Before the Ascendance of Mediocrity: Jean Genet's Politics of Writing
McLaughlin, Richard Samuel
MetadataShow full item record
In my study of Jean Genet's late work Prisoner of Love, I begin by analyzing and responding to the historically dominant interpretation, put forth by Jean-Paul Sartre and furthered by Georges Bataille, of Genet's writing. Both thinkers establish two ways of reading Genet across his oeuvre. First, they show a tendency to conflate the writer's actual life and the figure of the narrator, thus denying the ironic distance that for Genet is essential to his practice of cultivating his own fluctuating mythology and demonstrating the essential quality of social identity. Second, they assert that Genet fails to fulfill the criteria of committed political literature. This leaves, for me, a question, whether there is a possibility of an alternative to the logic of partisanship that grounds Sartre's and Bataille's evaluation. Paralleling the thinking of Jean-Fran?¼ois Lyotard and Edward Said most specifically, Genet devaluates the authority of the spoken word (and its analogue in the history of philosophy, writing as the extension of that presence) through the art of writing and its singular truth. This aesthetic product is opposed to the truth of a history that would bring the practice of the Fedayeen and refugees into the grand narratives of political superpowers. Through strategic use of the Sartrean myth that Genet helps to develop in his autofiction and interviews, the author is able to put forth his "emblem of the Palestinian Revolution" (PL 204), an image of Hamza, a Fedayee, and his mother, that disrupts the filial logic of historical discourse and has the potential, as Genet establishes, to survive the death of the revolution through its affective appeal. In the following chapter, I focus on Genet's concern, throughout Prisoner of Love, that the revolution seems inevitably to move toward the pursuit of nationhood and social order, thus for him relinquishing the inclusiveness and fluidity of its identity that for him gives it its value. The author maintains a critical distance and recounts the means by which the Palestinian community organizes itself through imagined relations to a past, present, and future. In doing so, he continually establishes the hierarchical boundaries that separate the Fedayeen from their leaders in the PLO, who interact on the plane of international diplomacy. Positioning themselves against America, Israel, the Arab kingdoms in which they are exiled, and, as Genet suggests, potentially their own political party, the Fedayeen have a limited relation through which to assert their identity in opposition to these others. Genet leaves open the possibilities for any number of betrayals to the liberatory conditions of revolution that would occur in the recourse to such identifying practices. Finally, in my last chapter, after demonstrating both Genet's specific use of his past writing to assist in his evocation of the Palestinians and his simultaneous critical distance in observing their potential to betray their own revolution, I account for the hybridity of Genet's text, which blends Genet's idiosyncratic use of the autobiographical genre with, seemingly, the genre of political literature. However, I argue that the connection between these elements can be explained by Genet's awareness of the conventions of each genre. He reflects on the projection of the image that is shared by autobiographical art and the productions and representations of political groups, but does not attempt to follow the generic conventions of either. In response to Genet's evasion of the demands of autobiography and political representation, I pursue ways of accounting for his affiliation with the Palestinians through investigating a series of prepositions, suggesting that he may be writing for or of the group. This distinction is related to the fundamental argument of postcolonialism, that of speaking for the other, and also brings to mind the impossible identification with the other that has its transgression in "going native." I conclude that Genet ultimately maintains his distance from the revolutionary group, not as a betrayal, or only if betrayal is conceived as a necessary element of writing.