The Image and the Revolutionary Sartrean Relationships in the Work of Jean Genet

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Author: L.A. C. Dobrez
Editors: Dedria Bryfonski and Laurie Lanzen Harris
Date: 1980
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,561 words

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The gap between Les Bonnes (1947) and the journal (1948) on the one hand and Le Balcon on the other represents a turning point in [Genet's] life. The crisis was obviously of some magnitude and to a large extent it must have been prompted by [Sartre's] Saint Genet, whose revelations doubtless proved too much for a Genet unused to being the object of such sustained and merciless analysis—so much of it relating to Genet's private life as homosexual and criminal and all of it embarrassingly accurate.... Certainly, no one who has made a thorough study of Genet's work could doubt that Sartre's chart is at least very close to the truth. But Saint Genet follows Genet's progress only up to 1951 and, in Genet's later work, from 1956 onwards, it is clear that old preoccupations are still being aired, that the search for what I have termed “solitude” is far from over.

Genet is obviously dissatisfied with the impasse of Les Bonnes. Now he panics to the extent of questioning the possiblilty of a way out of his predicament. In Le Balcon he reasons in the following way. Granted that the basic issue is one of retaining the initiative over the Other, is it not true that, even as I struggle with my opponent, I am in fact reliant on his being there? Solitude, if it is attainable, means complete autonomy. But there can be no autonomy in the relation of the Look since, even if I escape being object and objectify the Other instead, I cannot be a dominant subject without the existence of a corresponding object. The very struggle against the Other suggests that he is necessary, that I need him even as he needs me. This in turn suggests something more disquieting, that each side exists only in the other, that I am only in so far as I relate to the Other and that he is only as related to me, in short, that to be is to act out a part. Now the struggle of subject and object takes on the appearance of a ghostly duel, a battle of roles, each entirely dependent for its existence on a complementary opposite, a mirror. Thus I play the role of object made possible by the Other who plays the role of subject made possible by me—and so on, ad infinitum. The struggle for solitude has degenerated to a play of shadows, a giuoco delle parti. No real victory or defeat is possible because the rules of the game require two players. (pp. 57–8)

[In Le Balcon] Genet is ... depicting an interdependence of opposites: subject and object, that is to say, bishop and sinner, judge and thief need each other. But there is more to it than this, for mutual need suggests to Genet a mirror game in which each term of the relation is no more than a reflection, exists only by virture of the mirror.... There are no people left, only mirrors. Of course bishop, judge...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100002950