chapter  2
15 Pages

The libertine

Criminal luxury, the Sadean system, and materialist horror
WithMark Featherstone

My objective in this chapter is to explore the moment where crime, harm, and the consumer experience meet through the figure of the libertine. In order to develop my reading of this figure, I start by focusing on the work of the Marquis de Sade, and specifically what I call Sade’s criminal luxury, which I set up as a form of extreme consumption. Moving beyond a discussion of Sade in eighteenth-century France, my next move is to project the Marquis forward into a second moment of revolutionary transgression, 1968, where he became a kind of heroic, criminal figure, able to represent a new utopian future based upon his theory of sexual luxury and essential freedom. My objective here is to show how Sade’s version of criminal luxury may be seen to contain the seeds of the contemporary neoliberal capitalist system, where luxury and transgression are paradoxically absolutely normal and ironically completely necessary to global economic growth, but also inherently violent and harmful to those labouring in the libertine’s shadow. In order to explain this theory, where Sade becomes the ultimate insider, I move on to consider the works of the contemporary French writer Michel Houellebecq. By picking up Sadean themes in Houellebecq’s novels Whatever (1999), Atomised (2001), Platform (2003), and The Possibility of an Island (2005), I explore what happens when Sade’s system of transgression and criminal luxury becomes hegemonic and part of the mainstream capitalist system.