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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Not recommended reading for the squeamish. Nope.

Somewhere on Reddit yesterday, I stumbled over a conversation about fetishes (go figure), and someone questioned whether fetishes had become more disturbing in recent times, especially with the advent of the internet. Another member replied: no, go take a look at the Marquis de Sade classic 120 Days of Sodom.

My curiosity was piqued. Sure, I'd heard of 120 Days of Sodom, but I'd never thought to read it. I knew there was a terrible Italian film adaptation from the 1970's that was explicit enough to be scandalous and censored everywhere, but that's so de rigueur for the 70's. I guess I figured the book couldn't be all that bad if someone had made a movie of it. If you read the synopsis in the wiki entry about the movie it seems kinda rough, but I've been on the internet for over 15 years (long enough that 2 Girls 1 Cup wasn't particularly shocking), so it didn't seem like anything new. The original Marquis de Sade book is from 1785. How bad can it be? I mean, I read Needful Things when I was ten. Clive Barker? Whatever. American Psycho? Sure. I got through Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door with only a slight gritting of teeth toward the end.

...Ah, no. No. If you're good at translating text to pictures in your head, it's bad. WOW. It's ... wwwwwow.

Basically 120 Days contains every horrible sexually depraved thing I've ever read or seen, and then goes further. It opens with incest and child molestation and then heads south at a jaunty pace whistling Dixie. No serial killer in the world has bested this list of obscenities, and I know this because, like every silly goth in the 1990's, I devoured information about serial killers. At one point, de Sade all but describes the exact cannibalistic modus operandi of Jack the Ripper -- more than a century before he first ripped! The plotline of the godawful Saw movies is pretty much laid out. Miike's Audition. Hannibal Lecter. The misadventures of Kenneth Pinyan in Enumclaw. Tortures that would make Jeffrey Dahmer cringe. The stuff on the internet that gets people arrested when it's found on their computers. It's all there, only with 3000% more coprophagia.

The book is divided into four parts (The four months from November through February), in which four aging prostitutes tell tales of their most horrifying exploits to inspire acts of sexual violence by four protagonists on dozens of virgin children. They tell a total of 600 tales, I think. Each part is steadily more depraved*. Only November's narration and activities are written out in full -- de Sade never got to finish the rest (to "flesh it out," as it were), so the remainder is in note form, which is actually a bit more stomach-turning to read, because there are no linking sentences to cushion the list of increasingly over-the-top fetishes. It's kind of ridiculous and comedic for a while, and then you feel sort of repulsed, but by the time you're at the end it almost veers back into laughable territory because you've been repulsed for so long. Almost. I had to start skimming during the second part at the point when it turned into all feces, all the time, and it pretty much stayed that way until the end. Here's a disgusting sadistic murderous sexual act! Wait for it ... and then a poop on top!

Marquis de Sade. Sir. You were born a year before Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations, you have been dead for nearly two centuries, and that was so, so awful, even for a reader who has been on the internet for a long time. I didn't know the extent of it! I am impressed. That is some very literal fucked-up shit.

(I admit I did not see the plot of The Human Centipede in there, but it would not surprise me in the least to discover it was buried in those final lists that I only flicked through.)

Of course, it's well out of copyright, so you can find a pdf of an English translation online on the first page of a Google search if you want to see for yourself. I'm not linking to it.

I've not read Fifty Shades of Grey, and I have no desire to do so, but just the thought of it makes me laugh now.

* There is a moment of respite for the modern reader when he enumerates in the third part a bunch of fetishes that are blasphemous in nature. Back in the day, sex in a church was apparently more shocking than eating vast amounts of excrement. The more you know.