Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart

Silence and Ethics: Reading de Sade and Cook in the South Pacific

Nicholas Strobbe

What is the time of justice? What, for an ethics of reading, remains critical for reflection and asking? This will remain critical in thinking the Other, in thinking a relation to the Other.

Justice is not a thing. Justice is not nameable as this "thing," but in the identity of the Other, in the voice that comes towards us, there is a certain relation. Saying and silencing speak the relation. In the relationship is given the mark for the potentiality of justice. This is what remains ethical in the attitude towards it. The ethical, the ethos, gives name to our character and our attitude, our behaviour, and also to our dwelling-place, the place of living.

What is given in relation to the Other, in the question of a certain ethics or a justice, is a judgement. But it is not one of a transcendental kind, it is not strictly categorial. The judgement is critical, it is this that remains bound in crisis. This crisis, as that which remains critical, is to speak of a decision, a turning-point, a judgement and a trial. It will be to question. Speaking the Other is to speak then about the ethics of crisis, about the potentiality for an ethical relation bound over to the critical.

The judgement extends to the relation between colonial and colonist, and it extends to the notion of what it could possibly mean to say the postcolonial. The respect for difference, this respect in which our relation with the Other remains as a matter "in respect of"Ñwhence the falling into ethics as a falling alongside, the inevitability and impossibility of taking sidesÑthis which is "in respect of" is a respect for the Other and our relating. Judging this relation remains critical. How then to think the colonist and colonial? It is not meant here to mark the privation of the one in relation to the other, nor to figure in a reductive manner the one and the Other, though this is what the postcolonial succeeds in accomplishing, idealizing the difference. The "post-" detemporizes the relation and gives itself up to a temporality without relatedness. This word postcolonialism doesn't work, it is unable to perform the work it sets out to do. In a certain way postcolonialism is unethical, and perhaps postcolonialism speaks the unethical because we must hear it. There can be no postcolonialism, only a situation for postcolonial discourse. To exist in the postcolonial would be to live beyond any boundary and to dwell in the limitless. But these words themselves are finite and mourn the remembering of another origin. Limitless history and the limitless present are here one. In a way, it is the relation of tension between the terms and an abstraction of it that consitutes a violent order of imaginative reconstitution. It is this constitution Rousseau acknowledges which "requires . . . more philosophy than can be imagined."1

This is the double, we dwell as colonial and colonist. Which is not to speak of dialectical formalism. The double is at once colonial and colonist, nonrecuperative, and remains nomothetically inclined toward a philosophy of rights for which there is not enough philosophy. In this sense, philosophy is never enough, such is this judgement, but the crisis it evokes figures the power of this incommensurability in a manner that itself sets judging in crisis. This is the justice done to critique. And this is our crisis, we are colonists and colonized. Originating, colonized within the family, instituted in sociality, colonising selves in the same and colonizing the other. This is to speak of the double in the colonial, coloniality in its regime that speaks from the silence of our inscription. To forget place in the colonial is to mourn its silence, irrevocably. It is to forget that justice can be a relation.

The Other is not ours, lest we view the other reflectively, which might merely have been the appropriation of its difference. So the reading of the colonial and the Other will involve an ethics of reading. What is spoken in postcoloniality would be no less than an ethics of discourse. In the Other I recognize difference and the folding of inscription. Absolute justice is impossible here. It is this in part that figures the crisis for an ethics of justice. Still, it remains possible in speaking the relation, in thinking the Other, to respect this in which the relation stands in respect of. It is to be respectful, no less. To be just will be to require at the minimum that we listen to what the Other says when she judges. And we would recall in the justice of her judging the silence in our speaking. We would mourn our saying. Yet what is said in speaking, then, so that the Other's silence still cannot be heard? A speaking aloud and continuously and monomaniacally that silences the Other. Of speaking them down so that not even their silence is heard. There is the speaking too that fails to say anything, that fails even to speak silence. And there is the speaking in which the Other cannot even remain silent by choice. Yet is not silence also to speak something? In silence too is granted the possibility for speech. We remain silent in order to listen to the Other, and also to attend to our own silences. This silence goes beyond us and echoes still. It speaks of what is originary, of orior, of that which is to rouse or to call forth. And yet, to speak is at every point to place at risk our listening.

