhead bovver boys, the kind of people who live for brawling and probably instigate a confrontation with their own shadows when nobody else is around. The other type was the alt-right who are laughably called the intelligentsia of the far right. Aiming for the preppy with white polo shirts these toy soldiers still convey the stench of male adolescent geekiness. It was to the second group that the accused killer of Heather Heyer, James Alex Fields, undoubtedly belonged.
Reading the details of Fields life leads to a depressing feeling of deja vu. All the standard tropes that feature heavily in the biographies of so many psychopaths, school shooters and spree killers are present. Quiet, introverted, kept himself to himself, socially inept, intelligent (but I suspect that they are never as intelligent as they think they are), absent fathers, unsettled childhoods, thwarted desire to serve in the military/police. And, although this remains unsaid, everyone knows to fill in the blanks, an unmitigated disaster with the opposite sex. In other words, real life imitations of Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s character in Martin Scorsese’s seminal movie Taxi Driver.
Travis Bickle frequently rails against the degradation and filth that he sees all around as he drives through the New York City night and longs for a return to purity (with unstated but definite racialist overtones). Yet we soon begin to have doubts about Bickle, especially as he chooses the night shift himself and spends part of the day watching blue movies. We only begin to fully understand Bickle’s profound disconnect and lack of social mores when he takes the beautiful and classy Betsy (played by Cybill Shepherd) to a hardcore pornographic movie theatre on the first date.
Paul Schrader the screenwriter for Taxi Driver has long acknowledged the debt the movie owes to Existentialism, and Bickle’s alienation bears some resemblance to the classic of Existentialism, Albert Camus L”Etranger (The Stranger), the story of the affectless Meursault who indifferently commits a murder.
Michel Houellebecq, the controversial French novelist and right wing provocateur first novel Extension du domaine de la lutte (literally Extension of the Domain of the Struggle, a parody of the titles of Situationist texts popular during the student uprisings of 1968, translated in English as Whatever) updates and expandsupon The Stranger. Central to Extension and other novels by Houellebecq is his theory regarding the sexual revolution of the 1960’s which he believes resulted in sexual capitalism instead of communism.
In an economic system where unfair dismissal is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their place. In a sexual system where adultery is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their bed mate. In a totally liberal economic system certain people accumulate considerable fortunes; others stagnate in unemployment and misery. In a totally liberal sexual system certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude.
This dynamic is given racialist overtones in Houellebecq’s work. According to Houellebecq black men and Asian women are the greatest benefactors of this liberal sexual system while the standard white collar, white male office drone is no longer guaranteed a mate. This would go some length to explaining the alt-right’s obsession with ‘cucking’ and their veneration of Trump, after all here is a white male who has enjoyed a successful sex life and wants to reverse the tide of sexual liberalisation back toward the way things used to be. Trump in return refuses to distance himself from these toxic movements because of deep seated insecurities resulting from his sense of absolute sexual entitlement.
The alt-right’s ugly and incendiary language and actions are a perfect example of Nietzsche’s theory of ressentiment, a reassignment of socially maladjusted inferiority projected onto an external scapegoat. Their inadequacies are not their own fault, it is the fault of other people. Because the typical alt-righter has lost out in the sexual marketplace and cannot get laid, others must suffer.