Life of Sade : 1971: Roland Barthes

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1971

Essay’s title: Life of Sade: 1971

Author: Roland Barthes

Translated by Richard Miller

Originally published:

This essay’s translation was published in Sade, Fourier, Loyola: Roland Barthes: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976


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Introduction on the super site

This is a brief life of Sade written by the brilliant French literary critic Roland Barthes. Taking an impressionistic approach, the text presents Sade not through chronology but through a selection of odd detail and characteristic incident. It was originally published in Barthes’ book: Sade, Fourier, Loyola: 1976 

From the Preface to Sade, Fourier, Loyola: Roland Barthes

In Sade/Fourier/Loyola, eminent literary theorist Roland Barthes offers a fascinating treatise on the nature of philosophical creation. Barthes examines the parallel impulses of Loyola, the Jesuit saint, Sade, the renowned and sometimes pornographic libertine philosopher, and Fourier, the utopian theorist. All three, he makes clear, have been founders of languages–Loyola, the language of divine address; Sade, the language of erotic freedom; and Fourier, the language of social perfection and happiness. Each language is an all-enveloping system, a “secondary language” that isolates the adherent from the conventional world. The object of this book, Barthes makes clear, is not to decipher the content of these respective works, but to consider Sade, Fourier, and Loyola as creators of text.

“Here they are all three brought together, the evil writer, the great utopian, and the Jesuit saint. There is not intentional provocation in this assembling (were there provocation, it would rather consist in treating Sade, Fourier, and Loyola as though they had not had faith: in God, the Future, Nature), no transcendence (the sadist, the contester, and the mystic are not redeemed by sadism, revolution, religion), and, I add of these studies, although first published (in part) separately, was from the first conceived to join the others in one book: the book of Logothetes, founders of language.”

Final paragraph of Roland Barthes’ essay: Life of Sade:

Any detention is a system: a bitter struggle exists within this system, not to get free of it (this was beyond Sade’s power), but to break through its constraints. A prisoner for some twenty-five years of his life, Sade in prison had two fixations: outdoor exercise and writing, which governors and ministers were continually allowing and taking away from him like a rattle from a baby. The need and the desire for outdoor exercise are easily understood (although Sade always linked its privation to a symbolic theme, obesity). The repression, obviously, as anyone can see, of writing is as good as censoring the book; what is poignant here, however, is that writing is forbidden in its physical form; Sade was denied “any use of pencil, ink, pen, and paper.” Censored are hand, muscle, blood. Castration is circumscribed, the scriptural sperm can no longer flow; detention becomes retention; without exercise, without a pen, Sade becomes bloated, becomes a eunuch.