Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Dictates of Our Mother

Nature and Sadism

"Nevermore shall prejudice militate against your happiness, wisdom shall abolish every check, and with even stride you will walk along a pathway strewn thick with flowers, till finally you accede to perversity's ultimate excesses. It will be then you'll perceive the weakness of what in days past they described to you as Nature's dictates; when you shall have spent a few years winking at what imbeciles term her laws, when, in order to become more familiar with their infraction, it shall have pleased you to pulverize them all, then you'll behold her, that Nature, a wicked smile on her lips, thrilled half to death at having been violated, you'll see the queen melt before your intrepid desires, you'll see her come crawling towards you, begging to be shackled by your irons...she'll stretch forth her wrists, plead to be your captive; now a slave to you instead of your sovereign, subtly she'll instruct your heart in what fashion to outrage her further yet; as though degradation were her whole delight, only by showing you how to insult her excessively will she demonstrate her ability to impose her governance on you. Let her. When once you reach that stage, do not resist, ever..."

- Madame Delbène, nun and tribade, in the Marquis de Sade's novel Juliette

"A text is a mirror..."

- a Structuralist rendering of Stendhal

"Nevermore shall prejudice militate against your happiness..."

I see prejudice, the lore of the unlearned, the abyss of generalization, of accepted behavior patterns, aligned against me...I see happiness, that Holy Grail held out above us since birth, disappear as soon as I touch it (how many ever reach it?), I look over its rim and see another abyss, a tightrope, a...question? We have other grails to search for. 'Militate' - the dictates of a military order, a world where martial law has been declared and all minds have their wings shackled to prevent untoward flights of fancy - a martial law prescribed to kill the idol Imagination, to raze its foundation, to salt the earth, to crush and burn its most ethereal tentacles, its Hydra heads. It is already dead in most of us, stillborn, or strangled at birth...

"With even stride you will walk along a pathway strewn thick with flowers, till finally you accede to perversity's ultimate excesses."

This I first doubt - is it not the law (descending from that Leviathan, 'Human Nature') that mankind's perversions and/or capacities for 'perversion' are inexhaustible? A 'perversion' states, a priori, that there is a 'normal' or 'rational', a 'limit' to action, as perversion is almost always hand in hand with the irrational or unconscious, and in order to deviate from the normal, one always assumes, once again, a fascist/nihilistic (why not call it what it is?) world order where morality has descended on the choking masses like a curtain of lead, a poisonous cloud. Questions, applying to the unconscious: why does the priest need to suffocate his victims in order to achieve climax? Why does he do so in front of a mirror, one that reflects only the young boy underneath him, the hands around the boy's white neck (hands are close to anonymity - they could be anyone's hands), and the bright light overhead hiding his own face? Near climax, thinking of Adam and Eve and that first primordial sin, rutting in cold sweat, he smells the undergrowth of a rank Eden, the moist deadfall of innumerable ages, and he arches backwards, at the last instant, to try to obtain a glance at his own face in the mirror...the eyes, the madness within (or what he assumes is madness, it makes his sleep much easier to think of his passions in this way), staring out of the darkness. But of course it is useless...the mirror both reflects and obscures...he can not see his lust except in the fear and hatred drowning the eyes of the boy beneath him...the eyes, the first mirrors...

The first lesson of Sade: as Nature creates flowers to express her sheer delight in beauty - the 'uselessness of Art', once again - these flowers of evil, the pleasures of sin and transgression - contra Humanity, contra accepted or official, generalized (not subjective or private) Morality - will lead, through satiety and spontaneity, to the heights and depths of ultimate sin. Man has a natural capacity for invention and rebellion, which is the same thing as saying that man must have freedom in order to achieve happiness. Another idea implicit in this evaluation: no sin can match the original, no matter how depraved...Adam and Eve were corrupted utterly when they chose Death and Pleasure over Eden, and death and pleasure always combine to form, in Sade, perversion...

