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The Violence of Politeness: Implicit Bienséance in the Sadian Universe

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-88
JournalEarly Modern French Studies
Issue number1

King's Authors


This article draws a distinction between implicit and explicit forms of violence in Sade's work. It employs Barthes's concept of the neutral to demonstrate that implicit violence is a more creative and nuanced way for Sade to force his readers to bend to his will. This technique relies on the concept of Sadian politeness as a kind of bienséance, in keeping with ideas of eighteenth-century doxa. Sade delineates the parameters of acceptable discourse in libertinage, and takes offence when these are crossed. The article goes on to argue that Sade's displays of explicit violence are defunct and impotent rhetorical devices which do not render credible his revolutionary credentials. Both the implicit and explicit forms of violence in his work thus show Sade to be, simply, a bon élève of the Enlightenment.

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