Sympathy for the devil

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After unearthing this book in July I finally got round to reading it. Guy Endore’s biography of the Marquis de Sade isn’t a great work of literature (and my paperback is also badly typeset) but it was worthwhile for the sketch it offers of the life and philosophies of the notorious libertine. Sade is of interest to me more for his importance to subsequent generations than for his works (although the one leads back to the other), not least the Surrealists who revered him as a revolutionary thinker far ahead of his time. But this interest isn’t really enough to warrant immersion in a major biography which would run to many hundreds of pages, and have to take account of the tumultuous historical era that Sade lived through: pre-Revolutionary France, the Revolution itself, then the Napoleonic period.

Guy Endore was a biographical collagist whose method in this and other books was to explore the life by stitching together with his own commentary extracts from letters and diaries and, where necessary, his own inventions. Most editions of Satan’s Saint proclaim the book as a novel but this isn’t really the case, Endore describes his text in the introductory note as a “novelized Ph.D. thesis”. The note also indicates the passages he was forced to invent when the documentary material was absent. Sade’s life was more turbulent than most, a continual round of family drama, pursuit by the authorities and serial imprisonment, all taking place during a time of the greatest national upheaval, so it’s no surprise that letters, diaries and other documents have been lost. Endore’s most substantial invention is the diary of Sade’s sister-in-law, Anne-Prospère de Launay, with whom the Marquis was besotted, and who he took with him to Italy when he fled his first court conviction and a death sentence. Endore attempts to explain (not always successfully) how the convent-raised woman could not only betray her sister and the rest of her family but also run away with a man accused of terrible sexual crimes. Less invention is required for the Marquis himself since some letters do survive, and his voice and opinions are present throughout his published writings. Given Sade’s enduring reputation it’s a surprise to discover how much of his life was consumed by familial squabbles, especially with his mother-in-law. The Sade family saga, like many of his novels, is a familiar human affair inflated to outrageous proportions; the hatred between Sade and his in-laws was mutual but each saved the other from execution.

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It’s that Rubens typeface again… First US edition, 1965.

Endore’s penultimate chapter steps away from the biography to present a talk given to students at the University of California in May 1962. The lecture allows the author to summarise his attitude to Sade which isn’t so much one of admiration but respect for a man who stood against the hypocrisies of his time even when his life was at stake. “I never killed anyone,” Sade said in later years, and Endore draws a lengthy comparison between Sade and Napoleon Bonaparte, the latter being responsible for the destruction of Sade’s published novels as well as the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. The crimes of Napoleon were far greater than those of the man who spent 14 years of his life in prison, yet the name of Napoleon carries none of the notoriety that surrounds the name of Sade. Endore also notes the irony that without his lengthy terms of imprisonment the Marquis might have been as forgotten as he always hoped he would be. Prison compelled him to rage on paper against the world.

I have another Endore book, The Werewolf of Paris, lurking in the unread stacks but it will have to wait. Since reading this piece I’ve had an urge to revisit the novels of Charles Williams. Some metaphysical thrills are in order.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Satan’s Saint
The Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade by Jean Benoît
The Marat/Sade

Weekend links 532

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An alchemical illustration from Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652) by Elias Ashmole.

• “Originally the idea was to do four parallel feuilleton stories, linked at the beginning of each episode by still shots connecting with the other episodes, rather like the old serials.” Jacques Rivette mentions a familiar word during a 1974 discussion with Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky about Out 1 and Céline and Julie Go Boating. I watched all 775 minutes of Out 1 last year, followed by a re-viewing of Céline and Julie, so this was good to read. Elsewhere: “The dizzying Céline and Julie Go Boating is apt viewing for a chaotic present,” says Phillipa Snow.

Away is a wordless feature-length animated film in which a boy is pursued by a lumbering monster after parachuting from a crashing aircraft. It was directed, written, edited, animated and scored by Gints Zilbalodis. Christopher Machell reviewed the film here. Watch the trailer.

• Jean Lorrain’s novel of Decadent dandyism, Monsieur Bougrelon, receives a new English translation by Brian Stableford for Side Real Press. (The Spurl translation by Eva Richter was reviewed here a few years ago.) The new edition includes illustrations by Etienne Drian (1885–1961).

El Topo again, among other things: Mike Soto on the anti-Western genre set in America’s surreal borderlands. Cormac McCarthy is a surprising absence from Soto’s lists despite almost all of his later work being concerned with the border region.

