Archive for the ‘marquis de sade’ Category

live. death. freedom.

February 18, 2009

salò or the 120 days of sodom – yes, the infamous movie by pier paolo pasolini.

saloto get it out of the way first: yes, it is a violent and partly rather gross movie, referring to certain acts. but it has been a long time since 1975, tarantino is mainstream, hardcore porn is easily acessible on the net, and c.s.i. is the favourite series of many.

so for me it appears rather strange that the police, respectively the politicians still dare to raid places showing this movie in public (and yes, there is also no german edition of that movie) – raiding the place for showing that movie, while just a block away movies like seven, reservoir dogs, saw, hostel, and so on are sold in numerous shops… that might be due to the combination of sex and violence in salò, and that the movie does not operate in any subcultural domaine, and that it is showing violence neiter stylized, nor glamourous – but i suspect it basically has to do that it is one of these movies that everybody has an opinion on, but hardly anybody watched.

i do recommend to watch it. it is an amazingly beautiful movie, visually. it is an extremly well made movie, too. and although it employs different strategies to build an emotional and visual distance, it is also a remarkably angry movie. and it is worlds apart from most contemporary movies celebrating violence in a very slick way.

pasolini took de sade and made his account of total sadism a political story. very directly through the titel: salò is the name of the second fascist repulic in italy, and the sadists are high ranking fascists. so while marquis de sade is rather some kind of intellectual experiment, distanced also through a setting in a time long gone, pasolini’s movie makes a direct reference to reality. to atrocities that did happen – atrocities that have gone way beyond what is shown in this movie. atrocities that are well documented, atrocities that still happen today here and there – a connection that makes this movie indeed rather severe. therfore the real perversion lies in trying to still ban this movie – but not spending any amount of energy to ban what the movie talks about happening.

and yes, this is where the anger of the movie is coming from: the onlookers. the opportunists, the ones participating, the ones not interfering. the movie is very explicit in denouncing this, and this is the moral question: why do we look on? just look on? this certainly has been the big question in europe after world war II, a question some people worked hard on, a question that is being avoided until today by others, by people screaming decadence and proclaim the death of society if there is a gay pride, or this movie shown, but did not even utter a whisper while people were tortured, abused, killed, right in front of their eyes – and even are up to today apologetic of what happened in these years. evil or just amazingly stupid? i don’t know.

the movie is structured in circles, reminding of the circles in dante’s hell, describing the descent into madness. but how is such madness possible? through a system that allows this: totalitarian, demanding subordination, and apparatus that delegates all responsability through this subordination everything into a system (“i just followed orders”). and then it hit me during seeing this movie: totalitarian, like softer versions of strictly hierarchical structured systems make you free. there is total freedom through absence of responsability. and yes, there is quite a lot of talking in this movie, and i’ve seen it in italian, and i’m sure i missed quite a bit, but i did not miss that sentence, when one of sadists is proclaiming that the fascists are the real anarchists. and yes, in a way it is true: you can be free, free of all responsability, just allow the system to take over all responsability for you and for the others – and if somebody else does not want that kind of freedom, you are a) certainly not responsible for this person, and b) this person actually endangers your freedom. whereas the political idea of anarchy dreams of a structural anarchy – something that would demand a lot of responsability from everyone – not only for himself, but also for everybody around him.

the problem with being free in a totalitarian system just seems to be that in these kind of systems freedom is only used in an amazingly stupid way. in the movie, especially in the sexually scenes, the brutality comes from the stupidity. one has all these possibilities and what you come up with is this? on the other hand it amplifies the horror for me: being in the hands of dumb people, that are able to delegate their responsability to a system and come up with really dumb , evil shit. yeah, the association to abu graib is an obvious one.

