Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

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.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Watch This Poetry Dance Film of Kayo Chingonyi’s “Kumukanda”

kayo chingonyi - the guardian

Zambian poet Kayo Chingonyi’s first full-length collection, Kumukanda, is receiving praise. The Guardian has hailed its “lyrical elegance” and “many […]

Photos | Nommo Awards 2017: How Africa’s First Ever Speculative Fiction Awards Ceremony Happened

IMG_7063

The announcement of the winners of the inaugural Nommo Awards took place at the ongoing 2017 Ake Arts and Book […]

Goodreads Awards 2017: Vote Chimamanda Adichie’s “Dear Ijeawele” and Nnedi Okorafor’s “Home” in the Final Round

Nnedi-Okorafor BELLA NAIJA

Earlier this month we announced the online voting for Goodreads’ 2017 awards. The first round saw nominations for four authors having massively […]

#AkeFest2017 | Follow Brittle Paper’s Coverage of Ake Arts and Book Festival

ake festival (1)

  Ake Arts and Book Festival is happening in Abeokuta, Nigeria—has been happening since 14 November, to end on 18 […]

Opportunity for Writers and Visual Artists | Apply for the 2017 Artists in Residency Programme

Applications are open for the 2017 Artists in Residency (AIR) programme, an initiative of Africa Centre “seeking high calibre African artists, in […]

South African Literary Awards 2017: All the Winners

The winners of the 2017 South African Literary Awards have been announced. Here they are, with excerpts from their citations. […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.