Klossowski, in the essay on the “philosopher-villain” that begins Sade, my neighbor, uses Sade’s own mocking division between the philosophers in his “own” works, who are decent people, and the philosophers in Justine, where, in an ‘inexcusable clumsiness that was bound to set the author at loggerheads with wise men and fools alike,” “all the philosophical characters in this novel are villains to the core.”
In a sense, what Sade is doing is employing the Russellian distinction between types, here – the philosopher-villains exist in quoted space. In one’s own work, where the citational melts away, the philosophers are decent – as decent as any lab worker who operates on the human product, as they used to say at the AEC when feeding selected American detritus – the poor, the non-white – bits of plutonium.
I remarked last time on Magris’ notion that transgression is embodied in the Nazi bureaucrat and the leader, which I think is a typical argument against Bataille’s notion of transgression. The argument that is mounted against Bataille ignores the opposition to power encoded in it, or claims that the opposition, being circumstantial, falls away from the generality claimed by the transgressor. Opposition is hypocrisy. Resistance is resentment. After all, if one supposes that all ideas and systems strive for power - and didn't Bataille claim not only to be a Nietzschian critic, but, in a sense, to be Nietzsche - than that opposition stands revealed as a hypocritical strategem, thrown away when the transgressor gains power and can do as he wants. Otherwise, it would seem, we are talking about organized futility – as we approach sovereignty, the institutional bonds all dissolve that give sovereignty meaning. Foucault, whose essay on the experience-limit touched that logic, began to backtrack in the seventies, for Magris like reasons – in fact, by becoming popular, transgression was actually lowering the real level of transgression in society.
I like Klossowski’s explanation of the Sadeian strategy, which is based on counter-generality. I like it because it goes so nicely with how the human limit was erased, on the theoretical level, by universal-making – making, for instance, universal history. Making universal emotions. Making universal subjects. Making a universal system of production in which universalized labor leads to infinite substitutability among the workers.
Sade, according to Klossowski, saw how he could game this enlightenment program:
“The peculiarly human act of writing presupposes a generality that a singular case claims to join, and by belonging to this generality claims to come to understand itself. Sade as a singular case conceives his art of writing as verifying such belongingness. The medium of generality in Sade’s time is the logically structured language of the classical tradition: in its structure this language reproduces and reconstitutes in the field of communicative gestures the normative structure of the human race in individuals…
With this principle of the normative generality of the human race in mind, Sade sets out to establish a countergenerality that would obtain for the specificity of perversions, making exchange between singular cases of perversion possible. These, in the existing normative generality, are defined by the absense of logical structure. Thus is conceived Sade’s notion of integral monstrosity. Sade takes this countergenerality, valid for the specificity of perversion, to be already implicit in the existing generality. For he thinks that the atheism proclaimed by normative reason, in the name of man’s freedom and sovereignty, is destined to reverse the existing generality into this countergenerality. Atheism, the supreme act of normative reason, is thus destined to establish the reign of the total absence of norms.” [Sade, my neighbor, trans. by Alphonso Lingis, 14-15]
Sade, then, is rejecting – or perhaps I should say, creating an antithesis - to one of the fundamental enlightenment discoveries – Bayle’s notion that the society of atheists would be every bit as moral as the society of believers. That is, Bayle took it to be a truth about human beings that belief and action are, in practice, forever divided. To believe we should love our neighbor as ourself, and to roust out our neighbor from her house and roast her, as a witch, on the nearest tarred pole, were not anthropologically contradictory things. To believe that the universe came together at random, and to denounce witch burning, were also not anthropologically contradictory things. By which I mean that Bayle did not come to this conclusion by going outward from a logical analysis of belief, but by suspending any analysis of belief and looking at what people said and did.