• “Whatever their pursuits, they were extremists who created literature that wasn’t so much great as it was relentless. Even now they make passive reading impossible.” Chris R. Morgan on Swift, Sade and the art of upsetting people.

• The best batch yet? Sean Kitching talks to Gary Lucas and Eric Drew Feldman about the recording of Captain Beefheart’s Doc At The Radar Station.

• Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich… Photographer Sandro Miller persuaded John Malkovich to recreate 41 famous photographic portraits.

• An extract from Rated SavX in which Edwin Pouncey/Savage Pencil talks with Timothy d’Arch Smith about his artistic evolution.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Pat O’Neill Day.

Siavash Amini‘s favourite music.

Get Away (1970) by Ry Cooder | Running Away (2002) by Radar | Fly Me Away (2005) by Goldfrapp

Satan’s Saint

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Digging in a box for an errant paperback turned up this volume which I’ve owned for years but never read. Having recently watched Jan Svankmajer’s Lunacy, which has a Sade-like character among its cast, I thought I should give it a proper look. Sade’s irreligious and libertine philosophies haunt the Surrealist world, hence Svankmajer’s interest, Jean Benoît’s performance art and so on. Surrealism didn’t have any saints but it did maintain a pantheon of precursors, with Sade accorded the status of “Genius of Wheels” (ie: revolution) in the Surrealist deck of playing cards.

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Guy Endore (1900–1970) wasn’t a genius, a satanist or a saint but he was an interesting character, an American writer best known today for The Werewolf of Paris, another novel I own and have yet to read. He was a vegetarian and a socialist at a time when both these pursuits were regarded with suspicion or outright hostility (his Communist sympathies later caused him to be placed on the Hollywood blacklist). He wrote a great deal of historical fiction—in addition to Satan’s Saint there are novels based on the lives of Casanova, Voltaire and Shakespeare. And his Hollywood credits include work on scripts for Tod Browning (Mark of the Vampire, The Devil-Doll), writing the source novel (Methinks the Lady) that became Otto Preminger’s psychological film noir, Whirlpool, and, with John Balderstone, adapting Maurice Renard’s The Hands of Orlac into the screenplay that became Peter Lorre’s Hollywood debut, Mad Love. The latter is a great film that I’d love to see again. Satan’s Saint was first published in 1965. This Panther edition appeared in 1967. Now I just have to find the time to read it…

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Continue reading “Satan’s Saint”

Svankmajer’s cats

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Down to the Cellar.

“Black cats are our unconscious,” says Jan Svankmajer in an interview with Sarah Metcalf for Phosphor, the journal of the Leeds Surrealist Group. I’ve spent the past few weeks working my way through Svankmajer’s cinematic oeuvre where black cats were very much in evidence, although for a director who describes himself as a “militant Surrealist” there are fewer than you might imagine.

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Jabberwocky.

The first feline appearance is in Jabberwocky (1973), a difficult film for animal-lovers when almost all the cat’s appearances seem to have involved throwing the unwilling animal into a wall of building blocks. Each “leap” that the cat makes through the wall interrupts the progress of an animated line being drawn through a maze; when the line finally escapes the maze, childhood is over. Our final view of the cat is of it struggling to escape the confines of a small cage: the unconscious tamed by adulthood.

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Down to the Cellar.

The black cat in Down to the Cellar is not only the most prominent feline in all of Svankmajer’s films, it’s also carries the most symbolic weight in a drama replete with Freudian anxiety. The cat guards the entrance to the subterranean dark where its growth in size corresponds to the mounting fears of a small girl sent by a parent to collect potatoes.

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Faust.

The cat seen at the beginning of Faust (1994) appears very briefly but nothing is accidental in Svankmajer’s cinema. Two separate shots show the cat in the window watching Faust on his way to meet Mephistopheles. As with Down to the Cellar, the cat oversees the threshold to another world, in this case the doorway to a labyrinthine building filled with malevolent puppets and the temptations they offer. The cat may also be the traditional symbol of ill fortune. Faust at this point in the story still has the option to turn back but he goes on to meet his fate. (I think there may also be another cat later in the film but I was too lazy to go searching for it. Sorry.)

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Little Otik.

