Sade, the Social Joker

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert (or here over the next few days, parceled out over 22 sections)—

15. In the social game of his time, doubly complicated because — rare in history — it was both synchronic and diachronic, displaying the (apparently immobile) tableau of classes under the Ancien Régime and class changes (under the Revolution), Sade was extremely mobile: a social joker, able to occupy any niche in the class system; Lord of LaCoste, he was supplanted in Mlle Colet’s affections by a bourgeois, a collector of rents, who presented the actress with a magnificent sultan (a dressing table); later, a member of the Piques sector, he assumes the socially neutral figure of a man of letters, a dramatist; struck from the list of émigrés and owing to a confusion of first names that exists today, he was able (or at least his family was) to appear as he wished according to the varied moments of History on this turnstile of social class. He honors the sociological notion of social mobility, but in a ludic sense; he moves up and down on the social scale like a bottle imp; a reflection, once again in the socio-economic meaning of the term, he makes this reflection not the imitation or product of a determination, but the unselfconscious game of a mirror. In this carrousel of roles, one fixed point: manners, way of life, which were always aristocratic.

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