Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (Alphonse KARR, Les Guêpes 1849) The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton examine how French culture in the eighteenth century  projected these new attitudes of lavishness and finesse within bourgeoisie and upper class society:

The central premise of elite social behavior was that the body was an instrument of pleasure. Interaction was conceived as a process of seduction – not necessarily a pursuit of overt sexual expression, but rather an exchange in which individuals sought to engage and delight each other with an artfully conducted repertoire of pleasing poses, gestures, expressions, and conversation.

Why was Year of the Carnivore an important story for you to tell? When I was doing Shortbus, part of the audition was that everybody had to come up with a story that they wanted to tell, and my story was the story of being a really awkward nerd girl who was totally out of touch with my body. ...

The Age of Reason in France opened up whole new realms of thought and action, and it was not limited to the intellectual sphere. 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.

Kate O'Brien, Marquis de Sade
Kate O’Brien, Marquis de Sade

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 )

Stanislav Plutenko, Marquis de Sade, 1996
Stanislav Plutenko, Marquis de Sade, 1996

”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 )

Artwork Chester Brown

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. Gr

d, 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.

The 120 Days of Sodom, 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini
The 120 Days of Sodom, 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini

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 )

“…About 20 minutes into the new romantic comedy Year of the Carnivore, the film’s main character — a petite young woman named Sammy Smalls who redefines the term “socially awkward” — confesses her love to a handsome street busker in his shabby loft. In any other film, the scene would be accompanied by a conventionally sweet soundtrack and up-close shots of the two lovers locking eyes. In writer-director Sook-Yin Lee’s feature debut, though, Sammy reveals her feelings just before vomiting into a toilet.” ( Barry Hertz )…

"Well, a Parisian version of hell at least. Referred to as L’Enfer (or Hell in French), the Bibliothèque National’s collection of pornography and erotica is probably the biggest in the world. The reason why is simple: when the public library was established in 1720, its most important duty was to collect a copy of every book, etching and pamphlet produced in France. As the collection grew so did a worrying trend for pornography."

God was a concept Sade totally rejected.No great shock there.  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.

Man Ray, Imaginary Portrait of the Marquis de Sade
Man Ray, Imaginary Portrait of the Marquis de Sade

“…Indeed, it was Lee’s own struggles with her body image and sexuality that led her to conceive Year of the Carnivore, an ultra-quirky story of one woman (Cristin Milioti) who finally gets the nerve to approach her crush (Mark Rendall), only to be told she needs more sexual experience before they can be together. “As much as the film is a love story, it’s also kind of a rite-of-passage film about a woman who’s uncertain of how she fits in,” Lee says. (Although, to be fair, most coming-of-age films don’t include scenes where women blackmail strangers into sex, just one of the many tactics Sammy uses to gain “experience” in the bedroom.)” …

"How strong can this stuff be? Given what appears daily on the internet, on cable TV, or in the pages of the Daily Sport, is it possible to be shocked by exquisite, but explicit, 17th-century porn? The answer is, yes. The exhibition is an eye-opener: a quietly and intelligently displayed but garish cornucopia of sadism, masochism, bestialism, scatology, bums, tits and staring genitalia. It is also a fascinating, and sometimes beautiful, expedition through the dark, winding corridors of the human psyche."

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.

There is also a whole display case devoted to "flagellation novels", which the catalogue describes as an "English speciality" imported to France in the late 19th century. Most of the material is of French origin. The Marquis de Sade has three display cases to himself, including the hand-written manuscript of "Les Infortunes de la Vertu", composed while he was a prisoner in the Bastille in 1787.

“…Still, despite the film’s promises of titillation, the director seems more interested in such decidedly non-raunchy themes as vulnerability and emotional intimacy. “Sex is like a metaphor, and what I wanted to look at is what gets in the way of love,” says Lee, whose characters constantly thwart their chances at happiness. “I do believe in love, it’s a beautiful thing, but it’s hard to achieve and requires vulnerability. Just like animals, there’s that self-preservation that we defend ourselves with, like we better kill the other person before they kill us. It takes unconditional love to get past that.” ( Hertz )

"Whatever. Dont let Sade’s miserable view cloud your perspective of this wonderful collection. Much of the work would make you seriously laugh. There are 18th Century etchings featuring woods of dick-shaped trees, women beating men with cock clubs, giant ejaculating volcanoes and an engraving of “the biggest penis of the world”, with Lilliputian women climbing on ladders to get a better view of the gigantic 40-metre-high balls. It’s beyond surreal. Sociologically, the exhibition opens up whole new chapters on Europe’s hidden history. There are handy 18th Century guides to the brothels of Paris that are obsessive in their detail from the price of each girl, with illustrations, to her location and specific specialties. Like all good guidebook writers, these guys took their work seriously, and there are hundreds of pencil marks in margins noting good or bad value for money."

Elfriede Jelinek, Austrian writer and essayist, 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.

“The thing is that, as soon as man worked out how to paint an urn, carve a woodcut or build a printing press, that mode of reproduction was instantly used to create porn. So, when the camera came along in about 1850, it wasn’t only used to photograph generals, presidents and politicians, but rather lesbian shows, buggery by men in top hats and lots of girls with their legs open on comfortable cushions.

L’Enfer’s collection of photography is limited because many pictures were destroyed by police during raids in the 19th Century, but there is enough to give a decent overview. One particularly enthusiastic amateur, for example, took pictures of more than 1,500 girls with their bits in the air between 1889 and 1910 and then carefully pasted them into children’s scrapbooks.” …

...Away from the soaring towers of the Bibliothèque, I took a taxi to Gare du Nord and passed the peep shows, lap dancing clubs and sex shops of Pigalle. Behind the beaded curtains of a thousand neon lights were racks of material offering updated versions of what I’d just seen and lots of men transfixed by images on mobile phone screens. The medium may have changed, but the message is always the same. ( Andy Round, Australian Penthouse )

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