Whips, Knives and dreams of mass destruction. The Marquis de Sade. He knew what we have taken a long time to learn….sex is not just something that happens in a bedroom.Mankind is not doing well at the moment, but mankind has never done very well. Sade, in his actions and books, extrapolated on a large scale,of epic proportions, what society insists on keeping locked up in the crypts of the mind. His profound misanthropy and destructive fantasies are in part, justified by the events of European history.
In the spring of 1966, Pamela Hansford Johnson was sent to Chester to report for the London Sunday Telegraph on the Moors murder trial. Ian Brady, twenty-seven, and Myra Hindley, twenty-three, were accused of the murder of three persons, a boy of twelve, a girl of ten, and a second of seventeen. Both were found guilty. They were acts of gratuitous violence unlinked to any redeeming value which would justify lenience in the interests of pacifying passion. Acts of disinterest and without remorse. ; dying screams were taped and edited with a melange of popular music.
”What distinguished the conduct of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley was their eccentric juxtaposition of circumstances: they resorted, like figures in a McLuhan nightmare, to an extraordinary jumble of media. The finales were Conan Doyle reproductions—all axes and howling dogs and cloddy graves on the moors. The preliminary devices, however, were recent and even modish. Brady had a library of fifty books: among the ten-cent erotica, the one reputable-disreputable was of course the Marquis de Sade. The jury studied a checklist of this collection; it also looked at Brady’s snapshots of the girl, Lesley Ann Downey, and listened to a sixteen-minute tape recording, furnished by Brady too, of her responses to torture. Only a limited budget, evidently, ruled out a 16-mm. movie of the murder. Neither the camera work nor the tape recording, however, impressed Miss Johnson so much as Brady’s books: they were, in the end, to blame for her writing on Iniquity.” ( Mary Ellmann )
”Without any evidence, Hansford Johnson assumed that the main consumers of these dirty books were simple minded… semi illiterate… early school leavers, like the Moors murderers. in fact, as American research conclusively showed, the typical 1960’s user of porn was dressed in a business suit, middle aged, married and college educated; exactly the kind of person who read Hansford Johnson and her husband C.P. Snow’s novels.” ( John Sutherland )
Is the Marquis de Sade a prophet of the age? When there is a will to cruelty or murder, the pretext of a literary example is supererogatory. Many murders have been inspired by the bible, notably Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac as expiation of sin, perhaps the origins of post traumatic stress and repressed memory, or Shakespeare’s Hamlet as manual for how young gentry could kill their stepfather. Granted, With the Marquis de Sade, his talent, call it chronic, for debauchery of the most depraved and ingenious kind was totally irrepressible. A repeat offender. Interestingly, Sade was able to fascinate women, almost Rasputian in scope; perhaps even to the point of inspiring genuine love. His life can be considered the practice of a kind of art; an unrepentent dream, hardly broken, of pornographical violence.
It was in prison, cut off from the enactment of sexual cruelty that Sade became a writer: ” He was anxious to shine primarily as a dramatist, but ( this comes out all too strongly in his fiction ) he lacked any real interest in moral conflict and resolution, and he had no gift for characterization. He really had only one theme- his own predilections and their justification as a rational philosophy” ( Edmund Wilson )
God was a concept Sade totally rejected. But, there is a goddess, who is nature ,and Sade felt it a duty, moral imperative, to fulfill in our own actions her most terrible and monstrous impulses.Evil is built into people ,according to Sade, and acquiescence is favored over regeneration. The central rationale was that the destructive urge is in the service of creating new forms of life. This is not a compromise doctrine in the Judeo-Christian tradition. For Sade, the devices of cruelty that humans develop are a manifestation of quite impersonal, or pre-personal energy. Personal guilt is irrelevent, since the first law of life is to accept the world as it is. Think Paul Bernardo and Carla Homolka whom psychotherapy is unable to plumb to the depth of touching the prepersonal. Or, the case of Austrian Josef Fritzl.
Ditto, as well to the apparent contradictory nature of Jean Jacques Rousseau who believed that the state of nature was inherently virtuous, rational and noble, and that people became depraved through man-made laws which corrupted his romantic template. The Sade image is more realistic. The example of the Jacobean Terror was evidence of man’s appetite for pleasure being most amply fulfilled through the exercise of power and cruelty and his own acts, though not condonable, were reduced reflections of a depraved France and the outside world at large, and its impulse of subjugation and domination.
Elfriede Jelinek, Austrian writer, points out that the modern society and its oligarchial structure, is no different. It wants power and it intends, behind the immortal, the mythical, and other facades, masks, and subtefuges to keep power until the end of time. This power is the ultimate pleasure, a sort of final human fulfillment on the path of least resistance. The image of a gun poised over a terrified human face. The exercise of power means the exercise of cruelty, for it is only through cruelty that the victim can experience the extent of your total domination over him. At least, this appears to be the underlying current in Jelinek’s work as well as Werner Fassbinder. Power is seen as an aspect of the sexual impulse. The sexual act is shown not as a reciprocity of pleasure giving, but as the enforcing of strange desires on an unwilling victim. In the Sade view, sharing pleasure means to weaken it, though the definition of pleasure itself is open ended and ambiguous. In Jelinek’s and Fassbinder’s work, the victims are usually impotent to strike back and are somewhat of a preordained persecutable type.