tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE's Reviews > Prisoner Of Love

Prisoner Of Love by Jean Genet
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Jul 15, 08

it was amazing
bookshelves: biography, philosophy, politics

I probably haven't written an adequate review of a Genet bk yet. This was his last bk & it has a stunning maturity to it. The back cover blurb calls it "a controversial account of the last decades of his life that translates his experience with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Black Panthers into a meditation on power, territoriality, and the nature of the outsider." "[C]ontroversial"? "[C]ontroversial" w/ whom? Genet had an extremely incisive intellect. If I were to divide his bks up into 3 types, "Prisoner of Love" wd stand alone as the 3rd. The novels, the plays, this. I really don't think I can ever do a Genet bk justice. I 'randomly' open to page 149 wch in turn leads me back to 148. Take this passage:

"My whole life was made up of unimportant trifles blown up into acts of daring.

When I saw that my life was a sort of intaglio or relief in reverse, its hollows became as terrible as abysses. In the process known as damascening the patterns are engraved on a steel plate and inlaid with gold. In me there is no gold.

Being abandoned and left to be brought up as an orphan was a birth that was different from but not any worse than most. Childhood among the peasants whose cows I tended was much the same as any other childhood. My youth as a thief and prostitute was like that of all who steal or prostitute themselves, either in fact or in dream. My visible life was nothing but carefully masked pretenses. Prisons I found rather motherly - more so than the dangerous streets of Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and Barcelona. In jail I ran no risk of getting killed or dying of hunger; and the corridors were at once the most erotic and the most restful places I've ever known.

The few months I spent in the United States with the Black Panthers are another example of how my life and my books have been misinterpreted. The Panthers saw me as a rebel - unless there was a parallel between us that none of us suspected. For their movement was a shifting dream about the doings of Whites, a poetical revolt, an 'act', rather than a real attempt at radical change.

Once these thoughts were admitted, others followed. If my life was really hollow although it was seen in relief; if the Black Movement was regarded as a sort of impersonation both by America and by me; and if I entered into as simply and naïvely as I've described and was accepted without demur - then it was because I was recognized as a natural sham.

And when the Palestinians invited me to go and stay in Palestine, in other words in a fiction, weren't they too more or less openly recognizing me as a natural sham? Even if I risked annihilation by being present at actions of theirs which were only shams, wasn't I already non-existent because of my own hollow non-life?"

Whew! & that's not even 2 complete pages!! Perhaps "controversial" isn't such a bad word choice after all. If Genet is a "sham" then what is this seemingly soul-baring passage? A sham w/in a sham? A Cretan saying "All Cretans are liars"?! To me, even being able to write the above passage is an act of great heroism. For him to've lived a life such as to make him find prisons "rather motherly" is, in itself, for him to've lead a life I'm greatly relieved to've missed. Then again, for him to be so free of conventional expectations of how to live as to find prisons "rather motherly" shows an extraordinary strength of character.

Do I agree w/ him about the Black Panthers being not "a real attempt at radical change"? No, I don't. Just their free food programs alone are too important to me. But who am I to say? Genet lived w/ Panthers, I've only read about them. I don't recall if Genet ever gives anyone credit for REALLY working toward radical change. Have I? Perhaps the answer here is as yes-and-no as w/ the Panthers. Radical change might result in radical destabilization - wch can mean even more misery than most people already have. As such, symbolic action, "'act'"ing, is a gentler way of promoting change that doesn't have to be violent. Symbolic action can mean getting people used to the need for justice enuf to accept its happening w/o extreme societal destabilization. But even the word "radical" is suspect here. Does it mean back to roots? Or does it mean dramatically changing?

At any rate, my musings in the last paragraph don't do Genet justice. Genet wrote an entire bk, I'm only trying to write a capsule review.. & failing.. If Genet was a sham as a person, he was no sham as a writer!! Perhaps being a "sham" in the sense he presents it is exactly what makes him so astoundingly great. The paragraph that introduces the above quoted passage begins:

"A chicken, boat, bird, dart or aeroplane such as schoolboys make out of bits of paper - if you unfold them carefully they become a page from a newspaper or a blank sheet of paper again. For a long time I'd been vaguely uneasy, but I was amazed when I realized that my life - I mean the events of my life, spread out flat in front of me - was nothing but a blank sheet of paper which I'd managed to fold into something different."

Be that as it may, how many people can make such folds w/ such astounding vision? Very, very few. It seems to me that most people just leave their lives "a blank sheet". Genet took his & turned it into a philosophical drama of great depth & learning, he reported from places in the mind & in the world most of us are content to never personally visit. & I have the utmost respect for him for that.
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