The First Day by Gérard Beringer is the first in a series of volumes where a single day from the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom is published accompanied by that day’s representation and re-presentation through the eyes of an inspired artist. Thus the reader is spared the ferocity of more than a single day in a single volume and is compensated by the luxuriance of the imagery inspired by the artist. Some of the art works which illuminate The First Day to be published by Tambar in 2013 are illustrated in the Gallery.
The Marquis de Sade is the world’s greatest pornographer. Writing at the time of the French Revolution he produced a series of indecent masterworks which were as extreme as anything written thereafter. If there is an art in pornography he gave it birth. But he also killed it. He has never been excelled, the flowering of an individual genius followed by the mimicry of lesser artists. After the Marquis de Sade there was nothing more to be said, he had said it all. The Marquis de Sade is also a considerable philosopher. His pornography acts as a vehicle for an ongoing diatribe against Church and State. His political treatise Français, encore un effort si vous voulez être républicains is a scathing denunciation of Order and Justice. Thus the Marquis de Sade fiercely opposes capital punishment. Why? Because killing someone for reasons of law or logic can never be justified, it is impersonal and inhuman and fundamentally cruel. The only purpose for killing someone is if it brings pleasure or pain to the one who kills or is killed. He is the anti-Christ of cold justice, the Savonarola of extreme emotions.
The 120 Days of Sodom is the Marquis de Sade’s first major work and also his chef d’oeuvre. He wrote it while imprisoned in the Bastille during the last days of the ancien régime. He wrote it in secret, and stored it within the brickwork of his cell. A few days before the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, he was hurriedly released and had no time to take his manuscript with him. He begged his wife to return to the Bastille to retrieve the manuscript but she was unable to do so before the Bastille was stormed and destroyed in the frenzy of the Revolution. The Marquis de Sade spent the rest of his life bemoaning that his greatest work had perished forever. In fact one of the looters found the manuscript and took it home with him. It remained in private hands for more than a hundred years without anyone else being aware of its existence. The 120 Days of Sodom only surfaced for public gaze in the early part of the twentieth century.
Why does virtually no one read the 120 Days of Sodom? Why is this great work of pornography and philosophy celebrated by title and author, yet its content remains almost entirely ignored? The answer is because it is so intensely obsessive and hateful and hurtful that it crushes you beneath the savagery of its emotions. It is too extreme to be devoured. Whereas banal pornography can titillate and arouse, the 120 Days of Sodom leads inexorably towards exhaustion and revulsion. It is a strange reader who can consume the 120 Days of Sodom as if it was just another work of literature.