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diacritics 35.1 (2005) 71-98

Hospitality after the Death of God
Tracy McNulty

Pierre Klossowski's fiction has been only sporadically published in English, and largely dismissed as perverse erotica or soft-core porn. When his 1965 trilogy Les lois de l'hospitalité was partially translated in English (under the title Roberte, ce soir & The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes), its Library of Congress classification characterized it simply as "erotic fiction—French." Even in France, Klossowski has become the very signifier of perversion. His artwork graces the cover of Serge André's L'imposture perverse and of numerous erotic novels, he has been "diagnosed" as a pervert by writers on both sides of the Atlantic, and unironic readers of his Sade mon prochain hail him as Sade's disciple and heir.1

Admittedly, the larger stakes of Klossowski's work are easily obscured by its free adaptation of the stock themes of libertine literature. His fictional works, like his visual compositions (essentially representations of rape scenes, often on historical themes—Diana and Actaeon, the Rape of Lucretia), explore the conflict between a woman's chaste moral attitude and her gradual surrender to an assailant's advances. The Laws of Hospitality concerns the erotic awakening of "hospitality" in a woman, which exposes a contradiction within her moral character and reveals her symbolic identity to be without foundation. Its protagonist Octave, who bears more than a passing resemblance to his creator, is a collector of artworks that eroticize the moment of moral hesitation experienced by women submitting to the sexual advances of a chance stranger—or even a "spiritual" apparition. His "laws of hospitality" are the fruit of his desire to experience this operation firsthand; they name a practice wherein the master of the house "offers" his wife to fortuitous guests, in order to savor the moment of her surrender.

However, the stakes of Klossowski's "perverse" meditations are very different from the Sadeian project of uprooting religious morality. Sade challenges the patriarchal and religious authorities of his day by demonstrating that the paternal signifier on which their laws are based is without foundation. In proving that the law cannot hold [End Page 71] up against the repeated assaults of libertinage, he mounts a systematic deconstruction of the symbolic order of language by the real of jouissance. But although Klossowski may share Sade's perverse drive to "humiliate the law with the object,"2 his target is not the signifier as such, but rather the imaginary consistency afforded by what he calls the "grammatical fiction of the 'I,'" the illusion of autonomous personhood. The "object" he confronts it with is not the natural "truth" of jouissance, but rather the feminine object who disrupts the identity of the "master" who offers her.

Klossowski's reflections on the special status of femininity in Enlightenment culture—at once marginal and singularly "extimate"—have never been fully appreciated, despite their enormous interest for the study of culture. In a way unique among contemporary authors, Klossowski sheds light on Jacques Lacan's enigmatic insight that the cultural importance of the feminine object consists in its sublimated status as an "object raised to the dignity of the Thing" [Lacan 112]. His fiction underscores the close ties between the feminine and what Freud called das Ding, the Thing uncannily internal to subjectivity that Lacan later identified with the function of the Nebenmensch, as the apotheosis of the Christian idea of the prochain, or neighbor [Lacan 151–52].

Although Klossowski's erotic scenario invites comparisons with Sade's and Fourier's utopian calls to dissolve the privative boundaries between subjects, what he understands by "hospitality" is not the abolition of personal identity, but rather the staging of its internal contradiction.

Hospitality, at the Limits of the Law

The act of hospitality—whose theological and philosophical origins this former Dominican novice and Latin scholar was intimately acquainted with—concerns a very particular tension. Etymologically, the host is the "master," the one who "eminently personifies" identity: not only his own identity, but also that of the group in whose...


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