This essay stresses the intense relationship between the concept of perversion expressed by Pierre Klossowski and the notion of hospitality which the French thinker unfolds in an extraordinary narrative trilogy. This is shown in the impulsive nature of Klossowski’s approach where he investigates Sade’s work and Nietzsche’s posthumous writings. Sade’s apathetic relationship with his victim and Nietzsche’s aimless philosophy typical of the vicious circle are the main sources of the perverse monogamy rendered by the philosopher-writer in his “Laws of Hospitality”.
Who is Klossowski?
Pierre Klossowski, artist, writer, philosopher, son of Erich Klossowski de Rola and Baladine Klossowska, was born on 9th August 1905 in Paris and was 96 years old when he died on 12th August 2001. His father was an art critic and painter like his mother, who was also a student of Bonnard, and Rilke’s lover. His brother Balthasar was born in 1908 and became a famous painter under the name of Balthus (who died in 2001).
In 1934 he met such figures as Georges Bataille (editor of the important journal Critique), André Masson, Roger Caillois, and Maurice Heine and took part in the foundation of the Collège de Sociologie. He also published articles in the journal Acéphale and began reading Nietzsche until the end of 1969. After a journey to Lyon, he became imbued with religious questionings and decided in favour of a monastic life. After spending several years as a seminarian in order to find a solution to his religious troubles, he returned to Paris in 1943, thanks to his tutor André Gide’s advice. Here he met Bataille again and gave lectures on Nietzsche. This period was important for his translation of Biblical Meditations by Johann Georg Hamann. The following year, his first edition of Sade mon prochain (1947) was published and met with both enthusiasm and scandal. As a result, from a theological-religious point of view, he felt emotionally troubled and published the novel La vocation suspendue (1950). During this period, he also devoted himself to drawing, using only black lead. At the same time, he became an accomplished translator of Nietzsche, Suetonius, Klee, Wittgenstein, Rilke and Heidegger, who were his main interests.
His second novel Roberte ce soir (1954) was to characterize all of his subsequent activity; two years later Le bain de Diane was published. Klossowski continued drawing and exhibited his works in a small private exhibition. In 1959 he published another novel, La Révocation de l’Edit de Nantes, and the following year Le souffleur which, together with Roberte ce soir, would form the erotic trilogy Les lois de l’hospitalité (1965). Later, he wrote Le Baphomet and translated Aeneid into French. In 1963 he stayed in Rome, perhaps because of the fact that Balthus was appointed manager of Villa Medici, and published philosophical and literary essays such as Un si funeste désir. Nietzsche et le cercle vicieux (1969). At the same time he joined the group comprised of Deleuze, Lyotard and Foucault, whom he considered his best critics. Alongside this, he completed La monnaie vivante (1970), a volume made in collaboration with the producer Pierre Zucca, who was responsible for the photographic section. Klossowski played the role of the main character in the film Roberte interdite by Zucca, which was inspired by the novel Roberte ce soir. In the 1970s he was mainly engaged in artistic activity. He was labelled a “non modernist” painter because of the academic (denatured) peculiarity of his works, and his life-size tableaux vivants have been exhibited all over the world. Thanks to his approach, Sade and Nietzsche reveal their impulsive and philosophical depths. Also, thanks to Klossowski, the notion of simulacrum has been placed at the heart of the aesthetical debate, and its obviously false character has been exposed. He defined himself as a “monomaniac”, a “maker of images”, precisely for the reiterative nature of his works, which fell under the influence of the Nietzschean vicious circle, that peculiar inexpressible feeling, the impulsive core that he had characterized as the “unique sign” of his thought.
Klossowski: an Enigmatic Monomaniac
Sexuality and philosophy seem to be more mutually imbricate in Klossowski than in any other writer, philosopher and artist, and their interaction leads to unexpected results. Nothing morbid or incongruous in this attraction may be ascribed to the hidden desire of urging emotions to their climax, or stunning erotic utopia. Such polarization is never meant to arouse any sense of derision because of the eccentric idea of providing a contact between an organic experience, in which a subject reaches his mental peak as high as it is satisfying, and a way of thinking which stands for detachment, peace of mind and common sense—in other words, a philosophical life in terms of a reconciliation of opposites (Marroni 1999).