There is a text of de Sade's concerning which a certain silence is still maintained. And this is all the more surprising considering the interest shown in de Sade over the past few decades. The academy writes de Sade and writes the space of the body politic. And this from an author concerning whom no little effort was made to read the political. In 1788, after three years, de Sade completes "Aline and Valcour, or the Philosophical Novel," which he will describe as his "philosophical testament."2 It is an eight-hundred page epistolary novel that midway ventures south into Africa and eastwards into the South Pacific. An excursus around three models of governanceÑa Hobbesian dystopia in the kingdom of Butua established in southern Africa, a Rousseauean utopia on the island of Tamoe in the South Pacific, and an anarchic community of brigands in Western Europe.

Imprisoned in the Bastille, de Sade researches the travel diaries of the time, particularly those of Captain James Cook. Here, then, is a certain correspondence between de Sade and Cook, the narration of a world within a certain eastern frame and western finance, a political novel set in the South Pacific. With this use, as de Sade writes, "Of what use are novels? . . . the novel is . . . the representation of secular customs, and is therefore, for the philosopher who wishes to understand man, as essential as is the knowledge of history."3

The philosophical and the novel remain bound over to the aporia of discourse. Perhaps the silence on this novel will figure this aporia, a silence that acts like an echo of the aporetic in thought that is philosophical and novel. And whence the absence of the "philosophical" from the titles of de Sade's other works? Why this preference here? Is it so difficult to read or believe what could be described as philosophical, or to believe that even a sexual philosophy or a philosophy of manners might yet require even more philosophy than can be imagined?

Here, instead, from prison, from the home of the law in one of its most material aspects, de Sade will train utopia according to a novel state, the island named Tamoe. Following reports that Leonore, Sainville's lover, has boarded the vessel "Discovery" on Cook's third voyage from southern Africa in Table Bay, and that she had even passed as the spouse of the ship's captain, Sainville follows in her train some six weeks later. He will land in Tamoe shortly after, an island situtated in the South Pacific and modeled after Cook's descriptions of Tahiti, where he is greeted by the Tamoean king, Zame. Zame reveals to Sainville the glories of the island, its juridical and economic structures, its fortifications, agriculture, the customs of its men and women, the order of statist education, and the form of its monarchical government. He describes to Sainville the twenty year sojourn undertaken in his youth to study the world in search of the best constitution for Tamoeans. He will be a sociologist of virtue, a scientist of government. In fact, the character of this undertaking will prefigure the prophetic nature of the novel. Zame scours the world and delivers, at length and in detail, harangues and critiques of the French judicial system, its monarchical history, the rise of the senate, the rule of theocrats in the state, the role of the French parliament and its difference from either the English parliamentary system or the Venetian senate. The critiques are detailed and come with liberal notes. This is a de Sade given to political disquisition on the matter of institutional orders of governance. In the reflections on Venice's legislative structure, on the effects of laws in general, on the idea of a communal order undifferentiated by property ownership, on the treatment of slaves and the rights of men, women, children, and animals, Zame is the voice for a passionate advocacy of Rousseauean natural law. This is a nostalgic Eden, a platonic estate. It is to the prophetic character of justice that Zame looks forward. The justice of a society that, upon his death, will found an egalitarian republic.

It is the prophetic nature speaking through the novel just like those pieces of evidentiary warrant in de Sade's footnotes referring back to Cook's journals. What is colonialism to de Sade in this passageÑand it is a passage unusually given to personal testament, with appeals to the reader to recognize the author's testimonial writingsÑwhat is colonialism but an extension of unjust rule by violent powers, powers he describes as "turbulent, ferocious, uneasy, born for the misfortune of the rest of the world, catechizing the Asian, enchaining the African, exterminating the citizen of the New World, still searching the middle of the seas to subjugate misfortunate islands."4 Zame recognizes the new power residing in America, "the republic from Washington which will increase little by little like that of Romulus, at first it will subjugate America, and then it will make the earth shake."5 Why, asks the monarch, has it become necessary to go so far to establish colonies, "Does our true happiness . . . require pleasure from things that we go in search of so far away?"6

The figure of the prophetic and the warrant of justice is given in the subtitle to the novel. "Aline and Valcour, a Philosophical Novel: written at the Bastille one year before the French Revolution." De Sade's pains to make evident the prophetic nature of the novel rest in the abundance of footnotes, the editorial preface, and the pronunciations from his various characters that, in 1788, give rise to the philosophic testimonial: "Never forget that this work was written one year before the French Revolution,"7 and "You Frenchmen, who will finish by shaking off the yoke of despotism, to become republicans in your turn, because this government is the only one that suits so free a nation,"8 or again, "a great revolution prepares itself in your homeland; the crimes of your sovereigns, their cruel exactions, their debaucheries and ineptitude have wearied France; she is exhausted by despotism, she is on the point of breaking her chains."9

