“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Juliette, the debauched sister of Justine, is traveling in Italy with Clairwil, her monstrous male counterpart. It is the usual Sadean tour, orgies in churches and castles, delicious tortures on technologically superior racks, etc., etc. Coming into Naples, Juliette falls in with the court of the Bourbon king there, Ferdinand. Of course, the hot chocolate and the fucking flows easily. But, this being Sade, the crowded intervals of passing bodily fluids back and forth are interspersed with philosophic dialogues. At a country retreat, the King, Juliette, and the Prince Francaville are stirred by a question not posed in Plato’s Symposium: “In a word,” Juliette asks her companions, has the Supreme Being put you on earth to be fucked?”

The response to this question from Prince Francaville is quoted by A. and H. in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, as well it should be. We’ve already seen Francaville, in his temple to Priapus, abundantly sodomized with that strange ritual choreography that Adorno was right to compare to organized sports: there was the usual cohort of victims to participate in what ends up being, after all, nothing more than a minor orgasm, in the same way that, for all the strenuous efforts of the athletes on the football team, for all the money spent on the stadium, for all the emotion generated by the game, the goal is the strangely abject one of putting a ball over one particular chalky line. The mechanics dwarf the goal. Festivities like this have backgrounded Juliette’s question. Francaville begins by explaining that he is “at such a point of impiety and the abandonment of all religious sentiments” that he can’t hear, coldly, the invocation of that “deific phantom.” His Voltarian tirade against God draws the measured rebuke of Ferdinand, who reminds him that monarchs defend deities. Which draws this further outburst of impiety from Juliette:

“If you wish to judge these matters as a philosopher and not a despot, you will agree that the universe would only be happier if there were neither tyrants nor priests.”

As so often in De Sade’s dialogues, the positions taken by the speakers can suffer sudden and improbable shifts that reflect not so much the logic of an argument but induction from an existential position. Juliette’s former invocation of God becomes, now, an invocation of happiness. From Christianity, or at least deism, to liberalism – our Juliette is a regular Hegelian figure.

Prince Francaville, however, has his doubts: “… I adopt part of your reasoning, Juliette – no God – assuredly she is right; but this brake destroyed, we must find another for the people: the philosopher has no need of one, I know, but the mob definitely does. It is on the mob alone that I would wish to have royal power keenly felt.”

In De Sade, it is always a question of exploring the gap between pleasure and happiness. This is the curdled remnant of that stoicism that formed the everyday piety of the humanists and the philosophes in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

Francaville follows this salutary warning about extending the enlightenment project among the vulgar with the utopian speech Adorno and Horkheimer noticed:

- Thus, said Francaville, taking up the thread, we must replace religious illusions by the most extreme terror; if you deliver the people from the fear of a hell in the next life, they will yield themselves to everything; but replace this fear with penal laws of a prodigious severity, which, moreover, strike at nobody except them – for they alone trouble the State: all the discontents are nourished in this single class. What does the idea of a brake matter to the rich, for whom it is never a weight when he buys his vain status by the right to vigorously vex in his turn all those who live under his yoke?You will never discover a single one of those who will not permit the thickest shadow of tyranny when he has his own right to exercise it over others. These bases established, it is thus necessary that a king rule with the most extreme severity, and that in order that the people understand that he has the right to do anything he wishs to them, he permits those who sustain him with their daggers to do all that it pleases them to undertake. He should actually wrap about them his credit, his power, his consideration. He should tell them:… in order that my blows be solid and my throne unshakeable, support my power with that portion of power I’ve permitted you, and enjoy it in peace.”

From one angle, this is exactly what the capitalist system is all about, of course. Thus, the freedom from the state claimed by the libertarian is sacrificed by the masses in ‘contracting’ with other organs of governance – the corporation, in which all positive freedoms (of speech, of assembly, etc.) are distributed solely on the basis of economic position – the regression to a caste system of money becoming the great fact of daily life for most people in most liberal bourgeois countries. Meanwhile, to get back to Sade’s historical place, the catastrophe that had befallen the Indians of the New World in the name of the Christian God was being prepared for the rest of the globe in the name of 'free enterprise." In India (the Utilitarians), in China (the great white whale of 19th century capitalism, with its vast potential market in opium), in the liberalism of Latin American and Central American regimes (the rounding up of Indian land for coffee plantations and the enrollment of the remant masses in wage slavery), and. finally, in the technology of war – to the art of which liberal democracies have devoted their best libidinous energies. The welfare state, after all, was legitimized only by pledging itself unconditionally to the unlimited production of weaponry of every kind – congratulating itself, along the way, that it never released the missiles, while of course profiting enormously from the small arms, heatseaking missiles, aircraft and other forms of burning the skin off the human body or poking holes in it that have flooded the globe and produced their thousands of little Hiroshimas. Meanwhile, the system of excuses reaches its exhaustion point in Bush’s clichés, who rules the country much like Jim Thompson’s cliché wielding sheriff in The Killer Inside Me.

To end on A and H:

The totalitarian state manipulates the nations. “That’s it!’ replied the Prince,” Sade writes, governments must even regulate the populations, they must have in their hands all the means to cull them when it is time to inculcate fear and to increase them when the State deems it necessary, and their must never be another counter-weight to their justice than interest or passion, bound up, individually, with the passions and interests of those who, as we’ve said, have, from the rulers, so much as they find necessary in order to increase their own property. [un die eigene zu vervielfachen.]” The Prince shows the way to imperialism as the most fearful shape of ratio that has ever been taken. “… take their gods from the people that you wish to put under the yoke and demoralize them; as long as they pray to no other god than you, have no other morals than yours, you will always remain their master… and then leave them the most extensive faculties for crime; never punish them unless they direct the needle at you.”

A rule faithfully followed by neo-liberal regime after regime, as any survey of the bidonvilles of Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Nairobi, or Bombay can affirm.

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