The characters in Sade's fiction are almost always trying to draw away from society (the macrocosm, the realm of generalized, external morality) and form a select nation (a microcosm) on their own composed solely of libertines. In this way they naturally exploit the natural tendency of man to base his own moral code on the prevailing ideas of his environment - withdrawing allows for privacy and freedom, even though (and this is one of the first paradoxes) it must be safeguarded within a castle's walls. But for their purposes, creating a sexual theater that is striving to come into conflict with God and the Order of the World, it is enough to hide their debauchery behind closed doors...actions enabled in this privacy, one would think, ascend directly to the Throne of God, without human intercession or interruption. Which is to say: the bedroom, the bed, the acts that transpire there, are all universal...once they are committed, it is as if they have always existed. Because the actions of the players in these dramas are designed to come into relation with the human soul - that which we all carry within us - it does not matter where they are located, as long as there are participants (who are also witnesses)...it is the internal stage, the battlefield of the mind, heart, and spirit, upon which these conflicts are taking place. In effect, the players in these dramas, in 'retiring' from society and forming an exclusive society, are attempting a symbolic return to Eden. By exhaustively running through the entire catalogue of human vices (120 Days of Sodom is the best example of this 'catalogue' approach, although all of his works are structured in this way, as if they were mock epics) they are striving towards that extinction of moral attitudes that Sade would probably term a 'second innocence' - in their depravity they reach a summit of amorality (through the path of immorality, the distinction is vital) - a moral void - which approximates the innocence of Adam and Eve. Yet another paradox, another mirror...

In Sade, an 'ultimate excess' of perversity implies that there is a certain level above which perversity can not reach - or, to state it simply, it is the assumption that once perversion has reached a limit of destructiveness (I am speaking of the view propounded in his literature here) it must come around, once again, face to face with morality...that is: perversity and morality, at some point, ultimately touch...and in the mirror, at this point, they are the same...

"You'll perceive the weakness of what in days past they described to you as Nature's dictates."

Christian morality, always figured symbolically in our circle as a plague, has come to represent, in these late times, an almost complete alienation from 'nature'. This is a statement, a personal belief of mine. But how can we correctly define 'nature'? In order to avoid hypocrisy, Christianity (which can not feel or correctly interpret the dictates of Nature since it is irrevocably separated from the true source of Nature's urgings in us: the instincts, the passions) must be corroded with acts that speak, symbolically, of a higher Law...that of a new morality based directly on experience. In Sade, this experience is, above all, the brutally honest (meaning it is not allowed to be filtered by any structures of the mind that impose 'systems' of interpretation upon it) study of cause and effect in one's environment. This Natural Philosophy of Sade's is a bitter poison, and it is meant to be so - whosoever can not live by its decrees, with a conscience, as Madame Delbène mentions in the course of her lectures to Juliette, completely innured to the horrors of vice, will eventually succumb to the powers of guilt - the entire philosophy, form, and social institution of guilt. In Sade, there are not many people who can live in the way truly dictated to us by Mother Nature - in fact they comprise a sort of 'elect' of Libertinage, similar to Calvin's 'predestined'. It is difficult for most to even be able to accurately determine what Nature calls for in human behavior - this explains the prevalence of suffering in the world and the corresponding rarity of true happiness. How many can dare to learn from Nature? How many are strong enough to bear the burden of the truths revealed? The Furies, the vengeance of Guilt and the Moral Power of the 'traditional' and one's culture, will descend on those who do not have a conscience that has been wiped clean of the fears of transgression. That is, vengeance comes from the inside, from within the soul of the seeker of limits. Insanity and suicide are the refuge of those who can not cope with a morality based on the distinct dictates of Mother Nature - which is to say that most of us would be killed by Sade's moral heroes, if not his morality...

