If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very soul *

Through his telescopic observations of the novel, Sade discovered that structural perversion – up to but not exceeding the form’s extreme limit – provided the route to the exemplary document. Hence, catalogue rather than story, saturation rather than development, exhaustion rather than experience, and evil, copious evil, much much more than you’d think the form could bear. But not so, and therefore why?
Well, because the stinking crime that is organised on the pages is at every turn expounding its intrinsic irony: that it is exclusively imaginary; that its power, however oppressive, is superseded by the structural demands of the document; that those demands cannot be fully met in any other way.
Through these radical errors, Sade successfully distilled the 'bliss' of literature. And as an attempt at the last word in exemplification it was also a bid for sole exception, for countermand.

Proust’s reply to Sade was necessarily longer since his was the burden of counter-argument: that the exemplary novel might (also) be forged from a bonding of introspection and detailed social motive; that ironic incident (of this kind) rather than evil plan could crystallise the novel’s equivalency for an essential architecture of the evolved brain; that a new machine might therefore be assembled to celebrate its own peculiarly miraculous movement.

And Shakespeare’s (other) Moor, Aaron’s rounding of his evil life with a conscientious scan of the record for any speck of unwanted decency is, like Sade’s crime-saturation and Proust’s empirical introspection, a usable irony for policing the sheer surfaces of the artistic endeavour.

Fergal Stapleton 2010

*Aaron, Titus Andronicus  V (iii)


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