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Pierre Klossowski

The Pantomime of Spirits

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Hervé Castanet

This book examines the many facets of the work of Pierre Klossowski (1905–2001). Klossowski first established himself as a writer and was known and admired by peers such as Bataille, Blanchot, Gide, Foucault, Deleuze and Lacan. But in 1972 he gave up writing to devote himself to his ‘mutism’: painting made up of large coloured drawings. In time he became as famous a painter as he had been a writer and theorist. Klossowski now has two separate groups of commentators: those concerned with his writings and those with his painting, with little overlap between the two.
Here, this separation is explicitly removed. Klossowski’s entire œuvre revolved around the concept of the gaze. Rarely has the gaze been so radically interpreted – as an active, mobile, evanescent object that breaks down the connections between representation and the visible. How is one to see the invisible divinity? This question plagued Klossowski, and he displaced it onto pornographic rituals. The pantomime of spirits is the scene, fixed in silence, where bodies meet – a knotting of desiring body and dogmatic theology. A creator of simulacra, Klossowski attempted to exorcise the ‘obsessive constraint of the phantasm’ that subjugated him in all these scenes.
Translated from the French by Adrian Price in collaboration with Pamela King.
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Sade: Evil, Perversion

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Pierre Klossowski is a renowned specialist on Sade’s oeuvre. His works are classics that are routinely cited. It is the perversion in Sade that fascinates him. This fascination is not focused on the description of perverse acts singled out for their crudity. Its object is rather the way Sade’s (philosophical and political) thought ties in with the integral monstrosity that he claims to bring about by introducing it into this thought. This is an examination of the presence of evil – its possibility, its quest, its concrete manifestations – in so far as perversion carries it to its full pitch.

How is a singular experience to be translated into writing? asks Klossowski, in regard to Sade the writer. The perversion presented in the fiction cannot be isolated from the text that records it, nor from the theoretical function that it occupies. Klossowski does not comment on the sadistic scenes as such. His line of attack is different. What does thought become once perversion is no longer simply the privilege of an aristocrat on the eve of the Revolution, but is established as a concept? There is a cutting edge to Sade that the Enlightenment sought to render obsolete, in vain.

In 1962, Jacques Lacan wrote of Sade My Neighbor that it has no need to resort to the ‘same things as the highbrow literati’.1 This is a sizeable compliment. Lacan is designating the fact that Klossowski is not obsessed with the Marquis’s odd sexual manias, but...

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