The Marquis de Sade was Crazy. We Like That.


Portrait of an Overprivileged Psycho

Marquis de Sade, sadism’s namesake, is one of those pop culture symbols that I see raised up and lauded by people unaware of his full life story. Some people in the kink community associate his name with their own pain and pleasure proclivities without understanding what he was: a total nutjob.

Born into French aristocracy, de Sade spent  nearly half of his life in different prisons and insane asylums for sexual assault, blasphemous writing, physical abuse, kidnapping, and poisoning. Often his victims were servants in his employ and the father of one servant attempted to shoot de Sade at point blank range. Later in his life, an angry mob attacked one of his estates.

For the most part, the de Sade family tried to distance themselves from him until a 20th century descendent named Xavier de Sade found his writings. The publication of the Marquis de Sade’s works and subsequent biography sparked contemporary public interest in the lunatic libertine.

A friend wanted to order a copy of The 120 Days of Sodom for me but I declined. I’ve read bits of his work and I would rather explore the writing styles of Dahmer or Gacey. Want some samples? Here, have a taste.

‘Formerly he loved to fuck very youthful mouths and asses; his later improvement consists in snatching out the heart of a living girl, widening the space the organ occupied, fucking the warm hole, replacing the heart in that pool of blood and fuck, sewing up the wound, and leaving the girl to her fate, without help of any kind. In which case is not long.” (page 83)

This man’s works are considered erotica. Death by chest-cavity fucking and internal organ removal.  What. The. Fuck.

My friend sent me other random passages from his copy of The 120 Days of Sodom, each one more gag-inducing than the next. I started to wonder: why does this work capture the public imagination? Why do his actions in particular catch our attention?

One of my professors told me to always look at the cultural context to explain social phenomena. (eg. Impressionism gained traction in an era when photography came about. Possible that impressionism was a reaction to the realism of photographs). It may be a stretch, but let’s toy with some possible reasons for renewed 20th century interest in de Sade.

The first thing I see in the mid 2oth century is a disruption of the traditional gender order. What we held as a natural domination of man over woman disintegrated as females fought for equal rights and economic independence. Is there something about de Sade’s misogyny and mistreatment of women that appeals to internalized traditional notions of gender and subordination? Possibly. The Marquis de Sade represents male freedom operating within a patriarchy. I could be way off base, though.

Philosophers like Simone de Bouvier tried to find elements of radical freedom in his writing. In one way, yes, there was radical freedom but it could only exist at the expense of others. I mean, if we are all free to choose what we want, who the hell would choose to get fucked in the ass while having all their teeth ripped out? (Yes. This is a scene written by de Sade.) Freedom is enticing in an age of prohibitions and restrictions, so perhaps this absolute freedom entices our repressed cultural consciousness.

Whatever the reason, there is something in his violent, misogynistic passages and his wanton abuse of others in his life attracts us. We choose to see only the artistic merit in his work or the underlying philosophy while ignoring one simple fact: dude was a fucking psychopath. Yes, he could write well and had a fervid imagination. He was also a total abusive jerk that wrote about awful abuses meted out on fellow human beings.

8 thoughts on “The Marquis de Sade was Crazy. We Like That.”

  1. Heh – I had exactly the same thoughts. I just imagined it was going to be an interestingly old fashioned book about spanking.

    It didn’t take long to realise it was more of a catalogue of atrocities and I simply couldn’t continue. Some say it was more of an attempt to discredit the aristocracy through the supposed documentation of what they did, rather than to write erotica. I think it’s only erotica if you’re completely barking.

  2. I read Philosophy in the Bedroom last week. I thought it was a book about libertarians with some sort of Erotica, but then he speaks about humans having the freedom to kill others and i realized he was indeed a nutjob. I think his ideas of detaching from all moral values imposed by clergy and the monarchy in France go a bit too far. They say he proposed “freedom” as an alternative to the reinstatement of Monarchy, while some of his proposals seem valid, the vast majority are just crazy. He indeed has an idea of Freedom where men or women can do anything to fulfill their lives, but without respecting that right in others. I would really prefer to read other authors than him.I left the book unfinished at the point it became to sick to continue reading. It’s as Dave says a catalogue of atrocities. As far as Erotica, some small parts are, but really it’s just gross fantasy. A magnified version of the movie Hostel.

  3. It’s insane, isn’t it?? It’s incredible what a person’s imagination can come up with – de Sade challenged himself to think up the most heinous, fucked up stuff, and he did it. So did the guy who wrote American Psycho. So did the guy who wrote Mouthful of Tongues, in which a woman bewitched a man and made him produce so much semen that she flooded the entire town and drowned everyone in an act of vengeance. The first time I read each of these over-the-top works I was shocked, appalled, disgusted, then later was let in on the joke – they wrote it often tongue in cheek, not dick in hand.

    Do women write up some crazy stuff? Sure, Anais Nin writes about necro, bestiality, incest, those are my fav stories by her. I like the raw dog shit. Not blood and guts, but taboo.

    And sometimes I like to see how crazy my imagination can go. The sky’s the limit, and no one really gets hurt. Which is good, cuz I hate blood and guts. Those Saw movies and other horror movies attempt the same thing right? See how twisted and brutal they can get? Being very nasty in their creativity.

  4. I’ve never wanted to read de Sade, and your post makes me even less interested in his work. It’s odd that the two authors whose names give us the label ‘S&M’ (the other being von Sacher-Masoch) weren’t very good writers. At least Sacher-Masoch wasn’t such a horrible person, though. I recommend these bios of these two authors:

    http://lucreziamagazine.com/2009/11/10/the-original-sado-masochists-marquis-de-sade/

    and

    http://lucreziamagazine.com/2009/11/16/the-original-sado-masochists-leopold-von-sacher-masoch/

  5. I can buy some of the interest in Sade as the patriarchy thing, but I think there’s more to it than that. Not having read him myself, what I know of him seems to reference a great deal to confusion, up-ending of social norms, and suffering and pleasure that lack appropriate context. Something about that speaks to the late 20th/early 21st cultural milieu I suspect.

  6. You may have read some of his work but you clearly know nothing about him. Sade was a proto-feminist. Read both Justine and Juliette before publishing any more nonsense on your blog.

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