There are those who have thought of Roland Barthes as a guilty postmodern villain – along with his cronies from the french theory– of all decay and degeneration of western culture. To whom he affirms such things, we say: with pleasure, congratulations, and enjoy what you voted for! Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, and we take literature too seriously, and we take philosophy too seriously, when so many things boil down to talking in a certain way like it’s a little children’s game. The serious thing is outside, in the things of eating, in the electricity bill. The playful is around here: in the arbitrary, in the laughter, the role-playing games, the interpretation. Sade, Fourier, Loyola (1971) is a very arbitrary book by Barthes, because what unites the authors is something that could almost be extended to a thousand other series of three: they are “classifiers”, “taxonomists”, they invent languages. If we want to understand it, let’s say, rather: Barthes plays. There we can start having fun. Because whoever submits to certain rules, as the writing shows, also submits to the pleasure and pleasure of submission.
Barhes is not just a complicated author: he is funny – as when he quotes the libertines and puritans to say that they share the phrase “Hide your pussies, ladies”– and ironic, cruel, frequently with a style no longer convoluted but beautiful, carefully arranged, with pages that resemble Sade’s orgy – “full of white spaces, suspension points, hesitant language, with holes” -, but in form of orgy of ideas, and long pages “of great philosophical dissertation”, sometimes looking like a dictionary of concepts or neologisms, like the precious ‘porno-grammar’.
His three objects of study: the marked by Sade, the utopian socialist and French philosopher Charles Fourier, Saint Ignatius of Loyola. To play!
To withdraw to invent a world
For what happens in Sade’s texts to happen —I will be elliptical: what is happening? – says Bartes in his book, we must all be locked up: for a complete and autarkic society to emerge “endowed with its own economy , of his morals, of his speech and of his time, with schedules, jobs and parties ”. Sade’s story, after all, is the same as that of the degeneration that follows every “confinement”, tell us The exterminating angel, BoJack Horseman O Lord of the fliess. We could even think of Robinson Crusoe —To the philosophical novel by Michel Tournier in the sexual and strange Friday or the Pacific limbs– as another different confinement, the invention of a new world from almost total isolation, the imposition of a law and a reason to another space of conquest. AND that same confinement that leads to degeneration —Or verbiage— is one of the first characteristics that Barthes points out as shared between the three fundamental figures in his essay, wherever their veins intersect.
Sade seeks to ‘erotically saturate the bodies’: the triumph of an orgy that does not differ much from that of the Rainbow Family with its 200 people fucking outdoors in La Rioja
Sade, Fourier and Loyola are for Barthes three isolated men who invent their own language and multiply it in order to order the world. What separates them from philosophers is that they do not invent a language with the simple aim of talking about the world in a specific way, but with the intention of creating another world, putting it into practice, dramatizing it. In Sade, theatricalization is the key to erotica, which is always codified, constructed, spoken: the most diverse positions of sexual perversity “are arranged, executed like scenes, are made up of libidinal acts, are ordered.” Barthes goes so far as to qualify the libidinal exchanges in Sade as algorithmic, with strict numerical classifications and a very diverse combinatorial of figures … in which the objective is “To reach the greatest number of positions performed at the same time” and “to erotically saturate the bodies”: the triumph of an orgy that does not differ much from that of the Arcoíris Family with its two hundred people fucking outdoors in La Rioja, although without leaving anything to improvisation.
In the beginning were the Jesuits
Loyola occupies the most enigmatic place in the book, like a hinge or fold: Barthes specifies that “we do not know anything about the life of Ignatius of Loyola”, due to the contradiction between his two hagiographies, the Golden Legend of the 15th century and the modern one, where the body is and is not present. Because it is enigmatic, it is also the most fundamental: the one that establishes the norms that regulate “schedules, postures, regimes”, multiplies the structure of the texts as if he were an architect of language. To take up the words of Barthes, Ignacio de Loyola “divides, subdivides, classifies, numbers in annotations, weekly meditations, points, exercises, mysteries, in an operation similar to that of the creator of the world that separates day and night, man and the woman ”: the writer who fixes his taxonomies is, in the end, assimilated to any other demiurge. And the structure is also present in Barthes’s book: the chapter dedicated to Loyola is by far the most disciplined, regal.
One triad, all triads; a threesome, all threesomes
The end is a portrait of the Lives – like the lives of saints, but without Loyola’s, as a wink, as a game – of Sade and Fourier. And they are lives formed by a collection of short and very curious anecdotes: in Sade’s case, the fear of the sea or the fetishism with the wigs of Sartine, one of his pursuers. In Fourier’s case, his hatred of old cities, his years of old age surrounded by cats and flowers, his corpse kneeling among flowerpots. The last note, which almost closes the book, gives the answer to what could have seemed like an arbitrary choice: why, after a Jesuit and after Sade, place a utopian socialist?
The answer is not just taxonomic will. We could say that the three named are responsible for regulating different spheres, which easily allow triadic comparison: the spiritual relationship, but also routine; sexual reproduction, but also creation; political life and configuration as a society, but also the organization of passions. O lust for knowing, lust for feeling, lust for mastery. The accursed writer, the utopian philosopher and the Jesuit saint are not only taxonomists, they do not only invent languages: they multiply their languages based on each other. And that’s how Barthes ends, with the last piece of information, the most important for Loyola: “he read Sade”.
Postmodernism and the arbitrary
It would seem interesting to me to write about Sade for the first time in a column that bears a title inspired by Sade without ever talking directly about Sade, doing it through someone else, doing it using those who have read it and tell the experience of reading it: multiplying the game of mirrors. Someone would say that after Sade the representation of sex acquires a theatrical dimension, with what has already been mentioned before: the posture, the disposition, the scenes. But something in me refuses to accept that Sade invents that, and I still think that he only classifies what is really in the world; If Sade invents something, it can only be Sade’s language, a sadism far from any banal and bastard version disclosed by dictionaries, a way of living by speaking, eating and fucking as the marquis who spoke, ate and fucked said — not the way he did —.
Behind prejudices, and conceiving that it is healthy to have as few of them as possible, postmodern philosophy reveals itself to us as an interrogative look at the world, an estrangement … which is just what philosophy is supposed to be from its origins. premodern principles. In pointing out the points that unite Sade, Fourier and Loyola there is a spark of genius or a simple genius, a great faculty of imagination put to work. And the work, circular, turns on itself: Barthes exposes the great arbitrary taxonomists by inventing his own arbitrary taxonomy … and he does it, of course, for pleasure.
Juliet’s advice to the Countess of Donis to “invent pleasure”
- Asceticism: depriving oneself of libertine ideas for fifteen days.
- Disposition: lie down alone, calmly, in silence, in the deepest darkness, and indulge in a little pollution.
- Liberation: all the images, all the detours rejected during the period of asceticism are liberated in disorder, but without exceptions: it is reviewed.
- Choice: among so many paintings that parade, one imposes itself and causes enjoyment.
- Sketch: it is then necessary to light the candles and transcribe the scene in a notebook.
- Correction: after having slept and letting the first sketch rest, we go back to fantasizing about the argument that we had thrown on paper, adding everything that can revive the image, already a bit worn by the enjoyment it has given.
- Text: a written body of the image thus retained and enlarged is formed. The only thing left is to “commit” that image, that crime, that passion.
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