This experience, taken not as a philosophical term (meaning empiricism), but as an appeal for mankind to open its eyes to the actions of Nature, a force personified in Sade's pantheistic universe as an unforgiving, harsh mistress, a dominatrix who destroys only to feel the rapturous joy of destruction, an impersonal malignity who rips and tears as easily as she gives birth...this deity, the sole idol we can claim as an object worthy of veneration, can only be known through her acts and the acts of her creatures. Humans, having been subjected to Original Sin (which means, no matter what interpretation you may find, ultimately that humanity, at one point, lost the true way of life), are able to pervert their lives so monstrously that they live in a manner that is completely foreign to nature's laws, and, moreoever, in a fashion that opposes their one and only source of happiness: to seek to know Nature, in all her guises, to learn from her, at her knee, by allowing ourselves a full range of experiences, and, in effect, by not denying the truth of our experiences, and then following her promptings by basing our patterns of behavior on what we have learned. Simple, isn't it?

But how many are able to accomplish this? Sade's fiction is littered with the corpses of those who tried and failed...

It is vitally important that one clears the mind of what one has been taught to assume are the laws of Nature, and that one then looks Nature and her Cruelty directly in the face...it is deadly to try to hide one side of Nature in preferring another. This leads the initiate to fatal mistakes of interpretation, belief, and action. In the end, mankind must be able to swallow a paradox, like all other paradoxes that are at the center of belief systems, and feel his faith rising in him instead of trying to 'rationally' seek it out: instead of the paradox of the Holy Trinity, in this case, Nature presents us with the Janus of power - a force that is both kind and cruel, murderous and supporting life, storming and calm, light and dark...if we are to be happy we must learn to emulate our Mother, and accept Her with all of her contradictions.

"When you shall have spent a few years winking at what imbeciles term her laws."

The way of Vice, then, and the path towards happiness, towards the Natural Philosophy, is an apprenticeship, in the grand tradition of belief systems throughout history. One must proceed through different levels, different initiations, different labyrinths of knowledge that are built on top of each other, different tests of the will and psyche. The wink, the gaze that expresses hypocrisy even as it hides it - a double face, symbolic of hypocrisy in itself - will be cultivated, the mask of the oppressive, occupying Morality will be worn to disguise the enlightenment (and rebellion) rampaging within, transgressing in secrecy in the term of apprenticeship, in the space of education. It is very important to notice, in Sade's work, how there are almost always teachers and students, in whatever situation or scenario. The reader's place is taken, as a surrogate or vicarious participant, by some novice in the proceedings. It is assumed that the reader comes to the work knowing less of 'perversion' than most of the characters in the fiction...this repeating archetype is also indicative of one of the first power structures a man or woman will ever come into contact with: teacher and student, master and servant. What is a servant other than someone the master has convinced to follow his own morality or structure of values? In another sense, can there be 'education' without 'authority'? Would you accept the teachings of a man who didn't have power, in some sense, over you? How much of 'education' is a power struggle, if not between individuals then between the various attributes of experience and knowledge in the mind? How much of your own morality (if not your spirituality) do you owe to your masters?

"In order to become more familiar with their infraction, it shall have pleased you to pulverize them all."

