Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What have I been reading lately? A book on the Marquis de Sade. I got the itch after seeing a couple of friends in a performance of the play Venus In Fur, inspired by the novel written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from who we get the word masochism), deciding to check out the primary representative of the other end of the spectrum of perversions, the man from whom we get the word sadism. I’d read some of De Sade’s work previously, notably his 100 days of Sodom, which I had to stop reading way before the hundred days were up. I’d seen the excellent film starring Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis, Quills.  But that was as far as my knowledge extended. (Oh, and the Hammer Studios Horror classic The Skull, wherein the protagonist, portrayed by Peter Cushing, is driven insane after coming into possession of the De Sade’s skull.)  I didn’t really want to know any more about him, as his views, and his work, are rather disturbing, even for an aficionado of abnormal psychology such as myself. Sade was evil, I figured. There wasn’t much else to know.

Actually, there was. I may have misjudged the man. He was demented, I think, but instead of the black-and-white image I bore of his character—all black—the real man existed in shades of gray. Fifty shades? Probably more than that. (I hate to make any reference to that abominable book and forthcoming guaranteed-to-be-abominable movie, but as it is a novel featuring the practice of S&M, it’s appropriate.)
Here’s the skinny: De Sade believed that, beneath the veneer of civilized man, there existed a natural, instinctive and undeniable tendency towards cruelty, violence and aggression. He maintained that this ugly inner beastie (Think of Freud’s infamous Id, or of Donald Pleasance’s lines in Halloween 2: “Samhain is the unconscious mind. Every man is afraid of the dark inside himself.” I’m paraphrasing. ) is going to inevitably burst through at some time or other, that this is true of every man, and that the results will negatively affect society as a whole. I agree with this. But, rather than try to expurgate this primal tendency, which De Sade said was a futile pursuit, he argued that a man should find a way to release it in a “less destructive” manner, through sex. If a man unleashes his cruelties in the bedroom, De Sade claimed, he’d be able to keep them from showing forth in the world at large. It’s a little dangerous, a slippery slope—where do you draw the line?—but it’s an interesting theory nonetheless. Does it work? I sincerely doubt it, though it seemed to work for De Sade, at least insofar as he never killed anyone, was in fact a staunch opponent of killing. He even suffered himself as a direct result of trying to save the life of the one person on earth he had every reason to hate, his implacable lifelong enemy, his mother-in-law. When she was threatened with the guillotine during the Terror of the French Revolution and De Sade spoke out in her defense, he was sentenced to prison for being “too lenient” and thus not patriotic enough for the new psycho regime.

Of course he also got sentenced to prison for injuring  women during sex, so I’m not saying we should call the guy a hero, just that his was a way more interesting mind than I had previously given him credit for possessing.  
If you have any interests in the subject,--or if you want to give your inner perv a little more leash—read Justine or The 100 days of Sodom instead of Fifty Shades. They aren’t any more disheartening, and are better written.

Get the gimp!