Reading Sade in the Age of Epstein

Mitchell Abidor in the New York Review of Books:

Patrick Magee as the Marquis de Sade and Ian Richardson as Jean-Paul Marat in the 1967 film adaptation of Peter Weiss’s play Marat/Sade, directed by Peter Brook

The recent publication of two works by the Marquis de Sade enables us to see that sadism is not just “the impulse to cruel and violent treatment of the opposite sex, and the coloring of the idea of such acts with lustful feelings,” as Richard von Krafft-Ebing defined it in his 1886 Psychopathia Sexualis. Sadism, as it is depicted by Sade, is also, and perhaps primarily, the creation of a world in which the powerful and wealthy are able to lure the poor and powerless, hold them captive, and reduce their bodies and selfhoods to nothing.

In this, as some clear-sighted post–World War II writers have noted, Sade’s writing was, inter alia, a harbinger of fascism. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, for example, wrote that Sade “prefigures the organization, devoid of any substantial goals, which was to encompass the whole of life” under the totalitarianism that drove them from Germany. Reading Sade in the age of #MeToo and Jeffrey Epstein is an uncanny experience, for his novels are also a blueprint for the world of the sexual predators of today.

This winter brings the first complete English translation of Sade’s vast epistolary novel, Aline and Valcour, in a lavish, three-volume edition from Contra Mundum. The translation, by Jocelyne Geneviève Barque and John Galbraith Simmons, is a masterful one, allowing Sade’s prose to flow, neither assuming the language and rhythms of the eighteenth century nor interpolating anachronisms from English today.

More here.