Perversion and vice are, once again, teleological instruments...they search for ends, for limits and boundaries, for first or final causes. In following the path of perversion one searches for limits that can not be crossed - one sin leads to another until death is reached, as death can not be explained or 'understood' (that is: dissected, destroyed), it can only be manipulated (as a force) or summoned to appear on the stage of conflict. In Sade, all the roads of perversion ultimately lead to a direct confrontation, in the realms of sex or violence (the two main paths of rebellion), with death. All sexual vices must terminate in necrophilia, and at his most extreme, Sade's work becomes a litany of necrophilic transgressions - the conflict, in sexual action, between life and death, object and subject, the end of pain and the beginning of pleasure. Life - sex and the passions apotheosized and ritually undertaken (sex as a symbol of all our lust for life) - is brought into direct contact with its opposite, and in their frenzied climaxes, Sade's protagonists consummate a wedding with the forces of death...they come as close as humanly possible to the boundary between life and death. One of Sade's favorite scenarios is a climax based on the death of one of the sexual partners - the very instant of orgasm coinciding with the extinguishing of life. Could the forces of life and death be forced any closer in a juxtaposition than this? In Justine, the hapless protagonist stumbles upon a monastery where the leading vice of the monks is a masturbation ritual where 'innocents' are placed in a noose and hung, silent and kicking, from the ceiling at the instant of the torturer's orgasm. The victim's death and the moment of climax, in order to be of the highest order (highest in excitation, highest in outrage, in trespass, in emotional effect), must occur at exactly the same time. It is interesting to note the importance Sade places on the simultaneous manifestation of sexual dramas - as if acts are somehow more powerful as they get closer to each other in time, lending to each other a symbolic transference of meaning. Sex is also used as instrument of rebellion or blasphemy in this respect, as what is meant for reproduction is instead sullied with the contact of the beyond-living, the outside-living, the object instead of subject. Sex with an object - whether inanimate, newly dead, or merely represented as such (in many cases the 'aristocrats' in Sade refer to the members of the 'lower' classes as objects - servants are seen as toys to be manipulated at will) - is just another form of masturbation, a deliberate blasphemy. Again, the limit of this idea is necrophilia - sex with a subject that has become, through the agency of death, an object. A dying victim is even more rapturous, as the subject is in a transition stage between life and death, between subject and object, and sexuality is nothing if not the summoning of transitional stages - what could be better than the last stage of all, the swoon towards dissolution? The 'petit mort' of the French, the orgasm and the destruction of the conscience/consciousness that occurs with it, is naturally combined with the void of actual death - one is symbolic of the other, and Sade loves to play upon the contradictions of natural experiences by forcefully combining, in human behavior, actions, capacities, or occurences that seem to be linked together by a Higher Powers - a Creator if not Nature.

It is not a coincidence that most of Sade's characters prefer sodomy to 'normal' sex, as the vagina is represented as the seat of Life, and it preferred that the males in his fiction instead ritually swear their allegiance to Death (as well as expressing their rebellion from God) again and again by penetrating the anus of their partner/victim. Seed that is 'meant', in official capacity, for procreation and the continuance of Life, is either 'wasted' in this way or spilled on the ground in onanistic defiance - Euronymous, anyone? Additionally, one of the first acts of his 'initiates' is always to switch sexual/gender roles in the amorous act - the women and men are converted, by various machinery or apparatus (or mutilations) into their opposites, and assume their new role in a grand sexual theater. Usually the males, the priests of licentiousness or 'libertinage', can only achieve their highest fulfillment through being sodomized - being converted, for a moment, into symbolic women. The women, meanwhile, if not 'innocent' virgins meant for rapine, depucelation and slaughter, are all vicious dominatrixes or initiates whom are related (and not so subtly, either), somewhat ironically, to be even more depraved than their 'mistresses' or 'masters'. As such, every sexual act in Sade is at the same time a political statement, a pseudo-religious ritual, and a deliberate challenge to the 'ruling order', which means: an act of violence...

Which is to say that Nature only accepts and lends her favors (a sense of righteousness, a feeling of domination and an empathy with the Spirit of The World, an emotional/spiritual connection, the conviction of walking the true path) to those who seek to emulate her, as stated above. Those who attempt to 'dominate' Nature are only acting as She would, were she given the same choice - in all scenarios Nature seeks dominance, and if that is not forthcoming, it is better to die. How else can Nature dominate herself if it is not through self-immolation? There is a double meaning here, another message underneath the obvious one: Nature seeks to dominate herself through humanity, to gain self-mastery by 'controlling' the ethics of her children. But why? How is this possible? Nature works through her creatures, she needs humanity in order to dominate the rest of her creation...and humanity, acting under her dictates, true to her spirit and its own nature, is at times a beast of the instincts, apotheosized as the avatar of destruction...it is only through the instincts - that which we always seek to suppress, in order to maintain the artificial order of society or civilization - that we can approximate Nature's power. This is another way of saying that Nature lends us her own weapons by arming us with our instincts, and in seeking to use these, we are aligned 'correctly' with the order of the external, the forces surrounding us...this is not a new idea, in fact it is the essence of the 'Pagan' spirit, the force of the Id at war with Christian Modernity - that conflict between the unconscious and the conscious, the Id and the SuperEgo, that has been a site of contention in popular culture (and in the popular mind, when, after Freud, it was given the vocabulary and basics of a discourse to verbalize its conflicts, taking the expression of internal strife out of the mythological and into the realm of the 'scientific') ever since the earliest psychoanalysts. But this is an oversimplification...

