Friday, 4 November 2016

The 120 Days of Sodom

More p0rn to prise you away from your favourite dens of iniquity... Penguin's recently published edition of the 120 Days of Sodom is currently an Amazon UK bestseller, and I'm rather pleased that such an unhinged work of debauched imagination has joined the cannon of classics. I read the bulk of the 120 Days in my early teens, courtesy of  Arrow Books' 1990 edition, the novel, along with Naked Lunch, Crash and Last Exit to Brooklyn, was one of those transgressive works I was eager to investigate. But enthusiasm soon gave way to boredom, and the book’s wayward plotting, unrelenting repetition and Sade’s penchant for exhaustive detail eventually led to my abandoning the book after some 500 pages.

And yet… I find myself intrigued once again by the 120 Days. So much cultural water has passed under the bridge in the intervening years I feel much better placed now to tackle the novel which has been marinated with all sorts of interesting personal connections - I’ve seen the Pasolini film, Peter Brook’s 1966 film Marat/Sade, the Sade-influenced films of Jess Franco, and there are the odd stray references that I enjoy - Peter Cushing possessed by the spirit of the Marquis in the 1966 film The Skull, the cameo appearance of the 120 Days of Sodom in Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart, as well as the titular reference of the 1981 Nurse With Wound/Whitehouse collaboration album 150 Murderous Passions.

Another interesting connection emerges with this latest edition of the novel, thanks to Penguin’s design team who have selected Man Ray’s 1933 photograph Monument à D.A.F. de Sade for the book cover. Ray’s photograph reflects two of Sade’s obsessions – the anti-Christian sentiment of the inverted crucifix, and Marquis’ predilection for anal sex. The photograph was re-staged for Coil’s 1984 debut album Scatology, which in turn reflected Coil’s interest in the occult and male sexuality. There’s a pleasing symmetry at work here: Coil sampled dialogue from Salò on the Scatology-era track Homage to Sewage, while the album itself contains some Sadean liner notes – a fictional sexual encounter between two men written to accompany the track The Sewage Worker's Birthday Party.

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