Marquis de Sade, La nouvelle Justine; ou, Les malheurs de la vertue (1797), Vol. 7, pp. 108-109

An intense inflammation excites to an extraordinary degree the animal spirits that flow into the nerve tubes which, in turn, induce pleasure. If the inflammation occurs on the genitals or nearby parts, this explains the pleasures imparted by blows, stabbings, pinches or floggings. From the extreme influence of the mental on the physical comes likewise the painful or agreeable shock of the animal spirits, by reason of the mental sensation one receives. From all this it follows that with such principles and philosophy--with the total annihilation of prejudice--one can extend unbelievably (as we have said elsewhere) the sphere of one's sensations.

Pain and pleasure become removed from a discourse of the soul; reward and punishment are meaningless. This radical sensibility locates feeling exclusively in the body, subordinating the ethical to the physical. If sensibility sometimes seems to believe in the possibility of community achieved through similarities in the physical apprehension of feeling, Sade provides a map for a radical egalitarianism complicated by classed differences in the subtlety of an individual's nervous system. Everyone feels, though some feel more than others. Some are better suited (as are Sade's libertines) to lord over others' sensibility via pain. The transvaluation of values becomes less a matter of will than of simple biological fact.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography