Sade: Critique of Pure Fiction

Pli 5:115-131 (1994)
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A central passage in Cusset’s essay states: “God, for Sade, is fiction that ‘took hold of the minds of men’. What makes God’s weakness, the impossibility of rationally proving his existence, is precisely what constitutes his strength as fiction. Negated as authority, eliminated as the figure of the almighty father, God is nonetheless everywhere in the Sadean novel: he exists as the fiction principle. Libertines are never done with God because his name represents the power, not of the law, but of the imagination. In showing their contempt for God, libertines reveal their anger against fiction, which does not have the power to prove its own truth: fiction — and Sade chose to write novels, not philosophical essays — is based on the desire for illusion” (119). Sade’s L’Histoire de Juliette, argues Cusset, breaks from his earlier writings in that Juliette has an agency missing from Sade’s previous female characters, and she, unlike earlier characters, breaks through the central Sadean impasse: “her ‘story’ represents the solution through which Sade paradoxically resolves the aporia of libertinage” (120). She is perfectly aware of scientific explanations for phenomena, but, “for the sake of play, Juliette chooses metaphor, and does not try to ‘unveil truth’ entirely. Juliette distinguishes herself from her teachers and masters through her relation to imagination. […] The end of the novel confirms Juliette’s choice of a playful imagination” (123). In short, Juliette is the libertine who breaks the very rules of the libertines by means of resurrecting the sense of play, imagination, and romantic delicacy which her fellow criminals forbid. Cusset concludes: “Sade invites us to read his texts as fictive and humorous texts, and not, as suggested the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter who wanted to censor Sade’s novel, as rational demonstrations inviting readers to commit murder. Juliette’s transformation through the novel allows us to understand why Sade entitled his last long novel L 'Histoire de Juliette. Juliette chooses fiction, without trying to prove its truth; she chooses pleasure, without trying to annihilate every belief, since imaginary belief is a component of pleasure. What Sade tells us with the invention of Juliette is that freedom is the very choice of limit. […] L’Histoire de Juliette is Sade’s critique of pure fiction” (129).


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