I am a fan of the works of Donatien Alphonse François, the Marquis de Sade to most, but that is really besides the point. All you really need to know is that De Sade wrote of obsessions, degradation, humilation and torture, fetish, pain and what I can only call the “intellectual orgasm/rape complex”: the pursuit and conquest of a person of equal or greater intellect and the exploitation of the inherent emotional/sexual weaknesses thereof. This was practiced with the greatest fervor upon De Sade’s only true equal: himself. He mutilated himself, had himself whipped, acted as the victim in viscous acts of rape, and allowed himself to be almost ritually humiliated by those who would generally be seen to be “beneath” his stature: prostitutes, male servants, sycophantic friends. He of course loved to humiliate and torture others in turn, but as he said himself, “It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure”.
De Sade was obsessed with pain and humilation, and this has led many to decry him as a monster, a freak or even the devil himself; novelist Guy Endore even entitled his book on the marquis “Satan’s Saint”. I do not think there is any argument that De Sade is seen by many, if not by nearly all, as an evil writer and thinker who has or had given nothing of (non-prurient) value to the human pantheon of thought. I believe this to be a grave misunderstanding of De Sade and his oeuvre. As I hinted at above, De Sade was not interested purely in the victimization of the weak and the celebration thereof; his primary (at least personal) focus was on self subjected acts of sexual violence towards himself.
How does this matter in regards to De Sade’s “value” as a literary and philosophical mind? Rape fantasies and lionization of sexual abuse victims, and then the subsequent focus on their various experiences with pain, recovery, revenge, and self hatred, are nothing new in the realm of literature. On the contrary they are something of a cliché if anything; from the tales of Genesis to East of Eden artists have always been interested in the subject of sexual violence and its repercussions. What De Sade did was take this obsession and take it to its seemingly sinister, but actually very logical, zenith; self inflicted sexual assault and humilation. And, as noted above, not by those seen as in any sense in a natural position of authority or power over the “victim”. He always depicted it as the pursuit of the higher classes, and of the educated, not as the plight of the lower classes, and the of un/undereducated. Even when he did write of sexual assault upon a weaker victim, as in 120 Days of Sodom, or Justine, the focus and yes even the sympathy is nearly always with the victimizer, or at the very least the victim is seen as having been destined to this punishment or to have even been bettered in some way by the act.
De Sade writes in almost mind numbing detail about the acts thus perpetrated and how and why the individual “enjoying” them does, indeed, enjoy them. For example, one entire section of his magnum opus 120 Days of Sodom is devoted to the “Murderous Passions”. As one would imagine (considering that this tome was written by the man for whom sadism was named) this section is filled with terrible cruelties and fetishes that literally turn the stomach of even the most nihilistic and jaded of readers (and I am one of those readers I must admit!). But, as is usually the case with the master of perversion, he focus on the immediate pain and pleasure gained from the acts, and does not dwell upon the side affects, the repercussions, or the reactions to these acts. There is no chaise lounge upon which De Sade lays his characters in order to plumb the inner most depths of their victimized souls; in the world of the Marquis everyone is a victim of something or another, so therefore, no in is a victim anymore.
The victims of society are in turn victimized by the victims of overindulgence and boredom. But, as always, victims are not the focus of the story. It is nothing but a necessary fact to be dealt with quickly and with little fuss in order to get to the true point of the story; pleasure is experienced best when it is comes from pain both inflicted upon oneself and upon someone else. All the emotional issues associated with rape and torture are therefore like so much psychological flotsam and jetsam. They are of little or no interest to the Marquis. So De Sade is the writer who most systematically and exhaustively dealt with the actually act and enjoyment of pain and torture, but experienced and inflicted. Oprah Winfrey is another story altogether.
It is here, the exploration of the character of Oprah in regards to “victimization” (particularly in regards to the movie Precious, but in general to to pop/literary culture writ large), where I will defer to the thorough examination of Snotti Prince St. Cyr:
\\\And this is where Oprah’s enthusiasm for the movie Precious comes in, and it goes a long way to explain her overal cultural agenda. Oprah wants to normalize dysfunction. She wants to make her personal obsession into everyone else’s personal obsession. She wants to make it seem like a more omnipresent and pervasive problem than it actually is, because if she can make every tragedy that occurred to her become perceived as normal, her childhood becomes normal by default. If you view every cause, movie, book or show she champions through this lens it becomes pitifully transparent. And the whole world is falling for it. And when you look at the abuse resumes of everyone involved in the creation of Precious and compare it to the things that occur in the story, you can see how they’re trying to normalize every piece of abuse in their collective pasts almost like going through a checklist.///
( for the entire enlightening and wonderful essay please look here: http://www.facebook.com/#/notes/snotti-prince-st-cyr/higher-standards-part-21b-more-precious-worship-and-the-submission-doctrine/248384035478 )
If we take Snotti’s estimation of Oprah and her thoughts and motives in regards to victimization as an accurate one (and I believe it is) then we can ask this question: Is Oprah, with her focus upon, and celebration of, the victims of sexual, emotional, and physical violence, the 21st century’s Marquis De Sade? At first blush the evidence seems to point to the affirmative; It seems that every other day the indomitable Ms O is out trumpeting the victimization story of a new celebrity, news, political, and literary figure. Snotti mentioned Mackenzie Phillips, but I can name right off the top of my head Whitney Houston, the abducted/recovered teenager Elizabeth Smart, and Elizabeth Edwards the wife of Senator John “National Enquirer” Edwards. Oprah has in fact made a career, nay, and empire out of telling and repackaging the victimization stories of hundreds of everyday people and celebrities (I, for one, find nothing inherently wrong with this. If the public wants to buy a box full of horseshit painted in pretty colors then I say let them, just don’t make me smell it if the do).
