Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Marquis de Sade, "Philosophy in the Bedroom" (1795)

Philosophy... reminds me of the kind of book that Anton LaVey might have written in another era.

I am surprised by how much of this book deals with politics. The popular understanding of de Sade's writing focuses on his sexual "libertinage." The book does contain a significant and frank discussion of sexuality, and works to 'shock' the reader with both the acts described and the logic behind these acts. The logic, however, is what is by far the most interesting.

De Sade's characters argue for a multitude of sexual acts that might still be regarded as immoral by many today (sodomy, homosexuality, group sex, etc.). The occasion of all of these acts within the book is explained, however, as political resistance to the established order of post-revolutionary France. Philosophy..., in short, is a somewhat far-fetched argument for a form of liberal republicanism taken to its extreme. Murder and rape are explained as necessary to be permitted out of respect for 'natural laws' and individual rights to pursue whatever actions one is able.

In its focus on political argument and philosophic approach to sexuality, Philosophy... is less pornographic than politicized sex. Discussions of sexual congress are presented more as lists of actions than lovingly dwelt upon or fetishized as might be expected.

De Sade takes up a number of challenging arguments that will not, in some respects, appear unfamiliar to a modern reader. He emphasizes libertarianism, suggesting that females should be free of artificial constraints to pursue pleasure, as should be men. His characters recognize that this is impossible within their times, however, so advocates subversion from within accepted contracts, behind closed doors, through paid relationships with servants, etc.

Using inexorable, though troubling argument, De Sade valourizes homosexuality, incest, sodomy, and crossing gender roles (e.g., women anally penetrating men with dildos). For instance, De Sade's characters argue for anal sex as a wise and pleasurable means to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Additionally, with the reproductive element removed, producing pleasurable sensations, and allowed by nature (if not invited by it through the physically complementary traits of the anal sphincter and phallus), de Sade's characters suggest there is every reason for men to copulate with men (and that this might even be more honourable than heterosexual copulation, in that it is more 'liberated' from conventional morality).

His characters deride charity of any kind, as they feel it diminishes the individual’s will to power. They similarly attack state charity as attracting the poor and removing their desire to succeed.

They suggest murder and violence are useful, admirable, and natural, but recommend that such pursuits (particularly the former) be carried out without aid from assistants, as these open oneself to increased risk.

Perhaps most surprising in a book that I suspected to be full of lewd, and quaintly shocking Enlightenment-era pornography was the inclusion of lengthy ‘text within a text’, elaborating an extensive argument for a kind of extreme republicanism, wherein the rights of the individual to practice any act must be allowed, and indeed, in many cases, facilitated.

This text suggests that society must allow individuals to act on their ‘natural’ desires, and that these desires left free to play themselves out will act as a kind of self-regulation. With regard to murder, offers a quotation from a Cologne ruler who judged a murderer, saying: “I absolve you of killing, and I also absolve the person who will kill you.”

Ross Stein has written a clear, concise, and pretty accurate summation of this book at

Monday, 15 July 2013

Ursula LeGuin, "The Dispossessed" (1974)

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Geoffrey Reaume, Remembrance of Patients Past (2000, rep. 2009)

The sub-title for this book is: "Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940."

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

York University (Toronto, ON) published an article discussing the book.