Looking for Tracks in Lacan’s “Kant avec Sade”

In 2010 I was invited to take part in a cartel with Filip Geerardyn, Wim Matthys and Elisabeth Van Dam for a close reading of Lacan’s text “Kant with Sade”. In the aftermath of this I wrote this text, which is neither a record of the cartel, nor an attempt to interpret or to summarize Lacan’s text. It is the result of following the tracks that Lacan sets out, more a Deleuzian Rhizome than a logical or critical argument. Following these tracks leads to a dramatic discovery. Lacan’s act of writing is an invitation to work through some crucial questions on ethics (Kant and Freud) rather than to consume Sade’s literature or to consider the case of the French libertine.

Terror, Negation, and Writing, Blanchot’s Reading of Sade

In the middle of the last century, numerous French thinkers were interested in the literary works of D.A.F. de Sade, among them Lacan and Blanchot. Blanchot saw Sade as the ideal writer and this author argues that Blanchot’s assertion was based on a conceptualisation of Sade’s literature as revealing both the materiality and the autonomy of language. According to Blanchot, Sade’s language balances on a border: between the things to which language refers on the one hand, and the content that is normally expressed by language on the other. It is further argued that this balancing act is also reflected in the regime of Terror in France, and the universe described by the Marquis in his writings.

Klossowski’s Laws of Hospitality: A mise-en-scène of the Perverse Structure

A substantial part of Pierre Klossowski’s philosophical writings is dedicated to the works of Marquis de Sade, but Sade’s influence can also be traced in his literary and visual oeuvre. In his play Roberte, ce soir, Klossowski dramatizes scholarly Octave’s quest for the ultimate realization of his wife Roberte. He wants Roberte to be actualized as the Roberte, Roberte le signe unique. The play shows Octave’s unrelenting attempts to realize a Roberte without lack. He creates his own laws and revises existing theories beyond their limits in order to reach his goal. The author argues, using Lacan, that an analysis of Klossowski’s play Roberte, ce soir reveals the structure of perversion. As Lacan indicates, the pervert disavows castration. He does so by situating himself in the place of the lack for the other, in an attempt to behold the other’s enjoyment. Klossowski’s work, the author argues, can be conceptualized as a dramatic staging of the central issue of the pervert’s relation to the other.

Freud reads Krafft-Ebing: A short Genealogy of Sadism

This contribution presents a reconstruction of the way the concept of sadism was introduced and anchored in psychoanalytic metapsychology. It focusses on the first two editions (1905 and 1910) of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Freud’s singular indebtedness to Krafft-Ebing is emphasized. Subsequently, it is argued that Freud’s selective reading of Krafft-Ebing is determined by his model of hysteria. Freud seems unable to give an adequate account of sadism in his Three Essays and in his later work, sadism remains a conceptual “problem child” becoming an oversimplified passe-partout concept used to discuss the theme of human aggressiveness.

Kant with Sade, Sade with Kant

During the 60s, at a time when many leading philosophers were showing an interest in Sade, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan also wrote an essay on the literary works of the libertine aristocrat D.A.F. de Sade, often called “The Divine Marquis”. That essay, entitled “Kant avec Sade”, is regularly cited but rarely discussed in any depth by philosophers and psychoanalysts, partly as a result of Lacan’s baroque style of writing, his sloppy formulations, and his suggestive language. However, in spite of this, Lacan’s text is worthwhile reading. The central idea is that Sade’s oeuvre reveals the truth of Kant’s moral philosophy. In his article, the author shows that this remarkable thesis can be understood in at least two ways. Moreover, it is also argued that Lacan’s thesis can be read in a reverse direction, although Lacan himself never says that explicitly. It will be shown in the third section that according to Lacan, Kant is the truth of Sade.