Book launch of Toda la obra de Sade puesta sobre sus pies by Jorge Veraza at the International Book Fair of the Palacio de Minería, Mexico City, Sunday, February 23, 2020
Translated by Agustín Palmieri
In his book All the work of Sade placed on his feet, Jorge Veraza defends the Marquis de Sade. He defends him against judges and policemen who persecute and imprison him, against his ruthless mother-in-law, against Napoleon, against his victims who accuse him, against the society that slanders him, against his time. He defends him against his persecutors and detractors, but also against many of his defenders and admirers who did not know how to read it, who distorted his word, who misinterpreted it, who continue to misinterpret it.
According to Veraza, Sade is misinterpreted when his thought is identified with that of his characters, when it is thought that it is Sade himself who speaks through the mouth of such cruel beings who parade in his works. Veraza insists that Sade is not like them, he is not justifying them and he is not justifying himself through them either. On the contrary, he is criticizing them, but criticizing them in his own way, through the satire of their personal characteristics, his actions and his «pseudo-philosophical discourses»1.
The problem is that many readers do not realize that it is a satire and suppose that Sade professes the same ideas that he is satirizing. The result, regretted by Veraza, is that «the specific Sadean message is annulled»2. This message is the radical critique raiced by Sade, his “integral critique of modernity”, a “social, political, ethical, and psychosocial critique of modernity in the form of a satirical novel”3, as Veraza himself masterfully demonstrates.
Veraza’s fabulous book recovers Sadean critique. It rebuilds it and systematizes it. The way it operates in all of Sade’s work is elucidated. It also shows us his deep affinity with Marxism. He uses it to criticize our own society, as well. This is how he convinces us of the validity of Sade.
Veraza does not hesitate to place Sade in the same tradition of criticism of modernity in which we also find Gabriel Bonnot de Mably with his desire to return to primitive communism, the revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat with his radical democratic aspirations, the utopian socialist Charles Fourier with his formidable project of transformation of subjectivity, the old Marx of the ethnological notebooks and Engels with The origin of the family, private property and the State4. It is the same tradition that will continue later in Surrealism, in Freudomarxism, in Vera Schmidt and Wilhelm Reich, in sexual liberation movements, in the spirit of ’68, in the New Left and in what Bruce Brown, Christopher Lasch and others have been described as the «cultural revolution» of the West5.
What is characteristic of this long tradition of criticism of modernity is that its questioning is not only directed specifically at a political or economic regime, but globally at all capitalist society, modern culture and even human civilization. What is criticized here, in general, is the very existence of the State and social classes, but also the private property and the bourgeois forms of family, sexuality, morality and religion, as well as submission, pettiness, hypocrisy and other subjective orientations of modernity. As Veraza shows us, all this was already criticized by Sade between the 18th and 19th centuries.
Veraza recapitulates how Sade critically addresses, through satire, everything in his world: the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, Christianity and atheistic cynicism, feudalism and capitalism, the monarchy of the Old Regime and the revolutionary governments and the following counterrevolutionaries ones, and French society, as in Justine6, and the European and world one, as in Juliette7. Sadean criticism, as Veraza also emphasizes, goes beyond any particularity and presents itself as an «integral criticism» that address the most diverse dimensions of the modern world, «from economic to cultural»8. Certainly, by entering these dimensions, Sade concentrates on the sexual sphere, but sexuality is here a scene in which everything else unfolds. This means that the sexual crimes reported by Sade are seen by Veraza as «allegories of social and economic crimes»9.
The violence of capitalism, for example, is what is symbolically represented in the violence inflicted on the bodies in Justine, Juliette and especially in 120 days of Sodom. In this latest novel, the SillingCastle with its torment machines and its young women operated by executioners, as Veraza well notes, is an eloquent satire of the “capitalist factory as a place of corporal torture for unilateral enjoyment”10. It is then the economic violence of capitalism that is criticized in the Sadean satire of sexual violence.
Now, if the Marquis de Sade resorted to sexuality to criticize the vices and abuses of the modern capitalist world, it is not only because the sexual sphere was at the center of his own contradictory experience of modernity. It is also because sexuality, as Sade knew well before Marx, Engels, Freud and feminists, is a sphere in which the contradictions of our civilization are condensed and exposed. These contradictions, in fact, are the same as in Sade’s existence.
