Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Sade's "Dialogue Between a Priest & a Dying Man"

Happy New Year. Perhaps for those readers a morning after a debauch, this excerpt from de Sade's "Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man" (1782) might perk up festivities. Reading Jay Michaelson (see yesterday's blog) about "The New Atheism" reminded me about this argument employing Occam's razor. Sade, like Gibbon and Voltaire, appears to have been among the first extant skeptics who managed to elude the censors and further the causes of their various Enlightenments. How far have we advanced or regressed since? For better or worse? The jury's out, but I welcome the disputation. Of course, as le Comte would find a decade after he penned "Dialogue," Goya's "el sueno del razón produce monstruos" would unveil the bloody hand of revenge beneath Liberté's exposed bosom, once the barricades were won. The guillotine and the tumbril showed, perhaps, how difficult it'd be to "refine your reason."

Most of Sade's work was burned by his son. Much of remains in French can be found on the Net (at the site below); in English we electronically curious only have translated at that site this Dialogue (which deserves a look) and Anthony Walker's reductively ameliorative but lively summation of the philosopher-rake-prisoner's notorious career.


PRIEST - Who is there can penetrate God’s vast and infinite designs regarding man, and who can grasp all that makes up the universal scheme?

DYING MAN - Anyone who simplifies matters, my friend, anyone, above all, who refrains from multiplying causes in order to confuse effects all the more. What need have you of a second difficulty when you are unable to resolve the first, and once it is possible that Nature may have all alone done what you attribute to your god, why must you go looking for someone to be her overlord? The cause and explanation of what you do not understand may perhaps be the simplest thing in the world. Perfect your physics and you will understand Nature better, refine your reason, banish your prejudices and you’ll have no further need of your god.


Image credit: with my "safe search on," there's not a lot of striking pictorials for "Sade"-- 936 images of Halloween costumes, a French rock band, salacious 1960s B-movie art, stills from the film "Quills," or the "Smooth Operator" chanteuse. Quaint to see it hawked by a pamphleteer (note title's changed from generic "Man" to daring "Atheist"), "the finest in rabble-rousing literature since 1984," but there it is, $2 or 5 copies for $8, all 16 pp.: http://www.seesharppress.com/

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