Concerning the character of truth in the novel, Mme de Sade will offer this prescription in her capacity as his foremost critic: "From this, judge yourself and decide."10 In the days that followed Republicanism this fiction lays out the trajectory from future to past. How then to think what echoes in the notes? They are testimonials and bear witness to the writing of writing, they constitute a certain writer's evidence. De Sade previews the fall of monarchical despotism, of a certain colonial regime that lays claim to a rule from home and, falling with it, falls to prophecy. The time of justice remains under judgement. The prophetic has already come to pass, it is on its way. It is the future already. The future writes de Sade and prophesizes. Prophecy is sadistic. What the future writes is other, it is the other in respect of which there remains a matter for judgement and a future that remains in crisis. And in speaking the prophetic and recalling silence what could the prophetic remain but unsayable, something silent, prophecies from the philosophical novel or the novel philosophical writing the future before it, silencing it in its way?

Nor is this forgotten, that a master colonizer, a certain Cook, died in the Sandwich Islands, and this on its western reach. The death is not singular. In the violence twenty-five indigenous persons from the island and five Englishmen would die. Still, the death of this figure will reflect a certain antinomial character of thought. On the one hand, Western texts present his figure in the island as approaching the deific, on the other hand Cook will be the envoy of a foreign power. On the first reading, Cook is killed only after he has cried out "like" a man when struck by a club.11 It is the cry of a man and not that of a divinity that will be heard, this cry that lets out "like" a man tracing the fall of his paternity. On the other hand, the extension of foreign powers is recognized in its political and military form. Cook is killed during an encounter that remains subject to the crisis of a violent relation, a violence to the other that concerns matters of respect.

What is critical in relation, in justice, is judging. Relation will be no less than a matter of ethics, of a certain ethos, of behaviour in respect of the other that is the matter at stake. This is our recollection from the reading of Mme de Sade, "From this, judge yourself and decide," which is to say: "You must be judge and decide" and, simultaneously, "Yourself judge, and decide," and all this from a certain genitive association, a certain deictics, "from" and "this" and, after all why not, a certain Apollonian trait, a Pythian echo: logon didonai and gnothi sauton. Such judging may be what it is like to make sounds like a human. And this remains, that in Karakakooa Bay there occurred certain judging and decisions.

From the penultimate page of de Sade's "The Story of Juliette" there comes this judgement: "Philosophy must say everything."12 An infinite and impossible command. Yet now fiction, a philosophical novelÑa certain love story of the love in the philosophicalÑa philosophical romance extends the saying in order to broach its order of governance. The philosophical novel henceforth speaks the lies and truths and figures of writing with even greater candour. The sadean romance with philosophy, novel politics.

Murdoch University


1 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "A Dissertation on the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind," in The Social Contract and Discourses, trans. G.D.H. Cole, rev. ed. (London: Dent, 1973) 44.

2 Cited in Alice M. Laborde, "The Marquis de Sade's Biography Revisited," in Sade: His Ethics and Rhetoric, ed. Colette V. Michael (New York: Peter Lang, 1989) 2.

3 Marquis de Sade, "Reflections on the Novel," in The 120 Days of Sodom and other writings, trans. Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver (New York: Grove, 1966) 109.

4 Marquis de Sade, "Aline et Valcour, ou le Roman philosophique. Ecrit ˆ la Bastille un an avant la Revolution de France," in Oeuvres completes du Marquis de Sade, vol. 4 (Paris: Pauvert, 1986) 308-9. Author's translation.

5 de Sade, "Aline et Valcour," Oeuvres completes, 305.

6 de Sade, "Aline et Valcour ," 303.

7 de Sade, "Aline et Valcour," 303.

8 de Sade, "Aline et Valcour, " 303.

9 de Sade, "Aline et Valcour ," 303.

10 de Sade, "Aline et Valcour ," Oeuvres completes, 450.

11 "[B]eat him if he be a God he will not make a noise, if a man he will cry like ourselves." The Dalton Journal. Two Whaling Voyages to the South Pacific Seas 1823-1829, ed. Niel Gunson (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1990) 109.

12 Marquis de Sade, "L'Histoire de Juliette," in Oeuvres Completes du Marquis de Sade , vol. 4 (Paris: Editions Tetes de Feuilles, 1972) 596. Author's translation.

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