In edition, Snotti also mentioned numerous books that Ms. Winfrey peddles to her viewers, most of which deal with the subjects discuss in both of our essays (I myself have taken issue with Snotti’s use of the books as a primary example of her victimization enthusiasm, but I will leave it to the reader to look at my response to his original essay which I linked to above). These taken along with the pattern of using real, legitimate, tragic cases of victimization (her own as well as others) suggest that Oprah is the “author” of many stories of rape, abuse, torture, sexual titillation, masochism and substance abuse. While perhaps not as literary or even as stylized or even literate as De Sade’s, these stories nonetheless serve to use the unseemly underbelly of human relations as fodder for popular entertainment. It is here though that we get the first inklings of why Oprah is in fact the very opposite of De Sade, even perhaps, an “anti-Sade”. Why such a different conclusion? Well look for example at how Oprah deals with the issues that she has in common with De Sade. All of the victims and victim narratives that she deals in are almost exclusively, 100% about the negative, life altering, mind numbing pain of the victims themselves.
One of the best recent examples is Mackenzie Philips and her revelations about her on again/off again incestuous relationship with her father. We are invited into this world of salacious sexual degradation not because it is a pursuit of pleasure, or because it is a form of real, or at least intentional, pornography, but because we are supposed to be disgusted by the acts, and to relate to the suffering of the victim. This is the great Greek tragedy moment of the Oprah saga: Oedipus tearing out his eyes, Medea chopping her children to pieces; we are supposed to feel the terrible, unending pain of the victim, and then to react in joy as they tell us how they got over it, dealt with it, or sought revenge for the abuse. We are not supposed to feel pleasure at the acts of evil perpetrated against the victim (I highlight the word “supposed to” because no author can every really control how a person will react to material, or why they sought out the material in the first place. The motivations of the consumer are in this case more or less irrelevant to the point). On the contrary; any pleasure Oprah wants her audience to derive from the stories are purely cathartic and are to be gleaned from the “happy ending” these victims experience when they stop being victims and become triumphant, almost holy, “survivors”!
Survivors? We can hear De Sade sniff with derision, Who gives a shit about the survivors? What of the act? The pain? The humilation? How did your father taste Mackenzie? How did he smell? I bet he took you in the asshole… and so on and so forth until the Marquis and his readers had had their fill of the naughty nitty gritty of the exploitation and maltreatment of the young girl. He would not give a lick about the existential angst of the poor victim (and here I must state that I for one find what happened to miss Philips to be quite tragic and unfortunate), but of the pleasure and the ecstasy achieved by the intellectual, artistic, more powerful father.
The interest of De Sade lays not with the victim, but with the victimizer, and in his eyes their really is not victimizer; only a libertine, liberated, uninhibited animal creature seeking pleasure in what he saw as its most acute form. We should not look to Oprah Winfrey for an example of the continuation of the De Sadean ethos. Where should we look? Perhaps we should look…. At De Sade. His verve and violence is just as shocking and raw and terrifyingly true today as it was when the revolutionaries where storming the Bastille. Perhaps they are even more so because we today expect to see pain, and suffering and cruelty in the world, and we wish above all as a society (or at least we claim to wish to) fix it, while in De Sade we see a celebration of these very things we wish to do away with, the very things that typify the past to us as the dirty, filthy, uncivilized dust bin of history.
For you see, for us civilized beings we should not seek out pain, violence or to act the victimizer; we must look down our noses in disgust at the base impulse of more primitive man and instead deify the effervescent transcendence of that pain, and those who would inflict it upon us. Oprah will lead the way to a new world where we do not need to be victimized to be survivors, and where we can click the remote whenever things get a little to dirty for our delicate civilized tastes. Let us leave those old, perverted little old Frenchmen to their cruel fancies… It is time for a new ethos, an Oprah ethos. Oprah Contra De Sade.