Orgies of the Atheistic Materialism: Barthes Contra Sade. Drunken Risibility.

The language and style of Justine are inextricably tied to sexual pleasure. Sade makes it impossible for the reader to ignore this aspect of the text. Roland Barthes, whose essays in Sade, Fourier, Loyola describe the innovative language of each author, underscores the importance of pleasure when discussing the Sadian voyage:

If the Sadian novel is excluded from our literature, it is because in it novelistic peregrination is never a quest for the Unique (temporal essence, truth, happiness), but a repetition of pleasure; Sadian errancy is unseemly, not because it is vicious and criminal, but because it is dull and somehow insignificant, withdrawn from transcendency, void of term: it does not re­veal, does not transform, does not develop, does not edu­cate, does not sublimate, does not accomplish, recuperates nothing, save for the present itself, cut up, glittering, repeated; no patience, no experience; everything is carried immediately to the acme of knowledge, of power, of ejacula­tion; time does not arrange or derange it, it repeats, recalls, recommences, there is no scansion other than that which al­ternates the formation and the expenditure of sperm.

Barthes’s observation reflects La Mettrie’s influence on Sade, whose libertine characters parrot in both speech and action the philosopher’s view that the pursuit of pleasure is man’s raison d’être. Sexuality permeates a great many linguistic and stylistic features of Justine, for example, names of characters (onomastics), literal and figurative language, grammatical structures, cultural and class references, dramatic effects, repetition and exaggeration, and use of parody and caricature. Justine is traditionally the name of a female domestic (soubrette), connoting a person of the lower classes, who falls prey to promiscuous behavior. Near the beginning of Justine, Sade renames the heroine the moment she accepts employment at the home of the miserly Monsieur Du Harpin, surname evocative of Molière’s Harpagon. Sophie, the wise example of womanly Christian virtue in the first version, becomes Thérèse, the anti- philosophe in the second, who chooses to ignore the brutally realistic counsel of her libertine persecutors. Sade’s Thérèse recalls the heroine of Thérèse philosophe who, unlike his protagonist, profited from an erotic lifestyle.

Sade may manipulate language to enhance erotic description but he also relies upon his observation of everyday life and class division of the ancien régime to provide him with models for his libertine characters, their mores, and their lifestyles. In Justine, he presents a socio-cultural microcosm of France during the reign of Louis XV. The power brokers of Sade’s youth who, for the most part, enriched themselves in his Majesty’s wars by means of corruption and influence, resurface in print as Justine’s exploiters. The noblemen, the financiers, the legal and medical professionals, the clergymen, and the thieves-robber barons representative of each social class-sexually maneuver their subjects to establish control. While we learn what the classes of mid-eighteenth-century France ate, how they dressed, where they lived, we also witness the ongoing struggle between victim and victimizer, the former personified by Justine, an ordinary bourgeois individual who can never vanquish the tyrant who maintains authority through sexual prowess rather than through wealth.

Barthes tells us that Sade’s passion was not erotic but theatrical. The marquis’s infatuation with the theater was inspired early on by the lavish productions staged by the Jesuits during his three and a half years at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. Later, his romantic dalliances with actresses and his own involvements in acting, writing, and production attest to his enormous attraction to the theater. In his libertine works, Sade incorporates theatricality, especially in his orgiastic scenes; in his own way, he creates the necessary horror and suspense to first seduce the reader and then to maintain his/her attention. Like a spectator in the audience, the reader observes well-rehearsed productions whose decor, script, and players have been predetermined, and where they are shown her various props in the form of “sadistic” paraphernalia.

Sade makes certain that the lesson given by her libertine victimizers following her forced participation in their orgies is not forgotten. Once again, Sade relies on man’s innate need for sexual pleasure to intellectualize the universe in a manner similar to his own. By using sexual desire as a ploy, Sade inculcates the atheistic materialism he so strongly proclaims into both an attentive Justine and reader. Justine cooperates with her depraved persecutors but refuses to adopt their way of thinking and thus continues to suffer at the hands of society’s exploiters. Sade, however, seizes the opportunity to convince his invisible readership that his concept of the universe is the right one. No matter how monotonous it may seem, repetition, whether in the form of licentious behavior or pseudo-philosophical diatribe, serves as a time-tested, powerful didactic tool.


Expressivity of Bodies: The Synesthetic Affinity Between Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty. Thought of the Day 54.0


It is in the description of the synesthetic experience that Deleuze finds resources for his own theory of sensation. And it is in this context that Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty are closest. For Deleuze sees each sensation as a dynamic evolution, sensation is that which passes from one ‘order’ to another, from one ‘level’ to another. This means that each sensation is at diverse levels, of different orders, or in several domains….it is characteristic of sensation to encompass a constitutive difference of level and a plurality of constituting domains. What this means for Deleuze is that sensations cannot be isolated in a particular field of sense; these fields interpenetrate, so that sensation jumps from one domain to another, becoming-color in the visual field or becoming-music on the auditory level. For Deleuze (and this goes beyond what Merleau-Ponty explicitly says), sensation can flow from one field to another, because it belongs to a vital rhythm which subtends these fields, or more precisely, which gives rise to the different fields of sense as it contracts and expands, as it moves between different levels of tension and dilation.

If, as Merleau-Ponty says (and Deleuze concurs), synesthetic perception is the rule, then the act of recognition that identifies each sensation with a determinate quality or sense and operates their synthesis within the unity of an object, hides from us the complexity of perception, and the heterogeneity of the perceiving body. Synesthesia shows that the unity of the body is constituted in the transversal communication of the senses. But these senses are not pre given in the body; they correspond to sensations that move between levels of bodily energy – finding different expression in each other. To each of these levels corresponds a particular way of living space and time; hence the simultaneity in depth that is experienced in vision is not the lateral coexistence of touch, and the continuous, sensuous and overlapping extension of touch is lost in the expansion of vision. This heterogenous multiplicity of levels, or senses, is open to communication; each expresses its embodiment in its own way, and each expresses differently the contents of the other senses.

Thus sensation is not the causal process, but the communication and synchronization of senses within my body, and of my body with the sensible world; it is, as Merleau-Ponty says, a communion. And despite frequent appeal in the Phenomenology of Perception to the sameness of the body and to the common world to ground the diversity of experience, the appeal here goes in a different direction. It is the differences of rhythm and of becoming, which characterize the sensible world, that open it up to my experience. For the expressive body is itself such a rhythm, capable of synchronizing and coexisting with the others. And Merleau-Ponty refers to this relationship between the body and the world as one of sympathy. He is close here to identifying the lived body with the temporization of existence, with a particular rhythm of duration; and he is close to perceiving the world as the coexistence of such temporalizations, such rhythms. The expressivity of the lived body implies a singular relation to others, and a different kind of intercorporeity than would be the case for two merely physical bodies. This intercorporeity should be understood as inter-temporality. Merleau-Ponty proposes this at the end of the chapter on perception in his Phenomenology of Perception, when he says,

But two temporalities are not mutually exclusive as are two consciousnesses, because each one knows itself only by projecting itself into the present where they can interweave.

Thus our bodies as different rhythms of duration can coexist and communicate, can synchronize to each other – in the same way that my body vibrated to the colors of the sensible world. But, in the case of two lived bodies, the synchronization occurs on both sides – with the result that I can experience an internal resonance with the other when the experiences harmonize, or the shattering disappointment of a  miscommunication when the attempt fails. The experience of coexistence is hence not a guarantee of communication or understanding, for this communication must ultimately be based on our differences as expressive bodies and singular durations. Our coexistence calls forth an attempt, which is the intuition.