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Saint Genet

Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE
TRANSLATED BY BERNARD FRECHTMAN
Copyright Date: 1963
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 640
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsfbs
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  • Book Info
    Saint Genet
    Book Description:

    Saint Genet is Jean-Paul Sartre’s classic biography of Jean Genet—thief, convict, and great artist—a character of almost legendary proportions whose influence grows stronger with time. Bringing together two of the century’s greatest minds and artists, Saint Genet is at once a compelling psychological portrait, masterpiece of literary criticism, and one of Sartre’s most personal and inspired philosophical creations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8042-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. TRANSLATOR’S NOTE
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. BOOK I THE METAMORPHOSIS

    • THE MELODIOUS CHILD DEAD IN ME LONG BEFORE THE AX CHOPS OFF MY HEAD
      (pp. 1-16)

      Genet is related to that family of people who are nowadays referred to by the barbaric name ofpasséistes.*An accident riveted him to a childhood memory, and this memory became sacred. In his early childhood, a liturgical drama was performed, a drama of which he was the officiant: he knew paradise and lost it, he was a child and was driven from his childhood. No doubt this “break” is not easy to localize. It shifts back and forth, at the dictate of his moods and myths, between the ages of ten and fifteen. But that is unimportant. What matters...

    • A DIZZYING WORD
      (pp. 17-48)

      The child was playing in the kitchen. Suddenly he became aware of his solitude and was seized with anxiety, as usual. So he “absented” himself. Once again, he plunged into a kind of ecstasy. There is now no one in the room. An abandoned consciousness is reflecting utensils. A drawer is opening; a little hand moves forward.

      Caught in the act.Someone has entered and is watching him. Beneath this gaze the child comes to himself. He who was not yet anyone suddenly becomes Jean Genet. He feels that he is blinding, deafening; he is a beacon, an alarm that...

  5. BOOK II FIRST CONVERSION:: EVIL

    • I WILL BE THE THIEF
      (pp. 49-58)

      Pinned by a look, a butterfly fixed to a cork, he is naked, everyone can see him and spit on him. The gaze of the adults is aconstituent powerwhich has transformed him into aconstituted nature.He now has to live. In the pillory, with his neck in an iron collar, he still has to live. We are not lumps of clay, and what is important is not what people make of us but what we ourselves make of what they have made of us. By virtue of the option which they have taken on his being, the...

    • I DECIDED TO BE WHAT CRIME MADE OF ME
      (pp. 59-72)

      We have situated Genet’s decision in its objective bearings. We know what it is initself. We must now see what it is for him, that is, as a subjective moment of his conscious life. What does this will to be evil mean to Genet himself, what is its intentional structure? As soon as we begin to approach the problem, we discover an insurmountable contradiction.

      “I decided to be what crime made of me.” In this seemingly very simple statement there is “to decide.” But there is also “to be.” Now, the purpose of a decision is to effect a...

    • THE ETERNAL COUPLE OF THE CRIMINAL AND THE SAINT . . .
      (pp. 73-137)

      Thus, Genet seeks his Being. He looks for it first within himself; he spies on his inner life. But nothing comes of it, for the spy and what he spies on are one and the same. The first failure helps us to understand the importance which mirrors assume for him. A mirror is a consciousness in reverse. To the right-thinking man, it reveals only the appearance he offers to others. Sure of possessing the truth, concerned only with being reflected in his undertaking, he gives the mirror only this carcass to gnaw at. But for the woman and for the...

    • I IS ANOTHER
      (pp. 138-149)

      Twice dead the Toughs, the Murderers, the handsome, criminal Pimps. Dead the appearances, dissolved in his acid lucidity. He finds himself free. What then? Freeto do what?Is he any less wretched? When he discovers this freedom, he is in prison, or begging in Barcelona, crushed by contempt. He has nothing to do with this inner autonomy which can change nothing and which casts him into the most frightful solitude. Until then, he fought against all, he could say: “I alone, and that’s enough.” But he no longer has the strength to continue the struggle. He must receive encouragement,...

    • A DAILY LABOR, LONG AND DISAPPOINTING . . .
      (pp. 150-193)

      Let us go back to the moment of the conversion. The child has decided both tobeevil anddoEvil. We have followed him in the labyrinth where he is misled by his will to be. Will he have better luck when he aims only at acting? One would think so at first: does he not discard the contradictions of ontological and theological morals in order to grapple with an ethic of action?

      Yes, he does: in deciding to act, Genet connects with himself at the source of his freedom, in his pure and formal possibility of willing. For...

    • “TO SUCCEED IN BEING ALL, STRIVE TO BE NOTHING IN ANYTHING”
      (pp. 194-249)

      It did not occur to Genet all at once to become a saint or to give the name Saintliness to his longing to do harm. We have seen that as a child he dreamed of raising himself above men. Despite the frightful awakening, this dream has never left him. The source of the extraordinary paradoxes which we are going to discuss is to be found in the religious and archaic mentality that we have already described. Society defends itself against the tremendous powers latent in the universe, against the ambivalence of the “numinous,” by means of custom, that is, by...

