Must We Burn de Sade?

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Not registered? Sign up. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Search my Subject Specializations: Select Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Political Writings. Find in Worldcat. Print Save Cite Email Share. Search within book. Email Address. Library Card. Introduction Must we burn sade? Must we burn sade? Chapter: p. Thus, pain means the destruction of the body and the breakthrough of the flesh as the impersonal, anonymous dimension of existence in which one is passively delivered and which one cannot escape.

Beauvoir points to the fact that Sade himself never committed murder but rather stops his deeds at the moment his victim collapses.

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The fact that the victim as a person is almost disappearing, but is nonetheless still alive, makes possible a relationship with the other. If Sade had killed his victims then he would have only faced mute objects without freedom or the possibility of reaction. According to Beauvoir, this is exactly what Sade wants.

But what then is the reason for this interest? Why does Sade, although he reduces the other to an anonymous thing, want to perceive a glimpse of freedom in the other? Through this awareness Sade recognizes that his life is embedded in an impersonal dimension of existence — the flesh — which precedes his freedom. Here, she describes his enjoyment in terms of rage and fury.

Political Writings

Flames seemed to dart from his eyes. He frothed at the mouth…he whinnied… and he even strangled his partner. The ultimate trauma must, rather, guarantee by its obviousness the success of an undertaking, whose stake exceeds it infinitely. Sade is condemned to death but manages to escape and in the following years succeeds in a sustained effort to mislead his pursuers.

Five years later, he is imprisoned in Vincennes and then moved to the Bastille. He is liberated during the French Revolution when the Bastille is attacked by the rebels. She directly links his literary activity to this fact. One expects violence and sex but no theoretical reflections. The radical philosophy and apology for murder which are exposed in this pamphlet are heavily influenced by the materialistic philosophy of the eighteenth century. For instance, Beauvoir points out that Sade attacks eighteenth-century civil society, holding that the values and laws of society affirm and maintain established and unjust power relations.

For Sade, the altruistic virtues of brotherhood and charity are mere inventions of the bourgeoisie in order to oppress the masses. The source of his attack lies elsewhere; Beauvoir stresses that his aversion is grounded in his philosophy of nature. One and indivisible, it is an absolute, outside of which there is no reality. For Sade, Nature is a machine producing new life continuously. Nature needs matter in order to continue her creative activity but since matter is not inexhaustibly available Nature must destroy the products she first created.

Destroyed life and freed matter enables Nature to continue her activity endlessly. Death is a metabolic process which enables dissolved matter to live in another form of existence. This eternal movement is regulated by creation and destruction as the two main laws of Nature. The reason why Sade wants to destroy virtues such as compassion and parental love is that they maintain social life. Indeed, what Nature wants is creation and destruction, the endless movement of matter which is hindered by inert, stable structures and civil virtues.

The way the virtuous and morally good Justine dies, Beauvoir argues, should be understood from this perspective. Destruction of life frees new material which enables nature to continue its productive activity. When Sade is imprisoned he comes to recognise that his actions — which he believes to be innocent — do not conform to the social order.

He realises that if he wants to be included in society he will need to ignore his individual pleasures. However, given the existential importance of his sexual peculiarities with regard to his relations with others, he will not give up his actions. Specifically, by writing his theoretical dissertations Sade tries to justify his strange and cruel deeds by understanding them as part of a larger metaphysical project.


  1. Twilight.
  2. The End of Greed.
  3. Die demographische Entwicklung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland seit 1945 (German Edition).
  4. Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret A. Simons, and Marybeth Timmermann?
  5. The Power and Simplicity of Self-Healing.

This metaphysical anchoring, Sade hopes, will convince society to accept his bizarre conduct. Thus, while Sade realises that his actions are incompatible with the moral mores, his materialist philosophy is aimed at the perpetuation of bizarre pleasures without danger of being imprisoned by the authorities. A human being is in the hands of Nature and Nature continues in the cycle of her own creations. This means that cruelty does not have to be understood as a conscious choice to live in conformity with Nature.

