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The Marquis de Sade as a Key Figure of Enlightenment

How His Crystal Genius Still Speaks to Today’s World and Its Major Problems


Moussa Traore

The Marquis de Sade as a Key Figure of Enlightenment: How His Crystal Genius Still Speaks to Today’s World and Its Major Problems discusses how the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) stretched the dimensions of reputation and notoriety nearly obscuring his mastery in literature and philosophy while braving the Ancien Régime and Revolutionary France’s «age of iron [hell]» with unheard-of determination to be read and taken seriously as not just a writer and a contributing citizen but as an engaged educator, a committed philosopher, and an uncompromisingly fierce moralist. Sade has been a strange combination of what society dreads and what it needs most for its salvation: mature enlightenment that is not afraid to see and face real problems so that there can be solutions. This book stresses how the literary and intellectual public needs to reconnect with the moral gems of this demon(ized) man, nowadays more so than ever, to explain our most critical issues and to reiterate the long-standing solutions Sade professed from the 1780s through the early nineteenth century. This work not only reestablishes the creative, literary, and intellectual Sade, it critically stages and highlights the philosophical Marquis as a world citizen trapped between theories of social classes and a loose-fitting messianism. It is evident throughout the work how Sade’s deep concerns for humanity flatly contradict the popular rhetoric (of wickedness and perversion) recycled and amplified since his first writing days. The Marquis de Sade as a Key Figure of Enlightenment offers a new perspective on this complex writer and on the intimate workings of our human world. It is a valuable resource for courses on French literature, eighteenth-century studies, the Enlightenment, literary criticism, and gender and sexuality studies.


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Preface ix


Preface When I first saw Les infortunes de la vertu in a rare books‟ store, I was struck and amused by its title… for a while; then, truth started to set in: there was a great deal of reality in the idea of “the misfortunes of virtue” in the 18th century; just as it is even nowadays. After a brief reflection, I was no longer amused; it was Sade after all; and it was the 18th century where people were as passionate as both nature and „civilization‟ could make them. I knew that there had to be something there. I gathered, from the stretched extensions of what the title inspired me, that Sade‟s „face‟—a presumed portrait of the Marquis at a very mature age— appeared as if he had just filed the last lawsuit in the entire history of time against all of Creation, including the smallest dust that could fly by. Of course, in that case, he would neither have a lawyer nor a judge, let alone a jury. A frozen mood mimicking eternal contempt seemed to describe that portrait. Then, I thought: either he was just so bitter against virtue, or he had bet on it and was so betrayed that he could not help but prove the deceit. It did not appear to me that one would, however mad, crazy, demented or else fitting concepts of similar meaning and magnitude, ever sit down to write a book against something as immaterial as virtue, a book...

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