On the Sanity of Marat/Sade: In Defense of the Young Leftist

On the Sanity of Marat/Sade: In Defense of the Young Leftist

That Lionel Abel misinterpreted Peter Weiss’s Marat/ Sade is entirely forgiveable, though not a little pitiful considering the play’s straightforwardness and clarity of intention. But that Mr. Abel should have based a criticism of contemporary culture, more particularly of modern left-wing youth, on his misinterpretation is provoking. Is it too much to ask that even Lionel Abel confront us with rational explanations of purely emotional reactions or non-reactions which he readily foists upon us? Marat/Sade was tedious, he says, but he never deigns to tell us why.

Mr. Abel’s displeasure is traceable to a failure of sympathy and understanding. He complains, for example, of “the feebleness and platitudinousness of Marat’s lines,” and their subsequent failure to remove our attention from the speaker’s spotted body. Of course, these are characteristics of Marat which the dramatist intends us to perceive. In Weiss’s view, Marat is an impossible leftist, a revolutionary ideologue motivated by a transcendent notion of “the masses,” but incapable of perceiving the distinguishing propensities of the individual human animal. Sade himself points out in the course of the play the almost ironical disparity between Marat’s fantastic idealism and the realities of his own agonized physical condition. We marvel as spectators at the unreality of the platitudes and the very real suffering to which the character himself is subjected. Marat’s physical condition must not, then, be conceived as standing in competition with his verbal utterances. Together they enable us better to appreciate the confl

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