-- Bologna, li 4 aprile A.D. 1998
Why this work? Most certainly this column should start with a classical piece of literature
and, since this task has been assigned to me, from my most peculiar point of view I have
chosen to present the one work which I consider to be a real jewel of the genre (I'd might
be tempted to say of "erotic literature", if it weren't for the fact that there's so little eroticism
Why Sade? The "Divine Marquis" has been crucial to my personal and literary growth
(but aren't they interconnected, after all?). I will not waste your time with the reasons which
drew me to such a "forbidden" author, but what makes him still modern and meaningful to me
are those little narrative molecules that are typical of him: sex used as an expressive language
to give material shape to his philosophy as well as a means to exhibit his ironic verve. "La
Philosophie" is a good example.
Published in 1795, still in revolutionary times, it addresses an èlite readership, across between
republican aristocracy and orthodox revolutionary. Bearing influences from the ancient tradition
of philosophical dialogs and the more recent aristocratic comedy of manners, "La philosophie",
in spite of its un-orthodoxical adherence, is the Marquis' most delightful and important work.
In the course of seven dialogs, the petite ingenue Eugenie de Mistival receives her
education and introduction into libertinage from three libertines, representing the three main
libertine characters (man, woman and sodomite), with the assistance of an over-endowed naïf
gardener (only touch of vernacular in an otherwise thoroughly aristocratic atmosphere). By
the last dialog, these characters will be joined by Eugenie's mother, who will also
serve in the double role of victim and study material.
Theory and practice intertwine and alternate through the seven dialogs, abiding thus
to the traditional link between libertinage and philosophy (libertinism, which may include
atheism, deism or liberism) as well as providing ideological justification to the individual's
sexual choices. Of course, there is also a scenic motivation in the philosophical interludes
which give the characters rest and breath between the erotic scenes. Those who in Sade
merely hope to find pruriginous stimulation will be tempted to skip these philosophical
disquisitions, ignoring that it was the specific intention of the author that they, and not
the erotic scenes, should prove stimulating and arousing for the actors, who, as a result
of these intellectual arousals, at every turn, feel the impellent need to satisfy desires
so powerfully awoken. However, it is precisely in these sex scenes that Sade manages
to flaunt (and delight us with) his mastery of the theatrical medium, and where the scenic
act is translated with elegance and lightness of touch.
The revolutionary pamphlet (Yet another effort, Frenchmen, if you wish to be republicans!),
inserted at two-thirds of the work, may seem like a second thought patched on with a wink at
revolutionary censorship, but, on the contrary, it constitutes the very heart of sadian moral
and theological philosophy. Indeed, it is in this apparent subservience to the regime that Sade's
sincerely revolutionary spirit is revealed, reinforced by an albeit methodic élan of a clearly
proto-babeuvian nature (and therefore, by a long chronological jump, proto-leninist). And yet,
Sade's daring modernity can be evidenced above all in the course of the lessons, in the
claim for women's reproductive rights, their right to total sexual gratification, freedom of movement,
in sum their equal rights in the State. A few of these ideas may indeed seem obvious to us, today,
or even peculiar coming from such an author, such as the abolition of the death penalty (yes, you
may laugh, but even Robespierre was against it!).
Earlier on I mentioned Sade's ironic touch. In my humble opinion this is the most characteristic
trait of the Sadian opus (see, for example, what Erica Jong and Simone de Beauvoir have to
say about this); his lightness of touch, his subtle and versatile use of language, his psychological
analysis materialized into sexual acts, his sparkling esprit are the aspects I most appreciate in
this author. Sade's sense of humor is without a doubt "black", I agree, but, as it often occurs
in certain perfect French comedies that manage to marry tragedy to levity, here too we are
made to swallow dishes that may be truly indigestible to the many, and yet we get up from
the table without any need for a digestive drink (?). This sense of humor is best exemplified
in abrupt turns of phrase, sudden twist of sense, in the orgasmic pauses that beat along the
fucking rythm, pauses accomplished at times through brisk linguistic veering.
For the above mentioned reasons (and for many others I will not bore you with) I find myself
strongly recommending "La Philosophie" not only as erotic "cultivated reading"
(notwithstanding that Sade...), but also as purely entertaining, provided that one distances oneself
from all personal taste in matters of sex. Read it as an amusing comedy, or as a delightful profile
of human nature, or read it even as a surrealist work, or, lastly, as a masturbatory fantasy. The
beauty of Sade is precisely this: he does not have just one reading level, but many.
One last note. As far as English editions are concerned, I highly recommend the Grove Press edition:
753 pages, featuring also "Justine" and the most delightful (sentimental?) novella,
"Eugènie de Franval", plus seven letters by Sade, a detailed chronology and two
interesting essays by Jean Paulhan and Maurice Blanchot, all translated in English.
As far as the original text is concerned, the ultime experience could only be the Nrf
edition in the Plëiade series ("Sade - œuvres complètes III", amply annotated,
supplemented with a great deal of historical and cultural background, which help place the work
in its historical context); the price is quite high, unfortunately, but there are also more affordable
editions like Laffont or Gallimard. Goes without
saying that real Sadians and all passionate collectors of Sadian paraphernalia, will carouse the
whole world large and wide in order to lay their hands on the Jean-Jacques Pauvert
60's edition in the original black leather binding, today almost irretrievable...
madd - "Raccolta differenziata" Numero Zero
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