The cat that appears in the early scenes of Little Otik (2000) is a child substitute for a childless couple, its status reinforced by the scene of Bozena holding the animal like a baby. The arrival of the monstrous Otik usurps the cat’s position as the family favourite. Consequences ensue.

Svankmajer’s later features are catless. Insects (2018) is more concerned with arthropods and their human equivalents, while Surviving Life (2010) spends so much time inside the unconscious of its protagonist it doesn’t require a symbol. Lunacy (2005), on the other hand, is a combination of a story by Edgar Allan Poe—The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether—and the philosophical views of the Marquis de Sade. Svankmajer had already adapted two of Poe’s stories prior to this but The Black Cat wasn’t among them. Given the cruelties in Poe’s story and many of Svankmajer’s films, Lunacy in particular, this may be just as well.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jan Svankmajer: The Animator of Prague
Lynch dogs
Jan Svankmajer, Director
Don Juan, a film by Jan Svankmajer
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Two sides of Liska

The Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade by Jean Benoît

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Hommage au Marquis de Sade (1959) by Jean Benoît.


From A Dictionary of Surrealism (1974) by José Pierre:

BENOÎT Jean (Quebec, 1922). In Paris, 1949, he undertook a strange enterprise called The Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade which kept him busy for two years. It is a very complicated costume, made up of superimposed coverings and accompanied by important accessories. Each element of the ensemble (medallion, tights, crutches, panels, mask, boots, wings, tomb, push-chair, membrum virile, codpiece, chastity-belt, with tattooing thrown in) transposes some aspect of Sadian thought into plastic terms. The work was to be worn during a special ceremony which took place December 2, 1959, at Joyce Mansour’s, the evening preceding the International Exhibition of Surrealism (“Eros”) in Galerie Daniel Cordier. In 1965 Benoît completed another work for carrying round as a tribute to Sergeant Bertrand, a famous nineteenth-century necrophile, The Necrophile, and a sculpture, The Bulldog of Maldoror, which he presented at the international surrealist exhibition “L’Ecart absolu”, Galerie L’Oeil, in the same year, 1965.


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From The International Encyclopedia of Surrealism (2019) by Krzysztof Fijalkowski:

But it is the Execution of the Last Testament of the Marquis de Sade, finally staged in 1959, that lies at the heart of Benoît’s oeuvre. Often cited but rarely analysed, it is one of the most significant works of post-war surrealism. On December 2, at the home of the surrealist poet Joyce Mansour, attended by around a hundred invited guests. the event began with the crescendo of a volcano—a sound recording of street noises made by Radovan Ivsic—followed by a second recording of Breton reading out the Marquis’ last testament, specifying de Sade’s (never heeded) desire for his body to be treated and laid to rest in an anonymous grave. Benoît’s detailed notes specifying every element of his complex and extensive dress and accoutrements were read out loud as [Mimi] Parent helped Benoît, arrayed in this extraordinary costume, slowly remove each item one by one. Layered suits, masks, crutches, panels, ornaments, and accessories made from diverse materials laden with symbolic images and signs evoked intense masked tribal ceremonies and rituals; no photographs of the event were permitted, but Benoît staged its elements for a haunting series of images by Gilles Ehrmann taken in an abandoned building. At the culmination of the ceremony, Benoît revealed himself naked save for a wooden phallus incorporating an hourglass, his body entirely painted and with arrows pointing to the spot over his heart at which he then proceeded to brand himself with the word “SADE.” This performance represented an intense and irrevocable stripping bare of the self in order to restore lost powers, to release de Sade from his incarceration, to seal a community, and to cut through the poverty of contemporary existence in the most dramatic but unrepeatable terms; it is consistent with this sense of a unique and all-powerful gesture that Benoît would not seek to reprise such an event again.


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All photographs are by Gilles Ehrmann.

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Alain Jouffroy, 1959:

[Autotranslation] I attended a ceremony which took place, in private, in the Parisian apartment of Joyce Mansour, on the occasion of the one hundred and forty-fifth anniversary of the death of Sade. Meticulously regulated by its author, the young Canadian painter Jean Benoît, this demonstration has probably never had its equivalent anywhere. We were a hundred guests. When the doors to the large white room where the ceremony was to take place opened, a great din, a sort of threatening howl from the depths of a volcano, rang out. We were standing upright, shoulder to shoulder, spying on the closed double door that stood in front of us, in the half-empty part of the room.

