Friday, January 8, 2010

I just made one of those unfortunate encounters with google search where, in the process of looking up some entirely innocent query you stumble upon a piece of urban slang describing a sexual perversion that would never even have occurred to you might exist -- the sort of acts that you like to think only appear in de Sade's "100 Days of Sodom."
Now, I have not read all of the "100 Days." I think I made it about as far as day thirty, and then I couldn't stomach it any more. I read it in high-school, guided by a sort of morbid curiosity. "Hmmm," I thought, "I wonder if that's really as bad as it's supposed to be." After all, there's a movie that presents the Marquis as a courageous humanist, and his less obviously depraved works get quoted as profound and revolutionary social thinking in History of Western Civ. type text-books. One could almost get the impression that it's not all that bad, and there's a lot of smoke from very little fire -- an impression that is complemented by the fact that other "risque" works from the period (Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Salambo come to mind) are not scandalous at all to a modern audience. With de Sade, however, this is not even remotely the case.
Reading de Sade as a teen-ager was disturbing not merely on a superficial level -- it was not merely a matter of what he wrote about being obscene -- but also on a philosophical level. I was an extreme sexual liberal: whatever you chose to do in the privacy of your own bedroom was your business and not anyone else's, ever, for any reason, unless it caused direct harm to another person. So, for example, incest would be allowed if it were undertaken by a sterile woman and a family member, or by two same-sex family members, but not if offspring might be born to carry the genetic consequences. De Sade, however, put forward sexual perversions that somehow went beyond the pale; my feminist sensibilities were absolutely outraged, and I didn't care if he had somehow managed to get women to agree with the things that he wanted to do to them, because the acts were fundamentally degrading. There seemed to be a line there at which it was clear that the acts themselves meant something, regardless of consent, and that that meaning was inadmissible, that they were signs that signified a particular attitude towards women (or, alternately, towards the passive male partner in a gay relationship) that simply could not be countenanced. It suggested that there really was a need for boundaries, that sexual morality wasn't simply a matter of arbitrary control over the body, or fear of sex, or religious repression. It also suggested that the road of sexual perversion would, over time, depart more and more from anything that could possibly be construed as alluring, seductive, desirable or even human -- that it was a path that ended not in a universal love-without-limits, but in a sort of bestial hatred for the object of sexual attraction, an intense need to master or be mastered, to conceive of sexuality as a kind of conflict in which all of the rituals by which the conquered enemy is humiliated become somehow appropriate.

1 comment:

  1. I think you precisely point to the reality of sexual perversion. It is dominance over someone. But this dominance is driven by a demonic desire to humiliate and denigrate. As someone who is a recovering addict to pornography I can point to the increasing perversion of sexual immorality. It starts with soft porn and it ends with the most diabolical, horrible perversions. I think that sexual immorality and pornography are diabolic and the ultimate end is the subjugation of the human being to the perverse desire of Satan to humiliate and destroy the person. Satan wants to destroy the natural order of the sexes as created by God and to replace it with a hate filled and perverted bestiality that uses the body. The Marquis expresses this horrible vision and no doubt he was “inspired” by Satan. The disordered and perverted sexuality of our age is the “apple” offered to Adam and Eve; it looked good and pleasant to the eyes, but eventually it leads to death, an eternal death.

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