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Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)

Lifespan: 1740 - 1814

Portrait of the Marquis de Sade by Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo (c. 1761)

"The freest spirit that has yet existed" --Guillaume Apollinaire

"Despite of the advocacy of some able defenders, it is difficult for anyone who has actually read de Sade to feel much sympathy. ... De Sade's view of sex seems to be that of a dirty-minded schoolboy who has never experienced it." -- Colin Wilson, 1988

Sade's work is monotonous and boring. Sade's legacy comes not from his endless descriptions of debauchery, but rather from the philosophical writings in between them. Especially his inversion of poetic justice have given him a place in the history of counter-enlightenment and irrationalism.

In 1843 famed critic Sainte-Beuve wrote that Byron and Sade "are perhaps the two greatest inspirations of our moderns, the first openly and visibly, the second clandestinely, but not very."

Unidentified engraving to one of Sade's novels

Marquis de Sade's castle at Lacoste, 40 km from Avignon, recently restored by Pierre Cardin.

The cover on the Dutch translation of The Marquis De Sade: A New Biography (1992) published by Bert Bakker has this Roman Cieslewicz illustration of Sade

Years active: 1780s - 1790s - 1800s - 1810s

Sade (2000) - Benoît Jacquot [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Daniel Auteuil and Isild Le Besco

Tropes: human nature - vice - virtue - cruelty

Contemporaries: Immanuel Kant - Catherine the Great - Restif de la Bretonne - Henry Fuseli - Choderlos De Laclos - Jean-Paul Marat - Francisco de Goya

Related: enlightenment - libertine - French revolution - biographical works on Sade - sadomasochism - Sadean - sadism

Influential to: surrealism

Fictional characters: Eugenie - Juliette - Justine

Films on the life of Sade: Marquis (1989) - Sade (1999) - Quills (2000)

Titles: The 120 Days of Sodom (1784) - Aline and Valcour (1795) - Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795) - The Crimes Of Love (1800)

Quote: Cruelty, very far from being a vice, is the first sentiment Nature injects in us all. The infant breaks his toy, bites his nurse's breast, strangles his canary long before he is able to reason; cruelty is stamped in animals, in whom, as I think I have said, Nature's laws are more emphatically to be read than in ourselves; cruelty exists amongst savages, so much nearer to Nature than civilized men are. --Sade, Philosophy in the Bedroom


Donatien Alphonse François, de Sade, better known as the Marquis de Sade (pronounced "saad"; June 2, 1740 - December 2, 1814), was a French aristocrat best known as a writer of philosophy-laden transgressive fiction, as well as a some strictly philosophical works; much of his writing was done while in prison. His name is the source of the word sadism. He was an atheist and materialist in the tradition of de La Mettrie & Baron d'Holbach. He is noted for reversing the concepts of vice and virtue and stating that nature is cruel rather than ideal, as did Rousseau.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquis_de_Sade

Colin Wilson's The Misfits features a well-balanced portrait of de Sade, neither extolling his virtues nor villifying him. [Sept 2005]

Influence and appraisal

His name is the source of the word sadism.

Simone de Beauvoir and other writers have later attempted to locate traces of a radical freedom philosophy in de Marquis de Sade's writings, preceding that of existentialism by some 150 years. The surrealists admired him as one of their precursors, and Guillaume Apollinaire called him "the freest spirit that has yet existed". The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima wrote a play titled Madame de Sade. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquis_de_Sade#Appraisal [Jan 2005]

Literary works

He had started to write in prison. In 1782 he completed Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man, expressing his atheism by having the dying libertine convince the priest of the mistakes of a pious life. The novel The 120 Days of Sodom was written in 1785 and describes a wide variety of sexual perversions performed on a group of enslaved teenagers. In 1787, he wrote Les Infortunes de la vertu, an early version of Justine which was published in 1791. It describes the misfortunes of a girl who continues to believe in the goodness of God despite evidence to the contrary. In Aline and Valcour (1795) he contrasts a brutal African kingdom with a utopian island paradise. Other works are Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795), Juliette (1798), and Crimes of Love (1800) as well as a number of plays.

