Back to Sade: The Voiceless Model!

by on 週二, 24 一月 2012 評論

The ambition of these lines is humble. They propose a return to Sade. Simply this! What a pretentious project one might say! Since Sade cannot be, let us say for over a quarter century, considered as a disenfranchised person. This is, essentially, the daring side of our project: to show that despite all the “noise” and because of this din itself, Sade is still a voice crying out in the wilderness. Obviously, he is not really mute or voiceless, but he is mostly ignored (silenced) even by the very people who claim to make him speak. Then, it will be for us to show by this example, the cacophony that may indicate a silence, that is to say an act of concealment. The apparent excess of voices hides necessarily the repression of others.

The 20th century might be described as Sade’s century. Sade is part of the very limited circle of cursed thinkers and writers, so he was, and somehow nowadays still is, part of the disenfranchised. Thus, it is during the last century—an action initiated in the previous one notably by Guillaume Apollinaire—, that the Divine Marquis was recognized (not without a certain hypocrisy still alive today)—that he has been recognized as a writer and was published in the collection La Pléiade of Gallimard’s Editions. However, as previously mentioned, this coming-out from the underworld of Sade and his work does not mean, in any case, an ascent to heaven. But just a move to purgatory. Moreover, the popularity of Sade is also an evidence of his silence, he became an excuse, a space for invention... He is used to broadcast the voice of others, notably of those who pretend to speak about him, whereas in fact they simply amplify their own voice. This does not matter ultimately, because, as St. Paul said about Christ's words, if someone recognizes it as a useful vehicle for their own ideas, it helps more or less to the diffusion of the work.

Indeed, the Sade whose authors usually praise is that of Juliette, the symbol and embodiment of their project. Thus, everyone can find a part of themself in this figure who is, in fact, not the voice of the voiceless, but rather that of the system. While her sister, Justine, on the other hand is the archetype of the disenfranchised—that the Divine Marquis wanted to highlight and which haunted him throughout his life to the point of writing multiple versions of the eponymous novel—, is ignored or reduced to silence.

Sade is the author of the voiceless, of which Justine is just one example. His so-called moderantism, in the midst of Terror during the Revolution, for which he was thrown into prison, escaping from death thanks to a miracle whose mystery still remains unknown, and his radical opposition to the death sentence and the defense of the right to life at the peril of his own, stand as testimony to this. He expressed elsewhere in a famous statement his attachment to life, to humanity. In a letter to his wife, dated February 20, 1781, we can read: “Yes, I am a libertine, I designed everything one can imagine in this genre, but I certainly did not do anything I designed and will probably never do.

Juliette's voice is ubiquitous and dares to say anything, similar to the role she assigns to philosophy: “Philosophy must say everything,” as she exclaims one day in a macabre surge. A perverse pretension not a subversive one, because all cannot be said. A totalitarian claim, precisely because it pretends to reveal everything about the being both in terms of the genotype and the phenotype. This pretension ignores that there is “sayable” and “unsayable” to repeat Wittgenstein. This perverse will of no borders— has nothing to do with subversion which is Sade’s project, and the favorite protest weapon of all—, was only intended as “hailing” [arraisonner/Gestell] and thereby becomes “biopolitics”, i.e. a manner of policing life, then of speech, conscience, and casuistry...

Moreover, if subversion is Sisyphean—“a hundred times on the job”—, then perversion on the other hand conforms to chaos! It willingly confuses human values, the policing of life and political ambition—of a horde of wolves who think only to their selfish and egocentric happiness.

Nature has created man that he should do nothing but play upon the earth; it is its dearest law, it will always be that of my heart. Too bad for the victims, they are necessary, to destroy everything in the universe, without the profound laws of balance, it is only through crime that nature continues, and regains its rights removed by virtue. So, we obey it by indulging in evil; our resistance is the only crime it should never forgive us: oh! my friends, convince us of these principles; in their exercise are all sources of human happiness. (Sade, Histoire de Juliette, La Pléiade, p. 1257)

Willful refusal to speak is a sacred right. Which does not mean playing a mute but rather implies a silent speech, a protest. This refusal is also a dialogue, even under the guise of a monologue. This dialogue is in fact an apparent monologue because of its indoctrination and regimentation. Indeed, refusing to speak when someone is compelling one to do so, is a reclamation of one’s own voice and in this way one can regain one’s Promethean dignity. A refusal to speak is a speaking voice, while a voice forced to speak is still disenfranchised. Resistance constitutes the voluntary act of speaking. Auto-censorship... therefore reflects a political position. It is similar to the famous Stoic—antic—epokhē (ἐποχή). Suspension of judgment has never meant an absence of judgmental but a modulation of the “speakable” and its opposite.

And what if the escalation of the sayable and the visible in Sade was, in fact, the very absence of these? Sade’s work itself swarms with voicelessness. Those who are put forward, are not necessarily the ones that are highlighted. In describing the world as it appears, Sade does not say that we must accept it as such. For a long time it is the phenotype rather than the genotype that has been praised in Sade’s œuvre. The easier road to take!

Sade’s œuvre, obviously, is full of violence, the most violent violence, and the most socially unacceptable forms of violence. It is the literature of “evil”, both in the facts described but also in terms of what is inconceivable and unimaginable in this realm. However, the escalation of violence of any kind describes a world not of resignation but the opposite. It represents a silenced world, the one we want to prevent from being, from speaking, from becoming visible, from accepting and considering the voices of others (the victims) as speech rather than just noise.

In this particular art of writing and describing belonging to Sade, it is easy to see in the protagonists that occupy the front of the stage the heroes, or even the heralds of the author. However, it is not in the visible—which is in fact an illusion—neither in the usual hubbub that must be found the real heroes and heralds, but in the silence of those the hubbub prevents from expressing themselves. Thus, the work of Sade is a living picture of what constitute the effects of indoctrination and confinement. This is what symbolizes his love of castles, forests and dark places—a kind of hell. Accordingly, it reflects a particular anthropological notion, a tragic and pessimistic view of society and the politics that rule it. However, his writing is a call never to give up the right to defend one’s own rights, the right to be taken into account, against all odds, wherever you come from.

This society Sade criticizes is similar to the one which Rousseau denounces when he says: “Nature has created man free but everywhere he is in chains.” The author of Justine does not escape from this situation. His imprisonment had no other function than to make him shut up, to prevent him from speaking. To silence him, is not that of what police policy is so capable? Thus, there is no voicelessness without this evil strategy of considering or reducing as noise the voice of another. All issues concerning noise is political, since it is a conscious or unconscious denial of a right to consider someone or a group of people as part of a city—a right to isegoria. “The kingdom of God is forced and only the violent can take it by force.” The kingdom of God, this “City of God” is not an afterlife—distant from us. It is here. Here! But it cannot be conquered by divine providence, but rather only in battle—a permanent struggle. It is through positive violence that can be enacted within and without, it is not evil. No offense to Weber, but it is this violence that is legitimate!

Jean-Claude Noël

PhD in Philosophy and Cultural Studies
University Paris 8//National Chiao Tung University
(Laboratoire d’Études et de Recherches sur les Logiques Contemporaines de la Philosophie/Graduate Institute for Social Research and Cultural Studies)






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