Clearly, such a tendency, in line with French philosophical thought, goes beyond any spiritualistic assumption or peculiar organic aims. Both philosophy and sexuality stem from a sort of excess, so that the former longs to be something more than a mere Apollonian thought, while the latter pursues a deeper condition than that of a meeting between instrumental organs. On the one hand, from a philosophical perspective, this excess is exemplified in a desire to become material; on the other hand, on a sexual level, it strives to attain an extreme cognitive goal. In other words, philosophy and sexuality trace a connection in an enigmatic dimension, almost a kind of suspension of their very essence and expression, a sort of indistinct trait which combines them but at the same time distinguishes them.
Alain Arnaud (1990) claims that enigma pervades Klossowski’s philosophy, but it is still an enigma intertwined with mystery and secrecy. No matter how ambiguously Klossowski conceals a manifest secret, he cannot be regarded as an enigmatic thinker. In this sense, Arnaud highlights the stunning feature of this apparent mysteriousness, which is not based on any dichotomy opposing secrecy to clear manifestation. Characteristically, there is no obscurity or the slightest quest for origins and, above all, no ambiguous thought affects his reflections, but rather a sense of indecision characterizes all his works, which continually offer different (enigmatic) versions of hospitality. From this follows another general conclusion: Klossowskian enigma cannot be seen as the enigmatic trait which pervades Heidegger’s later philosophy, since the German philosopher applies the principle of one’s own inward being, in contrast with Klossowski’s vision (Perniola 1983, p. 59).
In order to sense how emotional nuances become the sources of philosophical meaning, it is essential to understand Klossowski’s intellectual and religious experiences—even though they are enigmatic and imply a simultaneity of perspectives—as well as the way he defined himself when he claimed to be neither a writer, nor a philosopher, nor an artist, but, first and foremost, a monomaniac. Such an affirmation unfolds his ambiguity, inasmuch as his three ways of being (writer, philosopher, artist) are in open contrast with his monomaniac nature. In other words, a dynamic sense is introduced into the image of the artist and his activities, and consequently in relation to only one fact, that is, monomania, which acquires different meanings under various conditions. This monomania is nothing but that “unique sign” whose forms he experiences and to which he refers in a very dense philosophic article, annexed as an Afterward to the volume Lois de l’hospitalité (1965). In this context, his work seems to be enigmatic because he makes wide and substantial use of the same theme, i.e. laws of hospitality.
Not only the thought and works of this philosopher but the man himself are enigmatic, because he is essentially indistinct and uncertain. But one must bear in mind the fact that partaking in enigma, or indistinctiveness, does not entail a static condition of immobility due to the incapability of naming things or re-emerging from a useless train of thoughts. On the contrary, Klossowskian enigma is highly strategic and operative since it aims at setting thoughts free and provides the possibility of attributing a single concrete fact, notion or phenomenon with contrasting and conflicting interpretations within a floating and rapidly changing world. In such a case, enigma remains largely the cause of principium individuationis’ rejection as well as of incommunicability, since indistinct difference becomes an opening easy to refer to and define. There are two highly relevant articles on this topic which paved the way for studies on Klossowski’s works in the sixties. Michel Foucault’s book La prose d’Actéon (1964) and Maurice Blanchot’s work Le rire des dieux (1965) stand as two reflections of special value on the enigmatic aspects which characterize the writings of the philosopher of hospitality. The demon, Foucault says, is not the Other, the opposite pole to God, but rather an estrangement which actually reveals itself as the Same, the exactly Similar. Klossowski seeks to enlighten us with an experience which is achieved only at the cost of the most extreme abstraction: “imperceptible difference in the Same, is the source of an infinite movement”. In order to express this concept, Klossowski uses the word simulacrum, meaning to come together, because it evokes the Same and the Other at the same time (Foucault suggests a series of words referring to simulacrum, such as simile, simultaneity, simulation and dissimulation). In essence, simulacrum says everything simultaneously and even simulates the opposite of what it endlessly defines. What is most remarkable is that Blanchot echoes Foucault in affirming that the identity principle in Klossowski is abolished without making room for the dialectic of contraries. Furthermore, following Blanchot, the negative pole is not what contrasts with the same anymore, “but the pure simile, the infinite distance and insensitive exclusion”.
Nietzsche and the Aimless Circle
Both laws of hospitality and laws of perversion intersect in two philosophers central to Klossowski’s thought, namely, Sade and Nietzsche.
The particular orientation of thought is linked with the perversion of the body. This fact is all the more true when Nietzsche’s approach to experience is traced back to Sade’s practice and vice-versa. Klossowski’s writings, Sade mon prochain (1967b) and Nietzsche et le cercle vicieux (1969), must be read in a circular way, as if Nietzsche could not be fully understood without beginning with his celebration of crime, and as if Sade could only see the accomplishment of his theory in the Nietzschean vicious circle. Perversion and the vicious circle seem to be fused together because they are accomplices to the same brutal crime of eliminating every sign of stability in a subject. Only thanks to God’s death, Klossowski says, and the abolition of the “I” that is identical with itself, we can grasp the tragic and humoristic sense of the vicious circle. As a general principle, along with the enumeration of impulses connected to Nietzsche’s sick body, which suffered from a sort of obscurity, owing to the process of de-rationalization deriving from the vicious circle, and the analysis of folly, we are confronted with “the thought of thoughts”. Any attempt to understand thought by neglecting the philosopher’s personal experience or his pilgrimages as a result of his sickness, is bound to fail. Thus, it is equally vain to investigate Nietzsche’s bodily vibrations through the analytical tools of Western rationalism. The distinctive way in which Klossowski philosophically interprets this crucial aspect will become obvious if we accept that impulsional semiotics must replace the semiotics of consciousness. In other words, we should emphasize the extraordinary concision and compactness between the motif of comprehension, mental discourse and the throbs of bodily pleasure. As a result, the sickly condition broadens the boundaries of the consciousness, or, rather, totally overcomes them, emerging in its aspect of delirium, as the clearest of thoughts. “From the experience of Eternal Return, seen as the definite end of the irreversible–Klossowski (1969, p. 55) writes–a new version of casualty emerges, that is, the Vicious Circle, which suppresses sense and purpose”. The unchangeable and stable phenomena decay, “the body is not considered as belonging to the “I” yet, but rather a place of connection with impulses” (Ivi, p.56), as Klossowski remarks. The “I” lacks all form of hegemony and appears discontinuous: I am no longer myself and assume all the historical names, in order to be myself again and discover renewal, in a moment of revelation, which is always different and continuously shifting. “I’m no longer myself in the moment in which I have the sudden revelation of the Eternal Return […] nothing here is like the Vicious Circle once and for all”(Ivi, p. 94).
What is the link among consciousness, the “I” and the doctrine of simulacrum that Nietzsche wants to convey? Is the vicious circle appropriate to analyze the consciousness? We may assume a connection between thought and bodily suffering, and a relationship between Eternal Return and cephalea, which Nietzsche discusses in his letters to Gast, Overbeck and his mother between 1879 and 1881. But at the same time, as Klossowski himself seems to admit, Nietzsche disregards this equation to the extent that any analysis of the most obscure, hidden bodily parts, reveals an undecipherable language that the consciousness misinterprets: “the body wants to be understood—Klossowski writes—through a language that the consciousness deciphers wrongly: It is a code of signs which inverts, falsifies and filters all that it expresses through the body” (Ivi, p.52). Precisely such an approach is needed by the consciousness which seeks to detach the body from its impulses, because the self is unable to preserve its stable condition within the limits of this unity. On the basis of this impending threat, a new struggle emerges between codes of everyday signs, which require uniformity and correspondence between statements and the rules of the game, and the casual meeting of impulses, which reveals the absence of a shared code of signification. In Klossowski’s work La Ressemblance (1984), incompatibility among codes is expounded according to the folly behind any choice which does not see them both paradoxically implied in the same event: on the one hand, a code of everyday signs subject to an ineluctable logic is not in contrast with resemblance, and on the other, a unique sign is seen as a form of monomania, precisely the same motif reiterated in different places, as exemplified by Roberte, the main enigmatic character of the trilogy Les lois de l’hospitalité. If the fact that the unique sign cannot be communicated by folly, it is equally folly to give up this feature in order to abandon oneself to the world, since this sign affects our freedom of action. Thus, we have an experimental method of applying a notion aimed at rescuing one from madness while achieving a unique status of strong impulses in a perspective of mutual respect for the world’s customs. This notion is called valant pour, an equivalent of basic in-communicability in its simultaneous showing and concealing. Therefore, Nietzsche’s dilemma is: “Either you become a fool or you create an equivalent of your folly” (1967a). He opted for the second solution rather than falsifying or disguising the Eternal Return. The vision remains non-communicated because of the discontinuous effects of his folly, which alternates the delirious state of thinking himself all the names in history with Nietzsche’s body that is a biographical individuality subjected to a unique and fatal event. In this respect, illness is present in his most lucid thoughts which experienced the vision of the vicious circle and witnessed the affirmation of fatum, in the sense of amor fati, especially since the world has turned into a fairy-tale.
Sade’s Perverse Apathy
According to Klossowski, Sade’s interpretation is not determined by a nullifying will or the concept of disincarnation expressed by Georges Bataille. The latter illustrates the Sadian character who reaches a climax and gains his sovereignty by “denying other people’s reality”. From the point of view of the philosopher of hospitality, a more complex notion and practice of eroticism prevails, which is always oriented towards incarnation. Far from identifying with the first edition of Sade mon prochain (1947) and, indeed, underlining the value of the 1967 edition which featured the remarkable conference Le philosophe scélérat, Klossowski makes an interesting reflection regarding Sade’s thoughts, which are, in a manner of speaking, mirror-like, or rather contrary to the Wagnerian Hegelianism conveyed in his 1947 version.
Paradoxically, Sade is seen as the supporter of those institutions permeated with repressive structures that the Marquis himself wished to subvert. In essence, here we see the mode of interpretation of Sade’s so-called nihilism that Klossowski aims to subvert: if a perverse person has to present his abnormalities, he must abolish any boundaries of a moral, religious and social nature. His monstrosity should be given free rein—otherwise he will not be able to realise his destiny, which is to commit every kind of wicked action which derives from God Himself, since he was the first who did violence. Therefore, the Sadian subject’s consciousness is characterized by a strong sense of destruction. The more his violent deeds have a destructive effect, the more he opens up a desert of which he is the supreme ruler. Such a pattern of rational negation, Klossowski says, is employed by the atheistic critics of theology: God must be denied at all costs with the use of reason and deprived of any support which justifies His existence. Besides, if society is rooted in wickedness, this means that God does not exist or, if He does, is the one responsible for wicked deeds.
On the basis of this celebration of destructive perversion, Klossowski’s vision is more and more problematic, and acquires the sense of a radical questioning that appears in the Avertissement: “Once released from God, which atheism declares to be nothing, is this thought supposed to be free from nothingness? Would its freedom be even for …nothing?” (Ivi, p.11). What is most remarkable is the fact that by showing the monstrosity of Sade’s characters in relation to his Stimmung, Klossowski stresses the need to convey abnormalities, in the sense that the unique sign of perversion is provided with the “code of everyday signs”. At first, Sade’s thinking seems to be a dialectic movement where, denying negation, the perverse person moves freely in the purity of crime. From here Klossowski overturns this first belief with the publication of Le philosophe scélérat, in which he elaborates new theoretical points: 1) rational atheism derives from monotheist rules; 2) Sade’s aim is not to reach a condition of sovereignty, but rather to destroy it; 3) Sade makes atheism a religion of total monstrosity; 4) such a religion requires an asceticism, that is, an apathetic reiteration of acts; 5) from here Sade illustrates again the divine feature of monstrosity—divine in the sense that his “real presence” appears through rites, and repeated acts; 6) in Sade monstrosity is not released by atheism but vice-versa. These points reveal a totally new evaluation of Sade’s thought and practice, in which atheism emerges as a simple overturning of monotheism, since it is total monstrosity that must be realised, and not the sovereignty of the subject, as a real presence in everyday life as well as in social customs. As the perverse person cannot exist without the victim, in the same way he cannot help disobeying moral laws, since monstrosity would have no effects otherwise. This new typology of discourse tends to privilege the subtle strategy that Sade applies to focus on the monster’s idiosyncrasies. Essential to these figures is a distinctive feature that is not the destruction of any obstacle, but the habit of thought focused on the positive evaluation of the institutional reality structured by an oppressive system of information, seen as a mediator between the strange code of perversion and everyday signs, in other words of the community. The problem in Sade lies in not isolating characters because of their romantic and ineffectual folly, but conferring a rational pattern reason to abnormalities. How can such a penetration be organised on a social scale? Can the perverse person be accepted if he conveys his monstrosity with the same abnormal images depicted in his consciousness? It seems impossible. As a matter of fact, we are again reminded