The Marquis de Sade isn’t much of a writer; his descriptions are tedious, his dialogue static, his narrative almost non-existent and his prose little more than a mask for his sadistic tendencies. His perverse point of view however can be surprisingly accurate, in spite of his delight in the suffering of others, and is relentlessly damning.
Justine, the eponymous character of his novel, never gives up on her fight for virtue, this despite being subjected to the starling perversions of libertines across France – systematic rape, torture, blood-letting and auto-strangulation – and their passionate arguments. States the Compte de Gernande: The happiness that the two sexes may find in each other can be found by one through blind obedience and by the other through the greatest possible domination. If it were not Nature’s intention that one of the sexes should tyrannize the other, would she not have created them of equal strength? (176) Says Monsieur Roland: The poor are part of Nature’s plan. In creating men of unequal strength, she has convinced us of her wish that this inequality should be preserved despite the changes our civilization would bring her laws. It would be going against Nature’s wishes to disturb the equilibrium that is the basis of her sublime organization, to work towards an equality that would be dangerous for society, to encourage indolence and sloth, to teach the poor to steal from the rich when the rich refuse to help. (216) Says Baroness Dubois: Our laws wish in vain to restore order and bring men back to virtue. Too unjust to achieve this, too inadequate to succeed, they will take people off the beaten track for a moment, but they will never get them to leave it. When it is in the general interest for men to be corrupt, anyone who is unwilling to become so with the rest will therefore be pushing against the general interest. (220)
Monsieur Saint-Florent concludes: The weak must give in to the desires of the strongest or else fall victim to their wickedness. (248)
The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) is known for many things, not the least of which is his namesake, sadism; however as demented as he may appear, there is a stated method to his madness, much of which is laid out in his novel Justine:You are astonished by cruel tastes? What is the aim of the pleasure-seeking man? Is it not to arouse his senses in every way possible, and thereby to get the most pleasure from the final crisis? The most ridiculous in the world is doubtless to want to argue about people’s tastes, to challenge them, to blame men for them, or to punish them if they are not in conformity, either with the laws of the country in which one lives, or with social conventions. Indeed! Men will never understand that there are no tastes, however bizarre, however criminal they may supposed to be, that do not derive from the kind of make-up we are given by Nature! The imagination of Man is a faculty of the mind in which objects are conjured up and modified, and thoughts are formed via the organ of the senses. I am sure you have seen mirrors of differing shapes, some which reduce objects in size while others enlarge them; the latter make them look awful, the former lend them charm. Such is the human imagination. Now if we concede that the pleasures of the senses are always dependent on the imagination, always governed by the imagination, we cannot be surprised by the number of variations that the imagination can create for these pleasures, by the infinite multiplicity of tastes and different passions to which the different deviations of the imagination will give rise. Although lewd, these tastes should not startle us more than those of a simple nature.
The Marquis de Sade writes in his controversial novel Justine that we, as a species, tend to exaggerate our relevance:The power of destruction is not in the gift of Man. He may, at the most, change the form of things but he does not have the power to annihilate.Oh, what does it matter to Nature’s eternal creation that the mass of flesh which today makes up a biped creature should be tomorrow reproduced as a thousand different insects? I say this: all men, all animals, all plants that grow, feed and are destroyed, reproducing themselves by the same means, never truly die but merely undergo variation and modification.
Modest Mouse offers a similar sentiment in their 2004 song Parting of the Sensory. I’d start at the dawn/Until the sun and fully stopped/Never walking away from/Just a way to pull apart/Dehydrate back into minerals/A lifelong walk to the same exact spot/Carbon’s anniversary/The parting of the sensory.
In other words, we’re just not that big a deal.