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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

As Without, So Within

A history could be written in the time honored manner of horror movies, which take old characters and pit them against each other: Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Godzilla vs. the blob. This episode could be called anti-christ vs. the universal, with both corners suitably decked out in lowrent F/X. Would the philosopher-villain, arising from his unmarked grave among the roots of great oaks – if, indeed, they scattered acorns on his plot as he requested– have found a place at last in B movie limbo? He would, at least, have recognized that the mad scientist was none other than the philosophical fucker, lightly transposed, but still dreaming an outsider cosmology, a metaphysical explanation for every horror. It was the beta ray accident that awoke the dead, Gidget!

The history of the human limit – that is, the history of its erasure - obeys a formula that transforms the old alchemist’s principle, as above, so below, into the principle of universal history – as without, so within. That is, the European encounter with the savages and the barbarians catalyzed the consciousness of savages and barbarians within Europe itself. The savage evokes the peasant, the slave the serf. Universal history, which proceeds by experiments – the plantation, the factory, free trade, representative government, the reservation, the labor camp, etc. – is coded from the beginning to separate the without and the within, even as every discovery produces this two fold effect. The compromise solution was to posit a homunculus within. The ideal Western man.

Sade, however, takes the experiments as narratives, fables, that can be applied, devastatingly, within. On the fair white bourgeois bosom, he applies the slavemaster’s branding iron. As we have pointed out, the ethnographic accounts of tortures and strange customs in the seventeenth century led to an estrangement from the ancients, who could be seen, more and more clearly, in terms of shamans and tribes, and then to a renewal of myth, as the romantics embraced the new barbarous classicism. Sade definitely figures in this history. Klossowski is an excellent guide to the combination of strategies which makes up the Sadeian totality – that self devouring whole. But he misses, we think, the exchanges of the without and the within. The Iroquois and the Kongo.

Klossowski’s work on Sade is a precursot to his work on Nietzsche. In both writers, Klossowski grasps the work done by the notion of the differed totality, or the eternal return of the same. It is this that, within universal history, pushes back against the satisfaction of the modern, that fatal symptom of vulgarity. Marx saw the moment of vulgarity as one of the poles of the modern, in which the determinants are satisfaction and dissatisfaction (thus creating, within the sphere of capitalism, a shadow economy, which delimits the culture of happiness). Neither of those poles is sufficient, for Marx – and thus the revolutionary, or at least the critic of the modern political economy, must oscillate between them, or find some way to exit them entirely. However, it is not so easy to get out of the Artificial Paradise.

Justine’s sorrow was to find this out the hard way.

But to return to Klossowski. Using repetition as a key helps him understand the puzzle of Sade. That puzzle is simple: on the one hand, Sade has staked all pleasure on transgression. On the other hand, a world in which the norms are knocked down – a world in which transgression wins – would seem to be a world without pleasure.

Sade needs a strategy to hold these two things apart. That strategy is outrage.

“If Sade had sought (given that he would have ever been concerned with such a thing) a positive conceptual formulation of perversion, he would have passed alongside of the enigma he sets up; he would have intellectualized the phenomenon of sadism properly so-called. The motive for this is more obscure and forms the nodus of the sadean experience. This motive is outrage, where what is outraged is maintained to serve as a support for transgression.”

We are thus led inevitably to the problem of repetition – for if the point is not, by way of outrage, to overthrow the norms that make for transgression, then outrage has to be become a sort of strategic constant that the mad professor/philosopher-villain manages to make not quite powerful enough to shake the social structure, but still powerful enough to satisfy the desire for staging the transgression. Our monster accepts the terms of the game in order to play the game – the endless repetition of further b movie plots, of an endless “versus”:

“Transgression (outrage) seems absurd and puerile where it does not succeed in resolving itself into a state of affairs where it would no longer be necessary. But it belongs to the nature of transgression that it never be able to find such a state. Transgression is then something other than the pure explosion of energy accumulated by means of an obstacle. Transgression is an incessant recuperation of the possible itself-where the existing state of affairs has eliminated that possible from another form of existence. The possible in what does not exist can never be anything but possible; for if the act were to recuperate this possible as a new form of existence, it would have to transgress it in turn. The possible then eliminated would have to be recuperated yet again. What the act of transgression recuperates from the possible in what does not exist is its own possibility of transgressing what exists.

“Transgression remains a necessity in Sade's experience independent of the interpretation he gives of it. It is not only because it is given as a testimony of atheism that transgression must not and never can find a state in which it could be resolved; the energy must constantly be sur- passed in order to verify its level. It falls below the level reached as soon as it no longer meets an obstacle. A transgression must engender another transgression. But if it is thus reiterated, in Sade it reiterates itself in principle only through one same act. This very act can never be transgressed; its image is each time represented as though it had never been carried out.”

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