Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade (BOOK REVIEW)

         I don't know if you saw the movie "Quills" starring Geoffrey Rush.  That movie is a good example of how Hollywood misunderstands the appeal of classic literature.  Hollywood movies, especially the "classy"/"art house" films, would rather dress people up in period costume and have them flounce about.  That misses the point- these were popular entertainments in their day (I'm talking about 18th century classics), in fact, almost every single "classic" of 18th century British, French or German literature was a "hit" with what they would call the young adult demographic.  In fact, 18th and 19th century literature commonly wrote books ABOUT the people who were reading novels (Northanger Abbey for one, Man of Sentiment for two.)  It's a level of self-awareness that the 18th century doesn't commonly get credit for, and it's a fact that should give any post-modern loving 21st century undergraduate a distinct pause.

      This is an argument in defense of the relevance of 18th century literature.  I would argue that the techniques pioneered largely by British novelists in the 18th century are still applicable to today's audience for works of popular culture.  Likewise, the postures first adopted by critics of industrial capitalism in the 18th century (Romanticism, etc.) continue to bear cultural fruit.

     This point is especially clear while reading the Marquis de Sade's seminal work of torture porn, 120 Days of Sodom.  120 Days of Sodom is "about" four Libertines who wall themselves inside a remote Chateau in rural France and basically go sex crazy for four months.  The main characters espouse enough pseudo-enlightenment justifications of their behavior to qualify this as a satire but it's really the combination of graphic sex and violence that steals the show.  Combining sex and violence isn't something that Hollywood created in the 1950s- it goes way, way, way back.  In his own inestimable way, De Sade is linking the fascination with sex, violence and depravity with the rise of 18th century "pure reason."  By rejecting the one true god we are inexorably led into the depths of hellish debauchery,

  The narrative structure of this book is basically a coat hanger to link graphic descriptions of sex, violence, and sexual violence.  120 Days of Sodom is not for the faint of heart- it makes almost 100% of contemporary pornography look like a Disney movie by comparison.  Literally fifty pages are devoted to the fetish of poop eating.  Yikes.

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