"What strikes me as most surprising is that when it is simply a question of trivial things we are never astonished at the difference in tastes between one individual and another, but the moment these differences involve what is known as lust – behold, everything is in an uproar! Yet what an injustice!" – from Justine, by Marquis de Sade
So true . . .
You know the expression “no good deed goes unpunished”? That’s the point that’s driven home again and again throughout Justine to the point of beating a dead horse. It’s the first book of Marquis de Sade’s that I read. It was written over a two-week period in 1787 while he was imprisoned (most of his writings were done while in prison) but not published till 1791. Then Napoleon read it, was aghast by it, and had the Marquis thrown back in jail for it. Pretty lame move on his part.
The book is, no doubt, brutal in its perversity and sadism, as is to be expected from de Sade, of course, the word sadism deriving from his name. It really does make one cringe. But one thing I really didn’t like about it, and which made it hard to read at times due to redundancy, was the unrealistic and repetitive way the characters would go on these long spiels, justifying their wicked, pernicious actions, as if reciting an essay off by heart or something. The Marquis uses rationality on the side of his evil-doers to justify his ideal society of unbridled hedonism and nihilistic anarchy. And that’s cool and really different at first – even refreshing – but it reaches a point where you sigh and think to yourself, “All right, de Sade . . . I get it, dude: being a prick gets you everywhere, and being a goody-goody screws you over. Get on with it already! Enough with the monologues.”
But the words flow and are lyrical. And I like that. Sometimes I couldn’t help but chuckle at the way his incorrigible, malevolent characters would absolutely mock the hell out of virtue and living a virtuous life, while also dealing with the psychological matters of remorse and having a bad conscience. He didn’t just push at the idealistic boundaries of what was mainstream education, social propriety and puritanical thinking, this iconoclast, no – he consciously treaded all over them, leaving his black, muddy foot marks all over the place, until the boundaries simply didn’t exist anymore, and then juggled and toyed with people’s notions of what is deemed “moral” and “immoral,” arguing that such things are based solely on caprice and the whims of man. Oh, yeah, the untimely, pre-Nietzschean element is so glaringly obvious:
"But when anatomy and physiology are really perfected, it will be clearly demonstrated that all morality is essentially physical. What will become then of your laws, ethics, religion, gibbets, paradise, God, and hell – when it is proved that a particular organisation of the nerves, a peculiar reaction in the body, a certain degree of acridity in the blood, makes a man what he is, for better or for worse?" – from Justine
“The slave preaches the virtues of kindness and humility to his master because as a slave he has need of them; but the master, better guided by nature and his passions, has no need to devote himself to anything excepting those things which serve or please him.” – from Justine
Couldn’t have said it better myself. At any rate, I don’t know if I’ll ever read anything else of de Sade’s again; there’s a lot out there for me to get to, and I wasn’t that impressed by it, but time will tell. I’m glad I finally read Justine, though, as it is downright diabolical (especially the section in the monastery – yikes!), its influence has been great, it has had a vast contribution, and it posits and argues for many sentiments which I have argued for in my own books as well:
"Delicacy, for instance, may go hand in hand with love and romance; but love and sexual pleasure are not necessarily the same thing - they frequently, in fact, represent two entirely different attitudes. People daily love each other without enjoying, and enjoy each other without love." – from Justine
You're damn right they do. Somebody had to say it!
“Repentance is an emotion one only feels for actions to which one is unaccustomed. If you repeat frequently enough those things which bring you remorse, you will finally extinguish it. Oppose it with the torch of the passions, with the powerful laws of self-interest – then it will quickly disappear. Remorse does not prove anything to be a crime. It merely indicates an easily subjugated soul.” – from Justine
I agree with that too, but I think that that applies to a lot of things that we are accustomed to as well. And I think the Marquis goes too far in his anything-goes philosophy, where true happiness raining down upon the world can only be achieved through complete incivility and not giving a damn about anyone but yourself without any restraint on the passions whatsoever, and that’s what prevents his philosophy from truly resonating with me: It’s not epicurean, and it’s idealistic in itself, just to a completely opposite extreme than that of the idealism of Platonism and Christianity and the spin-offs of them that we’re used to. But let's finish off this critique with some awesomeness and then some unintentional hilarity within the book:
“I believe that if there were a God there would be less evil on this earth. I also believe that if evil exists in our world then its disorders are necessitated by this God, or it is beyond his power to prevent them. But I can’t be at all frightened of a God who is either weak or wicked. I defy him without any fear and laugh at his thunderings.” – from Justine
Hear, hear! Amen to that!
"And if he did not entirely consummate his crime, at least he covered me with such revolting stains that it was impossible for me to doubt his abominable designs." – from Justine
LOL! What does that even mean? In reading that part and knowing all he had done to her in the past and what he'd just done to her at that moment, it's even more befuddling.