Aren’t reading and writing essentially acts of dominance and submission? The train of thought imposed by the author must be, by default, followed by her audience. By processing the words in this sentence, you are submitting to me. You little bitch.
Last week I reviewed a novel by the dude who begot the word masochism, so I thought it only apropos to tackle its counterpart – sadism – through the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. Yes, this is the same book that a New York Times critic couldn’t even finish reading. But I got turned on by Charlotte Gainsbourg cutting off her clit in Antichrist, so I can handle anything.
Except, maybe, a 100,000 page pervy fantasy written by a guy in prison with too much time and no editor. The best thing about this book is the weird mix of 18th century stiff language with extreme lewdness (example: “He squirted evidence of his virility over my cheeks”). The worst thing is everything else.
This book would be cute if it was distilled into a short story. Instead, de Sade’s rambling narrative contains so many details and stories-within-stories I decided it would be more efficient to just compile an alphabetised guide. In case you ever need to like, write a paper or something. It has some letters missing, because I felt like it. Don’t fucking forget who’s boss.
A is for Asshole, which is by far the Marquis’ favourite orifice. Cheeks are spread, pinched, smelt, slapped, tongued, sucked and washed over with cum.
B is for Bakhtin, whose ideas on the carnivalesque can be easily traced throughout. Normalised social etiquette is jettisoned in favor of previously-suppressed desires when four young men embark on their 120-day orgiastic festival.
C is for Corruption, another prevalent theme in the story. In the grand chateau where the novel takes place, hundreds of young girls and boys are kidnapped and coerced into various forms of sexual torture. Many are less than 18, and de Sade revels in describing their crushed innocence.
D is for the Duc of Blangis, one of the main characters who is basically an 18th century Chuck Norris. He “discharges” 18 times a day, “without appearing one jot more fatigued.” He needs only one hand to violate a girl, killed a horse just by squeezing his legs while mounting it, and drinks 50 bottles of Burgundy in one sitting if challenged.
Still from Salò (film adaptation of the book)
F is for Freud, who de Sade anticipates by positing that eroticism is the instigator of all human behaviour. De Sade also echoed the Austrian psychoanalyst by giving sexuality and libido a significance that transcended the bedroom.
G is for Games, which govern the sex acts. After a thorough physical inspection, tween girls are entered into a ballot, with only the best looking selected as “victims” for the upcoming tortures.
J is for Justice, which the book posits is entirely relative – “the stronger has always considered exceedingly just what the weaker regarded as fragrantly unjust” (whatsup, Nietzsche?). The conclusion is that nothing is just except things that are pleasurable.
M is for Mmmm, delicious! Which is what I think of this description of one of the chateau’s elderly servants: “her ass was peppered with wounds, and her buttocks were so prodigiously slack one could have furled the skin around a walking stick; the hole of this splendid ass resembled the crater of a volcano what for width, and for aroma the pit of a privy… she had never once wiped her ass, whence we have proof positive that the shit of her infancy yet clung there.”
N is for Necrophilia. There’s a lot of it. R is for Rules, which govern the games strictly. Anyone who acts with common sense or moderation, or who doesn’t go to bed wasted, is fined 10,000 francs.
Marquis de Sade by Kate O'Brien
S is for Simone de Beauvoir, who argued in her essay “Must We Burn Sade?” that the Marquis was an existential moralist(!!!).
T is for Transgression. At least the temporary kind. In order for these violations to be a release from anything, they have to only be licensed and permissible for the 120 days.
Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade (lol)
W is for Work, or the lack thereof. The four main characters are ostensible gentlemen, which makes sense, because the aristocracy and clergy don't need to be confined to the world of work, so they can experiment with excess.
Zzzzzz…you still reading this?
Rating: Two Dildos. TL; DR