Veraza shows us how Sade does not reject or hide the cultural contradictions that tear his existence apart. Thanks to the theatrical skills that he has developed since he was a child, Sade learns to “externalize” these contradictions, to “stage them”, to “theatricalize them” and “satirize them”11. This theatrical and satirical staging of the contradictions of culture and of himself allows Sade to cope with them, but also to unfold them before us, to reveal and criticize them through his novels that are not truly erotic novels then, but satires of erotic novels, or rather satires of eroticism in the modern world, satires of that terrible and horrendous thing that sexuality has become in the patriarchal and class society in which we live, and also, of course, in general, satires of our modernity and of civilization as a whole.
Satire is the most critical method used by Sade. As Veraza explains, this method is a «form of extreme criticism that leads to the absurd the argument of the opposite», the libertine despot in the case of Sade, «but as if it were positive»12. This makes the argument of the opposite reveal itself in its aberrant, illogical, unsustainable, inadmissible, intolerable character. One can suppose, with reason, that satire is an extreme form of immanent criticism, in the Althusserian sense of the expression13, that is especially effective in situations so absurd, so unjust, that it is enough to make them visible to criticize them. This is the case, for Veraza, of «the monstrosities and injustices of modernity» satirized by Sade14.
Sadean satirical criticism is directed primarily at the repression of sexuality in the modern bourgeois world. It is to this repression that Sade points out, for example, in his questioning of «misunderstood family ethics» with his «repressive sexual morality» in Émilie de Tourville in 178715. In the same year, as a counterpoint to the criticism of that repressive logic, Sade offers in the poem The Truth the image of nature that pushes human beings to develop to the point of transgressing and overcoming repression.
Veraza discovers here the thesis of the historical materialism of the «productive forces of humanity» that «demonstrate their natural vitality at every historical moment» and that «by growing under the yoke of certain relations of production» they end up making them collapse «when repression is already unbearable”16. The productive forces are represented in Sade, once again, by natural and sexual forces that are in contradiction with interhuman repressive relations. This contradiction can be exacerbated to the point of provoking a sexual revolution like the one that was foreshadowed by Sade and that happened only partially until the 20th century.
The criticism of the repression of sexuality leads in Sade, curiously, to the criticism of sexual debauchery. This is so because the Sadean idea of debauchery, an idea as pervasive as it is paradoxical, is not that of a free sexuality, but that of a perverse effect of sexual repression. Veraza understands this very well and that is why he describes libertine sexuality as “irritated, previously repressed, upset” sexuality17. It is for the same reason that he characterizes Sade’s libertine monsters, the ruthless rapists and torturers of their victims, as “recalcitrant prudish characters who pretend to be moral and virtuous, who repress sexuality in others and in themselves, but who are continually willing to transgress this sexual repression”18.
It is in the criticism of debauchery that the Sadean satirical method becomes more powerful, sharp and original. Already in the poem The Truth of 1782, after questioning sexual repression, there is a criticism of that supposed sexual liberation that the masters use to «affirm their particular freedom and establish generalized oppression»19. The best illustration of this is found in The 120 Days of Sodom of 1785, where the pleasure released is oppressive and tyrannical, «subjugating and suffering» for the victims, and «only enjoyable» for four libertines, an aristocrat, an ecclesiastic, a banker and a judge, representatives of the dominant sectors in French society at the time20. The same is confirmed in Aline and Valcour in 1787, where «sexual pleasure is a means of submission», and in Philosophy in the boudoir of 1795, where it is Eugénie’s own sexual liberation that serves as a means to subdue the neighbor and «justify perversion”21.
In all the cases mentioned and in others, all of them meticulously analyzed by Veraza, we appreciate the paradox of an oppressive freedom that Marcuse will discover one hundred and fifty years later in advanced societies and that he will associate with his famous concept of «repressive sublimation»22. Both Marcuse and Sade understand that there may be an alleged sexual liberation, such as that of the old libertine despotism and that existing in advanced capitalist societies, which is actually an effect of repression and an effective means to oppress and repress. This seems to occur, both in Sade and in Marcuse, due to the complex direct or indirect determination of the capitalist system, and, more specifically, due to a decisive factor that Veraza reveals in the satirical criticism of Sade, that of the intervention of money and its avatars, like power and religion.
