Genet, Jean (Vol. 10)
Genet, Jean 1910–
Genet is a French novelist, dramatist, and poet. An abandoned child, he spent his youth in prisons and reform schools. Instead of reforming him, he claims, these institutions led him to defy society and to dedicate his life to the pursuit of evil. In his quest for identity, Genet aligned himself with criminals and homosexuals, choosing them as his heroes and their world as his. He posits that evil is superior to good because it is nothingness expressed in its purest form. Susan Sontag wrote of him that "only a handful of twentieth-century writers, such as Kafka and Proust, have as important, as authoritative, as irrevocable a voice and style." (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)
Jerry L. Curtis
Genet's originality stems from the fact that he has cogently chosen to refuse society's values and has set about to reverse, if only for himself, the moral code of our time. His "Jansenism of Evil," as Sartre calls it [in his illuminating study Saint Genet], is, in reality, a search for identity in an atmosphere of uncertainty. For Genet, as for Shakespeare, the world is a stage, and you and I, the players.
In his massive biography of Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre states that the key to understanding this admired criminal's self-imposed bastardy can be found in an incident taken from his adolescence: discovered with his hand in a purse, the youthful Genet was market for life by the accusation: "You are a thief." At least he became convinced, according to Sartre, that he should become "Another than Self." Since this child of ten did not view himself as an absolute criminal yet was extremely intimidated by the unflinching judgment of others, he chose for himself a mode of being which posits its justification in the look of others…. [Genet] seems to view literature as a fabric of lies which veil the truth. By means of the mystification called literature, he is able to swindle and rob the public. Genet abandons himself to literature because the fictional world he creates becomes the evasive object of an often credulous body of admirers. He thereby confirms, both to himself and to us, that the world is a stage. The most...
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Harry E. Stewart
From the very beginning, Genet has been preoccupied with flower imagery and flower symbolism. The two titles, Notre Dame des Fleurs and Miracle de la Rose, plus the abundance of flower references in all of Genet's works give ample evidence of his interest in, and knowledge of flower symbolism…. [There is] a relationship (in Genet's mind) between flowers, crime, and solitude. (pp. 87-8)
An accumulation of the references to lilacs in Haute Surveillance reveals a tally of sixteen "lilacs" in the 1949 version, and twelve in the 1965 version. This represents only a count of the nouns and does not include pronouns even when they clearly refer to lilacs. The high frequency of references is immediately significant since it suggests that the lilac symbolism is definitely not fortuitous. However, the frequency of references is less important then the dramatic use of the lilacs as esoteric symbol which explains and supports the meaning and action of the play.
In the 1949 version Genet first establishes a relationship between lilacs and the tomb, that is between lilacs and the general concept "death." This is a traditional relationship found in the majority of folk legends involving lilacs…. Genet then develops a sometimes ambiguous symbol pattern in which there exists a confusion between the flower-death-criminal-sex symbol and the lilac-death-murder-fate-betrayal-criminal-sex symbol. Genet, aware that...
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In [Les Nègres] the characters are masks, they exist as appearance only, and the black skin of the negroes is as much a mask as the grotesque white masks of the actors who mirror us, the white audience, and our society; the dramatic action is presented as performance, and the ritual qualities of this performance are emphasized by incantations, chanting and dancing as well as by echoes of rituals which are central to our christian civilisation: the litanie des blèmes, the music of the dies irae chanted at the time of the ritual murder, etc. (p. 51)
The printed edition of Genet's play is prefaced by the following note:…
One evening an actor asked me to write a play for an all-black cast. But what exactly is a black? First of all, what's his colour?
This most accurately sums up the whole tone of the play, for Genet has taken the "colour" or "race" problem, and has used it as an image for an even wider theme. As he presents it, all identity is a matter of mirror reflections, you define yourself in relation to other people, you know who you are through the reflection of yourself that you see in other people's attitudes to you. This means that personal identity becomes very much a social question, intimately concerned with the power structure of society and with relations of dominance and submission.
The blacks see themselves...
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Genet's plays, like Pirandello's, have become a treasure house for the rococo critical imagination. As the visitor basks in the heady atmosphere—the mirrors, the screens, masks, grandiose costumes and cothurni, the role-playing, verbal efflorescence, and paradoxes—he burbles about the undecipherable nature of levels, dimensions, contexts, multiple images, loci, ritualism, and infinities of reflections….
Genet takes for granted [in The Balcony the] confusion between sexual and social obsessions. In the brothel's studios the devotees abandon themselves to sexual consecration; the house of pleasure is a house of worship. In it each man finds a contrary, double satisfaction: he acquires a feeling of potency from the clothes and the role he puts on; at the same time he abases himself in that role. Or rather, he abases the role and its clothing in order that it may serve his sexual satisfaction. There is then an element of masochism in each of the aberrants' personalities….
From the first Genet intermingles sexual and religious ceremonies. Scene One sets the tone by introducing us to the Bishop in a studio set that represents a sacristy. He wears robes of exaggerated size so that he looks larger than human, like a principal in a Greek tragedy. (p. 268)
Now, although we are led to believe that this Bishop is played by a gas man, we never see the gas man, only the Bishop. There may be a...
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