Posts Tagged ‘Jean Genet’
January 21, 2016 | by Max Nelson
On the dark erotics of Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers.
On September 11, 1895, the deputy chaplain of Wandsworth prison wrote a worried report about one of his new charges, Oscar Wilde, who had been transferred from Pentonville two months before. “He is now quite crushed and broken,” the chaplain recorded:
This is unfortunate, as a prisoner who breaks down in one direction generally breaks down in several, and I fear from what I hear and see that perverse sexual practices are again getting the better of him. This is a common occurrence among prisoners of his class and is of course favoured by constant cellular isolation. The odour of his cell is now so bad that the officer in charge of him has to use carbolic acid in it every day.
The possibility that a famous author had been driven to masturbating during his internment in Wandsworth would not have reflected well on the prison’s authorities, who immediately denied the charge and changed the indiscreet chaplain’s assignment. One wonders how they would have reacted to Jean Genet’s short film Un chant d’amour (1950), which the French author, playwright, and criminal directed in collaboration with Jean Cocteau soon after writing the last of the five novels that earned him international fame. Midway through the film, a poker-faced prison guard peers one at a time into a row of cells, each of which turns out to contain an autoerotic peepshow more wild, graphic, and uninhibited than the one before. A convict rubs his exposed member against the wall of his cell; a smiling bather lathers himself lasciviously in soap; a young black man, one of the many dark-skinned figures in Genet who appear to their white observers as sexual threats, dances with a tight grip on his open-flied crotch. Read More »
December 7, 2015 | by Max Nelson
George Jackson’s Soledad Brother, forty years later.
Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on the French revolutionary Madame Roland, here.
On August 21, 1971, George Jackson pulled a pistol on his wardens at San Quentin, the notoriously racist maximum-security prison to which he’d recently been relocated. When the news broke that he’d freed several of his fellow inmates, presided over the slashing of eight prison officials’ throats (six guards and two trustees), and then died under heavy gunfire while sprinting to freedom, it provoked a strange mixture of shock, anger, revulsion, and grief. Gregory Armstrong, Jackson’s editor at Bantam, would later confess to a reporter how relieved he was that he hadn’t followed through on his offer to help the younger man escape. Bob Dylan wrote a protest song in Jackson’s praise. (“He wouldn’t take shit from no one / He wouldn’t bow down or kneel / Authorities they hated him / Because he was just too real.”) Jackson’s attorney, Stephen Bingham, under suspicion of having smuggled in the escape weapon, fled the country for thirteen years. Huey Newton gave Jackson a long, effusive eulogy (“he lived the life that we must praise”). A group of Black Panthers imprisoned in Folsom advised his parents to “take pride in the fact that you have a large strong family of budding warriors.”
Since the 1970 publication of Soledad Brother, his ferocious, disquieting collection of letters from prison, Jackson had been an international celebrity. In his introduction to the book’s first printing, Jean Genet insisted that the collection “must be read as a manifesto, as a tract, as a call to rebellion, since it is that first of all.” Abdellatif Laâbi read the letters admiringly during his own imprisonment; they let “one follow,” he told his wife in 1975, “the transformation of a man who challenges a new kind of slavery, strips its mechanisms down, and keeps his dignity intact throughout the worst kind of ordeal.” The day before Jackson’s death in 1971, Derrida wrote Genet a long letter worrying that the introduction hadn’t done justice to the dire situation Jackson’s writing was meant to expose. “With the best intentions in the world,” he cautioned, “with the most sincere moral indignation in the face of what, in effect, remains unbearable and inadmissible, one could then lock up again that which one says one wants to liberate.” Read More »
February 28, 2013 | by Stephanie LaCava
I had planned my disclaimer before he even opened the door. What kind of an idiot, I had realized belatedly, brings noted francophile and former Paris-dweller Edmund White bootleg, neon, NYC-made macaroons for tea at his apartment? “Mr. White, I am so embarrassed ...”
I never had a chance to tell him. He was kind and warm, thrilled with the fat, ersatz cookies, even claiming he loved them, got them himself sometimes. We sat down together in White’s living room with a pot of English tea and two Fiesta teal-colored teacups, me on the couch facing him, in one of a pair of battered brown club chairs. He was wearing a pale-blue checkered shirt and navy pants. I’d interrupted his taxes, visible on the den table.
We’d been put in touch by Kathryn Hamilton, press attaché of the Cultural Services at the French Embassy, in regards to the Marcel Proust exhibit they organized with the BnF at the Morgan Library for the upcoming centennial of Swann’s Way. This was our initial point of contact, at least. Paris gossip was more pressing. I’d just gotten back from the city where White lived for many years, the subject of his upcoming memoir, Inside a Pearl. He’d initially wanted to call it Paris Gossip, but the publisher wouldn’t have it. They wanted more depth. “I don’t think it will ever be published in France,” White told me, because of French invasion-of-privacy laws. “I used to call myself an archaeologist of gossip,” he said. “That’s sort of Proust, too—not to make a comparison between my humble self and the great Proust.” Read More »
May 24, 2012 | by Chris Wallace
Some days, after eighth grade at Emerson Junior High, I would walk to the 7-11 on Overland, in the shadows of the monumental Mormon temple on Santa Monica Boulevard, and just loiter there. I never bought anything, but walked up and down the rows staring intensely at Corn Nuts, Big League Chew, and sundry sparkling sugar bombs.
