The Marquis de Sade, vilified by respectable society from his own time through ours, apotheosized by Apollinaire as "the freest spirit tht has yet existed, " wrote "The 120 Days of Sodom" while imprisoned in the Bastille. An exhaustive catalogue of sexual aberrations and the first systematic exploration -- a hundred years before Krafft-Ebing and Freud -- of the psychopathology of sex, it is considered Sade's crowning achievement and the cornerstone of his thought. Lost after the storming of the Bastille in 1789, it was later retrieved but remained unpublished until 1935.
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The Marquis de Sade, born Donatien Alphonse Francois in 1740, is one of the most famous and notorious figures in French history. The man whose name coined sadism is best known for his violent and blasphemous sexual exploits, which he recorded in his books and plays. After a series of arrests and exiles for acts of sodomy and sexual abuse of a number of prostitutes, the Marquis de Sade was eventually successfully imprisoned in the Bastille in 1784. On 4 July 1789, he was transferred to an insane asylum at Charenton near Paris. Ten days later, the storming of the Bastille, a major event of the French Revolution, occurred at the famous prison. During Robespierre's Reign of Terror in post-war France, Sade obtained his freedom and soon established himself as an important political figure. However, his public criticism of Robespierre ensured he was imprisoned once more. In 1803, Sade was declared insane for the second time and was reinstated at Charenton. He died there in 1814, having conducted a sexual affair with a thirteen-year-old girl.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Sade, who cut himself off from humanity, only had one occupation in his long life which really absorbed him - that of enumerating to the point of exhaustion the possibilities of destroying human beings, of destroying them and of enjoying the thought of their death and suffering. Even the most beautiful description would have had little meaning for him. Interminable and monotonous enumeration alone managed to present him with the void, the desert, for which he yearned, and which his books still present to the reader. Boredom seeps from the monstrosity of Sade's work, but it is this very boredom which constitutes its significance. As the Christian Pierre Klossowski says, his endless novels are more like prayer books than books of entertainment. The accomplished technique behind them is that of the "monk... who sets his soul in prayer before the divine mystery”. One must read them as they were written, with the intention of fathoming a mystery which is no less profound, nor perhaps less "divine”, than that of theology. This man, who appears in his letters as unstable, facetious, beguiling, fanatical, enamoured or amused, capable of tenderness and even of remorse, contented himself, in his books, with an invariable exercise in which an acute but permanent tension, infinitely sustained, springs from the cares that limit us. From the outset we are lost on inaccessible heights. Nothing remains that is hesitant or moderative. In an endless and relentless tornado, the objects of desire are invariably propelled towards torture and death. The only conceivable end is possible desire of the executioner to be the victim of torture himself. In Sade's will, to which we have already referred, this instinct reached its climax by demanding that not even his tomb should survive: it led to the wish that his very name should "vanish from the memory of men”. FROM THE FOREWORD BY GEORGES BATAILLE
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