Review: Jean Genet - "The Criminal Child and Other Essays", translated by Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman

in albertogiacometti •  25 days ago  (edited)

To myself, Jean Genet has always provided much frustration and heartache; his language and prosaic style are both hard to read and very touching when he hits the mark. To me, that's the gist of his writing: the very best is great, and the rest ranges from good to bad.

These essays have not been available in English translation until now.

I won’t make any recommendations to you. I haven’t been talking to the educators, but to the criminals. And I don’t want to invent any new plan for society to protect them. I trust society: it knows, in and of itself, how to ward off the amiable danger that’s a criminal child. These children are the ones I’m talking to. I ask them never to feel shame at what they’re doing, to keep intact the rebelliousness that has made them so beautiful. I would hope that there was no cure for heroism. But, if there are some listeners who haven’t yet switched to another station, make sure they know that they have to live with their shame, the disgrace of being good souls. That they swear to be bastards all the way through. They’ll be cruel to sharpen the cruelty gleaming in these children.

Genet is not one to try and proselytize readers but merely let them know what he thinks, which is often a roller-coaster ride of an experience.

The essays after the first are the most interesting to me. Genet expands theories about almost everything in a beat-poet type of fashion:

From what is the fabled camellia protecting you? Steam is worth nothing to your delicate, flowery bronchial tubes. Feet bare on the tiles, dressed in a terrycloth towel, in the condensation that, along with shame, pushes you back and cuts you off, you could have offered your golden rump. Rump presented to old men’s dicks. Your inner collapse held you back at the door. What a dream for your pride, you, the most desired one—without knowing the ones in Rome, I watch you in the Turkish baths where you thought of prostituting yourself—waited for, offered, conqueror, infernal among those oily and wounding bodies, traveling through silence and illuminating it by: your teeth, your eyes, your cynicism, that mass of white, sweaty steam. For them—tuberculosis and death—here is my remedy: you are a whore.

The word is not a title, it tells your profession. Be a sublime whore. You recite—as the poetic language entirely within you turns toward death where you are lazily burying yourself—with a high, expressionless voice an erased text. What will die when you die will be not a man, but a herald, bearing depleted coats of arms.


Beneath your glacial appearance, what shiver could move you?

—What’s wrong?
—You’re sad
—So I’m sad
—Because I’m sad
—Why sad

What steps, carved out of hard appearance, go down backward, Shades? What preparatory simulacrum to start with? Under a clear, cold light, enter, the rooms are ready: on the facing walls, the mirrors do not multiply the play of the event, but are a prelude to its absence. These round silences have the shape of your head, so I break them with a quick blow so that out come

—But why?
—I’m sad
—Why sad?
—My friend doesn’t have a suit
—He gave it Your eye aims at life
—He gave it? To whom?
—To a dead man.

The result of all of this is an unhinged, Rabelacian, poetic, sharp, tart, and critical collection of essays that, frankly, only Jean Genet could turn out. It's both exciting and off-putting, just as with a fashion exhibition by Alexander McQueen.

This book is on sale on 2020-01-21.

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