I didn’t then, nor do I now, have anything resembling a sweet tooth. I’ll trade dessert and candy for savory treats every time (I loved Funyuns, whatever they were), and yet, I wanted a snack. I didn’t have any money, of course—I was twelve—but it wasn’t as if I were starving to death. At the time of my choosing I could walk to my father’s apartment nearby, where he would make me green-chile chicken with polenta, or leg of lamb and gratin dauphinois, or maybe even steak and mashed potatoes. But my dad doesn’t do snacks. He might have food for the entire week, but when I open the fridge, there’s nothing there.
The bus would take a good forty-five minutes to my mom’s, where the fridge was full of Clausen pickles, deli meats, and cheese for my beloved Triscuits. I could have skated if I’d have brought my board, but, forty-five dolorous, head-pounding minutes of boredom and discomfort, sitting next to cat ladies and gangbangers on the rough, tough, and dangerous bus … I wanted a snack. I needed a treat.
April 13, 2012 | by The Paris Review
I recently took out a subscription to National Geographic. I haven’t really looked at the magazine since childhood, and with the very first issue I received a couple months ago, I couldn’t believe I’d been away so long. NatGeo’s known for its photography for a reason: the imagery in these stunning, often unearthly shots seems tangible. My favorite so far is a portfolio by Phyllis Galembo of African and Haitian ritual costumes. These are a long way from your typical African masks. “Just putting one on,” says one art historian, “is a charged event.” —Nicole Rudick
It’s the most wonderful time of the year—the NHL postseason! Grantland's Katie Baker, making predictions for the opening series of the Stanley Cup playoffs, picks Tupac’s “Hit 'Em Up“ as the representative song for the first-round “hatefest“ between the Penguins and Flyers (which, for those unfamiliar with current hockey events, is a perfect fit). —Natalie Jacoby
Dinners for Beginners, written in 1937 and out now from Persephone, is “for people who know nothing about cooking. At the same time, it is intended for all those—whether they can cook or not—who appreciate good food and like to entertain their friends, but cannot afford to spend more than a strictly limited amount of money on housekeeping … The authors have tried to write a cookery book that EXPLAINS EVERYTHING. No knowledge is taken for granted. The beginner is not expected to know by the light of nature how to make gravy, sauces, or pastry; she is told when the lid of a saucepan or fireproof dish ought to be on when it should be off.” —Sadie Stein
This weekend I am checking out a new production of The Maids, Jean-Paul Sartre’s alleged “favorite play ever.” Loosely based on the Papin sisters, French servant girls who brutally murdered their employer in 1933, Maids was penned by notorious thief-turned-playwright Jean Genet. Get a taste of the sadomasochistic weirdness in this clip from the 1974 film adaptation. Running through Sunday. —Allison Bulger
Vivaldi’s “Spring” while reading The Clouds by William Carlos Williams. An unlikely pair, I admit, but it works: Williams’s images of the forever changing clouds marching across the sky, set to the whimsy and flux of Vivaldi’s classic, which captures so perfectly the feeling of this season—inherently a march of change. Try it. —Elizabeth Nelson
Hard as it might be to choose a favorite Dick Cavett interview, I always find myself returning to his talks with movie stars and directors. From the rambunctious episode with Peter Falk, Ben Gazarra, and John Cassavetes to erudite study with Jean-Luc Godard to the relaxed reminiscences of Katharine Hepburn, there's never a dull moment. —Josh Anderson
The Met’s production of La Traviata is live in HD this Saturday. I can’t wait! —S. S.
December 20, 2011 | by Adam Thirlwell
My first memory of Václav Havel is of watching the news as a kid, after the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and seeing pictures of Havel in his living room: a prison of stuffed bookshelves. For me, Havel was the image of a literary hero, an ideal of literature as integrity.
I’ve always, in other words, been a sucker for the questions of Prague—especially Prague in the era of Soviet Communism, probably because these questions all relate to a larger problem: a writer’s responsibility and resistance to political life, the serious business of being flippant. In the setups of his farcical plays and—following his imprisonment in 1977 for involvement in a human-rights charter—through the patient linguistic analysis of his essays, Havel’s subject was always the same: how language can be made to connive in unreality. But he also believed that words could be renovated, that a politics was possible. And this hope led him, for instance, to the courage of the following statement in his 1977 trial: there were certain words, he said, “which recur continually in the indictment and which one would describe as loaded, words like subversion, lies, malice, illegal organizations, anticommunist centers, vilification, hatred and so on. However, when one looks closely at these words, one finds that there is nothing behind them.” Just as it made him read Bellow’s libertine Herzog, in prison, in these dissident terms: “A professional with ‘words’ goes mad in a situation where words have no weight. He clearly lacks what we do not, which is to say a situation in which words have so much weight that you must pay quite dearly for them.”
This was why, in the summer of 2010, I found myself proposing a Paris Review interview to Havel. I wanted to ask him my own series of Prague questions, about his love of Bohumil Hrabal’s stories, the cinema of the Czech New Wave, his intuition of farce ... These questions, basically, were one big question: What was it like for a writer, as he did, to end up in the Presidential Palace?
The Interview, however, turned into a melancholy comedy of its own. Read More »