De Sade's works contain explicit and often repetitive descriptions of rape and a great number of sexual perversions, many of which involve violence and transcend the boundaries of the possible. He disdained the church and argued for atheism and for the rejection of all moral and ethical rules, advocating for an extreme hedonist way of life, pleasure being the highest principle. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquis_de_Sade#Literary_works [Jan 2005]

Influence on the surrealists

In the eighth issue of La Révolution surréaliste (December 1926), Éluard revealed the Surrealists' growing fascination with sexual perversion in a piece celebrating the writings of the Marquis de Sade. According to Éluard, the Marquis "wished to give back to civilized man the strength of his primitive instincts." Breton, Man Ray, and Salvador Dalí as well were among those whose writing and imagery exhibited the influence of Sade. [Oct 2006]

Sade's life and writings in film [...]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, de Sade's life and writings have proved irresistible to filmmakers. While there are surely an uncountable number of pornographic films based on his themes, here are some of the more mainstream movies based on his history or his works of fiction: --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquis_de_Sade#Films [Jan 2005]

Kant and Sade: The Ideal Couple

Of all the couples in the history of modern thought (Freud and Lacan, Marx and Lenin…), Kant and Sade is perhaps the most problematic: the statement "Kant is Sade" is the "infinite judgement" of modern ethics, positing the sign of equation between the two radical opposites, i.e. asserting that the sublime disinterested ethical attitude is somehow identical to, or overlaps with, the unrestrained indulgence in pleasurable violence. A lot-everything, perhaps-is at stake here: is there a line from Kantian formalist ethics to the cold-blooded Auschwitz killing machine? Are concentration camps and killing as a neutral business the inherent outcome of the enlightened insistence on the autonomy of Reason? Is there at least a legitimate lineage from Sade to Fascist torturing, as is implied by Pasolini's film version of Saló, which transposes it into the dark days of Mussolini's Salo republic? Lacan developed this link first in his Seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1958-59)1, and then in the Écrits "Kant with Sade" of 1963. -- Slavoj Zizek http://www.egs.edu/faculty/zizek/zizek-kant-and-sade-the-ideal-couple.html [Sept 2004]

A precursor to Nietzsche

Another way the more adventurous reader might deal with Sade is to see him as the principal forerunner of modernism, a claim usually made for Nietzsche. He created a revolutionary and indeed sadistic new relationship between the reader and the author that forgoes the pleasure principle of traditional narrative and deals instead with insult, alienation and boredom. One of the most maddening and most modern -- if not postmodern -- aspects of Sade's writing is that he is programmed himself to foil most methods of decoding and typification. He never lets us know his true intent; there is no way of knowing whether he is writing on a level of subversive irony, whether he takes his wacky anarchist ideas seriously or whether they’re incited by his buffoonish exhibitionism. -- Francine du Plessix Gray in Salon.com

See also: Nietzsche

Sade / Surreal (2001) - Various

Sade / Surreal (2001) - Various
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Found the excellent German non-fiction book titled Sade / Surreal. Der Marquis de Sade und die erotische Fantasie des Surrealismus in Text und Bild. It is a 2001 book on Sade published by Tobia Bezzola, Michael Pfister, Stefan Zweifel with text by Michel Delon, Ursula Pia Jauch, Tobia Bezzola, Jacques Mayer and Stefan Zweifel.

Sade was the driving force behind Surrealism's espousal of atheism, materialism, and erotics, argues "Sade/Surreal: The Marquis de Sade and the Erotic Imagination of Surrealism in Word and Image," an 2001 exposition at the Kunsthaus Zurich. A collection of hypothetical entanglements as Goya and Fussli's Enlightenment nightmares encounter the fantasies of Bunuel, Duchamp, Bellmer, et al.

Why is it excellent. Lots of illustrations. I will give the list of all the work I was not familiar with:

See also: Sade - surrealism

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