Among many painters, poets and critics, there were André Breton, André Pieyre de Mandiargues and his wife Bona, Julien Gracq, Victor Brauner, Octavio Paz, Edgar Morin, Matta, Robert Lebel. We hardly spoke. An indescribable feeling of curiosity and embarrassment emanated from certain looks. Then the deafening din ceased. A loudspeaker broadcast the famous “fifth” of the will of the Marquis de Sade, where he asked that we prepare his pit in a “dense thicket”, and that we “sow above” acorns “so,” he said, “that thereafter the ground of the said pit being replenished and the thicket finding itself filled as it was before, the traces of my grave disappear from the surface of the earth as I flatter myself that my memory will be erased from the minds of men.” The voice, which read slowly, solemnly, this fragment of the will, was that of André Breton.

Motionless in the empty space of the room, at the left end, opposite to the one expected to open, a young man stood stiff and motionless behind a conductor’s desk, on which were placed a few loose sheets. After the silence that followed the reading of the will, the door opened, giving way to a fabulous monster. The ceremonial of the execution of the will of the Marquis de Sade, by Jean Benoît, began. The entry of the monster into the room was strangely painful and vehement. Two horns, hidden in his high shoes, made a shrill noise and a deafening noise.

Curved and seemingly crushed by the weight of a mask with four superimposed heads, a veritable totem of anonymity, the monster advanced on sumptuously decorated crutches, pushing before him a huge belly in the shape of an egg, and pulling behind him, by the right shoe, a cart of the same colour as the costume, the wings, the mask and the crutches: silver grey or bronze, and midnight blue punctuated with red; embers under the ashes.

When he almost reached the centre of the empty space and stopped, the hundred silent spectators who watched him found themselves curiously “disoriented” in this apartment where they spoke, so comfortably, a few minutes ago. The embarrassment was really overwhelming: everyone did their best to hide their own, behind a veil of opinions. Then, the ceremony of methodical undressing of the monster began, explained by a text, that the man at the desk read in an equal, neutral, fairly implacable voice, without grandiloquence or familiarity.

A young blond woman with hair drawn back, in a black dress, proceeded, piece by piece, to undress the monster. Each of the elements that she detached was then hung on the wall, disintegrating little by little, in an analytical panoply, the being-totem that bent, obedient, and almost mechanical, to the rotational movements that the young woman made it perform to present spectators with the different faces of the costume.

She removed the mask. Another mask, bewildered, astonished, appeared. Then the face, made-up in black, but for the eyelids and the inside of the blood-coloured ears. Then the body entirely made-up in black, but on which the same arrows as those of the costume were drawn. Finally, the sex, hidden under an enormous black wooden phallus, decorated with straw.

At that moment I heard someone whispering to me, “This is the black moment of the affair.” Jean Benoît, his body stretched by this slow ceremony which he had regulated and meditated every second, then raised the phallus, to simulate the erection, by hanging the wire which was attached to it to a ring with his right hand. Below the phallus, there were two hourglass-shaped mirrors, one in the image of a woman, the other of a man. The young blonde woman lit a fire in a container at her feet, and plunged a phallic-handle iron into it. The flames were reflected for a few seconds in the hourglass mirrors. The phallus fell.

As abruptly as all of the above had been slow, Jean Benoît tore off the red cloth star which was at the location of his heart, threw it into the fire, grabbed the iron with a phallic handle and printed—in the third degree—the letters SADE on the skin, in place of the star. His gaze, which black make-up made more intensely blue and clear, seemed to me piercing like a suddenly drawn blade. Then brandishing Sade’s letter iron which he had just burned, he threw in a loud voice, to the audience: “WHO IS THE IRON FOR?” And slipped out of a small door after throwing the iron into the fire.

There was a moment of confusion. Throughout the ceremony, not a single word had been spoken aloud, apart from the relentless explanatory text, accompanied by quotes, read by the reciter.

Then, weaving his way between the people around him, Matta, who had followed the last part of the ceremony very passionately, entered the empty space of the room, untied his tie, unhooked his shirt collar, and put the iron on his skin. Someone wanted to imitate this but a woman prevented him. The ceremony, apparently, was over.

