A FaculTEA is a chance for faculty, especially those coming out of sabbatical, to make their research accessible to students.
Thursday, November 1st 2012
Dr. Fouad Kalouche, Philosophy:
“Power, Difference and Ethics of Transformation: The Philosophy of the Marquis de Sade”
Library Group Study Room A/B
Power, Difference and Ethics of Transformation: The Philosophy of the Marquis de Sade
Dr. Fouad Kalouche, Philosophy
In the presentation of the work undertaken during my sabbatical, I will consider the development of Sade’s philosophy chronologically, from his earlier writings to his later work, and I will describe it in terms of an “ethics of transformation” where power and difference interact in ways privileging both singularity and multiplicity. My primary aim will be to introduce Sade’s material ontology (encompassing nature, culture, the sexuated world, and the unbounded world) and to emphasize his reassessment of sociality and its foundations (time and the other). That reassessment is based on the over-valuation of the reality of movement and change and on the under-valuation of the social reality of human institutions and belief systems.
Reality for Sade is an indeterminate multiplicity constantly in flux (the unbounded world) that englobes various pockets of differences—including social and political ontologies (like the sexuated world that Sade describes as his social reality, built on the power of reducing differences). Sade describes practices of self-transformation that unleash, proliferate, and intensify passions while undermining sociality and its corresponding (internalized) subjectivity. These ascetic practices (involving habituation, through repetition and the use of imagination, representations, and physical and affective activities) culminate in various forms of apathy (corresponding to different forms of self-subjectivization) and allow for experiencing jouissance (the opening of a momentary chiasm with the unbounded world) while getting closer to “becoming chaos.” Juliette’s journey in L’Histoire de Juliette  is described as such a transformation, and her way of living and relating to the world exemplifies an ethics of transformation.
One of Sade’s philosophical contributions is his analysis of power as the reduction of difference. The early Sade of Les Cent Vingt Journées de Sodome [1782-1785] depicted the power of the “sexuated world” as relationality between victims and victimizers, dupes and fripons, interests and advantages. Violence is at the basis of the sexuated world where impunity and invisibility are guaranteed by power and money. Sade is critical of that kind of social power that consolidates itself by reducing difference. At the same time, his early strategic and reactive position does call for a simple choice: be a rogue or a dupe, a Juliette or a Justine. This stance changes, however, as he starts elaborating on his ethics of transformation in L’Histoire de Juliette—where he describes natural, cultural, and sexuated worlds while privileging practices of “disappearance” in the unbounded world.
What Sade’s philosophy contests is not merely general beliefs and universals (produced by religious, moral, social, political, and economic institutions) but the stabilizing “identity,” both metaphysical and social (sexual, political, religious, etc.), at the foundation of power in all its reductive forms. Sade’s philosophy engages with the building blocks of metaphysical being and social stability: time, approached linearly, and the other, constructed as a transcendent foundation of self and sociality. The premise of this radical way of thinking is a form of “active nihilism” that both presupposes and contests the social construction of all set meanings and values, a construction infused with power—cultural, political, and economic. The constitution of the social world consists of various processes of transformation associated with the reduction and/or proliferation of differences—as singularities. In a preliminary reactive period, Sade attacks the transcendent structures upholding social values (associated with the religion, morality, politics, and legal framework of the time) in the name of “Nature”—approached as constant movement. Initially, this nature is set as a simulacrum for transformation and becoming and is declared a non-anthropomorphic measure of possible values. In time, Sade moves farther away from transcendence to affirm an immanence of transformation and becoming—instead of having the representation of nature function as their marker. The “disorder” he starts by ascribing to nature progressively becomes an indeterminate chaos, an irreducible multiplicity, and/or an englobing reality within which flourish pockets of transformative worlds of forces, including those privileging power and difference.
This englobing reality does not determine singularities, however; only the human world can and does imprint a “second nature” onto subjectivities through acquired habits that develop into tastes and passions. Sade does remind us that this human world is always already determined and made up of practices and significations that construct subjectivities but that, at the same time, also make transformation and self-subjectivization possible! This is quite relevant to contemporary philosophical approaches—like those of Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and many others—that seriously engage with the ontological production of the social and that try to reconcile the multiplicity at the basis of reality with an ethical-political engagement!