Veraza insists here that the oppressive aspect of the sexual debauchery of Sade’s characters lies in money and not in the relationship of sexuality with violence. It is true that the Sadean idea of human nature links violent forces with sexual instincts, but violence and sexuality also require the mediation of a third term, money, to enter the «vicious circle» characteristic of the sexual scenes of Sade, the «infernal spiral» of increasing violence, of humiliation, mistreatment, harassment, abuse and murder, which is repeated over and over again and which Veraza, with great sharpness, compares with «expanded reproduction» in Marx23. Just as in Marx destructive intensification and expansion is driven by the very logic of reproduction of a capital that can only be reproduced by expanding, so in Sade it is motivated by a pleasure that needs more and more violence to stay on the same level because it is dominated by money and its corresponding power, «the selfish and subjugating power»24 that nurtures «ambition and envy»25.
Money can intervene directly as in the 1788 novel Oxtiern. However, for Veraza, the same money can also have an indirect, deviant, elaborate and somehow sublimated intervention, as in the scene of Justine’s rapist monks. Here money with its power is unfolded in the figure of God as an embodiment of the omnipotence of money and its «practical social cruelty» in bourgeois society26.
Whether transformed through religion and politics or gross through economic ambition, money is the cause with which Sade explains the perversions, cruelties and injustices that he narrates in his novels. It is also what must be controlled to prevent such excesses. This allows Veraza to propose the following formula: when «money is a servant», when «it is submitted under human design», then crime loses the battle and «virtue prevails», as happens in Oxtiern; on the contrary, when «money is lord» as in capitalism, then crime is «rewarded» as in Juliette and virtue is «subdued» as in Justine27.
Sade’s novels Justine and Juliette reveal to us respectively the defeat of virtue and the victory of vice in capitalism. Justine’s character is particularly revealing here. As Veraza explains, Justine symbolizes defeated justice, but also symbolizes in some way Sade and the people of France28. And most importantly: Justine seems to symbolically represent the condition of the entire humanity «humiliated» in modernity, that is, the «proletarian condition» in which all human beings participate, including the bourgeois, who, personifying capital, they are equally «submitted» to him, «alienated» in him29.
How can you not agree with Veraza? We all see ourselves reflected in Justine. Like her, we are all exploited, cheated, mistreated, and abused by money. We are all proletarianized by capital. This capital does not stop torturing, raping and sodomizing us at every moment.
In the games in which we are objects of capital and in which Veraza discovers the expanded reproduction studied by Marx, violence and death continue to increase at the expense of pleasure and life30. Why does this happen? Following Marx, we discover here the vampire of capital who devours our life and that of the world, transforming it into more and more inert money. This is how fortunes grow as nature and our stocks are destroyed. This is how we are annihilated and the planet is devastated. The result is in deforestation and dehumanization, planetary pollution and widespread human alienation, in the masses of trash and zombies that fill everything.
The dead gains ground over the living. Inspired by Freudian theory, we can conjecture here a progressive advance of the death drive over the life drive. Eros recedes as Thanatos invades everything. The result is the generalization of a jouissance that we can understand lacanianly as the possession for the typically capitalist possession, the having for the having that absorbs any being, the immediate satisfaction of the death drive through a short-circuit that avoids us the vital detour of the life drive and that thus extinguishes desire.
The Freudian conception of the death drive is understandably rejected by Veraza because it “naturalizes” a historical process31 and because it “dualizes” the relationship between sexuality and violence, petrifying it into an essential life / death duality and omitting the decisive function of the third element historical, money, which is what makes us enter the devastating spiral that favors violence at the expense of sexuality32. Like Wilhelm Reich, Otto Fenichel, Erich Fromm and other exponents of the Freudian left, Veraza rejects the Freudian idea of the death drive, distinguishing himself from those who decided to keep this idea to use it in the critique of capitalism, even knowing the risks that it implies, among them, the naturalization and the metapsychological justification of the capitalist devastation. Knowing such risks, Veraza only uses the term «Thanatos» to designate what Eros’s vital impulse becomes when he is «twisted» and «invested»33.