    • CAIN
      (pp. 250-354)

      I shall not dwell on his voluntarism. We know that this soul is utter will, even in the passive waiting for Good. It is no longer a matter of explaining Genet by his history or of deriving his attitudes and behavior from an original choice. I wish to describe him from within, as he appeared to himself at about the age of eighteen.

      What can this child, who is not very fun-loving, and who is also deprived, find to love in life? Nothing, unless it be life itself. But he does not take it on the organic level. He refuses...

  6. BOOK III SECOND METAMORPHOSIS:: THE AESTHETE

    • STRANGE HELL OF BEAUTY . . .
      (pp. 355-401)

      Genet drifts from the Ethics of Evil to a black aestheticism. The metamorphosis takes place at first without his realizing it: he thinks that he is still living beneath the sun of Satan when a new sun rises: Beauty. This future writer was obviously not spoiled at birth: no “artistic nature,” no “poetic gift.” At the age of fifteen, he dreamt only of doing harm. When he encountered beauty, it was a late revelation, a late-season fruit.

      Hewantsanddoes not wantto dream: with respect to his plan to assume the real, the dream is a betrayal. And...

    • I WENT TO THEFT AS TO A LIBERATION, AS TO THE LIGHT
      (pp. 402-424)

      Around 1936, when he was twenty-six years old, Genet returned to France after a long period of wandering, met a professional burglar and accompanied him on his expeditions. “I had the revelation of theft.” According to him, this revelation was decisive: “I went to theft as to a liberation.” That is how he views his life: a long period of absence between two interventions from without. The first of these contacts caused the original crisis, set him on the path of Evil and finally put him to sleep: he became a strange dreamer, turned in on himself, impermeable to experience,...

  7. BOOK IV THIRD METAMORPHOSIS:: THE WRITER

    • A MECHANISM HAVING THE EXACT RIGOR OF VERSE
      (pp. 425-446)

      I shall explain later why Genet’s works are false novels written in false prose. But prose, whether false or not, springs from the intention to communicate. Now, at the age of twenty-eight Genet does not have a single thought, a single desire that he can share, or wishes to share, with others. Except for his monotonous string of magnifying judgments—which, moreover, are intended for an imaginary public—he uses language like a drug, in order to immerse himself in his secret delights; if he doesspeak,it is in order to deceive or betray; in short, he is a...

    • AND I, GENTLER THAN A WICKED ANGEL, LEAD HER BY THE HAND . . .
      (pp. 447-482)

      Our Lady of the Flowers,which is often considered to be Genet’s masterpiece, was written entirely in prison, but, this time, in the solitude of the cell. The exceptional value of the work lies in its ambiguity. It appears at first to have only one subject, Fatality; the characters are puppets of destiny. But we quickly discover that this pitiless Providence is really the counterpart of a sovereign, indeed divine freedom, that of the author.Our Lady of the Flowersis the most pessimistic of books. With fiendish application it leads human creatures to downfall and death. And yet, in...

    • ON THE FINE ARTS CONSIDERED AS MURDER
      (pp. 483-543)

      It is within the framework of Evil that Genet makes his major decision. Moreover, he has not at all given up stealing: why should he? It is hard to imagine him renouncing burglary for belles-lettres the way a repentant embezzler gives up swindling and opens a shop. “The idea of a literary career would make me shrug.” When he writes these words, he has already had two plays performed and has published a volume of poems and four of his great books; he is completing the fifth and is preparing a film scenario; in short, it is the moment when...

    • MY VICTORY IS VERBAL AND I OWE IT TO THE SUMPTUOUSNESS OF THE TERMS
      (pp. 544-583)

      By infecting us with his evil, Genet delivers himself from it. Each of his books is a cathartic attack of possession, a psychodrama; in appearance, each of them merely repeats the preceding one, as his new love affairs repeat the old: but with each work he masters increasingly the demon that possesses him. His ten years of literature are equivalent to a psychoanalytic cure.

      The style ofOur Lady of the Flowers,which is a dream poem, a poem of futility, is very slightly marred by a kind of onanistic complacency. It does not have the spirited tone of the...

    • PLEASE USE GENET PROPERLY
      (pp. 584-600)

      I have tried to do the following: to indicate the limit of psychoanalytical interpretation and Marxist explanation and to demonstrate that freedom alone can account for a person in his totality; to show this freedom at grips with destiny, crushed at first by its mischances, then turning upon them and digesting them little by little; to prove that genius is not a gift but the way out that one invents in desperate cases; to learn the choice that a writer makes of himself, of his life and of the meaning of the universe, including even the formal characteristics of his...

  8. APPENDICES