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On the importance of not reading the Marquis de Sade
> Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream …
In the solitude of prison Sade was the first man to give a rational expression to those uncontrollable desires, on the basis of which consciousness has based the social structure and the very image of man … Indeed this book is the only one in which the mind of man is shown as it really is. The language of Les Cent Vingt Journées de Sodome is that of a universe which degrades gradually and systematically, which tortures and destroys the totality of the beings which it presents … Nobody, unless he is totally deaf to it, can finish Les Cent Vingt Journées de Sodome without feeling sick.
This is the world into which we have been born. The difference between that sealed castle and our existence is entirely accidental. A single spirit animates each of these. We see the four libertines pursue their interests with utmost rationality. They see their desire as justification in itself and conclude that this is sufficient to justify any deed that nature thus desires. They see themselves merely as vessels for the desires of nature, and they will not insult her. If something other had been her intent then it would have been so, that this was her way is thus self-evident.
There is something in this of the Tao, that the sage sides with the belly over the eyes. The desires of the four are those of sex and stomach. While the latter may be less prominent, or perhaps merely less salient, still it is entirely apparent in the Marquis’ work. The four are gluttons in all ways, and we must here think the same more broadly. There are many ways one may be a glutton, whether food or by way of lust or some other sin. Sloth itself may wear the cloak of gluttony where we consume, food or else, merely to slip below existence; it is that we seek be outside of choice by drowning ourselves.
The world today is a confluence of these factors, that the powerful justify themselves on our behalves; that we do what we will for no other reason. Rationality is a fine thing but it cannot tell us what to will, that answer depends always on a substratum of some other sort. If God is dead then anything is permitted, the world drifts towards that of our four libertines. What’s worse, the gates here are sealed also. There is no way out, nor is suicide any true escape. Those that seek a return to some other place are as impossible as the evils perpetrated in the name of progress by those that they oppose. All operates according to a single spirit of discontent.
There seems to me a single way out: submission. The spirit of man must individually each submit to something other than himself. As yet it is unclear the proper source of this substance by which we are to bind ourselves. There are those that say we already have the proper texts, that this, that, or the other is the way which we must go. Many of these taste suspiciously alike with those that call for a return to tradition. They are proper each in their own way to take the path which presents itself to them. The problem is when they decide to impose this upon the world.
We must take care here, of course, to avoid the libertinism with which we begun. If we simply throw up our hands and say that each is destined unto his desired path, are we not endorsing the same as that which grounded our initial contrast? There is something here that distinguishes our line, or so it seems, but whatever the content of this intuition—it is hardly apparent on the surface. There are those that truly believe in a way which we would cry havoc against were this to be claimed acceptable, and many more which we would regard with some significant distaste. These each exist and follow themselves in a like way. The difficulty is deciding where.
Each must enact themselves to the extent that this is possible, though within this we may seek some boundary. Kierkegaard endorsed something alike; yet his leap entailed a limit set by the person of Christ. We might imagine much the same according to any other book. Of course, one might well take the Marquis as a purveyor of revelation—or we might imagine such a possibility somewhere in this infinite world—what are we to say then?
The path grows tangled past this point. There is the duty of those to enact their taste against a world which contradicts it, that the clash can then be decided only according to some third thing. There is no moral or logical supremacy but ever the constant war which is first within each:
… the Shaykh al-Akbar cites Qur’an verse 9:123 (“Oh you who believe, fight against those infidels close to you”). “The lot of the sufi,” he writes, “is to consider that this verse refers to his own soul … for of all the ‘infidels,’ it is the closest to him. When he has done battle with it and killed or imprisoned it, only then does he occupy himself with other infidels, according to the demands of the station that he has obtained.”
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