of Klossowski’s motif, in the overcoming of the dialectic and romantic stage, related to an affirmative consideration of fellow-men and institutions, whether they may seem moral, religious or even literary. The whole problematic is not concentrated within the limits of the victim in terms of the object of the perverse person’s furious desire, whose wicked game is devoted to destruction, because in place of it we have the chance to apply a wide range to abnormalities in order to keep monstrosity as it actually is. It is characteristic that these monstrous phenomena are complete only by relying on their reiteration in an apathetic way, in the sense of being an “unparticipating participation”. Thus, the conventional object’s enjoyment preserves the abnormal status of the subject since it is his ultimate chance of manifestation. The apathetic reiteration of the act of perversion does not annihilate reality, but uses it to elevate the idea of monstrosity to a ritual that is void of an ultimate purpose, where, though the conventional aspects are deprived of their effective value, they are nevertheless retained since this deprivation would be incommunicable without the object itself whose values are considered eternally stable. The ritual that the sadist performs on the victim’s body needs the world of conventions in order to destroy its rational norms. In other words, the reality of falsity must be recognized by asserting a counter-generality within the generality itself. Institutional norms may be positively conserved, but at the same time they are seen as objects of derision. May sodomy, which Klossowski sees as the key sign of perversion, be considered a ridiculous preservation of sexual intercourse because it is absolutely unproductive from a social point of view? Is it not the same prohibition which supervises such a prohibitive act, or, more precisely, the moral convention which forbids its practice? Klossowski also adds that “it is the necessary reason for it”, since Sade sees the monster’s life as intimately linked with censorship. In other words, how could Sade have conveyed his obsessions, his character’s events, if he had not exploited the logically structured language of literary tradition? “Sade—Klossowski declares—sees counter-universality as already present in the existing universality, not in order to criticize institutions, but rather to show they guarantee the success of acts of perversion” (Ivi, p.34). To justify this hypothesis, he argues that if the victim did not belong to himself first of all, or rather, if he was not that “self” renamed as belonging and by consequence easy to expropriate, the appropriation of the victim by the executioner would not be conceivable. Furthermore, an apathetic ritual of the perverse person would be equally unlikely if the self and the body could not be split. As Klossowski underlines, in the majority of cases, the most wicked crime is not intended to inflict bodily insult continually, but to detach the body from its self until the perverse person can act out his process of depersonalisation, that is, feel another’s body as if it were his and give his body to the other. The self must not be annihilated but led to extreme mockery and deprived of a stable metaphysics. For this reason, a quest for self-instability and the possessive shift from a subject of transgression (however abnormal) to a conventional object (in this sense a normative one) seem to be at the basis of the positive exploitation of institutional laws, which are kept alive in order to be mocked.
It could be said that there are two notions the French philosopher takes into consideration in his research: perversion and wickedness. Here we have two methods strictly connected by the same internal drive, from an erotic and sexual dimension and from a criminal and deadly one, towards a thinking that inherits their excessive and exasperated characteristics. But perversion and wickedness must be considered as two philosophical activities if they are not to be seen as shameful and negatively branded by society.
As a general principle any un-natural sexual satisfaction is seen as a perversion (Krafft-Ebing 1886). Actually, perversus is the one who “distorts”, and perversitas is the activity of distortion, to upset common ideas. Krafft-Ebing conceives perversion as an act against nature whose effect is the criminal elimination of our organic constitution, while those, on the other hand, who interpret the same notions in an amoral way give it a new sense of transparency, validity and innocence. In this view, on the one hand, ambiguous darkness becomes a clear concept; on the other, the furious raving moves as the active part of reason, and its deadly connotations become the light of philosophical research.
