Oct 17 2014

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The Paris Museum of Letters and Manuscripts

Romana & de SadeThe week before last I visited an exhibition on the works of the Marquis de Sade at this lesser-known Paris Museum, featuring many of his handwritten letters and manuscripts, the highlight of which is the 12-metre roll of manuscript on which de Sade wrote The 120 Days of Sodom, during his years in prison in the Bastille, hiding the roll each night between stones in his cell wall. I was fortunate to be accompanied on my visit by Australian researcher Romana Byrne who wrote about de Sade in her recent book, and who has kindly agreed to write much of this post…

“The name of the Marquis de Sade, for most contemporary Anglophones, usually evokes various vague notions related to debauchery, decadence, and, of course, sadism. But the roles this eighteenth-century aristocrat has played throughout the centuries have been surprisingly diverse, not to mention divisive. For his contemporaries, he was more scandalous for his anti-clerical republican political views than for his pornography. In the late nineteenth-century, an Austrian-Hungarian psychiatrist used his name to coin what he presented as a murderous psychopathology. This is how the notion of “sadism” was invented. In the twentieth century, Sade was rehabilitated as the “divine Marquis”, a poster boy for the surrealist aesthetic movement, while for Simone de Beauvoir, he was commendable for exposing social hypocrisies. During the late twentieth century, he has been labeled both the worst of all misogynists, and a proto-feminist! To reduce the Marquis de Sade to the violence described in many of his works, then, would be to completely overlook the context and complexity of his writing.” – by Romana Byrne

Most of the important information related to the rolled-up manuscript in the exhibition can be found on this wikipedia page.

To learn about Sade’s engagement with aesthetic philosophy as a means of critique, see chapter 2 of Byrne’s recent book Aesthetic Sexuality.

Another exhibition on de Sade has opened at the Musee d’Orsay (reviewed this week in the New York Times), and both exhibitions run until January 2015, the 200th anniversary of his death.




Permanent link to this article: http://www.escapetoparis.com/2014/10/the-paris-museum-of-letters-and-manuscripts/

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