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The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural…

The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History (original 1978; edition 1992)

by Angela Carter

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Title:The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History
Authors:Angela Carter
Info:Virago Press Ltd (1992), Paperback
Collections:Your library

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The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography by Angela Carter (1978)


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I went into this work thinking that Carter might use De Sade as a framework for the reinvention of the pornographic imagination through the lens of sex positive feminism, but I was a bit off the mark. That said, what Carter is doing here is equally compelling: demonstrating how reading De Sade through a feminist lens can complicate Freudian notions of sexuality and De Sade himself, laying out a blueprint for a truly liberated heroine, in literature but also in the world.

She elegantly highlights De Sade's protofeminist ideas, allowing readers to discover how that is not as strange as it may sound, while also taking De Sade to task for his philosophical shortcomings to such a depth that it takes your breath away. If you have never read De Sade, fear not, because she summarizes his work throughout, which is necessary to properly examine female characters in his work. However, her summaries always arrive at the most wonderful and dazzling conclusions that any reader of De Sade, especially feminist scholars, will appreciate this text and see its echoes in everything, direct or indirect, from Linda Williams to Kathy Acker. This text invaluably recasts De Sade from the mold of a lascivious pornographer to that of an important thinker and philosopher valuable to behold through the eye of modern critical and theoretical traditions. ( )
4 vote poetontheone | Oct 24, 2016 |
The Marquis de Sade may well be more famous for misattributions of the terms ‘sadism’ and ‘sadomasochism’ than for what he actually wrote and thought. For many people who routinely involve an element of pain and/or humiliation in their erotic practices and fantasies, the bloody antics in Sade’s works are simply nauseating. Angela Carter here provides a much needed context for these works, showing that Sade’s view of the world was surprisingly egalitarian for his times, highlighting the gross inequities of class as well as gender. This is a scholarly book, containing much food for thought and contemplation. It provides a secure foundation stone for true feminism, in the sense of seeking true equality of humanity, and not simply a trivial glossy equality with overtones of revenge. Angela Carter was one of the most impressive writers of novels in the last century, and this deeply thinking work impressed me by its insight into what constitutes true equality. This book should interest anyone seeking enlightenment into the psychology that underlies so-called sadomasochistic activities, and indeed also the need for pain, inflicting or inflicted, in many common fantasies. ( )
4 vote CliffordDorset | Feb 27, 2010 |
This book's primary thesis is that the Marquis De Sade is the father of modern feminism. For the uninitiated, De Sade's works are infamous for their depictions of sexual humiliation and cruelty. We get the term 'sadism' from the sex practices he fearlessly explored.

Against all expectation, Carter supports this seemingly absurd thesis in a way that is lucid, reasonable, insightful, and even amusing. It seems there is a gift for women in Donatien's mad sensual rebellion, after all.

I have struggled for some time in trying to review this book, simply because it is still beyond me how anyone could be smart and talented enough to propose something so outlandish, and then to make it seem the most natural thing in the world.

Carter's observations on sexuality, gender, and pornography are as remarkable as Foucault's, with none of the meandering semiotics. Her ability to say precisely what she means, both evocatively and concisely never ceased to impress me.

She also suggests that many commonly accepted aspects of feminism are not only narrow-minded, but counterproductive. For instance: she presents how the popular 'mother goddess' figure is just another way to entrap women into the role of 'baby factory'--even making them proud of their one-dimensional existence. Of course, she says it better than I.

This book was roundly and vehemently criticized by high-ranking feminists when it was published. They could see no way that their plight could possibly be illuminated in the works of any man, let alone a man possessed of a perverse and dehumanizing sexuality.

They were uninterested in looking for a commonality with someone they were so clearly superior to. Contrarily, I would suggest that the more we can connect ourselves to those we instinctively draw away from, the more we will understand about being human.

How can a movement seek to move beyond mere gender definition and call itself 'feminism'? Would we call a movement to erase the delineation between rich and poor 'povertism'?

If the goal of feminism is to remove the discrepancies and prejudices between the sexes, why not name the philosophy after the goal instead of the conflict? 'Humanism' always sounded good to me.

Carter likewise desires to reach beyond barriers, refusing to accept a strict delineation between smut and philosophy. Her willingness to search for insight in the last place expected makes her first unique, and second, revolutionary. It is all too sad that modern sexual theory is still far behind the mark Carter set, it's current vanguard having neither the imagination nor the daring to match her, let alone excel beyond her. ( )
5 vote Terpsichoreus | Jun 9, 2009 |
Really fantastic. An engaging look at female sexuality and power through the eyes of one of Britain's best novelists and one of France's most notorious libertines.

Unlike some theory, Carter's The Sadeian Woman, is a mostly accessible, yet insightful, read. Glue a highlighter to your palm as you read... there is plenty of worthwhile stuff in here, folks. ( )
  bookcrushblog | Aug 5, 2008 |
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Carella, PatriziaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140298614, Paperback)

Sexuality is power. So says the Marquis de Sade, philosopher and pornographer. His virtuous Justine, who keeps to the rules, is rewarded with rape and humiliation; his Juliette, Justine's triumphantly monstrous antithesis, viciously exploits her sexuality.

With brilliance and wit, Angela Carter takes on these outrageous figments of de Sade's extreme imagination and transforms them into symbols of our time: The Hollywood sex goddesses, mothers and daughters, pornography, even the sacred shrines of sex and marriage lie devastatingly exposed before our eyes.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:44 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Angela Carter's highly acclaimed polemic enlisting the Marquis de Sade in an argument about women's sexual freedom 'Sexuality is power' - so says the Marquis de Sade, philosopher and pornographer extraordinaire. His virtuous Justine keeps to the rules laid down by men, her reward rape and humiliation; his Juliette, Justine's triumphantly monstrous antithesis, viciously exploits her sexuality. In a world where all tenderness is false, all beds are minefields. But now Sade has met his match. With invention and genius, Angela Carter takes on these outrageous figments of his extreme imagination, and transforms them into symbols of our time - the Hollywood sex goddesses, mothers and daughters, pornography, even the sacred shrines of sex and marriage lie devastatingly exposed before our eyes. Angela Carter delves into the viscera of our distorted sexuality and reveals a dazzling vision of love which admits neither of conqueror nor of conquered.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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