In order to understand more fully the extent to which philosophical learning is upset by the notions of perversion, we need to consider Deleuze’s three ideas of the philosopher’s identity in Logique du sens (1969). This seminal book, which draws its inspiration from stoicism, makes a distinction between a vertical image of the philosopher, intent on his solitary meditations, and an image in which he is placed in the depths of a cave. However, Deleuze also proposes a third type of thinker, whose power is oriented neither high above nor down below, but is the same as the Stoics’, whose notion of surface offers new philosophical insights. Relying on mythological icons such as Apollo–who stands for the philosopher of the heights and Dionysus connected with the caves—Deleuze sees Hercules as the symbol for the philosopher whose life lies on the surface. Deleuze defines this third kind of thinker as provocative and thus perverted, since he is intent on distorting conventional doctrine that is happily accepted by the scientific community to develop the “superficial” philosophy of the parasite, flea, or louse. And here we see, in the figure of the philosopher focused on a mental experience within the limits of an empty space between depths and heights, a reflection of such a goal of dignifying “surfacing effects” called “images”. This project aimed at subverting Platonism—a program Klossowski and Deleuze share—denies any pure and simple overturning related to Plato’s philosophy in opposite terms. Perversion moves away from its purely sexual-erotic meaning to a philosophical evaluation in the moment it transcends Platonism, debasing its copies-icons and improving the value of the ghostly simulacra Plato himself refers to in the Sophist (236 b, 264 c). Both sexual perversion (an act against nature) and philosophical perversion (an anti-Platonic act) are a dissolute and immoderate effect of dissolution, in the double and fleeting connotation of licentiousness, as well as of decadence, decay, and dissolution. The wicked philosopher proposed by Klossowski is the most occult philosophical figure and therefore characterized by the highest thoughts and the most criminal deeds. If, on the one hand, he is affected by wickedness, on the other, he shows a high sense of philosophy. In a sense, his wickedness is nothing but philosophic, and his thinking completely dissolute. The power of his thoughts lies in the recognition that his wickedness has its limits, for otherwise it would be lost in nothingness. This limit is marked by a Stoic teaching, as exemplified by the perverse person who follows a clear philosophical law typical of Stoic parenetics, i.e. the discipline of apathy. In practice, apathy and its illicit deeds means uninvolved involvement, an unattractive and non-exhaustive passion which pivots on Stoic asceticism. For Klossowski the absence of any pathos, the apathetic reiteration of the perverse deed in Sadian terms, contrasts with orgasm, its analogous function. What matters here is that if orgasm represents a mechanical phenomenon with a determined aim, characterized by a vertical plane as a reaction to boredom, non-participation stands for aimlessness, the loss of any purpose or, rather, the end of any impulsive projections on a pre-ordered goal, however satisfying and decisive they may be. Thus, apathy remains conflicting and is like a process in fieri, where extremes repeatedly meet and depart; on the contrary, orgasm is conciliating, and seals forever an experience and a kind of knowledge. If the perverse person were unaware, hopelessly carried by the wave of his passions, he would become a despicable and condemnable destroyer of any object related to his passion. Paradoxically, bodily asceticism, together with spiritual athleticism, transform him into a real philosopher capable of conceiving ideas. Such a powerful philosophy manifests against normative reason from which it seeks to be liberated, in order to give free play to the drives. All this occurs only if the person has the strength to move from rational atheism to total atheism, that is, from a pure and simple negation of God, who vouches for the responsible self, to the destruction of the concept of humanity through the application of a sign against counter-universality. How can the laws of reason, God and the conscious self, be destroyed if not through a sexual practice that makes the propagation of the species void of significance? In Sade this violation is caused exclusively by sodomy, the peculiar trait of bodily asceticism which is a mockery of any kind of finality. At any rate, it is a mockery that functions merely as an element of the institutional field, since otherwise the whole philosophical project would lose its meaning and end up floating in a void. As Klossowski observes, when Sade refers to his otherwise respectable and high-society characters as “gangrenous villains”, it is for the very fact that he wants to reveal the socially relevant factor that such wicked deeds, which go beyond the extreme limits of excess, are committed by people in public institutions (nobles, financiers, bishops, ministers) as well as in their own dwelling-places (house, country house, palace) and not in secluded places specially chosen for sexual crimes (Klossowski 1974). Thus, the norms of reason can be broken only within reason itself. Similarly, sodomy can only be affirmed by conserving the general principles of the procreative act, so that wickedness finds a fertile terrain in people who are a part of the institution. The sexual asceticism experienced by Sade’s characters belongs to a perverse philosophic field, since it is characterized by hesitation, permanent movement, aimless practice. “[…] Sade wanted to disobey the injurious deed itself in favour of a constant perpetual motion”—Klossowski says—“the motion that Nietzsche named: the innocence of becoming” (1967 b, p.44). Essential to this experience is a distinctive feature of impurity that, according to the laws of reason, seems to be unusual and uncanny (Freud 1919) and stimulated by that excess which makes it incomprehensible to those philosophers who exclusively exploit the concepts elaborated by the Western philosophical tradition. Here, thought as function or as a faculty of something more primordial, is no longer relevant. Rather it must become a phenomenon, a fact, a flagrant thought, because it is not a question of understanding, but rather of being accomplices (Decottignies 1997).
