Literary odds and ends from the controversial French writer.
This brief collection of eight essays by Genet (1910-1986) were written from 1949 to 1958. All are deeply infused with his sexuality, philosophy, and bizarre, metaphysical writing style. In a footnote to one of them, he writes, “with my cold chisel, words, detached from language, neat blocks, are also tombs.” The titular essay, from 1948, was originally written for radio broadcast but was never recorded. Genet was then facing a prison term, and the station wanted to avoid a scandal that his “deliberately provocative rhetoric” would have caused. Drawing on his experiences as a criminal child incarcerated in Mettray, a correctional facility, Genet proclaims his “love for these ruthless little kids” and his disdain for the society that punishes them: “I want to insult yet again the insulters.” “Adame Miroir” is a short, surrealist ballet/screenplay “for the Grand-Guignol.” In “Letter to Lenor Fini,” Genet writes to a female painter with whom he worked. In a style exuberant in image and metaphor, he describes works “voluptuous and sprinkled with arsenic.” They “seem to me comparable to the complex architecture of swamp odors.” And that is a compliment! An admiring piece on Jean Cocteau praises the “goodness” of his heart. His work “lets anguish be discovered in the fissures.” A lengthy, dazzling piece on Alberto Giacometti, which is part interview and part critique, reads like a magazine profile. In his work, Genet sees “sculptures standing up in their bones” with a “strange power to penetrate that realm of death.” The final piece, sensitive and erotic, is “The Tightrope Walker,” about Abdallah Bentaga, whom Genet was emotionally attached to. The author waxes lovingly euphoric about the performer’s artistry on the wire and the “bulge accentuated in your bodysuit, where your balls are enclosed.” An introduction with biographical and historical contexts would have been helpful.