from Homo sacer

Agamben, p. 78-79

The pamphlet Make More of an Effort, Frenchmen, if You Want to Be Republicans, read by the libertine Dolmancé in the Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Boudoir, is the first and perhaps most radical biopolitical manifesto of modernity. At the very moment in which the revolution makes birth – which is to say, bare life – into the foundation of sovereignty and rights, Sade stages (in his entire work, and in particular in 120 Days of Sodom) the theatrum politicum as a theater of bare life, in which the very physiological life of bodies appears, through sexuality, as the pure political element. But the political meaning of Sade’s work is nowhere as explicit as it is in this pamphlet, in which the maisons in which every citizen can publicly summon any other citizen in order to compel him to satisfy his own needs emerge as the political realm par excellence. Not only philosophy (Lefort, Écrire, pp. 100-101) but also and above all politics is sifted through the boudoir.

Indeed, in Dolmancé’s project, the boudoir fully takes the place’of the cité, in a dimension in which the public and the private, political existence and bare life change places. The growing importance of sadomasochism in modernity has its root in this exchange. Sadomasochism is precisely the technique of sexuality by which the bare life of a sexual partner is brought to light. Not only does Sade consciously invoke the analogy with sovereign power (“there is no man,” he writes, “who does not want to be a despot when he has an erection”), but we also find here the symmetry between homo sacer and sovereign, in the complicity that ties the masochist to the sadist, the victim to the executioner. Sade’s modernity does not consist in his having foreseen the unpolitical primacy of sexuality in our unpolitical age. On the contrary, Sade is as contemporary as he is because of his incomparable presentation of the absolutely political (that is, “biopolitical”) meaning of sexuality and physiological life itself. Like the concentration camps of our century, the totalitarian character of the organization of life in Silling’s castle – with its meticulous regulations that do not spare any aspect of physiological life (not even the digestive function, which is obsessively codified and publicized) – has its root in the fact that what is proposed here for the first time is a normal and collective (and hence political) organization of human life founded solely on bare life.



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