120 Days of Sodom

If the book does not shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?” — Franz Kafka

I may have followed Kafka’s exhortation beyond its illogical extreme when I opened Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, an exhaustive index of sexual excesses in their most revolting form.  4 aristocrats, 46 sex slaves, 4 prostitutes, and 120 days in a heavily guarded castle tucked far far way from the “just” world of society.

120 Days is a cross between a fairytale and the Arabian nights though turned inside out. There is a Duke, a Bishop, a castle, and damsels. The 4 prostitutes have the task of weaving the numerous acts of sexual abuse and savage killings into stories. But the stories end up being told and retold, stringed and framed, appear and die off, begin again and break off.

Sade warns, “I advice the overmodest to lay my book aside at once if he would not be scandalized.” What he is not saying is that 120 Days is light reading for no one, not even for the radically immodest. Even the ancient city of Sodom will blush at reading the book.

“The Bastille was a desert.” — G. Battaile

Sade wrote 120 Days of Sodom while Sade was confined in the infamous Bastille. In many ways, the book bears the marks of confinement.

What is Sade trying to do?

If eroticism is the threshold where violence meets sexuality, Sade wants, it seems, to communicate what life in this threshold would be like, a threshold where sex is equivalent to mass murder, rape, and incest. A world where the only currency–the only thing exchanged or circulated–are mutilated and disfigured bodies?  120 Days is not a novel. There are no characters. There are only bodies memorable because of their deformities and for their capacity to be killed. For Sade, eroticism is a kind of sexual state of exception and 120 Days is a manual on how to live constantly in this state of exception. Not even Sade, despite the libertine that he was, could have been able to live out the extreme violence imagined in the book.

Is it madness that drove Sade to write a book like this? Is it solitude?

Since madness is a kind of solitude, which is also a kind of madness, it is hard to say. It’s funny though because the erotic is always a private experience sought for in secret places far from the social world of convention. Like madness, eroticism is also silent. Eroticism flowers where, as with madness, desire exceeds the boundaries of the law. My guess is that only madness could take Sade to the solitary places of the heart where eroticism could unite with the most extreme form of violence and death.

“His writing was the outlet for his passions and in it he pushed back the limits of what was possible beyond the craziest dreams ever framed by man.”G. Battaille

Should we burn 120 Days of Sodom? No.

Photo Credit: Sociopath (Album cover)

Tags: , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

4 Responses to “120 Days of Sodom” Subscribe

  1. Boye 2010/09/29 at 19:56 #

    If we can’t burn it can we send it to Terry Jones?

  2. Ainehi 2010/09/30 at 05:18 #

    Lol.

  3. Bryant Stieglitz 2011/04/15 at 08:10 #

    Hi there, You’ve performed an incredible job. I will certainly digg it and in my opinion recommend to my friends. I am confident they’ll be benefited from this website.

  4. Black pinstripe suit 2011/08/27 at 06:40 #

    Allison Virgin

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

Announcing the Brittle Paper Literary Awards: The Shortlists

Facebook - The Brittle Paper Literary Awards

August 1, 2017 was Brittle Paper‘s seventh anniversary. In celebration of this milestone, we are launching the Brittle Paper Literary Awards, […]

It Starts From Writing Honestly | A Conversation with Wana Udobang | By Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún

Screen-Shot-2017-08-20-at-5.05.05-PM-e1503266832468 copy

Wana Udobang is a versatile artist. She has worked as a radio presenter, movie actor, television and web broadcaster, journalist, […]

British-Nigerian Erotica Writer Kiru Taye Opens Up About the Difficulty of Finding an Audience

kiru taye -

When we take the likes of Chimamanda Adichie as the model of authorship, achieving success in writing can appear effortless. […]

The 2017 Writivism Kofi Addo Prize for Nonfiction Goes to South Africa’s Charles King

The South African Freelancers' Association (Safrea) offered their members the opportunity of having a quick portrait done to improve their images on their social media pages - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.  Professional portrait photographer, Anna Morris, agreed to do the portraits.

The 2017 Writivism Kofi Addo Prize for Nonfiction has gone to South Africa’s Charles King. He won for “Meat Bomb.” Alongside […]

On Reclaiming Memory | Interview with Kechi Nomu, 2017 Brunel Prize Finalist

1528617_881012648578490_5897868622052699107_n

Africa in Dialogue published an e-book of interviews with the ten poets shortlisted for the 2017 Brunel Poetry Prize. The interviews were […]

The 2017 Writivism Short Story Prize Goes to Nigeria’s Munachim Amah

13173450_1619200638400857_2469687830281826926_o

The Writivism Short Story Prize has gone to Nigeria’s Munachim Amah. He won for his short story, “Stolen Pieces.” He will […]