The Thanatos of Veraza is still Eros, but inverted, twisted, perverted. This idea is not very different from that of those of us who assume a drive monism with Lacan and who also consider that there is a single drive that forks at the vital detour or on the mortal line. Paradoxically, to go the straight path, the drive must be perverted. Perverted why? For the capitalist system. It is by subsuming into capitalism that our life drive is transmuted into a death drive.
Even if we believe in the death drive as something more basic and original than that of life, we will have to admit that capitalism does something to our vital impulse, by exploiting it as a labor force, impoverishes it, makes it flat, stops it surround the abyss and abandon itself to the straight line, that is, to the deadly inertia of return towards the inanimate. Fortunately, it is always possible to escape such determination by drifting into life rather than simply letting ourselves fall into death. We have here the clinamen, the random and possible deviation, always still possible, in which Epicurus places his hope in our freedom.
The materialistic philosophy of Epicurus, unlike the deterministic materialism inaugurated by Democritus, leaves a margin for chance, for uncertainty and indeterminacy, for possible deviation and for the random encounter between the elements that deviate from their path. It is not by chance that this libertarian materialism, is Althusserianly designated as «random» and «of the encounter», is precisely the one chosen by Marx and by the Marquis de Sade. Veraza is right to insist on this coincidence between the two critical thinkers. Both believe in a certain notion of freedom that has been bequeathed to them by Epicurus. Rather, as Veraza explains, the libertine monsters criticized by Sade tend to profess a ruthlessly deterministic materialism that is passed down to them through the French materialist philosophers Holbach and La Mettrie34.
The deterministic principle satirized by Sade is that of the pervert who must repeat incessantly, in a ritualized way, the same phantasmatic games. It is that of the uncompromising psychopath who must realize the same phantom in each of his victims, coldly, without mercy, as Kant’s categorical imperative is realized. It is the same deterministic principle that rules so conscientious officials like Adolf Eichmann and those who think that the experiment must continue simply because it must continue, as the sexual torments continue in Sade’s novels, as the operation of capitalism, automatically extending itself until the total annihilation of our planet, continues today.
The determinism satirized by Sade is also that of the capitalist who must accumulate capital at all costs simply because he must accumulate it. It is the determinism of those who have the strange conviction that no other world is possible. Just as this deterministic thinking was once the spontaneous philosophy of the bureaucrats of real socialism, now it is the tacit philosophical doctrine of the technocrats, of the practitioners of real politics, of the realists, of the cynics, and of the resigned.
1 Jorge Veraza, Toda la obra de Sade puesta sobre sus pies, Ciudad de México, Itaca, 2019, pp. 295-296.
2 Ibid., p. 126.
3 Ibid., p. 47.
4 Ibid., p. 382.
5 Bruce Brown, Marx, Freud, and the critique of everyday life: Toward a permanent cultural revolution (1973), Nueva York, Monthly Review Press, 2009. Cristopher Lasch, The Freudian Left and the Theory of Cultural Revolution (1981), en J. Sandler & J. Bowlby (Eds.), Dimensions of psychoanalysis (pp. 123-138), Londres, Inglaterra: Karnac, 1989, pp. 123-138.
6 Veraza, Op. Cit., p. 183.
7 Ibid., p. 186.
8 Ibid., p. 300.
9 Ibid., p. 196.
10 Ibid., p. 125.
11 Ibid., pp. 322-323.
12 Ibid., p. 176.
13 Louis Althusser, Pour Marx (1965), París, Découverte, 2005, pp. 142-145.
14 Veraza, Op. Cit., p. 176.
15 Ibid., p. 128.
16 Ibid., p. 157.
17 Ibid., p. 39.
18 Ibid., p. 298.
19 Ibid., p. 138.
20 Ibid., p 124.
21 Ibid., p. 184.
22 Herbert Marcuse, El hombre unidimensional (1964), Barcelona, Ariel, 2014, pp. 46-47, 68, 89-111.
23 Veraza, Op. Cit., pp. 18-19.
24 Ibid., pp. 20-21.
25 Ibid., p. 22.
26 Ibid., p. 23.
27 Ibid., p. 174.
28 Ibid., p. 181.
29 Ibid., p. 46.
30 Ibid., p. 24.
31 Ibid., p. 43.
32 Ibid., p. 22.
33 Ibid., p. 421.
34 Ibid., p. 36.