Jean Genet in 1983
|Born||19 December 1910|
|Died||15 April 1986 75) (aged|
|Occupation||Novelist, dramatist, political activist, poet, philosopher|
|Genre||Theatre of Cruelty, erotic, theatre|
|Subject||Criminality, homosexuality, sadomasochism, existentialism|
|Literary movement||Theatre of the Absurd|
|Notable works||Our Lady of the Flowers (1943), The Thief's Journal (1949), The Maids (1947), The Balcony (1956)|
|French literary history|
Jean Genet (French: [ʒɑ̃ ʒənɛ] ; 19 December 1910 – 15 April 1986) was a French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist. Early in his life he was a vagabond and petty criminal, but he later took to writing. His major works include the novels The Thief's Journal and Our Lady of the Flowers , and the plays The Balcony , The Maids and The Screens .
Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social, political, economic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society. Forms of activism range from mandate building in the community, petitioning elected officials, running or contributing to a political campaign, preferential patronage of businesses, and demonstrative forms of activism like rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, or hunger strikes.
The Thief's Journal is a novel by Jean Genet. It is a part-fact, part-fiction autobiography that charts the author's progress through Europe in a depoliticized 1930s, wearing nothing but rags and enduring hunger, contempt, fatigue and vice. The main character encounters bars, dives, flophouses, robbery, prison and expulsion in Spain, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Nazi Germany, Belgium.
Our Lady of the Flowers (Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs) is the debut novel of French writer Jean Genet, first published in 1943. The free-flowing, poetic novel is a largely autobiographical account of a man's journey through the Parisian underworld. The characters are drawn after their real-life counterparts, who are mostly homosexuals living on the fringes of society.
Genet's mother was a prostitute who raised him for the first seven months of his life before putting him up for adoption. Thereafter Genet was raised in the provincial town of Alligny-en-Morvan, in the Nièvre department of central France. His foster family was headed by a carpenter and, according to Edmund White's biography, was loving and attentive. While he received excellent grades in school, his childhood involved a series of attempts at running away and incidents of petty theft.
Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting of another, usually a child, from that person's biological or legal parent or parents. Legal adoptions permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities, along with filiation, from the biological parent or parents.
Alligny-en-Morvan is a commune in the Nièvre department in central France.
Edmund Valentine White III is an American novelist, memoirist, and an essayist on literary and social topics. Much of his writing is on the theme of same-sex love. His books include The Joy of Gay Sex (1977), his trio of autobiographic novels, A Boy's Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), and his biography of Jean Genet.
After the death of his foster mother, Genet was placed with an elderly couple but remained with them less than two years. According to the wife, "he was going out nights and also seemed to be wearing makeup." On one occasion he squandered a considerable sum of money, which they had entrusted him for delivery elsewhere, on a visit to a local fair.
For this and other misdemeanors, including repeated acts of vagrancy, he was sent at the age of 15 to Mettray Penal Colony where he was detained between 2 September 1926 and 1 March 1929. In Miracle of the Rose (1946), he gives an account of this period of detention, which ended at the age of 18 when he joined the Foreign Legion. He was eventually given a dishonorable discharge on grounds of indecency (having been caught engaged in a homosexual act) and spent a period as a vagabond, petty thief and prostitute across Europe—experiences he recounts in The Thief's Journal (1949).
Mettray Penal Colony, situated in the small village of Mettray, in the French département of Indre-et-Loire, just north of the city of Tours, was a private reformatory, without walls, opened in 1840 for the rehabilitation of young male delinquents aged between 6 and 21. At that time children and adolescents were normally imprisoned together with adults. Aspects of the progressive way in which the Colony was organised anticipated the English borstal system established at the beginning of the 20th century.
Miracle of the Rose is a 1946 book by Jean Genet about experiences as a detainee in Mettray Penal Colony and Fontevrault prison - although there is no direct evidence of Genet ever having been imprisoned in the latter establishment. This autobiographical work has a non-linear structure: stories from Genet's adolescence are mixed in with his experiences as a thirty-year-old man at Fontevrault prison. At Mettray, Genet describes homosexual erotic desires for his fellow adolescent detainees. There is also a fantastical dimension to the narrative, particularly in Fontevrault passages concerning a prisoner called Harcamone who is condemned to death for murder. Genet idolises Harcamone and writes poetically about the rare occasions on which he catches a glimpse of this character. Genet was detained in Mettray Penal Colony between 2 September 1926 and 1 March 1929, after which, at the age of 18, he joined the Foreign Legion.
The French Foreign Legion is a military service branch of the French Army established in 1831. Legionnaires are highly trained infantry soldiers and the Legion is unique in that it was, and continues to be, open to foreign recruits willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. When it was founded, the French Foreign Legion was not unique; other foreign formations existed at the time in France.
