The reputation of the Marquis de Sade is well-founded. The experience of reading his works is demanding to an extreme. Violence and sexuality appear on almost every page, and these descriptions are interspersed with extended discourses on materialism, atheism, and crime. In this bold and rigorous study William S. Allen sets out the context and implications of Sade's writings in order to explain their lasting challenge to thought. For what is apparent from a close examination of his works is the breadth of his readings in contemporary science and philosophy, and so the question that has to be addressed is why Sade pursued these interests by way of erotica of the most violent kind.
Allen shows that Sade's interests lead to a form of writing that seeks to bring about a new mode of experience that is engaged in exploring the limits of sensibility through their material actualization. In common with other Enlightenment thinkers Sade is concerned with the place of reason in the world, a place that becomes utterly transformed by a materialism of endless excess. This concern underlies his interest in crime and sexuality, and thereby puts him in the closest proximity to thinkers like Kant and Diderot, but also at the furthest extreme, in that it indicates how far the nature and status of reason is perverted. It is precisely this materialist critique of reason that is developed and demonstrated in his works, and which their reading makes persistently, excessively, apparent.
More than 200 years after their author's death, the outrageous fictional writings of the Marquis de Sade continue to repel and fascinate in equal measure. Numerous are the moderns, from Adorno to Bataille, Blanchot to Horkheimer, Klossowski to Lacan, Pasolini to P. Weiss and Zizek, who have sought to take the measure of Sade's monstrous radicalism and account for the destructive negativity of his thinking. In this impressively original and thought-provoking new study, William S. Allen explores in incisive and intriguing fashion the philosophical stakes of Sade's uncompromising materialism, and probes anew the lessons of Sade's intellectual legacy for the contemporary world. * Leslie Hill, Emeritus Professor in French Studies, University of Warwick, UK *
An enlightening study not just of Sade's materialism but also of its reception among French and German intellectuals in the 20th century. Allen offers rigorous and erudite readings of some of Sade's most thoughtful and thought-provoking readers, from Adorno to Blanchot, and from Weiss to Pasolini. * Will McMorran, Reader in French & Comparative Literature, Queen Mary University of London, UK *