According to Beauvoir, this amounts to an appeal to the reader to help Sade free himself of guilty feelings. He begged to be allowed to see his wife, accusing himself of having grievously offended her. He begged to confess and open his heart to her. In short, when Sade develops his metaphysical system, this is not only an expression of his desire for the recognition of his autonomy as detached from society but also an expression of solidarity with and attachment to society and its values. Sade wants to avenge himself against the Old Regime which excluded him by putting him in jail.

Consequently, the development of an immense philosophical system channels his resentment. Sade consciously develops an atheistic philosophy and apology for murder which defies moral boundaries because by this transgression he can take revenge on society. Although Beauvoir points out that Sade wants to live in conformity with truth, she also stresses that he enjoys the fact that this truth defies society.

Simone de Beauvoir

Sade, as this interpretation implies, would not have written if society had not imprisoned him. What is the origin of this insensitivity? Before answering these questions, the apathy of the sadist will be discussed. Normally, human beings live in mutual involvement with each other, which implies that a person cares about whether her or his acts will be harmful to others or not. This personal involvement is associated with an emotional, reactive attitude: one is responsive to the emotions and expectations of others.

For example, a person spontaneously shows compassion when her or his actions hurt someone else. However, everyday life requires not only focusing on the other but also self- involvement. This is the case not only for our emotions but also for our behaviour.

First, actions express personal interests and preferences, and thus involvement. However, according to Beauvoir, the libertine does not merely destroy involvement with others. This means that they also destroy their self-involvement, i. While Justine is suffering Juliette herself is not taken by the sensation of pain, and even ignores it.

This apathetic, insensitive attitude also implies that the sadist lacks the two aspects of self-involvement noted above. First, the libertine eliminates his personal preferences and interests. Sade is situated beyond personal selfishness. In particular, Beauvoir argues that sadistic negation should not be understood as a complacent affirmation of superiority.

Must we burn sade?

In claiming that in the sadistic universe apathy is central Beauvoir reminds us that the sadist radically breaks with conventional attitudes. In ordinary life, one who assumes such a detached, apathetic attitude is inevitably viewed as cruel and inhuman.

However, Beauvoir pays no attention to the specific methods the sadist uses to assume the unnatural, apathetic attitude. Thus, the rapid succession and repetition of crimes entails that the sadist will not be involved in the suffering of his victim. For Kant, apathetic obedience to the moral law implies the efficacy of freedom understood in a negative way: one may not be affected by and should be detached from spontaneous and natural desires.

According to Beauvoir, apathy in Sade is similarly grounded in freedom: the sadist distances himself from any kind of spontaneous focus on the other or self.

Despite his commitment to an unhindered freedom in the brothels, Sade cannot free himself from his pity and remorse. Moreover, as we have discussed in the first part of our essay, through his cruelty Sade is spontaneously searching for contact with the other. In his literature Sade projects a dream which he cannot realise in everyday life. This leads us to the third kind of enjoyment Beauvoir mentions alongside enjoyment in terms of the experience of pleasurable sensations and transgression.

Must We Burn De Sade? by De Beauvoir, Simone

Unlike the experience of enjoyment in normal life, Beauvoir holds, sadistic enjoyment has nothing to do with the experience of pleasurable sensations. According to Beauvoir, sadism rather has to do with insensitivity and the absolute negation of sensations. However, this does not mean that the sadist enjoys his insensitivity towards the pain of his victim. The sadist enjoys the fact that he is able to act in absolute freedom. It is clear that each way of enjoyment corresponds to one of the three perspectives. As the common sense conception of sadism holds, the sadist in the first place is only interested in enjoyment and therefore, he is even able to enjoy the cruellest deeds.

In each of her three perspectives enjoyment is not seen as a goal but only as an unintended effect of a particular activity. Another similarity is found between the first and third perspective. While the first understands enjoyment in terms of the experience of pleasurable sensations, which is ignored in the third case, in both perspectives enjoyment is related to an existential problem.

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This difference considers the relationship between enjoyment and transgression, understood as exceeding moral boundaries. From the second perspective, enjoyment and transgression are directly linked. According to Beauvoir, Sade wants to take revenge on society.

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