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Happy Birthday, Marquis de Sade

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Today marks the 274th birthday of French revolutionary and libertine extraordinaire Marquis de Sade, and The Baffler is celebrating by re-reading Hussein Ibish’s reflections from Issue 22, “The United Sades of America.”

In the popular imagination, Marquis de Sade is most associated with erotic and often violent writing that was unusual for his time. Sade “functions as a sort of shorthand consumer brand for transgressive naughtiness,” Ibish writes. His piece argues that we should shift the emphasis of Sade’s legacy, from porn to politics. Here’s an excerpt:

But there was always much more to Sade than the simple lionization of the urges to objectify and dominate—and Sade’s legacy assuredly doesn’t end here, in the overstimulated agoras of our media world. If we broaden the aperture a bit to take in the official scenes of governance—a procedure that Sade himself strongly encourages—we can also see that he haunts our political culture in all sorts of unacknowledged ways. While many on the intellectual left have sought to grapple with Sade more directly, Sade also exerts a suitably perverse influence on the present-day American right. To take just one example, elements of Sade’s thought—via an embarrassingly reductive caricature of Nietzsche—thrive in the robust American cult of Ayn Rand.

Read the rest of Ibish’s piece here.

And a postscript: when this piece came out in print, the Washington City Paper questioned the veracity of the opening anecdote of Ibish’s essay, the story about how Ibish was once thrown out of a D.C. bookstore for asking to buy a Sade book. Ibish stands by his story, as do we. “I’m not surprised people find it surreal,” Ibish wrote in response. “So did I.”