Sade's Theatre: Pleasure, Vision, Masochism

BookSade's Theatre: Pleasure, Vision, Masochism

Sade's Theatre: Pleasure, Vision, Masochism

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2007:02


February 28th, 2007

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Sade’s rehabilitation as a major Enlightenment writer has hitherto not extended to a re-evaluation of his dramatic works. With a theoretical framework inspired by psychoanalysis and dramatic theory, and attentive to eighteenth-century theoretical debates, Thomas Wynn demonstrates the value of these neglected works. This is the first study to consider the nature and implications of Sade’s dramatic aesthetic, and to define the erotic quality of spectatorship in his experimental plays.
Challenging the assumption that the gaze is sadistic, the author uses insights from film theory to argue that Sade adapts contemporary theatrical texts and practice to create an aesthetic distinct from that of his novels. Rather than replicate the style of such works as Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome, Sade’s drama anticipates a masochistic model, as theorised by Theodor Reik and Gilles Deleuze. This analysis of Sadean spectatorship takes a thematic rather than chronological or text-by-text approach. The author argues that Sade, as an atheist materialist, focuses on the structural elements of theatre to produce visual pleasure rather than moral improvement, and that he elaborates an insistently visual dramatic aesthetic, a mode analogous to the linguistic saturation of the novels’ tout dire.
With reference to eighteenth-century obscene drama, theatre architecture and the history of visuality, the author explores the paradox that Sade’s theatre is meant not for the stage, but for the private imagination. His visionary theatre is an example of the late eighteenth-century sublime, an aesthetic of the ineffable and the unrepresentable which, in its emphasis on the survival of the demeaned individual, structurally resembles masochism.
Without deforming his technique or strategy, the author shows that Sade’s voluptuous theatre – like his fiction – addresses an individual whose sovereignty in a godless world is intimately linked to the independent imagination. This book will be of interest to all those working in eighteenth-century drama and theory of spectatorship.

'What is striking in this monograph it its richness of documentation combined with Gallic methodological rigour [...] drawing on bibliography, publishing history, lexicology and discourse analysis. [...] This is an important and stimulating work of scholarship which is essential reading for all those interested in French print culture of the eighteenth century.'

'In addition to the rich array of eighteenth-century sources evoked, this book is especially strong in its discussion of the limits of visual drama, in particular the way in which the ‘obscene’ functions as an oppositional construct that presupposes the prevailing code of bienséance.'
French Studies, Volume 65, Issue 1

Author Information

After studying at the University of Cambridge, Thomas Wynn completed his DPhil in French at St John’s College, Oxford in 2004. As well as teaching at the Ecole normale supérieure in Paris, he has also been a post-doctoral fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford. He has published on Sade, cinema and eighteenth-century theatre, as well as contributing to the Complete works of Voltaire.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
Table of Contents6
List of abbreviations10
Introduction: viewing pleasure12
i. Critical status13
ii. Visual pleasure17
1. The theatre apparatus and masochistic spectatorship24
i. The theatre apparatus26
ii. Illusion and masochism33
2. Tancrède and tout montrer44
i. Danchet and Campra’s Tancrède45
ii. Servandoni’s La Forêt enchantée47
iii. Voltaire’s Tancrède50
iv. Sade’s Tancrède and tout montrer54
3. Spectacle, artifice and genre66
i. Generic distinctions66
ii. Tragedy70
iii. Comedy78
iv. The drame84
Conclusion: L’Union des arts90
4. Masochism and the Sadean tableau94
i. Tableau and fantasy96
ii. The contract104
iii. Suspension of violence110
iv. Identification116
v. Conclusion120
5. Limits of a visual theatre123
i. Les Jumelles123
ii. Place and identity in flux125
iii. Desire in flux130
iv. Texts in flux132
v. Le Boudoir136
vi. Le Boudoir and visual proof138
vii. The limits of obscene performance143
viii. Le Boudoir and obscene parody149
6. Reading pleasure157
i. Les Antiquaires157
ii. Intertextuality and unknown origins161
iii. Intertextuality and literary pleasure168
7. A theatre of the sublime170
i. Closet drama173
ii. Sade’s imaginary theatre177
iii. Solitude and the self187
iv. Solitude and the sublime196
Appendix: a chronology of Sade’s plays210