the perennial Marquis
I’ve been reading the Marquis de Sade’s work Philosophy in the Bedroom, for which I’ve been criticized because he’s apparently so boring and his sex especially – so this means I shouldn’t read him? The thing is, I’ve started writing this ongoing open-ended sex thing myself, La Poursuite du Bonheur, and I’ve borrowed a couple of elements from Sade, namely the novel in dialogue form, and the rhythm of a work which involves talk then sex then talk then sex. These are the only elements, as I have little interest in causing shock and scandal, and I have little interest in violence or sadism.
It’s a pleasurable fantasy as the male and female involved in this dialogue [others may join in later] are both simply aspects of myself, so they understand each other beautifully and there’s no conflict – fantasy indeed.
Philosophy in the Bedroom discusses, inter alia, childbirth and abortion. Unsurprisingly, Sade extols individual freedom and sweeps aside anything that interferes with it, including unborn children. Of course he’s out to shock the established order, particularly organized religion, but some of his arguments sound uncannily like those of the most fervent modern pro-choicers – which actually worries me. Basically his argument is a survival of the fittest one. Don’t worry about the unborn, they’re weak and it’s basically a pleasure to do away with them because it’s an exercising of power, and the exercising of power is for Sade the primary source of pleasure. Forget charity and welfare, it just makes for dependence, life should be a battle in which the most ruthless win out and spread their genes across the globe. In earlier times, I’ve read criticisms of Sade along the lines of the ultimate failure of ultra-rationalism [and therefore the need for more ‘spiritual’ solutions], but Sade’s arguments aren’t particularly rational I feel, they’re just fueled by emotions or obsessions which most of us don’t have, or not as much. The argument fails because it doesn’t take nurturing and family feeling into account, it starts with an atomistic individualism which is mere fantasy. It starts with false assumptions about what human beings are. The issue of abortion, for example, is always going to be fraught even without the religious red herring of the sacredness of all human life [as opposed to the lives of other beings, whose purpose is merely to entertain us or feed us], because it often creates, within the mother, a clash between the nurturing impulse, the general, vital desire to procreate, and economic and other issues, including that of individual freedom. Sade simply ignores certain well-defined and well-documented human tendencies and needs to become a propagandist for individual freedom. When I first read him, I thought he had simply concocted a colossal ongoing joke, by taking one side of the individual/social debate, which rages in all of us as thoroughly socialized individuals, and running with it as far as he could. Now I’m not so sure it’s a joke for him, though I’m sure the scandalous nature of his sexual writings gave him quite a few comic thrills. Anyway, I think Sade has his uses and even his charms – he’s remarkably free of hypocrisy, he has a relentless energy and he challenges us to refute him, to show why it is that we need a more balanced approach to sexuality and society than he offers. We need our extremists, to define our world more clearly, and to feel superior to.