Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Denying Authorship: Sade and the Censor

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Denying Authorship: Sade and the Censor

Article excerpt

It is hardly disputable that some forms of censorship exist even in countries where freedom of speech is a constitutional right. As Jacques Derrida reminds us, "censorship does not consist . . . in reducing one to absolute silence. It is enough that it limits the range of addressees or of exchanges in general" (12).(1) In his article, Derrida analyzes Kant's concept of censorship, and makes it clear that censorship is not a practice that belongs only to the past; as a matter of fact, he uses Kant's texts on the question to shed light on the relation of censorship to institutions today, and in particular that of the university. Derrida stresses in particular the question of the limit, which he sees as constitutive of censorship: "Whenever a discourse, even if it is not forbidden, cannot find the conditions of a presentation or of an unlimited public discussion, one may speak, however excessive it may sound, of an effect of censorship" (12).(2) In that sense, censorship, at least in some of its forms, is not strictly incompatible with freedom of speech. It is not in principle separated from that right, or perhaps more precisely, it is built within that right.

Indeed, since censorship poses the question of the limit, it is worth noticing that censorship is not always happening from the outside, intruding or encroaching on the domain of free speech. A certain restraint in one's discourse may be deemed necessary, the limit being drawn in that case within the discourse itself (and not between the discourse and a censorious agency that would limit its availability or suppress part of it). Self-censorship is a way of internalizing this censorious agency by setting limits on one's discourse, of checking oneself by repressing of one's own accord what it is felt cannot be expressed or studied.

The example of Sade's works, rigorously censored during his lifetime and after, is significant in that respect.(3) For Sade's detractors as well as those who admire his works, be they Sade's or our own contemporaries, point out that Sade's discourse is not self-restrained, has not drawn the limit. At the end of the eighteenth century in post-revolutionary France, at a time when slogans advocating unlimited freedom of the press had gained currency, Sade's project of "saying everything" was vindicated in its claim, yet felt too far-ranging by some. One of Sade's contemporaries, the noble emigre Charles de Villers, writes for example of Justine ou les malheurs de la vertu, one of Sade's works which created the most scandal at the time, that "it is one of the strongest arguments against the unlimited freedom of the press" (Laugaa-Traut 74, emphasis mine). Even among those who have publicly expressed admiration for Sade's works, a similar concern is voiced, as appears for example in the case of Jean-Jacques Pauvert, tried in 1957 for having published Sade's work. During the trial, Pauvert's lawyer, Maurice Garcon, agreed that "while books are the noble vehicle of thought, and freedom of speech is an unimpeachable right . . ., still the enjoyment of this right is not unlimited" (L'Affaire Sade 125, emphasis mine).(4) The context in which such an opinion is held is no doubt conducive to self-censorship, yet this assertion strikingly articulates again the congruence to some extent, or precisely within certain limits, of the right to speak and the restriction of this right. We are here still within the terms of Derrida's view of censorship, for an institution (such as the institution of publishing) both recognizes and delineates the "unlimited" right to speak. Turning now to Sade's relation to the censor and his response to the accusation of a lack of self-restraint, it will become apparent that Sade does not so much put in question the setting of limits as such, as much as he displaces them, problematizing in particular the extent of an author's participation in a text, which the censor always assumes to be unlimited. Instead of drawing a limit in his discourse, Sade will argue that a text cannot be unlimitedly attributed to an author. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.