After returning to Paris, France in 1937, Genet was in and out of prison through a series of arrests for theft, use of false papers, vagabondage, lewd acts, and other offenses. In prison, Genet wrote his first poem, "Le condamné à mort", which he had printed at his own cost, and the novel Our Lady of the Flowers (1944).
In Paris, Genet sought out and introduced himself to Jean Cocteau, who was impressed by his writing. Cocteau used his contacts to get Genet's novel published, and in 1949, when Genet was threatened with a life sentence after ten convictions, Cocteau and other prominent figures, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso, successfully petitioned the French President to have the sentence set aside. Genet would never return to prison.
Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau was a French poet, writer, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker. Cocteau is best known for his novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929), and the films The Blood of a Poet (1930), Les Parents Terribles (1948), Beauty and the Beast (1946) and Orpheus (1949). He was described as "one of [the] avant-garde's most successful and influential filmmakers" by AllMovie.
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism. His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines.
Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright who spent most of his adult life in France. Regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, he is known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore. Among his most famous works are the proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and Guernica (1937), a dramatic portrayal of the bombing of Guernica by the German and Italian airforces during the Spanish Civil War.
By 1949, Genet had completed five novels, three plays, and numerous poems, many controversial for their explicit and often deliberately provocative portrayal of homosexuality and criminality. Sartre wrote a long analysis of Genet's existential development (from vagrant to writer), entitled Saint Genet (1952), which was anonymously published as the first volume of Genet's complete works. Genet was strongly affected by Sartre's analysis and did not write for the next five years.
Existentialism is the philosophical study that begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. It is associated mainly with certain 19th and 20th-century European philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief in that beginning of philosophical thinking.
Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr is a book by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre about the writer Jean Genet especially on his The Thief's Journal. It was first published in 1952. Sartre described it as an attempt "to prove that genius is not a gift but the way out that one invents in desperate cases." Sartre also based his character Goetz in his play The Devil and the Good Lord (1951) on his analysis of Genet's psychology and morality. Sartre has been credited by David M. Halperin with providing, "a brilliant, subtle, and thoroughgoing study of the unique subjectivity and gender positioning of gay men".
Between 1955 and 1961, Genet wrote three more plays as well as an essay called "What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn into Four Equal Pieces and Flushed Down the Toilet", on which hinged Jacques Derrida's analysis of Genet in his seminal work Glas . During this time, Genet became emotionally attached to Abdallah Bentaga, a tightrope walker. However, following a number of accidents and his suicide in 1964, Genet entered a period of depression, and even attempted suicide himself.
From the late 1960s, starting with an homage to Daniel Cohn-Bendit after the events of May 1968, Genet became politically active. He participated in demonstrations drawing attention to the living conditions of immigrants in France. Genet was censored in the United States in 1968 and later expelled when they refused him a visa. In an interview with Edward de Grazia, professor of law and First Amendment lawyer, Genet discusses the time he went through Canada for the Chicago congress. He entered without a visa and left with no issues.
In 1970, the Black Panthers invited him to the United States, where he stayed for three months giving lectures, attended the trial of their leader, Huey Newton, and published articles in their journals. Later the same year he spent six months in Palestinian refugee camps, secretly meeting Yasser Arafat near Amman. Profoundly moved by his experiences in the United States and Jordan, Genet wrote a final lengthy memoir about his experiences, Prisoner of Love , which would be published posthumously.
Genet also supported Angela Davis and George Jackson, as well as Michel Foucault and Daniel Defert's Prison Information Group. He worked with Foucault and Sartre to protest police brutality against Algerians in Paris, a problem persisting since the Algerian War of Independence, when beaten bodies were to be found floating in the Seine. Genet expresses his solidarity with the Red Army Faction (RAF) of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, in the article "Violence et brutalité", published in Le Monde , 1977.
In September 1982, Genet was in Beirut when the massacres took place in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila. In response, Genet published "Quatre heures à Chatila" ("Four Hours in Shatila"), an account of his visit to Shatila after the event. In one of his rare public appearances during the later period of his life, at the invitation of Austrian philosopher Hans Köchler, he read from his work during the inauguration of an exhibition on the massacre of Sabra and Shatila organized by the International Progress Organization in Vienna, Austria, on 19 December 1983.
By proxy, Jean Genet even managed to make an unlikely appearance in the pop charts when in 1972, David Bowie released his popular hit single "The Jean Genie". In his book Moonage Daydream (2005), Bowie confirmed that the title "...was a clumsy pun upon Jean Genet".A later promo video combines a version of the song with a fast edit of Genet's 1950 movie Un Chant d'Amour (1950).
Dire Straits' Making Movies (released on 17 October 1980 by Vertigo Records internationally and by Warner Bros. Records in the United States.) refers to Jean Genet in "Les Boys": Late at night when they've gone away/Les boys dream of Jean Genet/High heel shoes and a black beret/And the posters on the wall that say/Les boys do cabaret/Les boys are glad to be gay.