Nature uses humanity to destroy herself.

The three words that are the most telling (with the highest resonance of meaning) in this sentence from the text are: 'Nature', 'death', and 'violated': 'Nature', because it is still, at this point in the text, a source of conflict - what is Nature? Has it been defined? - and can not be pinned down in the vortex of indoctrination that Madame Delbène's speech represents (all the 'teachers' in Sade are almost always the instruments of his own voice, that is: he speaks through them, to the reader); 'Death', because this is a logical pole, or locus of deep meaning in Sade's thought, a concept and force that he always approaches through sexuality but can never quite reach in a delineation of meaning - what does Death really mean to Sade? - and it serves as a terminus, a boundary, a Heaven and a Hell; and finally, 'Violated', or the concept of 'violation', because this is central not only to Sade's understanding of sexuality and perversion, but also to his greater philosophy as a whole. The Natural Philosophy is, in itself, both a violation of society's dictates and highly symbolic of every attempt man could make towards freedom...that is: the abrogation of civilized law, on every level, in every way, down every path, in all its forms. Freedom must be absolute, or it is worthless. All violations ultimately lead to a moral climate where violation will be impossible. 'Violation', then, implies the sighting of boundaries (or cultural taboos) and the intrepid crossing of the same in a stretch towards the teleological. Sade's 'free man' is one who is constantly violating every precept of 'civilized' society, instinctively, without bearing the burden of guilt...this is interesting, because of its essential modernity when applied to the conflict of cultural lines in Sade's own century - what are the imperialists, the warriors and bureaucrats of 18th century Empire, if not 'new' men, built along Sadean lines? Machiavellian, Mephistophelean, they bring a new morality to lands they inhabit, they ignore the culture, in most instances, of the people they seek to dominate, and in becoming 'men of the world', free from the constraints of any one culture (they are exiles, outside all boundaries), they demonstrate the relative nature of all cultures...in order to 'dominate' they must ignore culture, as the forces of destruction and imperialism (meaning 'exploitation', the sexual gathering of pleasure from objects and subjects converted to objects as items of 'property') do not allow the preservation of any moral law. Of course, most men simply can not handle the responsibility of absolute amorality - they lose their footing, they become suicidal, freed from God and society and all restraints - and their instincts, given all the energy of their personalities or wills, drive them towards Death...why Thanatos? Why the death drive? In seeking further boundaries in death, they hope to re-establish moral order. In their drawn-out suicide, they often do not blink at killing others on a mass scale...what is this but another rebellion against a God who never answers man's cries? I am deliberately referring to Part II of Goethe's Faust here. In homicide, once again, man is searching for limits...'Why doesn't a higher power stop me?' they are asking, as they pull the trigger or plunge the knife into a warm body. Or, as another writer put it, 'If God does not exist, everything is permitted.'

But is this so?

So it can be seen that Sade, in his excesses, through all of his perversions, is seeking for a Final End, he is actively challenging God to appear...he dares God to strike him down. If God does not, that must mean that He agrees, in some sense, with what Sade is perpetrating...which is to say that in Sade, the silence of the Heavens is an ultimate concession to the righteousness of Sade's beliefs...if there is a God, he is not answering, and his silence implies tacit agreement - if there isn't a God, it does not matter anyway, and Man is truly the only judge of his own actions. Either way Sade triumphs, but this, of course, is the design of his ethics, and it is vitally important, if one is to appreciate the range and importance of Sade's thought, to recognize this fact. All of Sade's ethical philosophizing serves, in the end, as a justification and rationalization of his instincts. In seeking to free the body from the tyranny of the mind, he goes to great lengths to rationalize the lusts towards freedom and domination he feels within himself...this is yet another beautiful paradox in his writing, or, rather, another mirror: his ethics free his instincts, and the freedom of his instincts empower his ethics...