Hospitality and Perversion
How does Klossowski introduce his laws on hospitality? The householder—he writes—asks the stranger to go beyond the casual welcome, in order to preserve the essence of his presence. He attempts to establish a sort of understanding with him by taking on the role of guest, so that the complicity set up between them becomes nothing more than a relationship with himself. Is it possible “to embrace and not to embrace, to be and not to be, to enter when you are already within?”(1965, p.107). This is the question Antoine, Octave and Roberte’s nephew, asks when thinking of the strategy his uncle would like to exploit in order to reveal all the aspects of his aunt’s personality. From this derive “the laws of hospitality” which Octave writes and has framed and hung on the wall of the guest room.
Initially, the householder is worried about conveying his happy state of mind to the guest, though this intention contrasts with the monogamous practice of the sexual customs of the Western world. He would like to establish a vital relationship with the guest through the transformation of the female householder as the female guest (hôtesse). What is at stake here is the possibility of the female householder’s pertaining to a mere existential dimension, that is, a dimension of causality, which may lead to a double non-actuality: if she is faithful she will not betray her husband, even if she practices the laws of hospitality, in this way making Octave’s plan fail. On the contrary, if she behaves unfaithfully, she will betray him through an unfaithful deed, so that the laws of hospitality will lose their immediate meaning and effect. The female householder has to establish an enigmatic relationship with the guest, either to be unfaithful, or to be faithful to her husband’s demands. If she moves from a mere existential condition to the essential and enigmatic role of the guest, not only does she make the stranger a guest (hôte), but she also places her husband in the stranger’s role. Only in these conditions will the guest’s faithfulness towards the wife make the faithful accomplishment of hospitality possible. In other words, the wife’s unfaithfulness will be the deed of someone who faithfully carries out a commission. Octave clearly runs a high risk, since the success of the laws of hospitality depend on a tiny intermediate space in which the game is played, considering the fact that the guest could interpret the laws as a trivial invitation to adultery by an old voyeur. Nevertheless, “the guest wants to take the risk of losing and thinks that by losing instead of winning, he will be able to grasp, at all costs, the female guest’s very essence through the female host’s unfaithfulness. He wants to have her unfaithful, as a female host (hôtesse) who faithfully does her duties” (Ivi, p.111). This “wedding theatre” directed by Octave, does not always succeed in achieving the old theologian’s aims: “As concerns ourselves, it is not possible to appreciate the laws of hospitality in any way we like” (Ivi, p.27) he comments after an unsuccessful experience. What is not practicable in life—he reflects—is present in the paintings of his favourite artist, Tonnere, who created works connected with the laws of hospitality, which enhance its dramatic aspects as well as its ambiguous suspension, and which Octave, using an archaic term by Quintilian, calls solecistic. In this sense, it is interesting to stress the fact that the “laws”, in the manuscript version, look like a tableau: they are framed and hung on the wall like a picture, as a means of portraying a figurative dramatization of tableaux vivants.
The laws of hospitality represent a peculiar erotic shrewdness, based on mutual exchanges and pretence in which characters are deprived of their stable and unchangeable individuality. Octave establishes a philosophical triangular relationship centred on a Nietzschean vicious circle (Klossowski 1969). Moreover, the vicious circle of hospitality, where pre-individual singularities are of more value than individualities, is characterized by a transition: the female host (hôtesse), according to the laws of hospitality (that is, by showing a faithful unfaithfulness), becomes actual for the stranger who is transformed into the host (hôte). At the same time, the female householder becomes obsolete for the host (hôte) who, in turn, is transformed into the guest. Such a vicious and enigmatic circularity is inherent—as can be seen— in the rejection between the moment in which the meeting takes place and the moment it vanishes, in other words as an act of continuous revivifying, that is, when it is discovered that this form of singularity retains two equally acceptable functions, the obsolete female householder who is also the actual female guest, while the stranger, in whom the female guest identifies, is the guest in “relation with himself within himself” (Klossowski 1965, p.110). As far as the female householder is exorcized in the female guest (hôtesse), the male host (hôte) will possess her in her highest form and acquire the status of male guest. Strictly speaking, Roberte’s multiple personality would appear indiscernible if a derived or unrelated element were not interposed between her and Octave. The