Marquis de Sade, minus the evil shit: a new-old release from Goliath Books
Written by Amy Zhang
“In France at the end of the eighteenth century, Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, hired an artist to illustrate his collected writings. This edition, published in 1797, contained 101 copper engravings with sex scenes, most of them of a sadomasochistic leaning. At the time, such “cochonneries” (obscenities) brought one directly into a dungeon. For this reason, most artists in the erotic genre remained anonymous, something which makes it difficult today to ascribe authorship.
Now, Goliath Books has now taken the collected graphics from 4000 book pages, and put them together without the text.”
Marquis de Sade: 100 Erotic Illustrations displays a knot of bodies: limbs and faces tangled together in variations of movement. They are bent over or writhing on the ground. Legs are spread or flailing. The subjects are fondled, fingered, flogged, caressed, held aloft, held down, rimmed, ravished, rewarded. It’s lewd, sure, but here’s a book that will still look beautiful on your coffee table, which means it is essentially not de Sade’s. What I mean is I mean essence. I mean vital phenomena. It’s a very different thing to present de Sade’s writing without pictures than it is to present the pictures without text; that which is banned and censored is not the artwork that de Sade commissioned but the text of his hand, which suggests the pictures are peripheral to the book object while the text is closer to its essence. What makes Marquis de Sade’s work his work is the writing; to take away the writing is to make the work not Marquis de Sade’s.
Here, for example, are the stage instructions for one of de Sade’s comparatively tamer works, Philosophy in the Bedroom:
Eugenie takes the pliers and continues to tear chunks of flesh from her mother's legs. When Saint-Age is finished, Le Chevalier steps in embuggering the victim while simultaneously punching both her ears with his fists. He is followed by Augustin, who, while embuggering the woman sinks a finger into one of her eyes and a thumb in one of her nostrils. After accomplishing which he twists his hand until the eye is disgorgers and the nostril splits open. During these proceedings, Dolmance reams the anus of each of the torturers.
And here, in comparison, is a page from Marquis de Sade: 100 Erotic Illustrations.
There’s certain symmetry within this project to sadism itself: to reduce de Sade’s book object to its accompanying etchings, to present it by one of its features—rather than one of its essences—is to use it. To put it more simply: I’m suggesting that Marquis de Sade: 100 Erotic Illustrations is topping Marquis de Sade from the bottom, several centuries removed and quite inadvertently. Marquis de Sade’s libertine philosophies demonstrated a man devoid of moral and sexual restraint. He believed radical egoism paired badly with Nature, a hungry moral guide, and who lived to “Enjoy myself, at no matter whose expense.” De Sade’s works, in the convention of the time, were fiction with long swathes of philosophy, and influenced everyone from Foucault to Flaubert—but his postmortem intellectual heroism is fairly terrible for modern sex positivity. Marquis de Sade has been cast by modernity as some father of sadism, when he is only a namesake to a particularly violent and violating sort of philosophy. His life was not scandalous and bawdy, it was serially murderous. Marquis de Sade was not a sexual sadist, though the term takes after his name. Marquis de Sade kidnapped and murdered and caused grotesque harm to other bodies.
As Goliath Books makes note: “In the age of YouPorn, however, De Sade’s scandalous writings are far below the arousal threshold that their image would lead us to assume.” Marquis de Sade wrote torture and philosophy, but he never wrote of eroticism, which is essentially about pleasure in other bodies. To bring eroticism into Marquis de Sade is untrue to the author, but it brings pleasure to something that was barren of pleasure, and this can only be a good thing. Sex positivity ought to be radical for how it honors one’s own body, not in the way it gorges itself. Certainly it should not warp to support libertine philosophy. In this movement we must know when a person is seeking to share in pleasure, and when a person is seeking to make use of another body.
If you'd like to learn more about Goliath and their new release Marquis de Sade: 100 Erotic Illustrations check out: www.goliathbooks.com.