Dangerous Liaisons (2004, The Netherlands) by Blerina Berberi
“Princes, puffed up by false ideas of grandeur… Courts are the real centers of people’s corruption… real origin of moral evil” (Gellner, p. 290)
During the 18th century, according to Hygo, Sand and Schlegel, true love is confined to elite due to its ability to experience it in deep. But the elite was also the epicenter of moral decadence. Dangerous Liaisons is about true love, decadence and seduction.
The ideas in this period focused on the concepts of amour- propre, role-playing and self-esteem, which were considered to be quintessential to the One (one’s self) as for the whole society.
In Crocker, Abbadie and other thinkers state that self-love is natural and equals happiness. Love of others is love of ourselves. In Dangerous Liaisons, happiness isn’t achieved by most characters, it’s a drama. Furthermore, the love for the others was defective, and we can suppose that since the characters didn’t love the others they didn’t love themselves. Thus this would explain the catastrophe. Spinoza states that self- love is associated with self-realization. Valmont achieves self-realization when he finds true love, Mme de Tourvel, thus realizes self- love, but still it didn’t bear any happiness. Others characters realized themselves, as unable to love others (love themselves?), thus as evil due to the unhappy ending. But self- love leads Mme de Merteuil and Valmont at some extend to the assertion of their ego at the expense of others (seduction). But if self- love is natural none of the characters can be condemned.
Diderot focused on social forces and internal deficiencies. Role- playing determines personality and own reaction to oneself. According to Perkins, the role- playing of Mme de Merteuil and Valmont are masks worn to keep their position in society. The distinction between assumed and natural personality is complex. So it is possible that the ‘real’ Mme de Merteuil is hidden in her personality, due to the fact that she ‘studied’ arts of seduction, and presents to Valmont only some part of herself. She is jealous of Mme de Tourvel because she plays from heart, while herself she plays from the head. Mme de Tourvel is a threat to her self-concept, which she built up in years. So she doubts its utility. And she never steps out of her personality. Also Valmont said: “I often wonder how you manage to invent yourself”.
Amour- propre was doubted as being worthy. Some thinkers believed that self- esteem determines the relations among people. The focus shifted in ego-assertion and projection. Thus Mme de Merteuil and Valmont were motivated to dominate with their views by imposing them on others, even by risking personal pleasure by declaring still ‘WAR’. Specifically, Valmont said “It’s beyond my control”, thus he sacrificed his love and obeyed to Mme de Merteuil. They also used love for advancement in society and self-gratification (seduction). Mme de Merteuil knew the risk of asking Valmont to break up with Mme de Tourvel, but she wanted to prove her self as the dominant in the couple. Only (Romantic) passionate love of Valmont was strong versus ego-assertion and he got conversed by it.
Crocker, L.G., An Age of Crisis. Man and World in Eighteenth Century French Thought. Baltimore/ Londen: MacMillan & Co. p 256-278, (1970(1959))
Perkins, J.A., The concept of the Self in the French Enlightenment, Geneve, p. 69-83, 1969
Memorable Quotes from Dangerous Liaisons (1988) (Yahoo.com)