Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pierre Klossowski's "Sade My Neighbor": Review

This translation of "Sade mon prochain" collects two essays by Klossowski, brother of Balthus, and a painter- philosopher- translator-critic who lived quite a checkered life from 1905 through the end of the century. The first, "The Philosopher-Villain," (1947) attempts to explain his concepts of integral monstrosity and a negative anti-theology testing if supreme evil could indeed triumph, as Sade may have imagined and the Holocaust (the author was from a partially Jewish background, and married a concentration camp survivor) may have verified. It's a very dense treatise, despite the attempts of its translator, Alphonso Lingis (sounds like a Sade character himself!). The essay, like this short book, goes on about twice the length it needed to, and the point of perversion needing the normative to forever react against it, to transgress the moral standard, to overcome the natural order, is a sensible reading of Sade, although little of the original author remains cited or analyzed in depth.

The next essay from 1967, "Sade my Neighbor," reads easier, if only by comparison. The style is less turgid, and the argument clearer. It efficiently compares Sade's thought with the French revolution, and then outlines his system, and looks deeper into its purportedly atheist tenets. One of the most intriguing points is buried near the end, when Klossowski wonders if our being is our ultimate prison, where "duration in the unendurable length and emptiness of time is an experience of being chained to one's condition. Beyond the wall, there is the freedom of nonbeing, the freedom of God, who is accused of incarcerating his creatures in the prison of being." (99) But such passages are rare by their pithy clarity.

"Delectatio Morosa" again raises near the conclusion interesting ideas about its appropriation by Sade for his creative drive, that which renews the pervert's contemplation of the act he commits as if perpetually, driving him on in a frenzy of anticipation over and over again. "The Christian soul give itself over to God; the romantic soul to nostalgia; the Sadean soul to exasperation." (115) The erotic differentiates perversion by counterbalancing an instinct for propagation; perversion refuses this possibility for regenerating the natural order, preferring to annihilate the race rather than continuing its progeny. The essay stops at this point, however, just as this idea is raised only to be set aside. Too bad, as the erotic opposed to the Sadean project of a dystopian evil, however exaggerated to the point of tedium or exhaustion, would have provided promising material for more speculation.

This monograph contains a short introduction by Lingis, but a reader without more knowledge prior of Sade's works will likely be challenged and perhaps a bit wearied by this compact, but at times rather leaden, pair of essays. Scattered throughout are valuable ideas, but the lack of treatment given the erotic imagination vs. the Sadean obsession diminishes the total impact of this volume.

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