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Right! That's a wrap of our #ManBooker2014 coverage. Congratulations to Richard Flanagan bookslive.co.za/Yq9F

Sunday Read: Hussein Ibish Explores Marquis de Sade’s Influence on America and Politics

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Marquis de Sade has long been viewed as the first sadist, with the word being derived from his name. With his decidedly liberal views on sexuality and his erotic works, like Philosophy in the Boudoir, The 120 Days of Sodom and Minski the Cannibal, depicting sexual fantasies with an emphasis on violence, criminality and blasphemy against the Catholic Church, his name still produces reactions of shock and horror almost two centuries after his death. Hussein Ibish writes for The Baffler about how he experienced first-hand the modern day reaction to the name of this “aristocratic theorist of unrestrained desire”.

Ibish, new to Washington DC, visited the famous bookstore Politics and Prose in search of De Sade’s works. After being rudely escorted from the store by what he suspects is a French shop assistant he set about trying to explain the reaction he received. But, he writes, he was not “entirely taken aback by this reception; as I completed work on my doctorate, my professors took me aside to warn me that I should never attempt to teach any of Sade’s work until I was securely tenured — and even then, they stressed, I should proceed with enormous caution.”

The Crimes of LoveThe Misfortunes of Virtue and Other Early TalesJulietteJustine, or the Misfortunes of VirtueMinski the CannibalThe 120 Days of SodomPhilosophy in the Boudoir

Ibish continues to discuss how De Sade is what he’d call “a household name among us that he functions as a sort of shorthand consumer brand for transgressive naughtiness, and the outright flouting of civilization’s taboos” and how this 1700s writer’s influence stretches deep into America’s culture. He cautions, though, that this is only one side of De Sade and that he also haunts political culture and systems of governance.

Not long after I took refuge from the academy to work in the policy centers of Washington, I visited one of D.C.’s landmark bookstores, Politics and Prose—a literary venue known, as its name suggests, for furnishing customers with the conceit that they’re browsing and shopping in a vaguely subversive fashion. But as I walked up to join the store’s cultivated and edgy communitas, I committed a terrible error: I asked a clerk where I might find the works of the Marquis de Sade. My request made its way up through an increasingly consternated group of shop assistants; I had to repeat it several times before they fully registered what I was asking for. At that point, I was told to leave the store immediately. The scene concluded on a perfect grace note when I was sternly conducted to the store’s exit by a female employee who was obviously French. It was as if I had asked for a how-to manual for murder, kidnapping, or child abuse—or, at a minimum, the most objectionable form of pornography.

That scene spoke volumes about the curious legacy of Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, the great and demented aristocratic theorist of unrestrained desire, in our own republic of consumer longing. Here, in the self-regarding intellectual center of a city justly famed for the free play of unleashed personal ambition and the basest kinds of instrumental manipulation of others, Sade was a four-letter word. Nor can I say that I was entirely taken aback by this reception; as I completed work on my doctorate, my professors took me aside to warn me that I should never attempt to teach any of Sade’s work until I was securely tenured—and even then, they stressed, I should proceed with enormous caution.

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Image courtesy of The Telegraph.

 

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