Spiritual Erotics: From Plato’s Symposium to Sade’s La Philosophie dans le boudoir

  • Robert S. Sturges


Philosophers and other writers obviously continued to address the question of friendship after the twelfth century, and often did so with particular reference to Plato and Socrates; Montaigne is a prime example. However, after the important work of Aelred and his adaptors, they did so less frequently, and less influentially, in the dialogue form.1 The specific tradition examined in the preceding chapter—the dialogue tradition initiated by Plato’s Lysis—was thus most influential in Roman and medieval culture. Western European intellectuals of the early modern period, as classical Greek became a more important focus of their education, and as ancient Greek texts became more widely available in printed editions, regained direct access to Plato’s works (as distinct from the indirect transmission of his ideas by Latin authors such as Cicero), and their preference for those Platonic works most amenable to neoplatonic Christianization established certain of the dialogues—notably the Symposium and the Republic—as Plato’s masterpieces, a valuation still widely accepted.


Dialogue Form Physical Expression Physical Pleasure Human Love Male Desire 
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  1. 1.
    On friendship, see Michel de Montaigne, “De l’amitié,” in Essais, ed. Maurice Rat, 2 vols. (Paris: Garnier, 1962), 1, pp. 197–212. Montaigne’s low opinion of the Platonic dialogue form can be found in “Des livres,” 2, pp. 447–462, at p. 455.Google Scholar
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    There are a number of studies of the jokes in The Book of the Courtier most interesting for our purposes is Robert Grudin, “Renaissance Laughter: The Jests in Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano,” Neophilologus 58 (1974): 199–204, which argues that the jokes are a way of dealing with the moral depravity of contemporary Italy. If Grudin is correct, sodomy may thus be understood as an aspect of that depravity.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Jane Rush, “Diderot, Socrate, et l’esthétique de la farce dans Le Neveu de RameauEighteenth-Century Fiction 6 (1993): 47–64 reaches a similar conclusion.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Diderot, Neveu, pp. 98–105, pp. 83–84; pp. 464–470, pp. 448–449. Michael Prince, Philosophical Dialogue in the British Enlightenment: Theology, Aesthetics and the Novel (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1996) focuses on England, but Prince’s observations on the eighteenth century’s varying appropriations of Socrates and the Platonic tradition, pp. 163–189, is helpful nonetheless.Google Scholar
  104. Specifically on Diderot’s use of the dialogue form, see also H. R. Jauss, “Le Neveu de Rameau: Dialogue et dialectique; ou: Diderot lecteur de Socrate et Hegel lecteur de Diderot,” Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 89 (1984): 145–181Google Scholar
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    Théodore Tarczylo, “Moral Values in ‘La suite de l’entretien,” trans. James Coke and Michael Murray, Eighteenth-Century Life 9 (1985): 43–60, finds a less positive valuation of male–male desire in Diderot, but cites no real evidence for this view.Google Scholar
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    Margaret C. Jacob, “The Materialist World of Pornography,” in The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800, ed. Lynn Hunt (New York: Zone, 1996), pp. 157–202, at 157. See also Lynn Hunt, “Pornography and the French Revolution,” in The Invention of Pornography, pp. 301–339; on Sade specifically, pp. 330–332.Google Scholar
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  120. Cautionary notes regarding Sade’s value to feminism are sounded by Kristin Roodenburg, “Sade and Feminism,” Restant 21 (1993): 259–271; “Beat Me! Beat Me!: Feminists and Sade,” ENclitic 11.4 (1989): 62–72.Google Scholar
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  123. and Jacques Lacan, “Kant avec Sade” (1963), repr. in his Écrits [1966; repr. as Écrits, 2 vols. (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1971)], vol. 2, pp. 119–148. Most critics assume, as I do, that Dolmancé is Sade’s spokesman; see, for example, Simone de Beauvoir’s classic essay “Must We Burn Sade?,” trans.Google Scholar
  124. Annette Michelson, in Marquis de Sade, The 120 Days of Sodom and Other Writings, compiled and trans. Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver (New York: Grove, 1966), pp. 3–64, at pp. 10–11,Google Scholar
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    See Schaeffer, Marquis de Sade, pp. 126–130, for an account of the entire Marseilles incident, and p. 139 for its legal consequences. See also Laurence L. Bongie, Sade: A Biographical Essay (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 129–138, for a less sympathetic account, and pp. 81–83 for Sade’s earlier “homosexual” experiences.Google Scholar
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    Schaeffer, Marguis de Sade, p. 135. On the question of Sade’s “bisexuality,” see also Donald E. Hall, “Graphic Sexuality and the Erasure of a Polymorphous Perversity,” in RePresenting Bisexualities: Subjects and Cultures of Fluid Desire, ed. Donald E. Hall and Maria Pramaggiore (New York: New York University Press, 1996), pp. 99–123.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Barthes’ remarks on “libertine solitude,” p. 16, and Georges Bataille’s essay on “De Sade’s Sovereign Man,” in his Erotism: Death and Sensuality, trans. Mary Dalwood (San Francisco: City Lights, 1986), pp. 164–176.Google Scholar
  136. Lucienne Frappier-Mazur, Writing the Orgy: Power and Parody in Sade (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), suggests that for Sade the orgy scene itself eliminates difference in favor of orgiastic indistinction, pp. 11–57.Google Scholar
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    Gilles Deleuze, Sacher-Masoch: An Interpretation (London: Faber, 1971), p. 18. My attention was drawn to this passage by Glenn Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), p. 26. Cf. Barthes’ contention that “erotic energy is renewed” in the pause for such a dissertation in Sade’s other works, p. 146.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Barthes: “the agent is not he who has power or pleasure, but he who controls the direction of the scene and the sentence,” p. 31. Henri Blanc, “Sur le statut du dialogue dans l’oeuvre de Sade,” Dix-Huitième Siècle 4 (1972): 301–314 also understands La Philosophie dans le boudoir as essentially mono-logical;Google Scholar
  139. and cf. Béatrice Didier, “Sade et le dialogue philosophique,” Cahiers de l’Association Internationale des Etudes Françaises 24 (1972): 59–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  141. whereas Scott Carpenter, “Sade and the Problem of Closure: Keeping Philosophy in the Bedroom,” Neophilologus 75 (1991): 519–528 argues that this drive to contamination is contained by an equally powerful drive for closure.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    As Barthes points out, Augustin the gardener is excluded from the reading of the “revolutionary” pamphlet, p. 159; see also Bongie, pp. 226–227. Marcel Hénaff gives the treatise a more straightforward political reading, pp. 250–251, but see also Hénaff’s later essay, “Naked Terror: Political Violence, Libertine Violence,” SubStance 27.2 (1998): 5–32, which links Sade’s revolutionary rhetoric to his solipsism.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1980), p. 149.Google Scholar
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© Robert S. Sturges 2005

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