yes, also this is a quality of the pasolini’s movie: it shows sadistic violence not as an expression of a psychotic, deranged, but intelligent and fascinating mind: it shows that sadism is essentially stupid and unimaginative. and no, pasolini does not make it that easy: there are beautiful boys and girls, and the studs are obviously sexy (and obviously pasolini’s type). it’s a movie that shows us that there are circumstances that enables evil behaviour, circumstances that have something to do with our society and our behaviour. but it does also show us that it might be not possible to draw such clear lines as we wish, that there are desires running through that might undermine our righteous stance.

so yes, i really do recommend this movie. just look at it…


February 14, 2009

from the sexual animal to the machine of pleasure.

the idea that maximum pleasure needs maximum preparation: detailed planning, mucht time, and a huge amount of money. an idea that has been explored in sharpest detail and very consequential in the 120 days of sodom. yes, marquis de sade. i’m not really sure why him now and here – it is partly a coincidence, partly a re-awakened interest in the consequences of his thinking.

i might start with the fact that i’ve read justine at a very crisp age. which might have been a little bit early, and discussing it with n, it became apparant that reading de sade very early on did shape my view of sexuality – well, less my view on sexuality as such (i’m amazingly and frustratingly un-kinky, especially considering that i’ve read jean genet even earlier), but its not being set apart from our “normal lives”, it being just another space in our lives where our relationships with each other and with the world in general are re-enacted. yes, another way to love, to hate – or to ignore each other.

so i do not find the sexual explicitness and the crass sex acts in itself very shocking (yeah, that sounds very jaded), but the going to the extreme of the death of the other to fullfill ones desire. this total disregard of others, this being so extremly solitaire: me and my desire. yes, it might be that loneliness, expressed in radical sadism, that is truely shocking.

and then it is shocking that one keeps on reading, obviously fascinated. well, especially shocking for everybody trying to believe that all our desires are good, that they will only lead us to places of bliss – bliss together.

marquis de sade is exactly pitching these machines of pleasures against it – it is just absolutly breathtaking to present houserules of the kind like in 120 days of sodom. pitching it against the idea that sexuality and intimate relationships are somehow excempt from the nastyness of power games of daily life, of our social standing, our fears, our schemes and manipulations.

so reading marquis de sade is certainly disturbing, partly because of the above mentioned characteristics, and maybe even for a bigger part because one has to start asking oneself questions about his / her relationship to sexuality and one’s own desires. and in its denying moral in such a radical way it of course keeps on asking the question of morals: how much of the fullfilment of desires is limited for what reason? if we assume that fullfilling ones desires is basically an egotistical act – funny enough an egotism that has (for various reasons) be declared in the sexual arena as allright – if personal sexual fullfillment is the highest goal to engage for in sex – if everybody has a right to orgasm. yes, it suddenly gets grey here – and yes, i do see this as a great quality of de sade’s writing: it starts out as extreme, but the more one starts thinking about it, the more it certainly is exaggerated…or isn’t it…?

of course there is much more: aspects i did not mention, aspects i might be not aware of. but the writing of marquis de sade has been and still is for me a reference point – a moral reference point, reminding me for example not to believe that it is per se o.k. and has to be applauded when you kick someone out of your bed because he did not perform to your expectations. but of course you can also read him and just enjoy the kinkiness of it all.

120 days of sodom

and for my readers mastering the german tongue, rather ear, i have something special – a recording of a little excerpt of die 120 tage von sodom. read by the austrian actor walter kohut.

a record with somewhat strange linernotes – again, like also with a lot of print editions of his work – there is a slightly apologetic tone, first by stating how wrong krafft-ebing was to create the term “sadism” (yeah, he should have called it pilcherism), and then at the end it states that the ones only seeing the obscenity and atheism in his work stay on the surface and miss the philosophical implications of his work. sounds all a little bit defensive to me. and well, obviously de sade did not only want to write a philosophical traktat when writing the 120 days. so i invite you to also dive into the obscene…enjoy.


p.s. the second side of the record presents the gespräch eines sterbenden mit einem priester (conversation of a dying man with a priest) – but to the atheism we get in a later post. so when listening to this, see it as homework.