According to Jean Benoît, who imagined and executed the costume, the entire apparatus symbolizes “the symbolic transfer of the tomb of D-A-F de Sade”, and its colour is “specially designed to take all its intensity in the warm light of the setting sun”. All the arrows which decorate it are vertical, or oblique, or curved: none is horizontal. Thus, each of the details has its symbolic key. Their ensemble invites a resurrection to mythical life. Everything is absolutely faithful to a traditional sign language: just visit an exhibition of masks, at the Guimet Museum, to measure the inventive sum of rites and meanings that Jean Benoît produced with this costume.

The act itself, which consists in burning oneself with Sade’s letters, in a society as talkative and as reluctant to gestures as is the one in which artists are currently living in Paris, is obviously a challenge. Challenge of conformism, challenge of laziness, challenge to sleep, challenge to all forms of inertia, in life as in thought. It is quite obvious that such a ceremony, in absolute contradiction with the vulgarity proper to our time, can only be an object of derision in the conversations of our so-called intellectuals. It is however a reminder of the essential, I mean this mysterious axis around which the human being turns, and which the Hindu Tantrics call the Kundalini—the energy which liberates the sexual act, and which makes it possible for a few seconds to smash the locked doors of our condition.


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Fernando Arrabal, Transcendent Satrape of the Collège de ’Pataphysique,  2010:

[Autotranslation] …It took almost a century and a half after the death of the Marquis before—thanks to Benoît—the “Execution of Sade’s Will” took place. December 2, 1959. It was his masterpiece.

…many times Jean Benoît has told Alejandro [Jodorowsky] and I, in detail, about this “execution”…the most ardent ceremony of Surrealism. The story is completed by the one made to me by the painter Matta:

It was one evening at ten o’clock. At the Parisian home of the poet Joyce Mansour.

For this “major” occasion, in reality unique, some of those expelled from the group were welcome. The whole formed by a hundred subversives. We saw Julien Gracq, for the first and last time in a living room. André Pieyre de Mandiargues was living one of his reconciliations with Bona. Octavio Paz was not yet an ambassador. Nor yet editor of “Vuelta”. Nor yet Nobel Prize winner. Neither Jacques Hérold, “Maltraité de peinture”…

The ceremony begins with the entry of Jean Benoît. Dazzling. Dressed in a suit that is in my lair today. African attire three meters high.

According to him, it represented “the symbolic transfer from the tomb of the Marquis”.

Breton reads five points from the will. With authority, a charm tinged with solemnity…and white hair.

So Benoît takes off his clothes one by one. Will he stay naked? He comments on this analysis and each of the pieces. Sacred striptease. Speech enhanced by his inimitable accent. Massive and Canadian. He is more beautiful than ever. A sort of stammering Raphael. Mimi Parent, his partner, is also the focus. Messaline inspired by Cleopatra. Monitoring everything, an eye on transcendence. The different items pile up on the wall in a preset order. By Mishima? The whole thing becomes a broken monument, full of incomprehensible meaning.

Benoît turns into Simeon, mystic and apostate. He camps like the elevated stylite. And his phallus follows the rhythm and the rut of the text. Which his beloved reads him lovingly. Text by Sade. Obviously. Benoît is so faithfully inspired by the message that his phallus rises properly. Straight and hard. And it lasts, when you expect it. The phallus (or penis) is enclosed in a carved wooden case. Impressive by its size. Less than by its performance. At times when the reading becomes the most exciting, the wooden phallus rises in erection. Breton, according to a bad language, would have said:

—”It is extraordinary, not only Jean Benoît is a visionary painter, but also he erects at will”.

A little hallucinated, he does not see a nylon thread tied to Benoît’s finger that directs the comings and goings of his false phallus and his real desire.

Then Benoît approaches the fireplace. He grabs an iron to mark the horned beasts. His scepter carefully prepared. His rigorously polished sculpture. His memento worked meticulously. With topological precision, as he had composed the four letters of this stem: S A D E. At the crucial moment, he marks himself with a hot iron. The name of the Marquis. At the level of the heart. Emotion and general amazement. The painter Matta, moved, rushes. He takes the iron from Benoît’s hands. With a reel he applies the same mark on his flesh. Both breasts smoke for Sade and for eternity.

For a year Benoît had worked with fervour and enthusiasm his instrument intended to mark the breasts and the spirits. Completely absorbed by his design, he does not realise that instead of S A D E his instrument can only print on the flesh the word E D A S.

Until his death yesterday, he carried on his body a “Sade” tattooed with fire and blood. But the name of the divine Marquis was visible only to him. Facing a mirror.


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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Jean Benoît