The image of the moral society of atheists was an immense shock in a culture that had sacralized belief. It runs through the enlightenment like pain ran through the princess after she’d spent the night sleeping on the pea. Tolerance, Mandeville’s cynicism, Adam Smith’s invisible hand, they all come out of the methodological imperative of beginning first with what people did and said, and suspending belief. But, until one gets used to it, this is a highly unnatural stance to take. It seemed to eat away at any belief, since after all, what function did it have?
On the one hand, the space opened up by tolerance made possible the social notion of happiness – for it was intolerance of belief, more than anything else, that had acted the role of nemesis in European culture and in the global conquests of that Europe. On the other hand, it was felt as a sort of numbing of a once vital organ.
Ps – in some ways, the gothic horrors of Sade are too infernal, too brightly lit by the Christianity that follows his every step like a shadow. One could extract another logical line, from the dissolution of all norms to poshlost’ – the world of banality. Magris, in a sense, goes wrong by not putting in this vital step. Contra Hannah Arendt, Eichman’s evil is not something that accidentally arises from banality – banality is the original and primal form of evil in the world. We follow Gogol here, per Merezhovsky. Instead of Juliette, the Petty Demon. From which I take this wonderful extract – Peredonov, the “hero”, a schoolteacher, has just come home to his mistress, Varvara, who he calls his cousin. He’s promised to marry her, but is suspicious that she won’t come through on her end of the bargain, which is to make him an inspector. Besides, Peredenov is suspicious that she is poisoning him. He is also suspicious, every time he hears someone laugh in front of him, that they are laughing at him. And, to finish up this summary of his qualities, he prefers not to think, but believes anything he is told. So Peredenov naturally decides to torment Varvara by making her believe he has been over at the next door neighbors, paying court to their daughter, Marta:
She's covered with freckles," said Varvara, spitefully.
" And she's got a mouth that stretches from ear to ear. You might as well sew up her mouth, like a frog's."
"Anyway, she's handsomer than you," said Peredonov."I think I'll take her and marry her."
" You dare marry her," shouted Varvara, reddening and trembling with rage, "and I'll burn her eyes out with vitriol !"
"I'd like to spit on you," said Peredonov, quite calmly.
"Just try it !" said Varvara.
"Well, I will," answered Peredonov.
He rose, and with a sluggish and indifferent expression, spat in her face.
"Pig !"said Varvara, as quietly as if his spitting on her had refreshed her. And she began to wipe her facewith a table napkin. Peredonov was silent. Latterly he had been more brusque with her than usual. And evenin the beginning he had never been particularly gentlewith her. Encouraged by his silence, she repeated more loudly :
"Pig ! You are a pig !"
This joyful scene is interrupted by the entrance of a friend, Volodin. Drinks and jam tarts are served. And then:
“Suddenly Peredonov splashed the dregs of his coffee cup on the wall-paper. Volodin goggled his sheepish eyes, and gazed in astonishment. The wall-paper was soiled and torn. Volodin asked:
" What are you doing to your wall-paper ?"
Peredonov and Varvara laughed.
"It's to spite the landlady," said Varvara. " We're leaving soon. Only don't you chatter."
"Splendid !' shouted Volodin, and joined in the laughter.
Peredonov walked up to the wall and began to wipe the soles of his boots on it. Volodin followed his example.
Peredonov said :
" We always dirty the walls after every meal, so that they'll remember us when we've gone !"
" What a mess you've made !' exclaimed Volodin,delightedly.
" Won't Irishka be surprised," said Varvara, with a dry, malicious laugh.
And all three, standing before the wall, began to spit at it, to tear the paper, and to smear it with their boots. Afterwards, tired but pleased, they ceased.
Peredonov bent down and picked up the cat, a fat, white, ugly beast. He began to torment the animal, pulling its ears, and tail, and then shook it by the neck. Volodin laughed gleefully and suggested other methods of tormenting the animal.
"Ardalyon Borisitch, blow into his eyes ! Brush his fur backwards !"
The cat snarled, and tried to get away, but dared not show its claws. It was always thrashed for scratching. At last this amusement palled on Peredonov and he let the cat go.”