But, returning to our theme, Sade is saying, rather brusquely, through his lectures and narrations of sexual exploits: if God does not exist, Nature is our only true deity, our only ruling force, and her lessons must be heeded.

"As though degradation were her whole delight."

This is the essential nihilistic message of Sade, isn't it? Here we see him overstepping his bounds in his complaint, once again, and turning to the aesthetic realm instead of the argumentative/rhetorical in order to paint another picture of the 'essential nature' of universal laws - i.e., he seeks to convince by appealing to the passions instead of the intellect, and he knows that the strongest argument he can bring to bear upon the hypocrisy of 'accepted' values (in other words: Christianity) will borrow from art and sensibility instead of logic. Like many other (if not all) rhetoricians before and after him, he reaches a barrier where faith must be broached in order to convince utterly, and it is by appealing to the senses, the instincts that overwhelm and drive a man, that he seeks to sway opinion. It is not enough to convince his readers or his audience that Nature has a cruel side, he must overstep this obvious credo and fall to the creation of a universe where all rules are swept away under the instincts of the natural forces themselves. This is to say: not only is reason not a valid instrument in the world, it is completely useless...the instincts and the unconscious are the only true measures of what can and will be accomplished...they determine what will happen, they swarm behind the frail curtain of reason, they are the dark waters behind the illusion, the Apsu, the sea of life...

If degradation is the whole delight of Nature, then how are we to blame if we follow her example? What other sources of pleasure can there be in the world outside of domination, cruelty, destruction, and perversion? The ethics of Sade, continuing in a tradition that had its most vocal proponent in Aristotle, sees the 'happy life' as a reflection of balance and harmony, man living as a partner with Nature - where the world falls, man must fall also, where the world rises, man must stir himself to crest the waves of fortune. The way to happiness is to seek a state of harmony with the aims, properties, forces, and laws of Nature - a homeostasis perfectly in tune with the vicissitudes of a universe constantly torn by passion, intrigue, lust, and the whirling of the instincts. Within this hurricane, man can find an inner silence, an inner 'nothingness' of the soul given over completely to amorality - the silencing of the Super Ego and the conscience - and he will live in inner peace even as he struggles constantly in the chaos of his life. The only difference between this view and the philosophies of Epictetus, Lucretius, or Marcus Aurelius is Sade's conviction of the utter amoral materialism of the universe, expressed in moral or ethical terms instead of the 'physical' or 'scientific' - these are all ideas of resignation, of disgust, of withdrawal, but where the former three preach a purity in retirement and reclusion, Sade prompts a return to life - his world is a constant battle, the warring of selfish, self-determined forces, no one party having a greater claim to 'the right' than any other. Relativism? It does not state enough of the truth. Where Schopenhauer and Hobbes balked at proceeding, picturing all of life (not just the realm of societal behavior and human nature) and the basic 'forms' of the universe as random chaos, Sade fearlessly treads in his rituals of transgression. He creates chaos where it has been banished by centuries of societal proprieties, he summons it, draws it back into reality from beneath the masks humanity has placed upon it. Taken literally, however, all he requests is that his reader honestly approach life - to base one's actions on the lessons of morality one learns from experience and reality instead of the fairytales of monotheistic cults...most of all, he asks for his readers to seek to avoid hypocrisy at all costs, to deal with the instincts, both 'good' and 'evil' within their souls, and to allow themselves the freedom that is their right in a Godless universe...anything less is a curse, a disease, a degeneration, a 'decadence' - the true source and expression of the perverse is living in a false manner, alienated from one's humanity - which is larger and much more complex than the Christians (and thus the established world order) assume. It is this lust for freedom, above all, this desire to determine his own destiny, that is Sade's true gift to literature and Western culture.

U. Amtey
13 February 2001