Genet developed throat cancer and was found dead on 15 April 1986, in a hotel room in Paris. Genet may have fallen on the floor and fatally hit his head. He is buried in the Spanish Cemetery in Larache, Morocco.[ citation needed ]
Throughout his five early novels, Genet works to subvert the traditional set of moral values of his assumed readership. He celebrates a beauty in evil, emphasizes his singularity, raises violent criminals to icons, and enjoys the specificity of gay gesture and coding and the depiction of scenes of betrayal. Our Lady of the Flowers (Notre Dame des Fleurs 1943) is a journey through the prison underworld, featuring a fictionalized alter-ego by the name of Divine, usually referred to in the feminine, at the center of a circle of tantes ("aunties" or "queens") with colorful sobriquets such as Mimosa I, Mimosa II, First Communion and the Queen of Rumania. The two auto-fictional novels, Miracle of the Rose (Miracle de la rose 1946) and The Thief's Journal (Journal du voleur 1949), describe Genet's time in Mettray Penal Colony and his experiences as a vagabond and prostitute across Europe. Querelle de Brest (1947) is set in the midst of the port town of Brest, where sailors and the sea are associated with murder; and Funeral Rites (1949) is a story of love and betrayal across political divides, written this time for the narrator's lover, Jean Decarnin, killed by the Germans in WWII.
Prisoner of Love, published in 1986, after Genet's death, is a memoir of his encounters with Palestinian fighters and Black Panthers; it has, therefore, a more documentary tone than his fiction.
Genet wrote an essay on the work of the Swiss sculptor and artist Alberto Giacometti entitled L'Atelier d'Alberto Giacometti. It was highly praised by such major artists as Giacometti himself and Picasso. Genet wrote in an informal style, incorporating excerpts of conversations between himself and Giacometti. Genet's own biographer, Edmund White, said that, rather than write in the style of an art historian, Genet "invented a whole new language for discussing" Giacometti, proposing "that the statues of Giacometti should be offered to the dead, and that they should be buried."
Genet's plays present highly stylized depictions of ritualistic struggles between outcasts of various kinds and their oppressors.Social identities are parodied and shown to involve complex layering through manipulation of the dramatic fiction and its inherent potential for theatricality and role-play; maids imitate one another and their mistress in The Maids (1947); or the clients of a brothel simulate roles of political power before, in a dramatic reversal, actually becoming those figures, all surrounded by mirrors that both reflect and conceal, in The Balcony (1957). Most strikingly, Genet offers a critical dramatisation of what Aimé Césaire called negritude in The Blacks (1959), presenting a violent assertion of Black identity and anti-white virulence framed in terms of mask-wearing and roles adopted and discarded. His most overtly political play is The Screens (1964), an epic account of the Algerian War of Independence. He also wrote another full-length drama, Splendid's, in 1948 and a one-act play, Her (Elle), in 1955, though neither was published or produced during Genet's lifetime.
The Blacks was, after The Balcony , the second of Genet's plays to be staged in New York. The production was the longest running Off-Broadway non-musical of the decade. Originally premiered in Paris in 1959, this 1961 New York production ran for 1,408 performances. The original cast featured James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Louis Gossett, Jr., Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou and Charles Gordone.
In 1950, Genet directed Un Chant d'Amour , a 26-minute black-and-white film depicting the fantasies of a gay male prisoner and his prison warden.
Genet's work has also been adapted for film and produced by other filmmakers. In 1982, Rainer Werner Fassbinder released Querelle , his final film, which was based on Querelle of Brest . It starred Brad Davis, Jeanne Moreau and Franco Nero. Tony Richardson directed a film, Mademoiselle , which was based on a short story by Genet. It starred Jeanne Moreau with the screenplay written by Marguerite Duras. Todd Haynes' Poison was also based on the writings of Genet.
Several of Genet's plays were adapted into films. The Balcony (1963), directed by Joseph Strick, starred Shelley Winters as Madame Irma, Peter Falk, Lee Grant and Leonard Nimoy. The Maids was filmed in 1974 and starred Glenda Jackson, Susannah York and Vivien Merchant. Italian director Salvatore Samperi in 1986 directed another adaptation for film of the same play, La Bonne (Eng. Corruption ), starring Florence Guerin and Katrine Michelsen.
Entries show: English-language translation of title (French-language title) [year written] / [year first published]
Entries show: English-language translation of title (French-language title) [year written] / [year first published] / [year first performed]
Spitzer, Mark, trans. 2010. The Genet Translations: Poetry and Posthumous Plays. Polemic Press. See www.sptzr.net/genet_translations.htm
Two of Genet's poems, "The Man Sentenced to Death" and "The Fisherman of the Suquet" were adapted, respectively, as "The Man Condemned to Death" and "The Thief and the Night" and set to music for the album Feasting with Panthers , released in 2011 by Marc Almond and Michael Cashmore. Both poems were adapted and translated by Jeremy Reed.
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