stranger, who is called upon to take part in the great tableau vivant of the laws of hospitality, takes on the figure of the guest who tries to seduce his wife, but his act is suspended, and his presence is evident only in the intermediate space. In essence, the guest can only be seen as the intermediary demon who fuses with the master and mistress of the house. The notion of hostis is of the utmost importance for Octave because through it he is able to experience a kind of life on the same level as Roberte’s. If the female guest gives up incommunicability, if a demon takes possession of her and by consequence reveals her principium individuationis and if her appearance is like “a name for two interchangeable women” (Ivi, p.273), Octave, the other link in the laws of hospitality of this perverse triadic structure, can only be functional in this philosophical game characterized by the demon’s acts. He splits into two and experiences discontinuousness with the same intensity as Roberte, since he is the hostis. He experiences this condition when he realises the existence of an intermediate power, which, as he confides to his nephew Antoine, wavers “between you and me, me and Aunt Roberte, Aunt Roberte and you” (Ivi, p.116). In this context, the laws of hospitality are determined only when every soul is ruled by a demon who connects it with other souls in a mutual relationship. Therefore, is it possible to be two different people in one, and have two souls? Is it possible to place a third party in a human being traditionally conceived of as one and only? “Is it possible to imagine a process that is able to split the soul from the body and the spirit from the soul, in order to suspend the actual person within the same person?” (Ivi, p.128). Thus, the greatest defender of the laws on hospitality does not experience these laws metaphysically or observe them coldly from the outside like a sort of creator but is completely and critically involved in them. He deals with the same tension and discontinuity as Roberte, in that he embodies two ghosts, the host and the stranger. Octave’s name disappears behind Théodore Lacase’s or Mr K’s, and it is recognizable only in the names together, which, far from creating an unchangeable identity, stand for the end of the most individual and stable name. Thus, also, the continuous shifting of the soul, the infinite artifice of splitting into two, and looking which becomes ambiguous when looking at oneself again. These laws have been criticised for being marked by a strong narcissistic tone (Montrelay 1970, p. 63), since Octave seems to want his guest to remain in the role of stranger throughout his stay, even though he exploits him as his exclusive instrument. However, Klossowski does not aim to exalt his character Octave but rather to destabilize him and leave him to the fluctuations of his drives. This explains the double soul’s explicit confession: “I’ve been trying hard to get behind our life for years, in order to look at it. I wanted to catch life by keeping myself out of it, from where it has a different aspect. If you stare at it from there, you can feel an unbearable happiness […]” (Ivi, p.187).
Octave, therefore, seeks to verify through the figure of the wife every possible transformation together with the multiple personalities which emerge from a kind of perverse eroticism which only the laws of hospitality can guarantee. Such an erotic motif of hospitality reveals that only by being alienated can Roberte (the wife, the peculiar trait of Klossowski’s thinking) become inalienable (Klossowski 1984, p. 20). Sexuality, vice and thinking are interlinked in this process, and traditional notions are of no use in understanding such subtle transitions; rather a superior form of complicity, in which dialectical resolutions have no place. This latter formula introduces us to another aspect of the philosophy of hospitality, namely perversion, since Klossowski’s vicious circle is completely characterized by hesitation and intermediateness. As Deleuze (1969) says, it is important to give dignity again to the surface level of thinking, in other words, the principle based on hesitation, and the disjointed aspect of things, whose value seems to be perverse. Perversion is an extreme experience which introduces one into a territory that is situated beyond any division (Perniola 1998). Klossowski’s way of feeling is characterized by perversion to the significant extent that the law of hospitality seems to be suspended solecistically. It is because of this enigmatic practice that the untranslatable expression “perversion hospitalière”, attributed by Hollier (1999) to Klossowski’s works, makes sense.
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Krafft-Ebing, R. von (18938), Psychopathia sexualis (Stuttgart: Enke).
Jenny, L. & Pfersmann, A., eds. (1999) Traversées de Pierre Klossowski (Genève: Droz).
Marroni, A. (1999) Pierre Klossowski. Sessualità vizio e complotto nella filosofia (Milano: Costa & Nolan).
Montrelay, M. (1970) Les lois de l’hospitalité en tant que loi du narcissisme, “L’Arc”, 43.
- (1983) La società dei simulacri (Bologna: Cappelli).
- (1998) Transiti. Filosofia e perversione (Rome: Castelvecchi).
Translation from the Italian by Eleonora Sasso