A critical investigation of French writer and philosopher Jean Genet (1910–1986) in his later years, 1968 until his death.
Unfailingly controversial and provocative during his life, Genet is now known for novels like Our Lady of the Flowers (1943) and The Thief’s Journal (1949), plays like The Blacks (1958) and numerous books of poetry including The Man Sentenced to Death (1945). Less studied but perhaps more contentious are his later works like The Prisoner of Love (1986), as well as his political activism among such disenfranchised groups as the Black Panthers in the United States and the Palestinians in the Middle East. In his first English-language translation (first published in France, this book was nominated for the Prix Fémina in 1997), essayist and novelist Laroche demonstrates how Genet’s philosophy became increasingly unsettled as he delved deeper into the lives of people like George Jackson, Malcolm X, Bobby Seale and Yasser Arafat, as well as his own origin and identity. The trope of identity pervades this text as the author reveals Genet’s struggles to come to terms with issues regarding race, homeland, origins, nation, borders and power. For example, Laroche examines the nuanced and tenuous difference between violence and brutality, ultimately suggesting that the violence by Black Americans during the civil-rights era was a valid response to the brutality and oppression perpetrated by whites. The key to understanding Genet, writes the author, is through language, which underlies identity, homeland and “the heart of the writer.” Genet’s discoveries and conclusions were consistently insightful and provocative, though not always desirable, moral or ethical. His last journey, as revealed by Laroche, is imbued with beauty, metamorphosis and emancipation on one hand, and monstrosity, nihilism and hopelessness on the other.
An indispensible study for readers interested in Genet, the Black Panthers, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict or, more generally, the philosophy of humanism.