Friday, August 10, 2007

A Different Sade: Food for Thought

In June the British Academy organised a public discussion evening on the Marquis de Sade. The Academy has now posted online a report of the event and the text of five discussion papers presented during the evening. Marian Hobson writes:

"Sade’s wish for recognition as an homme de lettres, proved by his essay Idée sur les romans (1800) was discussed by Katherine Astbury (Warwick) and Thomas Wynne (Exeter). Sade’s estimation of his contemporaries, Astbury showed, corresponds to ours rather than to his own epoch’s: an emphasis on women novelists (Mesdames Graffigny and Riccoboni), an awareness of the difficulty of writing novels during a period of political instability, and his discussion of the relation of the Gothic novel to revolutionary anxieties and trauma."

"For Wynne, repetition and theatricality are threads linking his major explorations of debauchery and cruelty with his desperately unsuccessful but much more conventional theatre, and his continual efforts to get his plays performed. The idea of a rehearsal, with its adjusted order and allowed self-contemplation can explain a pattern in Sade’s actual behaviour: the repetition of attempts to be performed does away with the need to act out the role of reformed writer during the dangers of the Revolution.

"Caroline Warman (Oxford) pointed out that the unlikely and practically contemporaneous couple of Jane Austen and Sade shared effects of style – which Warman illustrated. Both move beyond a common irony on the topic of female education, and allow theatricality to work in their novels as a social structure concerned with disguise, with corruptability and with the ‘acting out’ of fantasies - performed on others: for Sade, in manoeuvres, in social interaction for Austen.

Bob Gillan (University of Manchester) on the contrary discussed not the fantastic but the religious-political elements in Sade, underlining similarities between Sade’s ideas and those of the major figure of the anti-Enlightenment, Joseph de Maistre. Will McMorran (Queen Mary, University of London) showed that the implied reader in a Sade novel cannot easily be aligned with the usual figure allowed in a reader response theory such as Wolfgang Iser’s; the teaching of Sade in “the academy” is pornography in the class-room, and needs to be thought through, so that we do not treat the sex and the cruelty as if they weren’t there."

Read the papers, and subsequent discussion here: